July 2009


In the undeniable black, I awakened to a minion of Satan sitting on my face. OK, that may be a slight exaggeration, but her name is Brinkley and she is the most unholy cunt of a cat known to mankind. Poising her rear-end in the air and presenting her asshole to me, I shoved her to the floor with indifferent cruelty as she let out a protesting “reeeeeeeearrrrrrrrr.” Fucking cat. It was three in the morning, I was annoyed, insomniatic, and I had only another forty-five minutes until it was time to head to the airport. Restlessly tossing through half-dreams of satanic cats and missed flights the acrimonious shrieks of my alarm pulled me from my warm darkness and into what I was as yet unaware would be the longest day trip I would ever take.

I showered my always aching body and began to get dressed in the relative dark. Putting on a restrictive bra, a skin-tight undershirt, an uncomfortable blouse, a high-waisted tweed pencil skirt, and five-inch heels, it occurred to me that I was donning the most restrictive outfit I possibly could for five hours of flying and layovers, save for throwing on a pair of pantyhose, a corset, and a chastity belt. I really don’t know how anyone wears this shit. I muttered the words, “fuck it,” took off the heels, threw them in my carry-on, and rocked my Birks instead. I was ready to go.

The Charlotte-Douglas International Airport was more crowded than usual, especially for five in the morning, but I had arrived with plenty of time to spare. I bought some coffee and went outside to smoke one last glorious cigarette before subjecting myself to the invasive whims of the TSA. On the plane without a hitch I fought the urge to order a breakfast cocktail, knowing I would be in a meeting in just a few hours. For some inexplicable reason the professional world frowns on drinking before work. Luckily enough, in the midnight of early morning I fell instantly asleep in the cramped seat and even the hour long layover in Detroit went off without a hitch. I caught a cab to the meeting, freshening my hair and make-up (and changing my shoes) in the backseat as we sped down the highway. About thirty minutes later I stepped out of the cab looking professional, put-together, and just the right amount of sexy. Just one more day I successfully fooled the planet into believing I am a legitimate member of the world of finance. If only they knew. After spending the following three hours listening to a management team unsuccessfully try to convince us their company was not going bankrupt, I was free. My colleague headed to the airport, and I to my hotel, ready to escape from the sartorial bondage that is business casual attire.

The Skyline over Millenium Park

The Skyline over Millenium Park

Appealing Incongruity

Appealing Incongruity

The afternoon in Chicago was ineffable. The sun unfolded the city in front of me, illuminating the awesome art and architecture on each corner. Though my hotel was just a few blocks from the world-renowned Art Institute (forever immortalized by the scene with Cameron and the Seurat painting in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) I found myself too distracted by everything I saw along the way. The skyscrapers rocketed up from ground in every direction around Millennium Park, framing the great amphitheatre and the giant steel bean that contorted the skyline in rounded pulls. IMG_0385
Anish Kapoor's $11.5 million Jelly Bean

Anish Kapoor's $11.5 million Jelly Bean

That bean was so fucking cool. The weather was a welcome invitation to the park for the city that had been cursed with a cool summer and an even more welcome relief from the thick Charlotte humidity to which I am used, and about which I often complain. I decided to take advantage of the weather and save the Art Institute for tomorrow. I wandered around for hours stepping in beat to my new favorite band, “Vampire Weekend,” taking pictures of any and everything, smiling at strangers, and enjoying the content of freedom and the wonder of the unfamiliar. After my peripatetic legs were weary of walking I sat down at a local pizza place, ordered a Fat Tire, some authentic Chicago deep dish, and drank my icy cold brew as the sun set over the jewelry district. It was a perfect afternoon.

Deep Dish in the Jewelry District

Deep Dish in the Jewelry District


After I returned to my hotel to regroup and enjoy a bottle of wine in insular comfort, the first threads began to come loose. Though I did want to explore the city, the real motive for extending my trip was (not surprisingly, if you know me) a man. Oh, the never-ending whirlwinds of my fickle and impetuous heart. It was only a few months ago that Scott and I ended our tumultuous relationship. Well, to be clear, we didn’t end anything. After close to a year of mendacious toying and tearing between two men whom I was convinced I loved simultaneously, he had had enough. What happened in Africa was the unforgivable, unforgettable straw. After having spent the three months since returning from Africa letting my hatred for Mladen dissolve into apathy, I finally let go. I ran back to Scott just in time to watch him fall in love with someone else. Via text. Who lives 3,000 miles away. Lovely. But after it all, I just wasn’t ready to let go of him too.

I opted to walk down Michigan Ave. the 1.4 miles from my hotel to his, through the hurried crowds of oblivious shoppers and tourists, amidst the lights of buildings disappearing into a great verdant fog.

John Hancock Building Adumbrated by Fog

John Hancock Building Adumbrated by Fog

Lights on the River

Lights on the River

As I crossed the Chicago River, a furtive smile stole across my face as I anticipated my encounter with him, and wondered what would be the outcome.

I arrived at the Park Hyatt, a glamorous structure, and headed up to the bar with a seductively familiar spark firing from my thighs up through my belly. I found Scott at the bar with a Hendricks Martini, up, no olives, and ordered a Hendricks and tonic for myself. Our glances met for the first time in forever and the rising energy in me intensified. Regardless of the searing jealousy which tinged the overwhelming (and near constant) sexual desire I felt for him, we attempted some fucked up semblance of a friendship. We made stupid conversation about his conference, and my day in the city while we guzzled the cucumber gin and feigned platonic. After I don’t remember how many cocktails, around the time the night began to adumbrate into half-memories, I asked if I could charge my iPod in his room. It wasn’t a spurious request, but it was a terrible fucking idea. The next thing I truly recall is leaving the room in a fury of enmity and tears, with a vituperative taste lingering on my tongue. I headed to Wicker Park.

The short cab ride took me to the Double Door and I was exited to hit the street in my five-inch heels anxiously anticipating some local indie flavor. Much to my dismay, just moments after my midnight arrival, the last band played their final song. Dejected but restive, I went outside to smoke a cigarette, and asked the fellow smokers where I could see some gritty Chicago music on a Wednesday night. A less-than-respectable looking young man wearing two nose rings and a “demon cassette” t-shirt offered to show me around. Sold. Being the consistently cautious person that I am, I hopped into a taxi with the anonymous reprobate and we headed onwards.

Me n' Random Mike

Me n' Random Mike

Mmm...blues

Mmm...blues


The night was a blur of cocktails and strangers, and the memories of Scott easily escaped me as we made our way from one bar to the next. Unfortunately, the man I assumed to be utterly dissolute was actually quite the gentleman and refused to take me to any real Chicago blues for fear of exposing me to a shady neighborhood. Needless to say, we ended up in the most touristy blues bar I have ever encountered. It was more well-lit than a Wal-Mart and sardine-canned with forty-somethings in colorful polos and khaki shorts. All that aside, they were playing some great blues in that joint. After a few hours of random encounters with intriguing strangers, we started on the road back to the Silversmith. My impromptu tour guide and I got into one of those cab rides you never remember, but don’t exactly forget. We cut out of the cab a bit early and walked along the sands of Lake Michigan, talking the way strangers do, with the lights undulating in the lazy tides.
A perfect end.

A perfect end.

I rolled over this past Sunday morning and as I attempted to open my crusty eyes, felt restrained by some unidentified material. Sitting up in the light of the late morning sun coming in through the window I realized I was still wearing the floor-length summer dress I had worn the night before. And that I was in Andy’s bed. And that the slow pulsing in my head was ever growing in intensity. After a moment of thought and five or six Advils I remembered that I had washed my sheets last night and was not up to the task of wrapping them back around my mattress as I stumbled wasted through the door at 2 A.M. At least I was smart enough not to drive home.

I sleepily turned to Andy and began whining about the quickly increasing hunger pains growing in my stomach. Looking at the clock it was clear that brunch would have to wait. It was only 11:15 and the God-fearing state of North Carolina does not allow the sale of booze before noon on the Lord’s day. Seeing as I am an agnostic and an alcoholic, this certain piece of legislation tends to inconvenience me quite frequently.

Andy and I chatted in bed for a bit, recounting tales from the previous evening and griping about our respective hangovers. As the clock approached the hour of mimosa I texted our friend Kristen, who was meeting us for brunch, and Andy and I managed to drag our tired bodies out of bed. As Andy threw on a pair of shorts and a polo I looked down at my dress and announced defiantly that I did not intend on changing for brunch. Andy, without issue, finished getting dressed and like every other Sunday we left the apartment unshowered and headed to the Pewter Rose.

Our timing was perfect and Kristen pulled into the parking lot just as we were walking towards the restaurant. We walked up the stairs past the empty nightclub, Tutto Mundo and came upon a line of elegant tables draped in floral table cloths. Still a bit drunk from the night before, our raucous approach to the restaurant was met with an inexplicable silence. Each and every table outside was full, yet not a sound came from the brunching patrons. Walking by the closemouthed tables we saw a couple literally whispering their brunch conversation to one another. Very odd. Though this past Sunday was the most perfect day I have seen this summer, the wait for a table in the warm sunny air lacking Charlotte’s signature humidity was thirty minutes, and we opted to sit inside and eat sooner rather than later.

Walking into the restaurant for the first time, the atmosphere was quite charming with a collection of colorful glass vases over the bar and large fake trees with those little white lights strung through them scattered around the main dining area.

Funky hanging lamps inside

Funky hanging lamps inside

IMG_0326 Upon further investigation we all decided that they may have overdone the fake plants juuuuust a bit. The service appeared promising at first and shortly after being seated, our waitress, Ashley, came by to take our drink order. Now this was something on which I did not need time to decide. The menu offered a single mimosa for $4 and a double for $7.50. I don’t believe I even need to tell you which one I chose. Kristen and Andy both got Bloody Marys, we all ordered coffee and water and Ashley walked away with promises of warm scones lingering at the table.

Not but a few minutes later our basket of warm scones and coffee arrived. In tall clear mugs that were never wont to be refreshed, the coffee was easily the highlight of the meal.

Warm scones, coffee, and cocktails

Warm scones, coffee, and cocktails

After a long and arduous decision process over the many tempting menu items, I made a last minute decision for the Fingerling Frittata and exchanged the pungent stilton cheese for a more mild selection. Blue cheese just isn’t my thing. Andy went with the Oscar Benedict and Kristen, the Italian omelette with Italian sausage, basil pesto, fontina, roasted red peppers, and home fries. I will note that once again, the home fries were listed on the menu as hash browns. Seriously, Charlotte. Get your potatoes straight.

The conversation was running average as my mimosa and I banded together to fight my slowly waning hangover. Kristen and I caught up as we hadn’t seen each other in some time, but overall the brunch lacked the usual high-jinx to which Andy and I have grown accustomed since moving in together. I swear we get stranger and stranger by the day. In the midst of relatively slow conversation, I took out my camera to begin documenting the trip. After snapping a picture or two of the bar, I was left with only the image of a black and white screen instructing me to change the battery. Shocking, I know, that in my hungover state I didn’t think to check the battery. I gave up and decided a few camera phone pictures would have to do.

Not but a few minutes later, the food arrived. A bit shocked at the quickness with which the plates made it to the table, we excitedly dug in. My frittata, covered in bacon and stuffed with fingerling potatoes was delicious, but come on, how do you really fuck up bacon, potatoes, egg, and cheese?

The Food

The Food

Kristen’s Italian Omelette was by far the most delicious thing we ordered, and poor Andy was stuck with the least appetizing of the three entrees. His eggs were clearly overcooked, the crabcakes soggy, undercooked, and floppy, and the English muffin arrived untoasted. Especially disappointing was the fact that this Oscar Benedict was the most expensive option on the menu at $15. The one saving grace was the coffee, which, rich, dark, and bottomless, turned Andy’s breakfast into a liquid one, albeit of the non-alcoholic variety. Hey, to each his own.
Andy Cheesing

Andy Cheesing

Both Andy and Kristen agreed that the Bloody Marys were nothing to write home about. My mimosa was delicious, but much like bacon and cheese, it’s hard to fuck up champagne and orange juice.

As our separate bills arrived, I swallowed the last of my second double mimosa in two great swigs and opened my bill. With a 20% tip for service that wasn’t exactly bad, but more unnoticeable, my tab alone came to $40. Andy and Kristen likely ran below that as my $15 mimosas certainly contributed, but the real bottom line here is that this place was not worth the money. My sincerest apologies for what I believe to be a rather boring review, but it is only indicative of the brunch itself. Hopefully next week will have a little more flavor. Till then, happy brunching.

My Picks

Food: 2.5
Cocktails: 3
Atmosphere: 3.5
Service: 2.5
Price: 1
Overall: 2.5

And Andy’s…

Food: 1.5
Cocktails: 3
Atmosphere: 3.5
Service: 2.5
Price: 1
Overall: 2.5

Ready to head back to the Kenyan capital to begin the next leg of our trip, we arranged for a matatu to pick us up at Fisherman’s, swing by Crayfish to get our bags, and make the two hour drive back, stopping to pick up and drop off local passengers along the way. Once again excusing myself from the negotiation process, the girls settled on a price with the driver, and we squeezed our tired bodies into the makeshift bus, slumping into the seats utterly spent. Looking back, I can’t remember who, but someone pulled out the Kenya King (a cheap local liquor that tasted like some noxious combination of gin, vodka, and antiseptic) and began passing it around for shots. To chase the vile booze, EEL had picked up some unnaturally orange colored “juice” that may very well have made the mystery liquor even worse. As it turns out the day-glo juice was actually a juice concentrate and we were probably sipping enough of it to make an entire pitcher of Kenyan Kool-Aid with every shot. Needless to say, we tossed the overly potent mixer the first chance we got. Unfortunately, however, it wasn’t soon enough. As the matatu tossed and jostled us down the road at breakneck speed, Matsui’s face began to lose color. All too familiar with the combination of heat, booze, exhaustion, and matatu, I gave up my seat in the corner and let Matsui rest his head against the open window, fighting the urge to boot from the moving van.

Without paying the premium for a private ride, the matatu stopped often between the camp and town, letting people on and off, but also allowing those ubiquitous blow-pop and tiny sausage salesmen to peddle their goods. Stopped for even a moment and lacking a breeze, the heat of the fifteen bodies packed inside the van was stifling. Matsui lay curled up against the window pitifully attempting to shoo away the vendors as they approached. One after another, they came and just as the yogurt lady pushed her ninety-degree dairy product in our faces, Matsui lost it. If there is one thing we learned that day it is if you want to get a stopped matatu moving, puking neon orange out the window will surely get the job done.

Taking care of Matsui in Naivasha

Taking care of Matsui in Naivasha

After a much debated switch from one matatu to another, the details of which I will not bore you with, we piled into yet another crowded deathtrap. I sat next to Matsui for those two hours on the road back to Nairobi, offering my shoulder for his head and gently rubbing his back, returning the kindness he had offered me just a few days earlier. I knew that it was too close. I knew that holding him, even just in sickness, was too much, too familiar. I knew my feelings for him were too strong to hold him so near and not want for more. Slowly, subconsciously, I started rationalizing the proximity I wanted to have to him. Today I was simply returning a favor, and it’s not like I could ever stay that far away from him, we were on vacation together after all, and I wouldn’t want to ruin everyone else’s trip by creating tensions between us. I must say I have quite a talent for believing my own bullshit. I was still dead-set on keeping the promise I had made to myself, but the desire had already begun to build, and a part of me, a part I was desperately fighting, knew my resistance would be in vain.

Just in case you were wondering, I decided to post a list of the brunches Andy and I plan on hitting over the next several weeks. We have yet to decide the order, but we will definitely get to them all eventually. Additional suggestions are more than welcome!

Pewter Rose

Carpe Diem

Lulu

Eddie’s Place

Nolia

300 East

As a special treat, Andy has agreed to personally review my world-famous homemade breakfast sandwiches: service, presentation, and all. Should definitely be interesting. Also, we will be doing Saturday brunch this week instead of Sunday so I will be back tomorrow with a full review. Until then, happy breakfast cocktails!

We awakened on our third morning in Kenya and started packing the bikes we had barely gotten back to the camp the night before for our day trip out to Hell’s Gate National Park. EEL and BoBo had stored their bikes in my room for the night and as I rolled EEL’s out into the light it quickly became apparent that her front tire was flat. After Matsui’s numerous attempts at resuscitation, we came to the conclusion that EEL needed a new bike. The question of who would accompany EEL the miles back to Fisherman’s Camp in the wrong direction sat stiff in the air as everyone waited for someone else to volunteer. I decided it wasn’t that big a deal and agreed to go with her. We split up the walkie-talkies, the rest of the crew headed in the direction of Hell’s Gate, and we agreed to catch up with them once we exchanged the bikes. The ride out there was slow going as I rode next to EEL, steadily pushing her bike with each step. We chatted and offered a jambo to those passing while the sun burned ever hotter in the barren sky. The exchange at the camp was quick and in no time EEL and I were back on the road in the direction of the park. In even less time, EEL’s replacement bike started grinding like a screwdriver jammed in a pencil sharper. Trying to press on through it she forced the pedals through each revolution, hoping the gear would catch and we could keep going. When pieces of the gears starting popping off the bike onto the road, we decided it was time to go back for bike number three. Luckily we hadn’t gotten very far from the camp before we had to turn around yet again. Finally, we were on our way to Hell’s Gate.

The time we spent heading in the wrong direction had burned through precious hours of weaker sun and relief sank through us as we approached the sign indicating the turn-in for the park. We increased our pace, excited to have arrived. We made the turn through the rust-colored metal gate and came to an abrupt stop. Ahead, the straight, treeless dirt road stretched infinitely on, disappearing only in that watery haze of intense heat on the horizon. For lack of any other option we pushed our thirsty bodies on down the scorched and rocky path, alternating brief spurts of energy with ragged attempts to keep pace. When we finally arrived at the point where the road turned, the ride became easier, trees provided some shade, and in no time we made it to the entrance of the park. We immediately stopped and purchased two extra large bottles of icy cold water. EEL and I headed on into the park, curious as to how we would locate the rest of the crew. Almost immediately, we found them perched high in tiny caves spotting a volcanic plug, formed by semi-molten rock forced up through a fissure, cooling and solidifying as it is extruded from the earth.

Climbing the volcanic plug

Climbing the volcanic plug

We climbed to meet them, hot and tired, and rested for a few minutes before beginning the incredible trek to the gorge. As we all began to regroup I suddenly heard Fityfo yell, “GIRAAAAFFE!” Immediately we ripped ourselves from the rocks and ran out into the clearing to see her. Our very first giraffe. At first she was hidden a bit by the trees, the strength of her pattern peeking out only with with movement, but after a few moments, she began to walk, exposing her lackadaisical gait and the sharp and vibrant puzzle pieces of her coat.
Our first giraffe spotting

Our first giraffe spotting

Elsa

Elsa

We decided to name her Elsa, after the name of the entrance to the park. All alone, Elsa stood chewing leaves from the surrounding trees and then started slowly making her way out into the open and across the volcanic plain. The seven of us stood, mesmerized and following her movements as close as we could without distubring her. She walked across the road, moving on into distance until she finally disappeared from our sight. It was at that very moment the seven of us collectively realized just how amazing this trip was going to be. And this was only our third day. None of us had any idea what the next ten days would bring.
Elsa on the volcanic horizon

Elsa on the volcanic horizon

The riding was long to my unexercised body, and felt like longer still in the strong Kenyan sun, but the giraffe and scores of zebra, gazelle, and warthogs along the way were certainly worth it. The horizon was devastating; surrounding the savannah as far as the dusty dirt road could be seen.
Biking towards the gorge

Biking towards the gorge

As one of only two parks in Kenya that allow walking or biking we stopped frequently, excited yet cautious in our first close encounters with these strange and exotic animals. We saw herds of zebra drinking from a man-made watering hole, families of warthogs trouncing along, the babies following always in neat little lines, and graceful gazelles imposing their gentle yet demanding posture on the horizon.
Zebra at the watering hole

Zebra at the watering hole

The conversation was focused only on our surroundings. Everything else tended to disappear in the expansive nature. It was magnificent. After a few hours of riding, stopping, and more riding we reached the picnic site marking the entrance to Olduvai Gorge. As we approached, what I decided was a particularly judgmental Olive baboon, sat staring at us from the first picnic bench, clearly attempting to intimidate.

Judgemental Olive baboon that wanted to steal our lunch

Judgemental Olive baboon that wanted to steal our lunch

I am pretty sure I speak for the entire group when I say it worked. Despite the feeling that he was already plotting an attack on our picnic, we walked slowly past him, bought a few relatively cold cokes being sold by a man with a cooler posted outside of the small office, and settled down for a makeshift picnic lunch of mangos, peanuts, plain bread, and some cookies the girls purchased in town. Enjoying our fresh mangos and a little rest in the shade of the picnic area, we suddenly realized that our our newly acquired nemesis actually was plotting to steal our lunch. Apparently all of our instincts about his suspect character were correct. Upon the recommendation of one of the locals, Matsui jumped up on a nearby rock and proceeded to wave a large stick around in what was supposed to be an authoritative manner. We can only assume the ridiculous establishment of dominance worked as we finished the remainder of our lunch unscathed.

After washing our hands of the sticky sweet mango juice and taking what we needed from our bikes, we began the descent into the gorge. While our original (and idiotic) plan was to explore it on our own, luckily enough for us, one of the local men waiting in the picnic area perceived our utter lack of any kind of direction and followed us down the steep and rocky path, volunteering to guide us through the treacherous, winding gorge (for a price, of course).

Climbing along the twisted gorge

Climbing along the twisted gorge

The towering cleft through which we walked was created by ancient volcanic activity, and was once home to the powerful waters of Lake NaEvesha. During the rainy season flash floods overwhelm this narrow crevasse, sweeping with them everything in their path from rooted plants to seemingly immovable boulders. But on this early March afternoon, the gorge was quiet as we walked in awe along the floor of the great structure.

Peter, the obviously fabricated Western name of our guide, pointed out various curiosities along the way as we climbed and crawled and slid our way along and between the ridged walls through hot geothermal showers and steaming pools of water hot enough to boil an egg. Literally.

The Egg-boiler

The Egg-boiler

The dusty floor of the gorge was littered with chunks of obsidian, a black volcanic glass formed by the rapid cooling of molten lava and the curved walls were carved with graffiti from the many who had preceded us.
Me and Matsui on the gorge wall

Me and Matsui on the gorge wall

We walked along the floor of the gorge, straining our necks up at the narrow winding slit of sky above. The grooved walls are smooth (save for the graffiti, of course) and it is incredible to imagine the power of the water molecules as they pushed and surged, grinding ever deeper into the stone, wearing it away with time and pressure.

Our guide, Peter, in the gorge

Our guide, Peter, in the gorge

My sense of amazement certainly did not stop there. Peter took us through several showers pouring from the stone, some too hot to touch, and other refreshingly cool. In some places the ground is so hot you can literally feel it melting your shoes. Once we came to the end of maze-like walk along the floor, it was time to climb. Peter led the way up a dangerously steep incline, lacking any noticeable path. The warm mud slid beneath our feet, impossible to gain any traction, we slipped, grasped, and heaved our way to the top. When we reached it, out of breath and panting like a pack of horny dogs, we doubled over, resting our hands on our knees trying to reclaim the air we had managed to lose. And then we looked up.

View from the top of the Gorge

View from the top of the Gorge

We were on the top of the gorge. On top of Africa. In every direction the plateau of volcanic rock stretched, the wide crevasse of the gorge etched into it for eternity. It was truly one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen, making the taxing climb up the muddy rock all the more satisfying. Every day we spent in Africa I felt a calmness growing inside of me, a closeness to the earth that I now yearn every day to feel again.

We had but a few fleeting moments to absorb the awesome sight of the gorge as we had planned to catch a matatu back to Nairobi by three that afternoon. Hurriedly, we headed back to the picnic site. Dirty, exhausted, and mostly dehydrated, we chugged our bath-warm water as if it were icy cold, then took a look at the map. As I covered most of the planning we did state-side, I tended to leave myself out of any decision-making process that could lead to some kind of argument. I figured between six other opinions, mine was probably unnecessary. We had two options: either double back on Elsa trail the way we came in, or head down the other way out and explore something new. After a few minutes of discussion, we decided to explore new territory. There was no way we could have known just how terrible a decision this would end up being, especially considering the shoddy condition of the gears on most of our bikes. I was lucky and had at least three functioning gears, but I don’t even want to imagine trying to climb those painfully steep and rocky inclines, one after another, as your bike grinded and cracked itself with each revolution like a blender of rusty screws, never finding a lower gear. Needless to say, we walked our bikes most of the way up the road back to the camp. Up and down the volcanic formations following the road were miles of pipe, carrying steam energy from inside the earth, powering the geothermal plant. Noxious odors were emitted from the massive structure, and needless to say the giraffe, gazelle, and zebra we saw on the way in were replaced by dump trucks, and straggling workers, traveling in and out of the massive complex of the power plant. It is still unclear to all of us how this expansive structure ended up inside the boundaries of the National Park, but at the time we were all too focused on getting rid of those god-forsaken bikes to discuss it.

Making it back to Fisherman’s Camp we happily dropped off the bikes and settled in for the most refreshing beer of our lives. By the end of the trip, this would actually come to be the fourth most refreshing beer of our lives, but don’t let that belittle the imagery of deliciousness one bit. We sat on the same lawn onto which that hippo had wandered just the night before and attempted to shower the grime of the gorge from our skin with face wipes. It was time to head back to Nairobi.

As our group of seven walked along the road lining the lake recounting our first interaction with the African wildlife we were all so eager to see, the rest of the girls wandered ahead again while the boys and I discussed their consistent need to hurry in a place where everything else moves so slowly. The walkie-talkies Fityfo brought in tow were relatively useless when the Bijelic girls had them as they seldom answered them, other than sporadically, and often they didn’t even keep them turned on at all. It was a long walk which we spent mostly in silence absorbing the unfamiliar surroundings, breaking occasionally to return a friendly jambo to the many small children we passed. The single road from the lake to the town of NaEvesha is dusty and littered with what seems to be years worth of trash. Women in traditional kangas carrying baskets on their heads in that way they do, children in school uniforms, and barefooted teenagers in dirty clothes made their way along the skinny dirt path following the broken pavement. As there is clearly no city maintenance out here I wonder if people ever think about that fact when they see a cigarette pack they dropped on their walk to work three years earlier. Apparently not.

We finally arrived at Fisherman’s Camp where we intended to rent bikes for the ride through Hell’s Gate National Park for the following day. Once we got there and got the bikes in order we headed to their restaurant for dinner and drinks. The seven of us sat down on a large wooden porch wrapped around the main building of the camp, ready for a cold beer and anything that might dilute our memories of that debacle that Crayfish Camp called our lunch. Our table on the deck overlooked an expansive yard with old, tall trees that were home to wild Colobus monkeys (resembling some bastard combination of monkey, skunk, and crazy old man) and a dock jutting out into the lake. About fifty feet in from the lake, the restaurant was surrounded by an electrical fence and a sign apparently warning of us of cartoon polka-dot hippos.

Beware the feared pink polka-dot cow hippo

Beware the feared pink polka-dot cow hippo

We each ordered our dinner and a Tusker and struck up a casual conversation with the owner, a friendly American man seated next to us, joking about the electric fence keeping out the hippos. Apparently, based on the sudden (and very ominous) warning we received from him, joking about death-by-hippo is not, in fact, funny. He proceeded to inform us that it actually happens somewhat frequently. Though these massive and lethargic mammals can outrun humans, they tend to spend their days mostly under water enjoying immersion in the cool lake and minding their own. But at dusk, when they come up out of the water to graze, you best not get in their way or they will kill you. Literally. One of the local men who guards the camp at night took us down and let us walk out to the end of the dock before the fences were electrified at sundown. Hoping to catch a glimpse of the deceptively violent (yet completely adorable) beasts, we ended up enjoying our beers and the sunset from the edge of the lake. When we inquired of the guard as to when the last time someone got killed by a hippo he flatly replied, “last week.”

Hungera!

Hungera!

After a few minutes by the water scoping the hippo scene, we exchanged the Kiswahili toast “hungera” and headed back up to the deck for dinner. Though we weren’t all friends before this trip, there was a certain ease between the seven of us. It was as though we had traveled often before together and knew the delicate rhythm of each other’s moods, the gives and takes necessary to keep from creating incurable tensions and divides on trips like this. Our dinner was loud and delicious and full of booze and for the first time since we arrived in Africa the seven of us truly enjoyed each other, notably lacking the pressure of the next hostel or bus to catch. We stuffed ourselves with curries and meats and libations, peering out towards the lake every so often in hopes of finding a wandering hippo. And then, during that most enjoyable period of any meal when the plates have been cleaned, everyone is full with food, lightened with booze, and the conversation is flowing with more ease than the Kenya King we were drinking, we were approached by one of the guards. The sun had set on the restaurant and he came to inform us that a hippo had been spotted grazing just on the other side of the electric fence. Ecstatic, but silencing our excitement, we got up from the table and followed the lone illumination of the lanky guard’s flashlight down into the darkness. As we approached the fence we strained our eyes, our pupils adFityfog and finally the great animal came into focus. Not but ten feet from where we were standing, a fully-grown hippopotamus grazed calmly on the green lawn, completely oblivious to our presence. It was hard to reconcile this seemingly friendly creature with a horrific and bloody mauling, but if you try reeeeaal hard, you can do it. We stayed for a minute trying to capture the moment in pictures, but unfortunately the blurry mess you see below is the best we could do in the darkness.

He was RIGHT THERE!

He was RIGHT THERE!

Excited over our hippo experience, we headed back up to the deck and let our boisterous evening continue a while longer. A few hours and and a few more drinks later, as everyone finished their beers and began winding down, we were struck with a most unfortunate realization. It was 10PM. It was pitch black. We were several miles from our camp, and between the seven of us and our seven bicycles we had one headlamp. Fuck. Despite our initial concern over the stickiness of our situation, seeing as we didn’t have much of a choice, we heaved our drunk asses on to our bicycles and headed up the steep, rocky hill towards the thick, dark, nothing.

Despite that old adage about never forgetting how to ride a bike, I can assure you there is certainly a period of re-acclimation that is required. Both BoBo and I, somewhat awkward and clumsy to begin with, struggled to even get going, and much more so to keep up with the group. The road was narrow and shoddily paved and either side was lined by a drop-off ditch that was several feet deep in some places. Every few minutes someone would yell out “BUMP!” as a warning to those following behind, and even more often than that you would hear the yelp of nervous surprise coming from someone unprepared for what they just hit. The whole ride was a comedy act of sorts, each of us taking our turns falling, narrowly avoiding ditches, or not avoiding ditches at all. But if you could forget for just one second that there might be a five-foot deep ditch ahead of you and look up – a billion ancient stars looked back down, painting the sky in every direction. It was perfect.

Beautiful (though blurry) Night Sky

Beautiful (though blurry) Night Sky

The drive to Naivasha was beautiful, filled with both anticipation and awe at the surrounding landscapes. We drove on with our heads out the windows, smiling and dancing to the local hip-hop and reggae flavor our driver was was playing.

The road to Naivasha

The road to Naivasha


We arrived in Naivasha a little under two hours later, our matatu driver being the safest one we would encounter for the remainder of the trip, and hopped on to another matatu that would take us down the road from the town center to Crayfish Camp. I am pretty sure that every single person outside of the crowded van was trying to sell us something. Whether it be roasted corn, blow-pops, sausages, pens, hair clips, or warm yogurt, it can be peddled through the window of a stopped, or moving, matatu. Our new driver was much less cautious than our first and took off barreling down the bumpy dirt road at an obscene speed, passing cars in the opposite lane, narrowly missing oncoming traffic, warning everyone of their impending death with nothing but a hilariously brief and inadequate honk.

After a ten minute ride down the sole road from Naivasha town to the lake we hopped off the pleasant little death trap at the entrance for Crayfish Camp. Though Matsui’s gentle caring for me on the drive had helped to ease the intense nausea, I was already wary of that inevitable pull developing between us. Pushing it aside, we walked up a long paved driveway past a crop of rosebuds lined with irrigation canals and greenhouses, cattle and goats roaming along the fences. When we finally reached the camp we were immediately greeted at the desk by Joseph, a suspiciously friendly gentleman, willing to fulfill any need we might have, albeit at an exorbitant price. He took us around to see the rooms and for the first time I stopped and realized that we were in Africa. The camp was beautiful. Three horses roamed freely like pet dogs, grazing on the lush green grass, and the trees were filled with the bluish-purple iridescent superb starling.

Free-roaming horses at the camp

Free-roaming horses at the camp

Superb Starling - they were everywhere

Superb Starling - they were everywhere

Eve, Faye, and Fityfo in one of the many creative quarters at Crayfish - the bus bed

Eve, Faye, and Fityfo in one of the many creative quarters at Crayfish - the bus bed

As we tried to sort out who was sEELping with whom I could already tell what Matsui was thinking. Despite our tumultuous history, our physical chemistry was never something in question. Still holding white-knuckled on to my resolve to leave Africa as Matsui’s friend (and nothing more) I made very clear to him that we would not be sharing a room, much less a bed, at any point on this trip. When he inquired as to why with a sly smirk on his face, I stared at him incredulously for a moment and replied, “Because of your girlfriend. The one you have. That isn’t me.” Smiling, he let the jab roll off his shoulders, and we all headed to find some lunch.

As we sat down at a table at the camp’s oddly empty restaurant, we began to wonder where everybody was. We had yet to see any other travelers, save for at the hostel in Nairobi. Those thoughts were quickly dismissed by our hunger and we eagerly began perusing the menu. Options were limited and while I struggled to find something that would agree with the still strong remnants of my hangover, I ordered a beer to ease the pain, a hot dog despite my utter lack of an appetite, and hoped for the best. About twenty minutes later a few of our plates arrived. Though both Barbara and I had ordered the hot dog, when our food was set in front of us, french fries tumbled down a small potato mountain on her plate and I was left staring at three fries, a few small slices of tomato and a similarly disappointing number of onion slices that I believe was intended to resemble a salad. To top off our gourmet meal, the hot dogs, tiny shriveled pieces of meat, were lacking buns. It didn’t stop there. Both Fityfo and Matsui ordered ham and cheese sandwiches, and when Fityfo received a ham and cheese omelette in its place we humorously assumed that they must just be out of any kind of bread. However, just about the time everyone else had finished eating, Matsui inexplicably received his ham and cheese sandwich (bread and all) and we were left perplexed by the waitress and, for the most part, still hungry. On the bright side, the hilarity of that meal ended up providing an inordinate amount of entertainment for days to come as well as a wonderfully low standard to beat.

Unwittingly smiling unaware of the meal to come...

Unwittingly smiling just before the infamous meal ...

After lunch we decided to find our friendly con-artist Joseph to get ripped off on a boat ride out on the lake. We arranged a boat and a guide with the camp and walked the short walk to the lake to set out on freshwater in hopes of our first real taste of African wildlife. The sun was pounding on our pale wintered skin unaccustomed to the relentless heat. Rolling up our sleeves we all silently begged for a breeze until, across the lake, we saw a storm coming. As we continued towards it the wind picked up, cooling our overheated bodies, and finally the sun disappeared and the most refreshingly welcome rain began to run down our faces and arms. After about thirty minutes, when the winds grew and the water on our arms turned to goosebumps, the clouds began to break and the sun returned to the southern side of the lake.

Sunlight breaking through after the storm

Sunlight breaking through after the storm

Pink-backed Pelican

Pink-backed Pelican

Yaaaawwwnnnnnn

Yaaaawwwnnnnnn

The tango of clear skies and sunlight through the storm clouds projected a strangely beautiful backdrop for the birds as they swooped in and out around our boat, some diving for food, some just calmly floating by. The freshwater lake is home to not only more than four-hundred species of birds but also three separate families of hippopotamuses (that we saw anyway). The enormous beasts appear docile as they roll about lazily in the water, yawning and stretching against one another, but anything as big as a car that runs faster than a human is certainly something by which to be intimidated.
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After about an hour or so of bird-watching and hippo-gazing, our guide on the boat (whose name I can’t seem to recall) brought the vessel around back to the dock and we headed back to camp to find some dinner.

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