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Brian Oh: {food, travel, photo}

Africa (v): The One Where I Made Out With A Giraffe

On my last Friday in the office in Nairobi, after auditing two years worth of dusty financial records, my boss took me to the Giraffe Center, A facility that's been around for about 40 years and is working toward preserving the endangered Rothschild giraffe. The main attraction there is an elevated platform from which visitors can feed the giraffes. Giraffes amble out of the trees slowly in a way that I never noticed before. Giraffes move both legs on one side together instead of alternating. It looks almost like a puppet in the Lion King stageshow or something. As they approached the platform, I was given feed pellets out of a metal pail to hand them. Their tongues were surprisingly long, rough, dry, and purple as they snaked out of their snouts and wrapped themselves around my hand. After a while as I began to head to the stairs, the attendants told me that I must French kiss the giraffes before I left. He then stuck a pellet in between my lips and told me to face the nearby giraffe who promptly wrapped its tongue around my face and snatched the pellet from my mouth. It was a bizarre experience. Then I did it another four times.

That afternoon, my driver took me to the Mamba Village, which is a crocodile center. This place had nothing to do with the preservation of crocodiles because these fuckers don't need anyone helping them. They are monsters. My guide jumped into the pit of mature crocs and started poking the largest one with a stick to get it to do something for me. I was legitimately afraid for his life.

Jumping ahead to Sunday (after my trip to Lake Nakuru, see below), I swung by the David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage. As part of Nairobi National Park, the Orphanage rescues baby elephants in the wild who are abandoned or have lost their mothers to poachers and raise them until they're ready to be released in the wild. Twice a day they have demonstrations where they bring out their ~20 elephants and feed them. Handlers throw them soccer balls and let them roll around in the mud. They're all so caked in dried mud that they blend in perfectly with the ground. At one point they ran the babies around the perimeter of the roped off feeding area. I was standing right by the rope and one little guy stepped on my foot leaving a muddy elephant print on my Air Max 1s.

Finally, here's my trip to Lake Nakuru. On the Saturday before my Monday flight to Amsterdam, I hired a driver to take me out to one of the main game parks within driving distance from Nairobi. Gedion, my driver who took me to the nyama choma joint, took me the two hours to Lake Nakuru. Along the way, we stopped at a lookout along the Great Rift Valley, a massive geographic trench that runs from Syria to Mozambique. It was soberingly large. Very different from the Grand Canyon, but similarly humbling.

From the Great Rift lookout, it was another hour or so to Nakuru. Gedion was driving a safari van that was rickety and seemed barely held together. None of his gauges worked, which was a little alarming. More harrowing though, was the main highway we took. It's one of the only highways in Kenya, but still small compared to those I take everyday. Four lanes wide for the most part, but the median had crumbling gaps in it through which people would run through in their mad dashes across with traffic barreling down on them. Some would reach the median without enough time to make it all the way across, so they'd flatten their bodies along the barrier while speeding cars brushed past them mere inches away. I was terrified for them.

When we got to Nakuru, it was a whole other Africa. It was the Africa that you imagine after seeing Lion King. Nothing but parched green and yellow and the azure clarity of Lake Nakuru for miles. The first stretch of the drive in the park was along the bank of the lake where all the animals congregate. We drove alongside a pack of zebras. Massive flocks of pelicans bustled in the water. A solitary white rhino lumbered by. It was surreal and otherworldly for my urban sensibilities to take in such a scene in the wild.

Our drive took us up a ridge to the "Out of Africa" lookout point, which is so named because it's where scenes from the movie were filmed. From there I looked out over the lake and really had no words to describe it. It just was.

The remainder of the drive I admittedly drifted in and out of a heat induced sleep. Gedion would stop periodically and point out an animal in the distance. A single hippo, some giraffes, a herd of wildebeest. Unfortunately I didn't get to see any big cats. Alas.

After around four hours, we headed back to Nairobi. It was early evening and that was when he took me to get nyama choma. I spent the rest of the weekend preparing to leave and rejoin Western society. This included doing my laundry, surviving a riot, and buying a lot of excellent coffee to bring back. I suspect, if I stay at this job, I'll be back in Africa before long. There's so much left there to see, so I don't think I'd mind that.