Sunday, September 21, 2008

5th - 7th September 2008 - The MAPA project

The MAPA project ( is an ambitious project supported by Google and Tracks4Africa to map all national parks in the African continent. The data collected during the following two years will be used for conservation-related projects and will be freely available to everybody on GoogleEarth.

We had the pleasure to join our friends Paolo and Filippo on the first expedition of the MAPA project and map the Arabuko Sukoke Forest Reserve, located about one and a half hours north-east of Mombasa.

We should have been picked up on Thursday, and Mohammed had spent most of the morning preparing fried doughnuts for us. This being Africa, Paolo and Filippo picked us up a day late (not their own fault!) so we ended up eating Mohammed's delicious doughnuts in the meantime. Our friends turned up on Friday in their newly-bought, second hand green Land Rover. We dumped our bags in the back of the car and drove on the reently surface road for nearly two hours through Mtwapa and Kilifi until we reached the forest reserve. The best thing about participating in the MAPA project is that you get free entrance and camping in the park! We had to hire Jonathan, however, who was to be our guide during our expedition across the last stretch of coastal forest of the entire East African coast. We set our 2 GPS on and started driving through the forest. Initially it was very exciting, particularly when the road started to get bumpier. We soon realised, however, the driving across a forest also means having to stare at a green wall of trees on either side for hours on end. I have to admit that hiking through the forest, as we occasionally had to do, was much more fun. We stopped at the different junctions, entrances, exits and viewpoints to take waypoints. One of the viewpoints was particularly staggering as it was possible to see the entire extent of the park and the succession of forest type from the coast inland. We were hoping to see the famed wildlife in this park, particularly the forest elephant and the elephant shrew. We only saw elephant poop, however, and lots of it, and (perhaps?) what appeared to be the shadow of an elephant. On the other hand we saw numerous different species of butterflies and birds. At the end we set up the tent on a sandy patch of the park near the entrance, and then headed to Watamu to have dinner in this beautiful restaurant where the tables have their individual white tent. We also tried to find an Italian gelateria but were unsuccessful.

The following morning was devoted to mapping the rest of tracks within the park and we also managed to see a large group of baboons running ahead of us. In the middle of the day we drove to the never-ending, white Turtle beach in Watamu to meet Valeria and Tania, who are friends of Paolo and Filippo. We later drove to Malindi, left our stuff at the Gossip Hotel, had a look at the beach, and paid a visit to the local artisan market, where were encircled by many sellers, all wanting us to have a look at their shop. After an excellent dinner at the 'Old Man and the Sea', where we had crab soup, pumpkin and coconut soup, and kingfish, we joined the crowd of mzungus to a beach party at this beautifully-set bar on Malindi beach. The crowd was small so we had the opportunity to talk to most of the mzungus before getting back to our hostel on a tuk-tuk.

8th September 2008 – Thanks ComputerAid!

The computers have finally arrived, so Lucienne spent most of the morning checking them and setting them up.

We always forget to say that electricity and water are out almost every day, which does limit the amount of work we can do sometimes.

This does not affect Aaron so much, however, particularly as now he is in charge of locating and designing four dams for the communities of Mitedi and Bombo, sponsored by trusts and foundations in the UK, and he spends most of his time on site. When he is not doing this he is measuring trees for a survey of the biofuel plantation.

Lucienne spends more time with the locals so she manages to get a better glimpse of their culture and philosophy of life. One interesting chat was about relationships and marriage. Kenyans believe that a married man cannot stay at home looking after housework while his wife is at work, because his main duty is to earn money. Money plays a major role in a relationship. If both partners work, the man has to earn more than the female; if not she has every right to divorce him.

Another chat was about clothing. Florence (who is Christian) thinks that it is indecent for a Kenyan girl to wear a skirt (not short) with a slit at the back and a sleeveless top. whereas it is acceptable for her if Lucienne (a mzungu) to wear such clothing. She believes that the girl, by doing so, is asking for trouble, and that if she is raped, she is to be blamed, and not the man who raped her.

Saturday 13th September 2008

Today we almost killed Mohammed!

We invited some locals that we work with for dinner – Lennox the doctor, Florence the nurse, Michael the boss, Omari and Mohammad who take care of our cottage, and Gideon, our neighbour. As Kenyans are very conservative about what to eat, we tried to cook something very basic – guacamole as an appetizer, then two types of pasta dishes (bolognese sauce, chicken with broccoli and cream), potato wedges, and a fruit salad for dessert. We spent most of the morning preparing the food. Mohammed was in his best attire, which included a white shirt, cream trousers and a matching hat. He instructed us how to welcome our guests through the veranda and then set on his armchair pretending to read a book, in German, starting from the back!

Our guests were told to come at 7.30 pm, but they arrived a couple of hours later – we are used to African time now! They were initially a bit hesitant about starting to eat the guacamole and the pasta, but by the end of the dinner everybody managed to eat his share of food, despite the absence of ugali, about which these locals are obsessed. We think Mohammed never saw so much food on a table in his life, as he was having seconds of almost everything. At one point, while he was eating his fruit salad with ice cream, he collapsed from his chair with his eyes open. Lennox and Omari grabbed him before he fell to the floor and placed him on a nearby bed. We were afraid it was a stroke or something worse, but then we see that Mohammed was smiling and muttered something to the doctor, and everbody burst out laughing. He told them that he fell asleep on his chair and started dreaming. He said that he had never eaten so much and that he always feels sleepy when he eats a lot!

After Mohammed retired to his room, we drove of to Mtwapa in our hired car. We tried to, actually, because the car ran out of fuel half way there. We tried to push the car as a group of goats watched us with great interest, but the petrol station was too far. Michael and Omari walked to the station and came back with a black plastic bag full of fuel and a plastic bottle, and somehow they managed to fill the car with petrol and restart it.

We finally made it to Kembas disco, where a young deejay was entertaining a crowd of locals. As we were enjoying our Guiness with Coke (that is how Kenyans like their Guiness, I guess because it is quite bitter on its own), sexy Maureen (as introduced by DJ Akrakatabra) came out and started pole dancing. This was no gentlemen's bar, and we learnt that it is quite common for Kenyan bars to have pole dancers. It turned out that sexy Maureen was a bit to chubby for pole dancing, which was quite entertaining for everybody, particularly as the dancer extended her performance to every conceivable space in the bar. Sexy Maureen was followed by sexy Terry, sexy Melissa and sexy Joanna, and the trend was for the girls to be slimmer and better dancers, which was quite entertaining for the boys.

Before sexy Maureen came out for her second performance we headed to the Black Havana, where we were the only 2 mzungus on the dancefloor and had a great time dancing (or trying to) to the tune of Congolese music.


Elizabeth said...

thanks for the updates.. nkun looking forward to read them. prosit hafna ta itratti vera sbih.. by d way dr aaron you were on the times last sunday... ajma hey.. isa irid nibdew insejhulek doctor... enjoy hey..luve eli

Miguel said...


L-ewwel nett prosit tar-ritratti... wow! Specjalment fejn jidhru n-nies tal-lokal, hemm uhud minnhom 'izzejjed' sbieh :-)

U grazzi ta' post oħra. Erġajtu rnexxielkom tissodisfaw ix-xewqa tagħna għall-ftit avventura... iva, għadna ngħiru għalikom ;-)

U prosit Aaron tal-gradwazzjoni.


WhiteShadow said...

As usual, brilliant pictures!

jean paul said...

Good narrative coupled with interesting photos, makes a really good blog and since now am learning that you're now a Dr, very well done and congratulations Aron!