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People power can help

Months leading up to my adventure I read every blog and Trip Advisor forum post about the places I was going to visit. The information I gained from this allowed me to do things that I had not originally included in my trip. This was especially the case with the plans for my overnight stay in Nairbobi.

Many people wrote about their visit to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust to see the elephants and then popping over to see the giraffes at the giraffe centre. These two things were on my to do list but after reading about what David Sheldrick does on their website I learnt that I could also adopt an elephant and it would allow me a more personal visit in the afternoon and to meet my "adopted ele" if she was housed at the orphanage.

With this in mind I went through with the adoption process, wrote to the centre and secured a slot to visit in the afternoon after I had visited in the morning during the general admission. I arranged for a full day's car/driver through AirCab and was met early to start our day. My driver was a lovely guy who enjoyed a chat and helped me out with taking photos of me (the bain of a solo traveller). I felt very safe with his driving and he was able to provide good company and insight into living/working in Nairobi especially since the terrorist attack. ;I always appreciate a local's viewpoint instead of the propaganda provided by the mainstream tv news networks. It really allowed me to understand the situation and to see how skewed the media reports were.

Our first stop was to see the elephants so off we went. The trust is situated in Karen and borders the national park. Entrance is permitted between 11-12 when the nursery inmates come in for their daily mud bath and bottle feeding. It is best to arrive a little earlier due to the large numbers that visit during this time. There is a small admittance fee and I gave a little more to help with the amazing work they do there successfully hand rearing the orphaned elephants.

Once through the entrance area you walk through to the elephant enclosure which is roped off. Try to get a good spot and to be wary of the sun position so that your photos will be well lit. The place fills up pretty fast so stand your ground otherwise you will be pushed around especially when the elephants arrive. The ground is red dirt so don't make the same mistake that I did by wearing light colours. The elephants do splash around in their mud bath and this can sometimes create splashes. The elephants are on a set schedule and know exactly what they are doing. It is wonderful to see such intelligent animals being looked after so passionately. There are three different groups that enter the inclosure over the course of the hour. They range from very small babies up to 5/6 years of age. At no time did I ever feel threatened and the elephants are more interested in their two bottles of milk and playtime than interacting with the throngs of tourists enjoying the spectacle. That being said I did have an inquisitive male come over to say hello and I did get to pat him before he was lead back to the group by one of the keepers.

After an hour the elephants are lead away to continue their normal daily routine and the tourists disperse. I then went over to the giraffe centre which is very close by. Combining these two activities can by done in a morning. The giraffe centre has no set hours so tourists either visit there before the elephants or after. Once again a small admission fee is charged and tourists are free to roam around the area at their own pace. The giraffe feeding area is set up on stilts so that visitors can be eye-to-eye with these majestic creatures. Guides offer advice, information and the all important "pellet snacks" to feed the giraffes. The general consensus is to feed only one at a time and if you want to pat them then make sure you are feeding them (a couple of them are a little moody). Great photo opportunities can be had and the ubiquitous "giraffe kiss" can be had by putting a pellet in your lips and the giraffe taking it from you. Definitely an interesting experience with plenty of laughter being had by everyone sharing this experience.

I really enjoyed the giraffe centre and the opportunity to sit down and enjoy a drink in the surroundings. It also allowed me to wait until tourists left who were visiting like myself after seeing the elephants. There is a looping video about the giraffe centre and documentaries about giraffes that can by enjoyed whilst drinking. This is another special place that shows how important the work that these dedicated individuals do.

The afternoon was now fairly free until I had to return back to see my "adopted" elephant so I went to a local shopping centre in Karen to have some lunch. The Galleria Shopping Mall is a very modern property that was heavily fortified. Security checked our car and allowed us to enter. I was in need of some memory cards for my camera so I went off to find some before joining my driver for a late lunch. The coffee shops provided some nice food and lovely refreshing drinks to combat the heat of the afternoon.

We then returned back to the David Sheldrick centre for our 5pm appointment. The afternoon visit is limited to a small group who have sponsored an elephant and registered to visit. The afternoon visit consisted of approximately 10 of us. We were welcomed and given a guided tour of the property with informative commentary about what the trust does, the types of animals they have (including a blind rhino) and how the elephants are looked after. The dedication of the keepers is paramount in replacing the elephant's lost mother and helps the elephant adapt quicker to his/her new environment. The welcoming factor of other elephants is also a huge help with this and many friendships are cemented with a new arrival. The evening arrival of the three different groups and how they go to their own enclosures is really sweet to see. The keepers feed the elephant, they might have a snack on some tree branches and then it lays down, is covered with a blanket and within minutes the sound of snoring is heard throughout the area. I didn't expect to see anything like it and the elephants must feel so secure/happy to fall asleep so peacefully and quickly. A joy to behold.

After such a special experience I enjoyed a drive around Karen and went to see Kibera which is the largest slum in East Africa. The housing commission reports that the population of this area is between 500,000 - 1,000,000 people. The sheer size of this settlement is amazing. My driver offered information from a local's point of view which was really interesting to hear. The local's call this a "city of hope" and the friendliest slum in the world. I definitely never felt threatened and constantly welcomed by people walking past me when I stopped to get out and have a look. As a foreigner I really appreciated the opportunity to see this area instead of being "protected" from this harsh reality that many travel agents don't want tourists to see.

Then it was off to the airport as I was catching a flight to Kilimanjaro. A fantastic day with diverse activities done and the opportunity to support groups helping the wildlife to the best of their ability.



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