Sunday, January 31, 2010



While in Kenya, I found out that there was an English study group of Unitarians starting here in Budapest. They were to start in January and are only meeting on the last day of each month. I put it on my calendar with full intentions of going. What I had not considered at the time was the recent snowfall, the slushy icy streets, the miserable temperatures and how many blocks I would need to walk between modes of public transportation. 

So much for spiritual needs; I will worry about it next month.
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Saturday, January 30, 2010

Secondary Teaching Gig


Back in October or maybe even earlier in the last year, my department head asked me to teach an adult education course with her. The topic was professional writing. We would split the course; she would do x number of classes and I would do the remaining two. I really had no burning desire to do this until she shared the salary they were offering, and then suddenly, I had cravings to be involved.

The classes are offered through a company who is accredited to provide adult education. To this day, I am still not certain who in Hungary has this accreditation authority or for that matter, what it means. One thing I have surmised is that accreditation means that the company can charge big bucks or big forints for their offerings.

Classes started at the tale end of last year, but with me being away, my contribution was only this last Saturday and again today. Initially, we were going to do 4 hour classes; however, they enrolled eighty students, so broke the group into 2 groups of forty each. Doing a 4 hour class is exhausting and I have not done one for years, so being well out of practice, I was more than thankful for the restructuring. In the past, I have done 2-3 day, full 8 hour seminars, but gosh, I was ten years younger back then too. 

Last week, I went during the week to check out the set-up. I am more comfortable when I know the lay of the land ahead of time. Shock upon shock, this organization has it down to a science. The room was large enough to accommodate one hundred new-looking, well padded chairs with attached desk modules that move into place. There is a huge whiteboard on wheels with dozens of marking pens in various colors, a computer with a flat screen sits on the desk, but is plugged into a projector attached to the ceiling projecting clearly onto the wall for all to see, and there are three bottles of water with a glass-glass for the instructor along with some Hungarian nibbles. This is enviable professionalism here that should be replicated in the university settings.  

When I arrived for my class last Saturday, the company monitor had suggested I should not be too disappointed if the turn-out is low, because people have been dropping out over the course of time. Many were sent by their companies and resented having to be there on a Saturday morning. We were both a bit surprised when forty appeared for the first session, but neither of us were dismayed when only twenty appeared for the second session. Starting a class at 12:30 on a Saturday really cuts into the day.

Yesterday, my second part of the gig looked like it was going to be a disaster. It had started snowing early in the morning and was continuing to snow heavily all day. Twenty-five people were there, some as far away as from Debrecen, a three hour train ride to Budapest. The afternoon was not as successful; only ten showed. With an infected tooth and a cheek twice its normal size, I had offered to repeat the second class at a later date when more could make it, assuming the weather was keeping them away. The ten there wanted to continue on, so we did.

Upon completion of the course, each participant receives a framed diploma with the name of the course, the instructor's names, and the dates of their participation. As well, they also receive something similar in a laminated form. This was quite impressive. They seem to do online evaluations, so I was told at the end of the session that I am at the top of the favorites. This is good news, because now that I have this course all written, I would not mind doing a repeat performance.
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Friday, January 29, 2010

Alvin the Chipmunk Meets the Tooth Fairy


Something has been creeping up on me, slowly but whammo! For the first six nights after we returned from our trip to East Africa, I had chills at night. Well, the temps were below freezing, so that is no biggie, but then strangely between 3am and 6am, I had the night sweats. How do I narrow it down to those hours? I have a habit of looking at the clock when I get up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night to see if it is worth returning to bed or if I should get something on my TO DO list checked off.

At 3am, everything is cozy when I crawl back into bed, but by my 6am walkabout, the sheets had been soaked. There is nothing more uncomfortable than getting into a cold, wet bed.

The day before yesterday, the sweats stopped, but the toothache started. With the exception of smoking for the past 43 years, I was the model dental patient. I brushed twice daily minimum, flossed after every meal, snack, or munchie, and had my teeth cleaned every three months. Did it help? Hell no! I have a raging infection in one of the eye teeth on the bottom. My cheek started swelling yesterday. I took aspirin for the pain, but switched to Motrin since aspirin causes stomach bleeding. The Motrin did absolutely nothing, so it was back to a potential stomach bleed, which was better than the pain. What really helped was rinsing with medicated mouthwash, but swishing around a good whiskey did not hurt at all either.

This morning, I woke up looking like Alvin the chipmunk. If I could sing in a high pitched voice, I could have cut a record. The right side of my face was so swollen, I had to turn sideways to get through doors. I called Randy Simor at Medi-Tours Hungary to get me fixed up with a dentist. We have had a long time dentist we refer to as Robert Redford, because he is young and good looking, but he is a real pain to reach in emergencies. Randy made an appointment for 3pm today.

Of course, I don't like the news. The tooth has to go. It has not played well with others and is causing problems so that the other teeth may learn the bad habits and join in the nasty games. The problem is, I have a four hour professional seminar I am giving tomorrow. I refused to go to a professional seminar to present missing a tooth in the front. No matter how hard I tried, the lower lip does need to lower for some sounds and vavoom, the lower teeth are exposed. I put it off until Tuesday, though the dentist was not happy. He did give me antibiotics for over the weekend.

There is something devastatingly depressing about losing your teeth as an adult. When you are a child, you hope the Tooth Fairy comes to see you. As an adult, it is an automatic statement about your self care, regardless of giving it all you had. It is also a sign of things to come, the debilitating ailments that may or may not follow. With any luck the Tooth Fairy will come with a great replacement tooth. Then I will not be so sad.

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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Paris or Nice Rentals


ladauphine has left a new comment on your post "Paris Rentals":

"Our good friend has several apartments to rent in Paris: and we still have our place in Nice to rent as well.

Ray and Kim in New Orleans

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Arpad Writes in About Malev


Farkas Árpád has left a new comment on your post "Image via Wikipedia Almost a year ago, on January ...":

"I visited the link and saw that the Northern-American flights are “terminated”, but I don’t think that they stopped their flights to the US. Although this “” website is really comprehensive in terms of information listed, it does not seem to be completely reliable. According to Malév’s official website (, they do have flights to New York City and Chicago. I failed to find Canada, so that appears to be terminated."

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Friday, January 22, 2010

Paris Rentals


Reader Ray and partner Kim from New Orleans just sold their apartment in Paris. However, he turned me on to this website for apartment rentals. Just click here.

If you don't know square meters, but do know square feet, you can click here for a automatic conversion engine.

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A Year Past


Boeing 737-700Image via Wikipedia
Almost a year ago, on January 30, 2009, I posted an article regarding Malev Airlines having been taken over by Aeroflot.
Now, today, I received a comment on that posting. Better late than never? Does the speed of the comment say something about their attention to detail? When I went to the website and looked at the destinations that Malev is flying to, what is really telling is that they stopped their flights to both the US and Canada. The rest of the list is of interest also.
Malev Airlines has left a new comment on your post "Russian Bank, Aeroflot to take over Malév followin...":
Hi everybody, For more details on Malev Airlines like
1. Airlines Information
2. History
3. Malev Airlines Destinations
4. Fleets
5. Malev Airlines Phone Numbers
6. Baggage Allowance
7. Images
Visit "Altius Directory". This URL may be useful.
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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

So Proud


I remember reading years ago that teachers should keep a journal of their accomplishments, compliments from staff and students, and their successes and their failures. The point of it being that beyond degrees, diplomas, training, passing exams, the real proof of what makes a good teacher is in the daily doing. I had attempted this type of journal a few times, but then get too busy to keep it up. What I do instead is include these kinds of things in the blog, so they don't get lost. Every once in a while, I need a mood refresher, so I know where to come look. Yes, I put the screw ups in here also, so I can either go back and shake my head or have a good chuckle.

This was a response from one of my MA thesis students. I was honored to have had Anna in the classroom for more than 6 different classes. When she asked me to be her adviser, I had no qualms at all. She just recently defended her thesis and I sms'ed her asking how it went.

Dear Dr. James,
Thank you for sending the sms! I thought I would respond in an email, because it might be long...:)

I got a 5 for both my thesis and my state exam. YEEAAHH! I was very happy about it!

When I defended it, I got very good questions from Stanley, and some less relevant ones from Prof. F. She made a comment about the sources I used. She felt that I could have used other libraries than the ones available in Budapest. I didn't really understand what libraries she thought of. When I asked, she said that I should have registered in on-line libraries. I responded that I did not have the financial resources:) Anyway, they gave me a five.
I want to thank you again for all your help! Not just with my thesis! Your courses were the most helpful ones during my university career. I made good use of everything you taught us about writing or critical thinking in my other major as well. I'm sure that without those classes I would not be able to write my Italian thesis (for which I also got a five:)). It was an honor to be your student. Thank you again!!!
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Monday, January 18, 2010

Back in the Saddle


It is COLD outside; it has been snowing all day, but it is not sticking. Where are those 90 degree days we complained about? Isn't human nature funny? We are never content with things until we don't have them. 

I feel really accomplished getting all of my photos uploaded. I have been bombarded with requests from students to write letters of recommendations, which I don't mind doing, but some of them are living in other countries. That meant running around for oversized envelopes that will accommodate three regular sized envelopes and them mail them off to Germany. I also ran over to school today. I knew I was slated for State Exams and thought I signed up for this Wednesday, but decided to check to make sure. Deep down inside, I was hoping they would not need me and I could get out of it, but no such luck. We have six students to exam on the 20th.

This weekend, I will be teaching the second part of an adult education course on writing. I spent half the day today preparing for that. The class is only 1 1/2 hours this Saturday and again next, but if I over plan, I will feel more confident. 

While we were on vacation, I was able to convince Ron to take a photography class with me. He is always fine with expenses on vacation, but when it is an expense at home, he about gags. Before he had a chance, I had him signed up and committed. We start Tuesday night, tomorrow. It lasts ten weeks. In preparation, I thought I should start reading the manual of my new camera. Dung the whole of the vacation, I wondered if I had made the correct decision to leave it behind; the dangers of theft were nothing like we had been warned about. However, when I read the directions, I knew it was a smart decision. In big bold letters, it said to protect the camera from the heavy movements of a car, motorcycle, or ship. I could not protect myself during this trip from the ruckus of the car, let alone a camera. My old Minolta seemed to stand the tests of shake, rattle, and roll without so much as a squeak. 

One last thing, today is one week since I last had a cigarette. Yahoo!

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Saturday, January 16, 2010

You Oughta Be in Pictures


Well, all of my pictures are now in albums and ready for viewing. 

Kenya - 522 Photos

Tanzania  284 Photos

For those that know me, you should be shocked at so few photos. My normal holiday amount is well over 1,500. The difference with this trip was, how many zebra pictures can people look at? I can look at dozens because I saw them in person, but for others, it just becomes a bore.

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Is This Any Time to Fly?


12:01am and we are in the lobby meeting John for our last taxi ride, this one to the airport. So far, in two days, John has earned 7,500 (75 euros) from our venturing around the city. When he says he hates to see us go, you know there is sincerity in those words.

On the way to the airport, we stop at three different gas stations, the first two are out of gas. This is the second time today we were with John when he had to get gas, making us wonder why he doesn't fill up once and be done with it? 

Nairobi's airport is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. What we are uncertain about is how early the ticket counters open for checking in and getting boarding passes. Before you can enter the terminal, you have to go through security. We lucked out, the Turkish Air counters were open and there were already about twenty people ahead of us. Slow does not describe the young man who checked us in. We were at the counter for a good twenty minutes, while I am watching the clerks around us moving people through like assembly lines.

Once we are released with boarding passes in hand, we head for the escalator upstairs to find the Diners Club lounge, but cannot get to the escalator without showing our boarding passes. The Diners Club lounge is the same as that used for fifteen airlines. We walk in ready to present our DC card to the reception as we have done dozens of times on past trips. Sitting behind the counter is an older woman, most likely in her late 50s or early 60s. Her skin tone resembles fresh brewed coffee with 6 drops of cream added, but as your eyes move upward, you can't miss the hair. It was the color of a Tequila Sunrise, which was pretty appropriate since her hair was pointing out of her head in all directions like rays of the sun in a child's drawing. It could have been an overdone Statue of Liberty style. Instead of the crown, she went whole head crazy. I hand her my card, she takes it and immediately returns it to me. Now, I have done this routine enough times to know they swipe the card or at the bare minimum, write the number down. She did neither, just mumbled "We donwnl aerjow ehrh thrthgj ljadjfl". Excuse me? It took three times and the two of us listening, concentrating and as a last resort, recording the comment for instant and continual replay until we had it translated. 

Finally, we got the message, but we did not like it at all. They do not take Diners Club with a MasterCard logo, which in fact is every Diners Club issued in the US. The only reason we keep the Diners Club is for the airport lounge access and the miles, but it seems both services are shrinking rapidly. We were refused entry in Amsterdam's lounge stating that DC ended the contract. We went round and round with the woman. I even showed here the print out from the DC website showing the Nairobi lounges listed, but to no avail. We had over 2 hours before our flight; we had our lounge time planned. It is so much more comfortable than 'out there'.  We succumbed to paying our way in at $30 a person. The rationalization was that we thought were were going to have to pay a departure tax to leave Kenya. We did in Tanzania. Since we saved on that fee, we could splurge on the lounge. It was 12:30 in the morning, the flight was rotating between 3:40 and 4:45 every 7 minutes, so it looked like a long night. Heck, we did not have to pay for the night in the hotel, so this is also like our hotel. You can be sure now that I am going on the warpath against Diners Club. I will be posting everywhere warning people of the shrinking of perks while the annual fee goes up. With 2 other MasterCards, I don't need this one any longer.

When they called our flight, we had to go through security again at the gate. We travel wearing boots, Budapest is cold both leaving and returning. They are too bulky to pack and put on when we arrive home, but they are also a pain for security. We know they set off the alarms; it is the eyelets. I started to just carry them around while wearing disposable socks I had left over from some other airlines long distance flight.

Ironically, the Turkish Air flight from Nairobi to Istanbul was showing The Time Traveler's Wife, but they had the old drop down screens. I did not think I would stay awake anyway, so skipped it. We had to change planes in Istanbul with a 3 hour layover. There was no Diners Club lounge to test out, so we went to Gloria Jeans for a coffee. Knock me over, $16 for two coffees, one large, one medium. Yikes!

The next flight was just as uneventful, but only 1 hour and 50 minutes, so no movies at all. 

When we arrived home, the kitchen window was open and the window on the front door too. Balazs were in the kitchen cleaning. He had been staying here on and off with our blessings, but had not cleaned up after himself along the way. He thought we were not returning until tomorrow, so had designs on cleaning, grocery shopping, and preparing a dinner for us. We messed up those plans and he has to work tonight anyway. All is good.

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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Coming to an End


All vacations need to come to an end and thus ours has done so. This is our last full day in Kenya. Our flight leaves at 3:30am tomorrow morning, so we need to leave by midnight to get to the airport. With that in mind, we booked the hotel for tonight also, even if we were would not be here overnight, just to have a place to keep our bags while having a place to rest and or nap before the early morning airport experience.

The room is paid for on a daily basis, so Ron went to pay for tonight, but explained we would be leaving at midnight. The receptionist at first said something he understood as they would not allow us to do that. Offering grandiose explanations, we finally came to terms. They would not charge us for using the room. What the young woman said was "You have been here so long, how can we charge you?" We were there two days. Does that tell you something of their star rating? 

John was on time and ready to take us to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. It was of utmost importance that we get there by 11am for visiting hour. From 11am to noon is the only time you are allowed to visit the shelter because they want to limit the outsider contact to make it easier for the elephants and rhinos to be reintroduced into the wild. 

We were there in plenty of time to wait with all of the other anxious visitors who had heard of their work. The only reason I had any knowledge of them was because my friend Daphnee had adopted an elephant for me for my birthday last year. When the rope gate is dropped, you are escorted first to the donation table, where they request an entrance of 300 shillings, but we gave 1,000 each. Then it is on to the visiting area. Beyond the roped off area, there are oversized baby bottles waiting for the little ones to come suckle by groups depending on their ages. When the first group came out, I almost had to be held back from jumping the rope to go hug these babies. Some of these little orphans were so small, I immediately thought of Gulliver's Travels and the Lilliputs. Good grief, I could carry one of these creatures in carry-on. So for the next hour, we watched as this group was fed, played with each other, interacted with the keepers, and were lectured about the foundation. Most of the orphans' are there because the mother was hunted down by poachers. One was found in a hole in the road and presumably the mother was would not be able to rescue it. 

They also rescue rhinos, but only have three at this time. One is blind, so they don't allow him to visit. One has been set loose, but returns daily for a visit and then leaves again. The third one has stopped being allowed out since September when we started becoming "naughty". He was charging people and not a cash producing charging proposition either. The hour went by so quickly, I did not have time to plan any elephant-napping attempts. 

Our next stop was the Kenyan Wildlife Center for Endangered Animals. This particular center was for giraffes. The entrance is 7oo shillings. They have an elevated viewing area so that you are face to face with the giraffes, at least the adult ones. A keeper hands out feed and tells you to give one pellet at a time to maintain their attention. Giraffes are head butters, so if you are not careful and keep the feeding on a regular basis, they will butt you with their head to get more. What awesome creatures they are. Every time I went to pet the face or nose of the female I was feeding, she kept pulling away. I had to be canny with the food to get a pet in. The creatures on this earth are so magnificent. It just makes me loathsome when I think about poaching for greedy people.

We had John take us pack to the hotel to decide on a plan for the rest of our day. We shelled over another 3,000 shillings (30 euros) to him. No wonder he has a nice new car with a/c and always dresses in fine clothing.  

After a mini-rest, we took another taxi from the hotel downtown. I had noticed this coffee shop called the Mug Culture and I was more than ready for a good coffee. The hotel only had instant. We were going to get dinner and then go to a movie. Mug Culture tuned out to be a full service restaurant and Starbucks combo, making it perfect. When I ordered a latte, what arrived was a beer mug full of coffee. Not only was it the size I love, but it was an excellent latte besides and piping hot. There is nothing worse than a lukewarm latte. We had dinner there also; the portions were Hungarian sized and the food was great. If we were staying in Nairobi longer, this would be my hangout. When we left, I had left behind a copy of the book Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, because we had both read it and it was not a keeper. We went for a walk around the block waiting to go to the movie, but I had to return to the restaurant's bathroom. When the waitress saw me, she nodded her head. I knew she thought I was there for the book. When she tried returning it to me, I said I was only back for the WC, but the book was to find a new home. She was totally uncomprehending. I explained that I wanted to share the book with others, so I hoped it would find a good home. She hugged the book like it was a South African Krugerrand.

At Foxy Cinemas, there were two screens, each playing one movie. In one was The Time Traveler's Wife. We had both read and loved The Time Traveler's Wife novel, by Audrey Niffenegger. More than unfortunately, only the second one was showing at any times we could attend. It was Avatar. Ticket prices were listed as stall, love seats, balcony, and one other I cannot remember. What choices, but when we asked about them, all seats are created equal. Inside was a regular theater just like Anywhere, USA or Budapest, Hungary. Viva la lack of difference. 

Now, neither of us knew a thing about this movie. I am not hot on sci-fi movies or books, but did like Star Wars. It was the longest waste of time I have spent in a theater since I cannot remember when. In retospect, reading some of the reviews, I don't know what these people are thinking. But let's think about this for a moment. The year is 2154, putting it 154 years ahead in the future. Same old themes: war, corporate greed, colonization, genocide, but on a different planet. Wow, what a difference a galaxy makes. The main character is a paraplegic soldier. Right! Now that is even beyond fantasy and sci-fi, but it gets better. He is promised his legs back..IF...he does the commander's bidding. Question here, if they have the ability to return the use of his legs, why didn't they do it to begin with rather than have a disabled soldier? 

Now lets move on to the aliens. Remember the year is 2154. They are still gendered, male and female. They marry, mate, and are still in patriarchal tribes. The tribal chief's son is the jealous protector of his sister, one of the main characters. Of course, she and the soldier fall in love. The director made the Titanic, how could we avoid a love story? Same old story, the soldier infiltrates the tribe to gain their trust, falls in love, girl finds she was initially being used, guy has to swear that was only the beginning, but real love did evolve. All of the themes have been played out since talkie movies first appeared. To prove himself and his love, he has to show his new adopted tribe how to beat their enemies. Good vs Evil, Right vs Wrong, Corporate Greed vs Bulldozing over anyone in your path. Isn't it interesting the way the corporation always comes tumbling down in the movies, but it never happens in real life. To make the movies more realistic, after they collapse, someone should rush in with a rescue plan to help them be corrupt once again. It is like a financial eco-system.   

My next question is does anyone who nominates these movies or even reviews them, listen to the dialogue? Some of it was a direct rip from a Doris Day and Rock Hudson movie; it could have been Pillow Talk. Other parts could have come from Saving Private Ryan or the Simpsons, but much of it made as much sense as Seinfeld. The army commander of 2154 should not be using 2001 teenager slang. There is something wrong when they have to resort to this type of dialogue. 

Yes, the special effects were interesting, but I didn't consider them exceptional. The flying dragons reminded me of the Dragon Riders of Pern. At attempt at futuristic elephants looked more like creatures I remember seeing when watching Saturday morning cartoons with my nephews. If I watched this movie again, I could really do a job on it. This is just from one viewing with expectation of enjoyment.

After the movie, we went back to Mug Culture for a piece of cake. We needed to treat ourselves after the torture we had endured. A taxi back to the hotel where we repacked our bags to go, tried taking a nap, and that is the end of the story for Nairobi.
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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Testing, Testing, Are You Alive?


We set the clock so we could test my stamina. There are things left undone. Shopping is the first priority. We left this for when we returned, to buy from the women's collective in support of it, plus not to have had to lug it around with us for four weeks. Now it is buy or regret it. Whatever hit me passed over. I was able to shower, get to breakfast, and wait for a taxi without feeling like I would keel over.

Since I was so sick yesterday, not one cigarette passed my lips prompting me to decide this morning to postpone my starting smoking again. I know others would say they are quitting or that is what I am attempting to do, but I am not. In my youth, my mother always called me a quitter and said I never finished anything I started. Although this was true, I did not have role models who did complete things other than the meals set before them. As I reached my 20s, this quitter label started wearing thin, so I made sure I completed things; some of those things were completions my mother wished I had quit. Going to beauty school was one of them. She hated having son who was a beautician or hairdresser as they were called back in the 70s. As it turned out the more I completed, the more I liked myself. Starting more ventures and completing them aided my self-esteem. So, now I cannot quit smoking, because I am not a quitter. What I am doing is postponing the starting date of when I will resume smoking again.

After placing a call to Solomon, the taxi driver who drove us from the railway station, we thought our good do-bee deed for the day was in place. Forty-five minutes later, Solomon called to say he could not find us. Well, impossible, we are the only two white people standing in the hot sun waiting for a taxi at this hotel. He was at the wrong hotel, so he would be delayed another twenty minutes. 

We waited an hour and a half, but no Solomon. The hotel receptionist Grace, said she would call us a reliable driver. John showed up. We wanted to go the David Sheldrick Foundation, but Mr. Map after consulting the map, insisted that since it is in the Nairobi Wildlife Reserve, we would have to pay $3o each to get in. I keep insisting that if this were true, the guidebook would have pointed it out. John's itinerary for us was to go to the Wildlife main office gate to ask about entrance, then go to the gate where the foundation is located and double check the visiting hours, then to the place where we want to shop. This little excursion is costing us 3,000 shillings (30 euros).

I was right, there is not charge to get into the Wildlife Reserve for the Foundation if you go to the correct gate. We did get to that gate, but at 11:30, so visiting hours were almost over. On our way to our shopping place, we stopped at a shop John wanted to show us. It was just as large, but nothing was presented well creating sensory overload. At our shop, I had wanted these beaded angels, but they were gone. I knew they would be, but I had hopes. We did find plenty of other things to buy finishing up our gift list.

John dropped us off downtown so we could stop at an ATM and Trattoria restaurant where I had the avocado milkshake. Today, we had lunch with our drinks. My chicken salad was delightful. Ron had gnocchi with Gorgonzola sauce. Delish!
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Monday, January 11, 2010

FLU One By Me


Something hit me in the middle of the night, about 4am. After getting up to use the facilities, when I climbed back in bed, I had a bad case of chills. Af first I thought it was just the exposure to the night air and I would warm up again once under the covers and self-tucked in. The chills continued soon followed by dizziness. I know I am sick or drunk when I am dizzy while flat on my back, but I have not been that drunk in over twenty-five years. The 3rd symptom to crop up was this feeling like my chest was going to implode, not explode. It was the strangest sensation that my chest wanted to cave in. I thought perhaps I was dehydrated, which it highly possible regardless of whatever else was happening. I guzzled water until I could not swallow another drop, but the chills kept me awake until the alarm went off at 7:3oam.

When I tried standing, I could not. I was overcome with dizziness. The thought that my blood sugar my have been low did spring to mind, but we had nothing to eat in the room. Ron had some mints, so I ate one of those. I wasn't going to make it to breakfast unless someone carried me on a litter or brought a guerny. Not even a wheelchair was going to work; sitting up made me feel sicker. Ron went down and ordered modified breakfasts to be sent to us. All I could eat was the fruit, hoping the sugars would assist me in getting on uptake. I had to forfeit a shower; I had concerns about standing and falling on the concrete, possibly hitting my head. The last time I had felt like this was when I had a  sever allergic reaction to fish at a Paris hotel restaurant.

Joseph arrived on time as usual. It took a number of feeble steps, but I did make it to the van. Ron told him I was sick and may need to make stops along the way. I curled up on the long back seat meant for three passengers and nested. Within seconds I had lost consciousness. Two hours later, I awoke only long enough to need a stop, but went back to sleep immediately after crawling to the back of the van. Five hours later, we were back in Nairobi and at the hotel for our last 2 1/2 nights before returning home again. This is not a hotel to brag about, so I am not even going to include the name. For some reason, at the end of a vacation, we feel it is necessary to tighten the belt and go really cheap. Okay, this place is clean, the sheets are clean, the staff is friendly; that is the extent of the tribute.

As soon as we were checked in, I crawled into bed and slept until 6:3opm. There are no restaurants close by, so to avoid taking a taxi, we tested my equilibrium by walking to a nearby hotel restaurant at The Heron. Nice hotel, nice restaurant, good sized portions. Back to our hotel and in bed to sleep.
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Sunday, January 10, 2010

Hippo Crossing


We were warned that hippos graze the entire grounds at night. Those in tents are further admonished not to keep food in the tent as hippos will eat the tent to get to the food. These are not comforting thoughts when you have to use the facilities in the middle of the night with the aid of a flashlight. I was awakened a number of times during the night by the grunts, snorts, and groans of hippos very near by. You are supposed to be very careful with the flashlight, not to scare the hippo. Hell, no one cares that if you suddenly flash on a hippo, it is you who should be scared. Every time I heard hippos close by outside, I would wake Ron, but the noises would suddenly stop. This went on about four times before I thought I may have been dreaming the whole thing. The fifth time was the charm. I heard the sounds, Ron woke up and he heard them too. My sanity is intact: at least over hippo sounds.

Bird choruses start up by 6am. There are dozens of different songs and melodies competing with each other like a superstar competition. By 8am, we were showered and ready for breakfast. We have to share the shower/WC with two other huts, but thankfully, they were empty. Using our toast, we fed the birds and had quite a show. Some many varieties vying for the nibbles. The African Hornbills travel in pairs and sometimes feed each other.

Joseph was here at 10am to take us to a boat ride. It was an extra 6,000 shillings (60 euros) for both of us for one hour, but they really tried to push the 2 and 3 hour rides. We went in a motor boat with a guide who pointed out different bird species in the lakefront area. We saw a number of crocodiles and then came across our family of hippos. At one point they were grazing on an artificial island. Due to the drought, the conservation people have been feeding them bales of hay. As we approached, they started heading to the water. I needed assurances that hippo have never overturned a boat. When we were coming up from the launch, all of this rocky area and what do I go and do? I stepped on a small tree branch with a spiky part coming up out of it. It pierced the bottom of my Crocs sandal and right into the bottom of my foot. Happily, I had the antibiotic waterless soap in my bag, so washed with that immediately. It is a good thing we did have our tetanus shots renewed before we left.

Back at the camp, we had until 2pm to get lunch and rest if we wanted before Joseph was going to take us to Lake Bogoria, where thousands of flamingos eat and live in the salt water lake. This area is also known for its hot springs. I had the feeling that this was going to be another wasted flamingo experience. As we were driving close to the lake, you could see pink pebbles atop a blue slate. I had adjusted my attitude to this being as good as it gets. When we drove into the viewing area, Joseph told us to take as much time as we wanted. We wanted to the water's edge overwhelmed with the sight of the flamingos. They were so close, not as pink as expected, but lovely nevertheless. When they get spooked, they flap their wings and skitter across the water's surface like a plane on a runway. Their under wings are black with a red  stripe. They make quite an impressive site. When they swim, you could easily confuse them with swans.

Ron had asked Joseph how hot the geyser water was. He had designs on taking a dip in the hot springs. Joseph said you could cook an egg in 3 minutes. Ron changed his mind. We drove back to the campground and it was all read and relax until tomorrow. There is nothing else to do here. 

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Saturday, January 09, 2010

Not Boring, but Boringo


At some point in the wee hours of the morning, it sounded like ping pong balls were falling on the roof of our hut, box, whatever it is classified as, signaling the rain had started. By the end of an hour, the noise changed from ping pong balls to golf balls. If it were not so hot, I would have sworn it was hail coming down, but in reality just heavy drops of rain. Joseph our first guide from Kuja Safaris was coming to pick us up at 9am, so we were showered, had breakfast, and paid our bill ready to go. Then Ron came out to tell me the minor bad news. This place did not have our reservation for when we were to return. Gosh darn, no more Jerk-in-a-Box experiences? There are two hotels right next to the hostel, so he went to check on availability there. They both had a place, but the less expensive one included breakfast, a deal for sure. Both look more than adequate.

Once Joseph had us loaded in the van, we were off on a five hour drive to Lake Boringo where we are staying at Robert's Camp. Our accommodation here is, well what can I say, pleasant, but... We have a little hut to ourselves with a double bed. It is very tribal looking in construction, but modern inside. The problem is that the bathroom is in a different building behind us. Though the bathroom is modern, with a real toilet, this camp is known for two things: bird species, over 450 varieties in this area and then there are the hippos. More on these later.

As soon as we were checked-in, they wanted us to order our lunch. The cafe is called The Thirsty Goat and looks very Out of Africa gone a bit modern. I ordered a steak dinner and vanilla milkshake; Ron chose Moroccan meatballs with rice. We had no sooner finished lunch and they asked us to place our dinner order. We were too full to think of dinner, so we asked to do it later. Birdwatchers would be in heaven here. Just while eating lunch, we were entertained by about fifteen different bird species among them the African Hornbill. Others are in glorious shades of blues, yellows, and even beautiful grays.  The rest of the day was on our own.

As a conservation area, the animals have the right of way. About one block in distance from our hut is the Lake Boringo, the home of a family of hippos numbering about twenty-five according to local estimates. When we walked down to the lake to view them, they were out of the water grazing. Hippos kill more people than any other wild animal. On land, they can out-run a man. Basically, there is nothing else to do here except relax, so we read, wrote, relaxed, drank tea, ate dinner, and waited for the morning. The lights went off at 9pm, but they did come back on again shortly thereafter. If I had to go to bed at 9, it would be a really long night. I would be up at 2am, not being able to sleep again.

All of our meals are supplied by The Thirsty Goat Cafe, so dinner was shell pasta with cream sauce and beef lasagna. How wonderfully African!
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Friday, January 08, 2010

Rock-A-By Sleeping


Sleeping for me was heavenly, with the motion of the train. Sometimes when it stopped is when I woke up. There were barrels of fumes pouring through our open window, some from our train, but others presumably from the blackened out scenery we were passing. The only hardship was having to get up in the night to use the bathroom at the end of the hall. First and second class rooms were advertised with full in-room toileting facilities. We did have a sink.

By 7am, we heard the breakfast bell being rung in the hall, reminding us to make our way to the restaurant car. First a server came around and served everyone toast, then the next one returned with a plate already containing two fried eggs, baked beans, a sausage, and fried tomato, all very British. 

At 10:15am, we heard the announcement that we were approaching Nairobi train station. How quickly we had forgotten that Nairobi is colder than Mombasa or anywhere in Tanzania. We had to show our ticket to leave the station where we were flooded with offers for taxis. One man kept pace with us, though we had been warned about hucksters, I felt for him. He was older and missing a few teeth, but looked sincere enough. I asked if he were licensed and he was. We asked the price to take us to our accommodation, which is the Milimani Backpackers Lodge. He quoted 300 shillings (3 euros), so we went and hoped that he was indeed licensed and would not take us for a ride we did not expect. Solomon was his name and he was on board. We arrived at our less than luxurious place within fifteen minutes. He was so grateful for the work, he asked for us to please remember him when we needed a taxi. We wrote his number down for reference.

The Milimani Backpackers is a weird assortment of places to stay. In the main building are dorm rooms with share showers. Outside there are combinations of little huts that share showers, tents that are permanent, sharing facilities, and little huts that are pre-fab little rooms with en suite bathrooms. This is what we have. It looks like a storage unit that was converted to a sleeping room. 

Next door to the main building is a quasi-restaurant where you can order drinks or food, but a limited menu. The daily special is 350 shillings, but tonight is some unidentifiable fish. After dropping off our things, I wanted to shower, but there was no water. They were having problems with the pump. They said they had WiFi access, but the person with the password was not around. In ten minutes was the repeated mantra. We decided to walk downtown, about thirty minutes walk. After being in Mombasa, I was not as fearful about walking around as I was before, but we did get plenty of stares as we strolled. No one made any comments, but the looks were intimidating at times, especially when we stopped at a bench half way.

Stopping at an Italian restaurant for a drink, I was finally able to try an avocado milkshake. As disgusting as it may sound, it was delicious and refreshing on a warming day. If it were not so filling, I would have had a second one. Ron was on the hunt for this Kenyan singer's albums (Eric Wainaina) who has gained popularity not only here, but the play he wrote was performed on Broadway. Asking the waiter at the restaurant for music stores, he sent us in the right direction, but no store seemed to have his work. My guess is that most of what they sold were ripped from other albums or downloaded from the Internet and they had not yet had access to his work. They said his work is not widely distributed here in Kenya, but with 2 albums out and his popularity on the rise, it seems strange. One energetic salesman promised to have albums for us if we could give him until the next day. We explained we were taking off for 2 days tomorrow with Kuja Safaris and would return for them on Monday.

Taking a taxi back, there was nothing in downtown to hold our interest, we met Som our driver. He too has two taxis trying to build up business and offered to drive us anywhere any other day if we so needed. He had cards printed up offering everything from taxi rides to marital planning. When we returned to the hostel, they had recovered the password to the WiFi, so I spent the next hour disseminating the spam e-mail from the good stuff, uploading my blog, and reading "The Queen's Fool" by Philippa Gregory. She is the author of "The Other Boleyn Girl", which was made into a  movie. It was one of a pile of books that my office mate gave me before the end of the semester. We take books that we don't think we want to save and then leave them as we finish. I thought this was going to be a desperation book, one that I read when I had nothing better to read, but I am hooked. It is one of those difficult to put down books.  

We stayed here at the hostel for dinner. We both ordered cheeseburgers with fries, which were surprisingly extra tasty. After dinner, we stayed out and read for some time, then retired to our room to read some more. By 10:30, we decided to call it a night, but the people around us were just winding up for the night. The couple right next door to us, an older Italian couple came into their pod and were talking so loudly, we could hear every syllable. It does not seem to matter if we do it the cheap way or the more expensive way, all the walls are paper thin.
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Thursday, January 07, 2010

Kenyan Train Experience


Our time in Mombasa ends today. We leave on the train from here back to Nairobi. Unfortunately for us, we have to check out by 10am. Our train does not leave until 7pm, but we need  to be there by 6pm. That is a whole lot of time to kill doing much of nothing. After breakfast and storing our luggage, it was still cool, so we took a tuk-tuk to Fort Jesus. We had gone there before, but had not gone in. When we reached the top, we found that contrary to what we were told, there is an entrance fee of 800 shillings (8 euros). From what we could see from the gate, it was not worth the money, so decided against it.

Beyond the fort was a walkway that lead to the water, so we went down there to enjoy the scenery and waste some time. We followed the walkway, which took us into Old Town. Most of the shops are souvenir stores, proprietors begging you to visit and look over their wares. It continually reminds me of the number of African pieces that have been imported to the US over the decades. Stores in CA have been selling many of these products for years, one such store's mottos was "We shop the world so you don't have to". Well here I am shopping the world, but have seen it all before and have a lot of it in storage, so there is no need to buy it again. How many ebony giraffes or sandstone sculptures does anyone really need? We really tried to spend time here to wait out our late train, but it was a strain. Stopping near a restaurant, we were greeted and asked to come in. Wanting a drink we obliged and looked at the menu. A date shake sounded interesting, so I ordered it. "Sorry, finished, no more." Second attempt was the avocado juice, something I will never get anywhere else. "Sorry, finished, no more." Rather than continuing to play this game, I asked what they did have. Tamarind and orange juice. Fine, tamarind it is then. Another couple came in, looked at the extensive menu and tried to order lunch. Same story "Sorry, finished, no more." for her first three attempts. She wizened up fast and said "Why don't you just tell me what you do have." As it turns out, they only had one meal available. Why they bother with the menus is a puzzle.

The porcelain god was calling again. I knew my chances of finding something suitable here were slim to none, so we thought it best to head back to the hotel to use the public facility. From 1:30 to 6pm, we were held hostage at the patio restaurant. To ease our conscious of waiting, we ordered a beer, then a water, this was followed by two samosas, later more samosas. I think the staff thought we were going to take root there. We had a table under a fan, so I didn't want to forfeit it by leaving and returning later. We sat and read our books the entire time, making good use of the public facilities, but making me leery about a long train ride.

At 6pm, our driver Dennis, from the previous day came for us and drove us the fifteen minutes to the train station. He should us where to present our tickets. We were assigned our car and a porter took us with our luggage to it. The train station looked like something from an old time movie. All of 2 tracks, there was our train like a giant centipede, waiting for us. Our assigned car was about twenty-two cars toward the front. This is one of the oldest train lines in Eastern African running from Uganda. Not knowing what to expect, since our tickets were only $40 each, we bought a supply of water and a few snacks just in case. We had paid for 1st class, which was a sleeper and included dinner and breakfast tomorrow morning. Our sleeper room looked like any European train's sleeper car. Due to the heat, we waited on the platform until it was ready to roll.

By 7pm, the departure time, the announcement was made that the train was ready to go. We were in our seats, a long lounge type seating with an upper bunk that came down for a second bed. Within fifteen minutes, we were called to the dining car for dinner. It was suggested we take all of our valuables with us. I keep them all in my shoulder bag, so no worries.

The dining car tables were spread out with linen table cloths and china. They started with soup and then we had the choice of a beef, chicken or vegetable dish. Dessert was a fruit cup accompanied by coffee or tea. By 8:30pm we were ready for bed, because our overhead light was not fully functional, making it difficult to read. The porter had our beds made within ten minutes. The window opened and had a screen on it, which was fortunate because the fan did not work at all. By this hour, it was black out; there was no scenery to try to pass the time. I love the rock and roll of a train, so was looking forward to a great night of sleeping, but it was interrupted by having to get dressed to use the facilities down the hall. The toilet paper disappeared rapidly, so I went armed with my tissues and every paper napkin I could get my hands on in the dining car. Other than a lot of fumes coming in the window, exhaust type pollution, I slept well. It was a comfortable experience. We are due into Nairobi around 7:30am, but have been warned by others that it could be as late as 11:30. We have no pressing engagements, so it does not matter.
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Wednesday, January 06, 2010

A Forest Without a Spirit, a Beach Without Water


Our driver, Dennis, was ready for us at 8am. The owner of the agency came with him and wished us a pleasant journey and also asking that we spread the word. His agency needs business, tourism is really down. They are all struggling for work. As most of our excusions have borne out, the scenery leaving the city is interesting, but not beautiful. With every mile, you are confronted repeatedly with the poverty that abounds, yet the people all look content. As I look at the roadside businesses created in shacks, huts, and tin buildings, I cannot help but wonder how they raised the money to even stock a store. Most of the areas look desolate, not buyers in sight, so it boggles my mind how they can stay in business. Yet, the Coca-Cola delivery man is everywhere as well as their logos.

Driving for close to 2 hours, we finally reached our first destination, the forest. Dennis led us to the office to buy our tickets from the Kenya Forestry Service. At $20 per person, we were official to hike the trails, but if we wanted to drive them, it would cost more. We had thought we were heading for a 'kaya', a spiritual place where we could only be led into by a holy person from the reigning tribe of the particular kaya. Instead, we met Jonathon, our guide for our hike. Jonathon was quick to respond to our questions about this being a kaya, saying it was only part of the National Forestry Service and not associated with any kayas. Our first disappointment in the day's adventures.

I was set to have a spiritual experience, but I was destined to have trees identified for me, butterflies named, and bird watching here and there. Jonathon also found some elephant shrew, but neither of us could spot where he was pointing, so we missed them. The longer we walked the hotter it became. At the end of an hour, Jonathon said, "Wow, is it hot!" My response was that if he thought it was hot, then imagine how we felt. He said the temperature was hovering around 98 degrees and the storm clouds above proved that the humidity was just as high. We walked to the elephant trail, passing through an electric fence to keep the elephants in their own area. Part of the forest is a sand quarry where they mine the sand for making glass. It is the finest, silkiest sand I have ever felt. He took us to a tree house for a look-out point. It was too high for my taste, so I stayed behind, not having an appreciation of heights. Ron climbed up, but did not return with exaltations, so I guess I did not miss much. It turned out Jonathon was in a hurry to leave early today to attend a friend's wedding. We told him we saw enough trees, so we could return to the office. There were a splendid assortment of butterflies, but as their nature is, they do not stay still long enough to pose for a picture. I did not take a single photo during this forestry venture. There were also no spiritual experiences to be had either.

The next stop was a special beach with a boardwalk. However, when we arrived, we found that there was an 800 shilling (8 euro) admission charge per person, so we decided to forgo it and moved on. It was deserted, so I think the entrance fee was dissuading visitors. The final stop was a premier beach in Mombasa. It was littered with vendors selling drinks. Each had about 20 bottles of soda or water to offer, the extent of their stock. The beach was empty, but the sand went for a mile before reaching ocean. Seaweed was decorating the sandy beach brought in during high tide and left there. Some seashells were interspersed with the green leaves, but nothing is allowed to be removed from shores, leaving me helpless as a collector.

Ron decided he needed to dip his feet in the water, so I waited with Dennis. Ron had a long walk ahead of him, but finally reached his thighs. Dennis said that at 4pm, the beach would be filled, because this is when the water returns. All those that were arriving early with their inner tubes and water toys were in for a disappointment for a few hours to come.

With the beach half way back to the hotel, the ride to return was shorter, but once we reached the hotel at 1:30pm, there was not much to do.  It was too hot to explore Fort Jesus again, so we stayed in the room and read or wandered down to the patio for a cup of tea. With non-stop air conditioning, the hotel is a welcomed refuge, unlike Zanzibar, where the electric goes off and on. There are often entertainers on the patio also, usually a trio playing all of the golden oldies of the American music. One singer joined in for some time and sounded like Louie Armstrong.

One thing that I cannot fault anyone for in our experience is the service we have received. Everywhere we have been the service has been excellent from top to bottom. A couple of times, we have walked in on the maid cleaning our room. Each day, the furniture is polished, the sheets are changed, and the floors are mopped, in addition to all of the usual cleaning duties one would expect.   

Behind the hotel is a Chinese-Malaysian restaurant. We gave it a try for dinner. The food was great, but it was curious to see an all Black staff in a Chinese restaurant.

To read more about a Kaya forest, go here.
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