Tuesday, September 22, 2015

JAWS 9 1/2: Baringo Lake Expereince

"I am going to measure how deep the water is!" Daniel said as he jumped in after the long stick he had just thrown into the murky Baringo Lake water. Almost as soon as he hit the water panic began to set in. He began to scream, swimming as fast he could back to the rocks he had just jumped from. Amy and Claudia who were still in the small inflatable dingy also began to yell. Daniel crawled out of the water at my feet.


Of course I had not seen what went down. As soon as Daniel climbed out of the water the story began to unfold. A few meters away Daniel and those on the boat had spotted a "mama crocodile". Meaning a large proper crocodile. As soon as Daniel hit the water the crocodile began to swim his way. That's when Daniel made a bee-line for the shore. This story was just one of the many experiences that made the Lake Baringo trip a high adrenaline weekend adventure.

Photo Credit: Some guy with Amy's Camera
Daniel, Benjamin, Claudia, Amy, Kelsey and I arrived at the Robert's Campsite at the edge of Lake Baringo well after we planned to get in. If anything could have foreshadowed our weekend of adventure it was our truck breaking down only an hour into the 3 hour long drive to Baringo. Determined to get to Baringo we drove slow and stopped often to pour more water into the overheated engine. Finally after thousands of stops we finally made it to the lake.

We immediately set up the tents and blew up the small inflatable boat to head off into the murky waters of the expansive lake. To set off into the lake you must first traverse through dead trees sticking out from the lake making sure to avoid the hippos that sleep in those waters. Form my other blog posts you probably already know that hippos are one of the most dangerous animals in Africa,

Photo Credit: Amy
We sped out into the lake towards an island which Daniel said had perfect rocks to jump from. On the way we bought fresh fish from a fisherman we found floating in the middle of the lake. Of course as soon as we reached this small island we encountered the crocodile. Shaken-up we decided not to jump from the rocks but rather use Daniels influential potatoes buy our way into the island campsite pool.

Photo credit: Daniel
We enjoyed drinks and darts by the beautiful pool perched up on the top of the island camp and swam in the clear pool free of crocodiles. We discovered a small floating dock close to the island which we decided was free of crocodiles due to its distance from the shore. Of course crocodiles swim near the shore not in the open lake. We took the opportunity to practice our diving and flipping skills off the small wooden platform.

We headed back to Roberts Campsite to cook the fresh fish (now sitting in a cooler for hours in the sun) and the potatoes that Daniel brought on an open fire. As we ate we began to hear the sounds of the hippos climbing up onto shore for their nighttime feast. (they eat grass of course not humans) They were so close, we could see them as we pointed our flashlights towards the shore.

After a filling meal we were ready to sleep. As I slept on the small mat in the tent I listened to the noises outside my tent. I was almost sure that if I opened the tent door that I would see a hippo staring back at me... so I did not open the door. In the morning stranger noises woke us up from our slumber. As we opened the tent door many small monkeys were fighting over small scraps of food on the ground.

We ate breakfast of eggs and toast and jumped back on the raft to head out again into the water. We headed for the small wooden dock floating in the lake since it seemed like a safe place to swim. One of our friends Benjamin headed back to shore to pick up a friend, Alexander, and bring him to the floating platform. When he got back he told us a story about how on the way he carefully navigated the dead trees looking out for hippos as he went. All of a sudden only meters from the shore he felt a thud on the bottom of his raft. He sped hastily away, not sure what he hit but fearing that it could be a notorious hippo. As he fled the scene he looked back to see the head of a hippo emerge only two meters from the boat. Of course he was lucky and sped from the scene unscathed.

Photo Credit; Claudia
We headed back to shore after a long afternoon on the floating platform. As we traversed the open water of the lake we saw something bobbing on the water. We inspected longer we recognized it as a crocodiles head. It was swimming right in the middle of the lake. We all looked at each other shocked that our theory of crocodiles not liking open water was disproved.

We had a quick lunch and piled back into the broken truck to head home. Alex who had come Sunday brought his truck to help tow the other overheating vehicle back to Daniels house. Of course on the way back home a police officer flagged us down. He asked us if we were a "break-down", we said yes we broke down then he asked "Where is our break-down" we were not sure what he meant. Where did we break down? What part of the car is broken? We were so confused. He noticed that we were confused with our questions. He went to talk to Daniel in the "broken car" who explained the situation. The police officer let us go without a bribe and we continued driving.

Photo credit: Claudia
We later found out that "break-down" is the name of a vehicle which tows cars and you need a special "break-down" licence to tow a car. After our eventful weekend at Baringo we were happy to be home safe and sound. I am definitely excited to visit Baringo again soon.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Pads for a Purpose

My co-worker Judith and I were moved by the following video about Menstruation. As the video shows many women and girls in Kenya don't have resources to buy female hygiene products. At the same tome they are also being shamed about such a common and natural biological process that happens to all cis-women.

Girls in many parts of Kenya and around the world do not have proper sanitary supplies and often miss school due to being on their periods. A study showed that adolescent girls in Kenya lose an average of 3.5 million learning days a month due to their periods. Girls who miss school are more likely to drop out of school. UNESCO estimates that girls make up 70% of all children not in school around the world. It seems silly that your period can hold you back from obtaining an education and it's sad that girls are so ashamed about menstruating. 

It is also found that girls are often not taught about their periods. It's such a taboo to talk about menstruating in Kenya, which creates a tremendous amount of stigma, confusion and fear about menstruating even among women and girls.

Many organizations such as Lunapads, AFRIpads, Thinx and Days for Girls have supported the distribution of reusable pads to girls around the world. Well it's time for an new company to increase the amount of re-usable pad giving: Pads for A Purpose (aka P4P). Yesterday Judith and I, after work, went to the market to buy fabric and visited our favorite tailor who has promised to help us with our project. Today we made our first prototype, it's not perfect but it's a start. It's costs about $1 to produce one reusable pad including fabric and labor.

Judith and Evaline our tailor modeling the pad 
That's not all...In addition to two reusable pads a small bar of soap to clean them, girls will also get an pamphlet which my friend Amy and I are putting together. This pamphlet will give them some information about menstruating, puberty, how to take care of their body and how to clean the new pads. We hope to distribute them through AMPATH to girls and women in need of female hygiene supplies. 
Amy and I modeling the reusable pad

In addition, I hope our project brings awareness to the natural an non-shameful process that is menstruation and combat some of the false beliefs about periods. I hope it will decrease the number of girls dropping out of school and lessen the stigma about talking about periods. I am hoping to start a go-fund me project to raise some initiation costs for the materials and possibly in a larger scale a buy-one get-one for a girl in Kenya type non-profit. 

Also if you have not used reusable pads yet, get ready to be surprised. They are comfortable and decrease the impact women have on the environment. Did you know women use about 10,000 sanitary products in her lifetime, imagine that sitting in a dump. Sit tight for updates. Tomorrow I am going to make a second prototype. 

Let me know if you want to help. 

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

We Are All Animals - Naivasha and Hell's Gate National Park

Over the weekend a group of us hired a taxi to take us to Naivasha National Park. The park is a 3-4 hour drive from Edloret. I was joined on the tour by Amy, Mi, Tiffany(another Berkeley grad. Go Bears!), Issac and a couple other Pharmacy students. We all piled into a taxi Matatu and headed off to Lake Naivasha with a short coffee and lunch stop in Nakuru and a stop at the Equator. At the equator a nice man showed us how the water spins in opposite directions on either side and straight down on the equator.

We arrived at lake Naivasha at 2pm after the long ride. As soon as we off-loaded from the matatu we were handed bright orange one-size-fits-all life jackets. We jumped on to a wooden power boat and headed off into the lake. The boat tour was 1000 KSH ($10) for one and a half hours per person.

It was a eere feel as we headed into the lake. The gray rain clouds loomed over us and dead trees stuck out of the like arms grabbing up to the sky. The dead branches were covered by various large birds. They looked down at us as we passed under them.

Lake Naivasha

Lake Naivasha is home to over 400 species of birds, fish, hippos and giraffes relocated to Lake Naivasha for the Out of Africa Movie. We drove the boat over to a small family of hippos. We got pretty close to the hippos, most of them were asleep, which I was glad about since hippo is one of the most dangerous animals (after mosquitoes and humans). We headed around the lake to find the giraffes who wandered through the eerie scenery, their bright orange color contrasting with the grey of the dead trees and sky.


As we drove the boat around the lake we came across two fishing eagles. The boat drivers had fish which they used to bring the eagles closer. They threw the fish into the water and the large eagles took to flight finding the fish instantly. The guide says that they could see up to 4km away, I wish I could see 4km. I think I was an eagle in a past life.

After the boat ride we piled back into the matatu and headed to the camp site. We were introduced to our tent, a beautiful huge white military stile tent with thick mattresses situated only 100 meters from the lake. Perfect for hippo sightings at night when then wander on land to graze and get it on with other hippos. It was 1200 KSH ($12 USD) per person for the camping, although if you brought your own tent it would only be 600 ($6).

Our Tent at Camp Carnelley's

We had dinner at Camp Carnelley's restaurant. The food although over priced (200 KSH for a chai vs the hospital at 20 KHS, 1000 times markup for muzungus) was amazing. We had the cheesy nachos, spicy crayfish, fish fillet, and grilled veggie salad.

After the food we headed to the bar to mingle with the other muzungus. Most of them were in the British Army stationed in Nairobi, but frequented Carnelley's on weekends. Others came from the States and New Zealand. Amy and I received a couple free drinks and we had fun talking and reminiscing about our gap yah (year). We were torn about whether to go out dancing with these nice young chaps but instead we ended up walking around the campsite in the dark and admiring the stars. Luckily we did not encounter any hippos, although I would have liked to see one up close. We slept well in our luxury tent on our two inch thick mats. We woke up refreshed and ready to head to Hell's Gate National Park and enjoy our bike safari.

We again piled in the matatu and headed to Naivasha for a safari on bike. We paid 700 KSH for park entrance with our pupil passes and our resident cards and 500 KSH for our bikes. Renting them outside the park is better because the bikes are better quality and have mostly working breaks, its 50 KSH more to rent those bikes.
Kissing zebra butt

We jumped on the bikes and headed off on the mostly flat dirt road. As we road we passed a huge pointy rock called Fischer's Tower, which you can rock climb around midday for 500 KSH. We passed the rock and headed towards Hell's Gate Canyon. Along the way we passed zebras, warthogs, water bucks, antelopes and giraffes. Amy tried to make friends with the zebras but they were all scared of her, mainly because they heard she wanted to ride them. We reached the end of the road and parked our bikes to head off into the canyon.

Our guide took us down into the canyon, parks of which we had to scramble up and down rocks. Many parts required us to use ropes to climb up and down rock faces, get on our butts to slide down steep rock crevasses. We descended lower and lower into the canyon. We spotted "Emergency Exits" which we laughed about, but if there was a flash flood in the canyon we would not be laughing at them anymore. We came upon the devils bedroom and then visited his bathroom, which was marked by incredibly hot hot-springs. Our guide dared us to hold our hand under the hot water for at least 10 seconds, no one could. It was too hot.

We climbed out of the canyon and back to our bikes. Nice and tired we mounted our bikes again and headed back the 8km we had biked before to the entrance of the park. It was much hotter and the "flat" road seemed a little more uphill than previously thought. After a couple water breaks, sunscreen re-applications and rock hyrax sighting we arrived at the main gate.

We piled back into the matatu and headed back to Eldoret. I definitely fell asleep in the van, and the next day my shoulders were so sore from using a bike that was much to big for me.

 Fischer's Tower
Overall the weekend was amazing and I had such a good time in Naivasha and with all my new friends, including the zebras who were a bit anti-social. I would definitely do it again.

Check out Amy's blog here:  A Walker's Adventures

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Kenyan Hospitality

If you are coming to Kenya then its important to know the basics of greeting and eating in Kenya. Greeting and introductions are very important in Kenya. Anytime you enter someones home its important to understand how introductions are done.

Chai Break
In general someone else introduces you to the group. You will then shake everyone hands. This goes for if you are meeting one person or a room full of people. People will even jump over furniture and relocate to shake your hand and you should make the same efforts to do the same. Even when seeing friends any meeting is begun with a hand shake or even a hand shake turned into hug with a double sided kiss.


There are two types of hand shakes, one formal and one less formal. If you respect someone (doctors, older individuals, bosses) then you shake their hand but at the same time you place your opposite hand on your bicep. You can make it even more formal by bending your knee slightly. Less formal is similar to a regular hand shakes, but they can last for a long time. Older women often will shake your hand for almost a minute using both their hands to grasp yours. They will even have a conversation with you while shaking your hand or holding your hand.

Ugali, sukumawiki and fried fish
Shaking hands is very important in Kenya culture but so is food. If you enter someones home expect to eat, they might even hold you until you have a "snack" which can often be a whole meal. Traditional foods include ugali, chapati, sukumawiki, chicken, goat, fried fish, fried potatoes, mukimo,chai and fruit. Before eating its mandatory that you wash your hands. There is either a sink in the dining room or a bucket with water that someone pours over your hands.

Washing your hands is very important because most meals require you to use your hands to eat. Ugali is usually balled up between your fingers and eaten along side the meat and sukumewiki. Meat is usually eaten straight from the bone, its important to eat everything on your plate and clean all the meat off the bone. Some families even insist you eat cartilage and marrow. After eating you then wash your hands again.

Hand washing
Chai is another important part of hosting guests. Guests will often be served chai upon arrival to hold them over for dinner. Chai is again served after dinner, probably to keep everyone awake and alert for the drive home.
Can I help cook? If you are a woman then its traditional to ask if the hosts need help in the kitchen. Here you can learn how to prepare many traditional foods. Sorry men are not allowed to prepare food, but maybe things will change soon for Kenya.

Learning how to cook Ugali

Monday, August 17, 2015

Snow in Kenya - Mount Kenya Climb

Left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot again as I stepped through ice and snow. I concentrated on not falling off the cliff to the right, or at least what I thought was a cliff. With my small head torch in the pitch black of night I could not tell if the darkness to my left was a cliff or just a huge rock. My fingers hurt from the cold, despite the snow gloves I wore. My heart pounded against my chest and my breathing was heavy as I tried to obtain the little oxygen in the air. I was wearing two socks, thermal leggings under snow pants, two jackets and a hat yet I was still cold. I found it hard to believe that I was still in Kenya.

Old Moses Lodge

Before arriving to Kenya I never expected to be walking through snow shivering from the cold. On Wednesday I began my trek to the third highest peak of Mount Kenya at 4,985 meters (16,355 ft). My group loaded into a colorful matatu (small Kenyan bus/van) and headed down a dirt road to the Sirimon trail head. We had a quick lunch and walked 9km on a dirt/paved road to Old Moses Lodge at 3,400 metres (11,155 ft). Here we ate a hearty meal of fried fish, soup, rice and veggies. We turned into our sleeping bags in the room full of bunk beds.

Fun with Lobelia telekii
Next morning we woke to walk 14 km to Shipton's Lodge at the base of the three highest Mount Kenya peaks. Along the way we crossed many bridges, became familiar with the mount kenya flora and fauna and ate butter and ham (or some unknown meat) sandwich looking over a beautiful canyon. We reached Shipton's Lodge at 4,200 meters, just as it began to hail. We enjoyed a plate of popcorn and a couple games of hearts before turning in for another cold night of sleep in a room full of bunk beds.
Shipton's Camp with Mount Kenya in the Background

We woke up on Friday for our acclimation hike. We headed up a trail to a ridge just below the tallest Mount Kenya peaks: Batian and Nelion. We watched as the clouds rolled into the valley on the other side of the ridge. Above us loomed the daunting rock faces of the two tallest peaks, which are only scalable with rock climbing equipment. We headed back for more fresh popcorn and card games. It began to snow as we sheltered in the small lodge making friends with the other hikers. We formed a small united nations as we sat and chatted with the Chilean, French, Italian, British, Canadian, and Kenyan climbers. We went to bed early knowing that the following day would be the most challenging.

Enjoying the view for breakfast

Our guide knocked on our door at 2:30 AM signalling it was time to get up and get ready to summit. We put on all our layers, turned on our headlights and started for the trail that would take us up to Peak Lenana. It was nice that we could not see more than 20 feet in front of us, it was less daunting not to see the looming mountain above us as we climbed. We concentrated on the trail under our feet stopping every hour for a short snack and pee break. We continued to climb as the earth began to brighten around us. Soon we realized how precarious the trail was. Shimmying around rock ledges, we began to scramble up boulders, climb ladders and tread through fresh snow. The peak came into view, the small Kenyan flag and wood signs marking the summit gave us a boost of energy to finish the long trail.

Our team at the Peak
We made it up just in time to watch the sun rise and transform the sky into a rainbow. After many pictures we headed down the Chogoria Trail to complete the rest of the long day ahead. The summit day consisted of a 5 km assent of over 750 meters to Peak Lenana a 3km descent to breakfast with a view of the Gorges Valley at Minto's Hut. We then proceed to Mt Kenya Bandas for dinner visiting a beautiful waterfall and stopping for many pictures of the Gorges Valley. We walked a total of 29 km from Shipton's Lodge to Mt Kenya Bandas, but the amazing views around us kept us moving closer to the end.

Minto's Hut

We spent the night in luxorious bandas with a warm shower, a wood burning stove and a small dining room. The next morning we headed down a small dirt road in a old jeep to Chogoria Town. From here we were loaded into a matatu and then a taxi for a 9 hour drive back to Eldoret for some much needed rest.
View of Gorges Valley from the trail

Overall Mount Kenya was an amazing trek. Its a little known gem of Kenya. People in our group who had hiked both Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya said that Mount Kenya was hands down a more beautiful and less touristy trek. Not to mention its almost 1/10 the price.

I would like to thank our guides, porters, and cooks from Equatorial Star Adventure Safaris who made this trip possible for a student friendly budget. Find them at www.equitorialstar.com

What to Pack:
1. Warm sleeping bag (rated to below freezing)
2. Small backpack to carry water, snacks, rain clothes, camera
3. Large backpack for the porter to carry your other equipment
4. Good waterproof hiking boots
5. Rain top and Pants or a parka
6. Thermal top and bottom
7. Fleece or light jacket
8. Warm parka or down jacket
9. Three wool socks and 1-2 sock liners
10. Hiking pants and one long sleeve and short sleeve top
11. Warm hat
12. Warm gloves - snow-gloves are the best for the top
13. Walking sticks if that's your thing
14. Snacks and two 1L water bottles
15. Powerpack for charging camera/phone (there is no power in the lodges)
16. Camera
17. Roll of toilet paper
18. Toiletries

Monday, August 10, 2015

Off Roading in Mount Elgon National Park

This weekend I visited Mount Elgon with my friend Dainel. We pack up our camping equipment in his 4 wheel drive and headed off to this beautiful Kenyan National Park in Western Kenya. 

View from inside the caves

A bit about Mount Elgon National Park. It's over 1000 square kilometers and is shared by both Uganda and Kenya. The park boasts the second highest mountain in Kenya at 14,177 ft (4,321 meters) and is home to antelope, black-and-white colobus, blue monkeys, zebras and the famous salt mining elephants. 

View from our campsite

The first day in the park Daniel and I headed to the caves where elephants walk up to 200 meters in the dark bat infested caves to mine salt. Of course Daniel and I outfitted with our head torch walked deep into Kitum Cave, the largest and most famous of the caves. I was a little nervous of the thousands of bats flying over my head, but you only live once. We headed deep into the cave looking for the salty elephants. Although no elephants were in the cave, we did find where they use their tusks to dig out the salt. I wonder what food they are flavoring with all that salt, I guess I will never find out since I did not bump into any elephants to ask.

Next Daniel and I scoped out a camping place, of course we were told to parking in the designated camping spots, but who follows rules anyways, and in Kenya they never check. We drove our 4 wheel drive up the steep muddy roads to the Endless Bluff. This 2563 m (8408 ft) boasts spectacular views of the surrounding valley, and the views really are endless. We popped out the tent on the roof of the truck, cooked our dinner on the small gas stove, sat by a small fire and turned in for a good night sleep. We woke to a spectacular view and a wonderful breakfast of french toast. 
That mountain in the back, that's Mt Elgon, I was at the top. 

Saturday morning we woke up early and headed off to climb Mount Kenya. Of course instead of taking the normal path straight up the valley we decided to follow animal tracks and our human compass skills taking the long way around the edge of the valley and up Mount Elgon. I was exhausted but very happy when I saw the sign Koitobos peak at 4,222 meters. 

At Koitoboss Peak
After a quick snack we headed back down the valley to our car. It was beautiful hiking along the crystal clear river running through the green valley covered in a colorful array of wildflowers. It was also great stepping not once but twice into hidden holes filled with muddy water. I arrived back at the truck with both my legs covered in mud, wet up to my knees, go figure. 

As we headed back to the main campsite it began to rain, which Daniel got excited about because he wanted to return home with a muddy car. We started a fire in a small banda and hug all our wet close to dry (ie my pants, socks and shoes). We made dinner and again got cozy in our pop-out rooftop tent. 

The next day we awoke to the view of a group of Defassa waterbuck and zebras grazing outside our tent. We sat eating eggs and potatos (that Daniel grew on his farm, I know he would get mad if I did not include that) as we watched the grazing animals (more like they watched us the whole time). We packed up and took a drive around the last remaining roads we had yet to travel looking for other wildlife. 

Overall Mount Elgon is definitely worth the trip, it was beautiful, not very touristy, actually we saw no one the whole time, and full of amazing views and interesting wildlife. I am looking forward to visiting again. 

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

About Me

My name is Adrienne, I was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area but I have always felt like I was a citizen of the world. My mother came from Chile to find the American Dream, if I am that dream she found it. I studied molecular and cellular biology and the art of having a good time in college at University of California, Berkeley. After graduating I worked for a little over a year at an international biofuel research laboratory. I wore a crazy white coat and genetically engineered bacteria. How cool! You can say I was a little bit of a mad scientist.  At the age of 22 I quit my job and dropped everything to backpack solo around South America, India and Nepal.

It felt freeing to be alone and make my own itinerary, and mainly be spontaneous. I would take a train to a new place without a reservation for where I was going to sleep. I would walk aimlessly yet with a purpose to discover something new and interesting. I had some rough stints getting sick and almost dying in Peru and getting harassed more than anticipated. I learned to be confident, self -reliant and adaptable. I evolved so much from the person I use to be. I remember thinking of the geeky shy girl I used to be, I am still geeky but the shy has been replaced by a confident and adventurous woman.

I fell in love with traveling at the same time as I learned I was accepted to medical school. I began to merge my two passions healthcare and traveling. I spent a summer volunteering in the Sacred Valley Peru and every break I get I jump on a plane to discover someplace new, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, Canada, Jordan, Israel and Netherlands. Currently I am spending one year abroad in Kenya doing HIV research with kids. I love helping were I can, and love to learn about new cultures and traditions. I love to try new foods, dance to different beats, and do anything that sounds dangerous and adventurous. With this blog I hope to inspire others to travel, volunteer and learn about what the world has to offer. To all the wanderlust people of the world keep traveling and never stop moving.

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Thank You Adrienne