By MARY ANN ANDERSON
Knight Ridder Tribune News Service
Knight Ridder Tribune / Kenya Tourist Board
SPOTTED IN THE WILD: A cheetah surveys the Kenyan landscape in search of prey. Other exotic animal, such as zebras, lions and giraffes, roam freely in Kenya's game parks.
Even now, in the year or two since my first visit to Kenya, it is the colors of Africa that I remember most. If I forget all else, the amalgamation of so much color will always remain with me.
Every so often an event conjures back images. In this particular instance, I have just put down John le Carre's The Constant Gardener, a masterfully written novel of suspense and intrigue partially set in Kenya.
With the release of film version of The Constant Gardener, starring Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz, Kenya is once again thrust into the spotlight, just as it was when Out of Africa was released some 20 years ago.
As a travel writer, I'm often asked which is my favorite place on Earth. My first answer must always be Georgia, especially on the farm where I grew up very nearly dirt poor, with nothing surrounding our home but tall pines sighing in the breeze, dusty red clay roads, and parched, endless fields of crops. After all, Georgia is my home, my heart.
But my next answer is always, always Kenya.
When I was a child, my family and I would sometimes take the two-hour drive down to the coast at Jekyll Island. I vividly recall sitting on the gray stretches of beach, closing my eyes, and hoping that when I opened them I could see all the way across the Atlantic to Africa, a continent so far away, so exotic, so spilling over with creatures and beauty and people so mysterious that I could only imagine the grandeur of it all.
And decades later, when I made my first journey to Africa, I was not disappointed. Kenya was everything I had imagined and more.
There is no other place like it in the world. Some places may be more beautiful, some more historic, some more ancient, some more charming. But Kenya truly has no equal.
This is a country that Mother Nature has touched and blessed with only the best of her offerings, especially in all those marvelous colors: the warm rusty hues of the dust of the Masai Mara, the pure gold in the eyes of the first lion I ever saw outside of a zoo, the black-and-white stripes of herds of zebra, the pale pumpkin waters of the Mara River, the lavender explosion of blossoms of the jacaranda, the deep green of the umbrella acacia, the soft pink of flocks of flamingoes.
Bougainvillea, so prized as an exotic plant in the United States, grows wild and profuse in Kenya, often in masses of gemstone color of amethyst, ruby, opal, garnet, citrine, and sapphire. And the sky of an African sunset literally seems afire, striated in every shade of red and orange imaginable -- crimson, carmine, burgundy, ginger, carrot, and even fuchsia.
But Kenya is much more than sight and color. It is an assault on all five senses.
Once you leave Kenya, you'll never smell diesel again without thinking of the big, mad mess of Nairobi and its endless circus of trucks, cars, and minivans spewing black smoke. The city also smells of smoldering fire and of corn roasting in roadside kiosks, while Lake Naivasha, where portions of Out of Africa were filmed, smells sweet and green, almost like fresh apples. The game parks of the Masai Mara, Amboseli, Meru, Samburu, even with the scent of animal dung and dust in your nostrils, smell like dry, unshucked corn. The mist of the Indian Ocean, bordering Kenya on the east, is salty, fresh and clean.
The tastes of Kenya explode on your tongue. Carnivore, perhaps the most famous restaurant in all of Africa, is only for the brave and definitely not for the vegetarian. In a bizarre turn of events, menu items often include crocodile, ostrich, zebra, giraffe, and wildebeest, animals you have just photographed perhaps only hours earlier for their beauty. The dawa, the "official" drink of Kenya, is all mint, vodka, and sugar. Kenyan coffee, farmed in the highlands near Mount Kenya, is brewed dark and strong, and Kenyan wine, made from pawpaw, is ... well, let me put it this way: Drink it at your own risk.
Nowhere else will you hear sounds like those of Kenya. The hungry groan of a lion as it prowls through the bush, just steps away from your tent, is both tantalizing and startling. The call of the hornbill echoes melodically through the jacaranda. The high chatter of crowds of monkeys and baboons climbing through stands of acacia is unsettling, but the sounds of millions of hoof-beats of the wildebeest as they storm into the Mara from the Serengeti is one you'll never forget.
The buzz of tiny bush planes taking off one after another from Wilson Airport (mentioned a number of times in The Constant Gardener) is a sight to behold. But the best sound of all in Kenya is the intense stillness, at times as sharp as a razor's edge, and at other times broken by the hacking cough of a nearby leopard or even screams of a mortally wounded beast. But this is Kenya. It is to be expected.
Your sense of touch is heightened, as the air almost crackles with some sort of unseen energy. You feel the hot dust as it swirls across the plains, the warmth of a summer rain shower on your face, the smoothly chiseled surface of a trinket box carved from soapstone, the softness of a blanket woven in by gnarled hands of an old Kikuyu, the intricate beadwork of jewelry. Music and dance are a definitive part of Kenya's history, and it's very, very easy to feel lost in the beat of a ceremonial Maasai dance.
Yes, Kenya is absolutely beautiful, and it is sometimes very difficult -- it is for all practical purposes still the Third World -- yet it is one of the most stirring places you will ever visit.
PLANNING A VISIT
• Getting there: British Airways offers flight connections through London, a primary gateway to Kenya.
• Lodging: For the true taste of Africa, Governor's Camp (www.governorscamp.com; 800-322-3867), has six luxurious tent and home properties scattered throughout Kenya, from Lake Naivasha to Lake Victoria to the Masai Mara. Before heading out to the bush, both the Norfolk Hotel (www.lonrhohotels.com; 800-845-3692) and Karen Blixen Coffee Garden (www.karenblixen.com/coffeegarden.html) in Nairobi combine nostalgia, history, and romance.
• Information: Contact the Kenya Tourist Board at 886-445-3692; access www.magicalkenya.com.
-- MARY ANN ANDERSON
Senator Barack Obama :
United States Of America Senator Barack Obama could be coming to Kenya early next year.
Obama an American of Kenyan descent will also visit South Africa, Sudan (Darfur) and Rwanda.
The Senator of Illinois told councillor Vitalis Awandu Ondewe, whom he recently hosted in the US for two weeks, of his plans to tour Africa.
"Obama will visit Kenya early next year. He will come home. He is our son and he loves Kenya," said Ondewe on his arrival from America.
The South Alego councilor says Obama told him he was looking into issues affecting Africa.
Obama's roots are traced to Kogelo clan in South East Alego location, Karemo division, Siaya in Nyanza Province.
It was Ondewe who helped The Standard locate Obama's home in Siaya, when he was vying for senator.
Obama's grandmother, Sarah Hussein Obama, has also visited him in the US.
His late father, Barack Obama was among Kenyans who benefited from scholarships to study in America in the 1960s.
Senator Obama was elected to the US Senate on November 2, 2004, and will vie for re-election on November 2, 2010.
He is currently the only African-American Senator, and only the fifth in US history.
Senator Obama is a rising and charismatic star in the Democratic Party. In April 2005, Time Magazine ranked him among 100 most influential people in the world.
The Senator rose to national prominence when he delivered an inspiring speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.
Later, he won the senate election by a landslide.
In late 2004, he landed a $1.9 million deal to author three books. The first book, due in 2006, will discuss his political convictions. The second book will be co-written with his wife and daughters. His 1995 autobiography, republished in 2004, was a bestseller.
In July this year, he went to the UN to lobby for aid to Darfur, Africa