Monday, January 04, 2010

Ron Makes a Friend

After making 'new best friend' status with the travel information guy in the lobby, Ron booked a dinner dhow boat cruise for tonight. We wanted to go tomorrow night, for my birthday, but Chris, the travel guy was not certain. They needed a minimum of ten people, but they only had 6 so far for Tuesday night. Monday was a sure thing; they had the minimum already. Convinced we could possibly lose out, we settled and handed over 45 euros per person. This particular boat is run by the Tamarind Hotel, a five star property in town. They will be sending a car for us at 6pm, we sail at 7pm and are returned to shore at 10pm.

Now that Chris has attained 'new best friend' status, Ron was assured that all of the other tours he wanted to sell us were absolutely the best bargains in town. We had read about these "Vayas" a spiritual forest you could visit, but once you reached them, you could only be escorted by a spiritual tribal member. There were restrictions in the forest. You had to speak softly, you could not kiss another person, and the tribal person could communicate with the trees. This gave us hope that there was something to do in this city, so we asked Chris about it. Being Ron's new best friend, I let the two of them discuss matters; however, each time Ron returned, he would say that Chris spoke so fast, he was not sure what he had said. The crux was that the forests are a ways out of the city, meaning you have to hire a driver. Forests are within government protected parks, so there is an entry feee of $20 per person to enter. 

My offering was to check the tour companies in town to compare prices. We looked for one in our tour guide, but could not find it, finding another close by. We stopped in, explained what we wanted and the man kept saying "Yes, okay, okay, okay". When we stopped talking so did he, so we had no clue if he understood a word we said. After a long pregnant pause, he said he could arrange a driver for us for 7,500 shillings. The driver would take us to the forest, we would pay our $20 admission to the forestry office, and then the driver would take us to a beach for an hour and back to the hotel. The beach was our second requirement. We said we would think about it and possibly return.

On the street where our hotel is, Moi Avenue, there are about sixteen banks. In some blocks there are four banks side by side. Finding an ATM machine should be easy and it would be if we had a Visa ATM card. As we prowled the blocks, we came across another tour agency and decided to give them a try. Once upstairs, their office is down a hall where there the fron part of the building is being used by a language school. In the two rooms of the language school, you have the options of learning Spanish, Italian, German, French, Arabic, or Swahili, but not English. At the tour office, their English was perfect, the owner understood us and made an offer of picking us up at 7am and delivering us back at 3pm. We would drive 2 hours to the forest, spend time there, go to a boardwalk area for bird watching, and then on to the beach, have lunch there if we wanted and to return to the hotel at the end. It sounded like a full day, but again we said we would think about it and return. 

I have not rid myself of the stomach bug, so being close to a bathroom is a priority. Let me clarify that being close to a western type bathroom is a huge priority. Many toilets are the squat type sans any paper products. I cannot trust my balance nor my supply of tissues to hold out.

Once again the temps were in the high 90s with chance of thunderstorms. The skies were alternating black and blue like a bad bruise. Drained from the heat and knowing I only had Internet paid up to tomorrow at 4pm, we spent the afternoon reading, computing and napping. At 6pm, our car was here for our dhow dinner. The hotel is on the outskirts of the city taking about thirty minutes to get there. Docked at their private dock was a grand boat, the deck covered with tables, the tables covered in linen, crystal, and china. Our table was on the upper deck. It was lovely. Although a set dinner, each of the four courses had two offerings. We started with a seafood salad, I had cream of butternut soup,  Ron had tomato, both of us had lobster, and for dessert cherry cheesecake. As soon as all were boarded, the tables were full with about thirty people total and we sailed off. A band on board entertained during the evening with soothing music. At the next table, by himself was a young man who started out with "Since I am alone here, I will need someone to talk to. Can I talk to you?"  Once he started, he did not stop. From Australia, he is working on his doctorate in African studies with a special interest in the Congo. His department would not allow him to travel to the Congo to do his research for safety reasons. Instead, he decided to teach a year at the Gibson School in Ethiopia to gain experience.  On an Ethiopian teacher's salary, he decided to do one major trip over the holidays, hence his being here. He ordered water for our table, but then said he had no money to pay for it, so we said we would. He chatted for the first forty-five minutes with us, but then went to try to take pictures. We went downstairs and when we returned, he was chatting up the African couple sitting next to us. They bought him a mixed drink and a beer.

Dinner was wonderful, the cruise was lovely, the music was a special touch, and the service was stellar. At the end of the cruise, the staff came around with our bar bills. Ours was 230 shillings for the bottle of water. The Australian's was 4,500 shillings for the cruise itself. He argued that he had pre-paid just as the rest of us had, but strangely when we docked he was the first off and disappeared like Casper the hustling ghost. I never heard him even thank the African couple for the drinks. All in all it was a wonderful way to spend an evening and highly recommended.

I was betwixt and between needing the facilities on the ship or waiting for the hotel. 

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