Upon leaving Tanzania, I’ve reached Kenya. I’ve reached Nairobi. This signaled the end of my 42 days journey with the truck. Trucking tour was complete, and those of few who have remained on board all the way to the end, were all headed home. Not me though. I decided I will travel Kenya on my own. So I said my goodbyes to the new friends I’ve made along the way, and finally, became alone again. This was how I always wanted to travel.
I didn’t have much time in Nairobi but I did get to visit Nairobi National Park. This is probably the closest national park to a city anywhere in Africa. As you can see, building are not too far when you’re in this park to observe some wildlife. Granted, the area isn’t too big but it ain’t no zoo either. I did get to see some lions and rhinos in a few hours, so I was happy.
I took a morning flight from Nairobi to reach Lamu, an island which was praised by Lonely Planet guidebook. They said it was unspoiled Zanzibar. I loved Zanzibar so I knew I should head here, and it was a great decision. I loved this small island right away. So small and without any vechicles, donkeys were only mode of transportation. Old islamic architectures, people in their own colorful hats and clothes, building dhow boats. Everything about it was just very much genuine. I was one of a few tourists around and of course I loved it too. It’s always more fun to be around a place where people’s lives don’t depend on tourists. I stayed for five days, just walking around and meeting people. It’s a very idle place but if you want to experience something authentic I’d definitely recommend you make your way here.
One early morning I took a boat to go back to the mainland. The boat didn’t leave on time, as always. I was being anxious because I didn’t want to miss the bus I already boght the ticket of. But when I turned around I saw this beautiful moment and I captured this image. In the end, the boat leaving late provided me with a moment I will cherish. I think this is basically Africa in a nutshell. Things won’t go as planned. But in the end that will lead to something unforgettable, trust me.
I took a long bus ride down to Mombasa. Reason for my being there, was to take the Iron Snake. The famed old train was built by the British when they colonized Kenya, and nowadays it’s just for some tourists. It runs all the way to Nairobi over night, and I’ve heard the scenery is beautiful and the experience alone is worth while. So I booked a cabin and here I was. Naturally, the train had some problems and left many hours after its scheduled departure time. Inside the train it was so hot that I couldn’t sleep until very late. In the morning I thought I finally started to see something outside then the train broke down. They said we got to get off and take a bus from here because the train won’t be fixed for a while. So my train journey ended abruptly there, and I got on a small van with about 10 other tourists, crammed like crazy, and arrived back in Nairobi.
I contemplated between Maasai Mara National Park and Amboseli National Park. I decided to come to Amboseli despite it being a less popular place because of one thing : the prospect of seeing snow-capped Kilimanjaro mountain. You go to Arusha, Tanzania, to climb Kilimanjaro but you don’t really ‘see’ Kilimanjaro there. You’re on it. To really see it in its full glory Amboseli was the place to be. I was worried as April wasn’t exactly a clear season and the clouds could cover the mountain for days. When I arrived the mountain wasn’t visible and it seemed my fear could become realized. But a few hours later the sky cleared up and it showed up as majestic as it possibly could. It’s one of the most heart stomping moment I’ve experienced in Africa. I’m not good at climbing mountains, but I love watching them, photographing them. To hear the name Kilimanjaro countless times as you grow up, and to actually see it with your own very eyes. It was amazing.
Amboseli is known for its numbers of elephants, and I sure saw them in bunches. Other than that, however, I wasn’t too lucky in my quest for wildlife. My guide seemed a bit disappointed for me, but I told him it was ok. As long as I saw these Kilimanjaro mountains, I was fine, I said. And I saw them in many different weather and angles. The most memorable moment was when I was able to photograph it under the stars, at night. I didn’t remember seeing a photograph of the mountain at night, so I decided I would take it myself. Right after I took the shot, the clouds came over and covered the mountain. I am just glad it allowed me enough time to make that beautiful image.
I came back to Nairobi, and took a night bus. I made my way to Uganda. It was about 13 hours drive, I think. I arrived at the border in the middle of the night to get the stamps and pay for my visa. I was only foreigner in such bus but I felt safe. I reached Kampala in the morning and I had a day to look around the city. They had this huge bus station where so many vans were parked like a spider web, and it was very well known for its chaos. But they had their system to work it out. By now, I was used to seeing such a thing. This trip taught me a thing or two about this continent so I moved along with the show. I biked around and had some fun. The city center here seemed much safer than Nairobi.
You might wonder why I came to Uganda. I chose Uganda as my final destination in this African journey because… there are Gorillas! Seeing the famed mountain gorillas seemed like a dream. At the time, I thought this was going to be my only visit to Africa. I wasn’t sure if I will ever make it back.(I did, many times, but I didn’t know the future then.) So I decided I would go all in, made 12 hours drive to Bwindi National Park at southern west part of Uganda. It was where the Gorillas lived.
There are six Gorilla groups in the area and six groups of six people each made a way do designated group. As they trek them every day it was mostly guaranteed that you see them, but they didn’t make promises. For some it takes a few hours to find them, for others it could take all day, I’ve heard. Luckily for me it took about three hours before we came face to face with these enchanting creatures. We weren’t inside a car or anything. There was nothing that separate us and the gorillas. They were about 5 meters away from us and it was a bit scary but at the same time very exciting. Being on the same ground as they were and being so close. It was the moment I would never forget. They were eating and were surrounded by a lot of trees, so I couldn’t get as many photographs as I’ve wanted. I wish one day I get another chance to meet them. Tour groups are only allowed one hour to observe them once they’ve discovered the group, and that one hour passed me by like a shooting star. So I said good byes, thanked for meeting me, and headed back to the town.
It was the perfect ending to my African adventure. After that I made my way back to Kampala, and took a flight back to Korea. 75 days were all but gone. I wondered at the time if I would ever be able to come back to Africa. I wondered about my future. With no money left after such a long journey. But somehow, I felt positive. I felt like something good was going to happen. This positivity without a reason was something I’ve learned during my time there. You don’t worry not because you have nothing to worry. You don’t worry because you believe all will be good. I had that unfounded belief too. And what do you know. This African journey launched my photographic career in Korea in a much bigger way. I published a book. And I made my way back to Africa, many many times. So you could say this was a career defining trip I’ve taken. It was a beginning of the beautiful relationship. To this day, I miss Africa. I know, however, that I will return. How will I return I do not know. But I believe one day I will be in Africa again. Because we’re just meant to be.