Arrived here on this island camp on Lake Victoria yesterday via plane charter from Governor’s Camp. The flight took about 45 minutes and with our descent pulling us over the NW corner of the lake near the Uganda border. Lake Victoria is a high lake resting at 3,700 feet above sea level and the highest peak on Mfangano Island resting at 5,500 feet above sea level.
The camp is a bit empty at the moment so the manager, James, has put me in the Honeymoon Suite. I have taken a past girlfriend with me on a similar fact finding mission to Africa where we stayed at exotic locales along the way and I’ll have to admit this spot called for the company of a woman. The Honeymoon Suite is set on a rocky promontory extending into the lake with the bedroom perched 20 feet above the waterline and the bathroom, complete with sunken tub, at but about 3-4 feet above the waterline. Of more than a few places classified as “must see” getaways for couples, this spot might well rank at the top. The accommodation was nestled below a centuries old giant fig tree and also held all the amenities for creature comfort needs. The property has been in existence for 20 years on an island
about 15 miles x 7 miles and includes but 6 suites in total.
James, the manager, is a native white Kenyan but 23 years old and fresh out of university in England via a stint in London. He grew up in Nairobi, went overseas to further his education and has returned to fulfill his aspirations of starting his own venture in the hospitality industry here in his home country. He has only been managing Mfangano Island for about 6 weeks but during the course of our dinner he sounded well heeled in his position already. At the age of 23 he was sounding like a seasoned veteran.
Bedtime came a little early as I had awoken yesterday morning at 5:30AM in order to make the balloon ride at Governor’s Camp across the Masai Mara before leaving for Mfangano Island. The ballooning safari is always something I have aspired to do but have never taken the time to get it booked. The captain of the balloon, Steve, had a similar story to his arrival into Kenya as my entry into the African travel business. A native of England and prior owner of a furniture business, he took a ride on a balloon with his mother some 25 years ago in the UK. He was so taken aback by the experience that he decided to get his own balloon license and begin his own hot air balloon business there. About 10 years ago he
was approached to start up the safari ballooning business here in the Masai Mara in conjunction with Governor’s Camp. After an initial visit he came out with his wife and 2 children and has been splitting time in both Kenya and England ever since.
There were about 15 of us in on the trip that departed at dawn and the event met and surpassed all expectations. We rose quickly from the field just behind Governor’s Camp in a large basket, probably 15 feet x 6 feet, plenty of room to accommodate us all. Due to the beginning of the migration being upon us, the Mara was filled the game. Passing over grazing giraffe and elephant as well as herds of plains game species from a range of heights of but 50 feet to a couple of hundred feet with no noises but the wind is an exceptional experience. Even when the balloon was blasted with more hot air, the game below made little change in behavior thus offering us a unique perspective into their worlds. The highlight of the trip certainly centered around passing directly over the meander Mara River and seeing crocodiles and
hippos from directly above. A few rhinos in the forest neighboring the river capped our morning trip whereupon we landed at were greeted by the staff and a full breakfast spread African style on the plains of the Masai Mara.
This morning, Thursday, James and I headed out on the boat along with our guide and driver, Michael, to fish for some Nile Perch. The record at this camp is 172 pounds caught about 12 years ago. We trolled the banks of the lake and along the edges of nearby islands taking note of the prolific wildlife all along the way including multiple fish eagles, kingfishers as well as a couple of otters. No fish were caught but exploring a small part of the lake for the morning was well worth the trip.
Following the morning fishing trip James was told there were a few people from the Kenya Power and Light Company from Nairobi who wanted to speak with him. James’ youth if offset by his being a native of this country which has seen its infrastructure decline over the last half century due to neglect and corruption so while he was encouraged to know that the government controlled electric company was considering bringing power to this island of about 30,000 he figured it was going to come at a price (a bribe or something similar). I stayed off to the side about 25 feet enjoying the view from the dock but wanted to watch and hear what might transpire. Just about exactly what James predicted, came true. He told me the four government employees would want to be served drinks (alcohol or non alcohol) and the discussion would begin benignly but there would be personal interests to fulfill on the part of these visitors for future needs. Again, all his predictions came true.
Four people showed up for this discussion – 3 were from the electric company and 1was the local tribal chief of the island. There was a long discussion and a couple of the employees went off to examine the premises. It was about midday by now but James told me that although he knew they wanted him to feed them he was not going to do that. Despite the food having already been laid out for the two of us on the table nearby James served them drinks but not a meal.
At the end of the discussions they boarded a power boat owned by the company and along with its pilot left for the mainland about a 30 minute ride away. And what did they come to discuss?
- Kenya electric company was considering adding power to the island and wanted to “look around”.
- The island chief wanted to know what contributions the camp could make to the expense
- The highest official from the electric company wanted to know if the company (government owned) could park their future boat purchased at the private island camp’s dock for free.
- The same official asked for reduced rates for him and his staff to come and stay at this 5 star, expensive camp
- The senior official then asked James to have the company boat take his group back to the mainland at no charge. James said he could not do that. The group had arrived at a cost of $2 per person via water taxi and could have taken the same back. At the end, the government officials negotiated that the company’s boat take them back at a cost to the taxpayers of $60? Why send 10x the amount for transport than originally planned? For no other reason that the officials could. The sad part of this transaction is that James and I had just walked through a fishing village around the corner from their lodge where the locals relied on subsistence fishing and were very poor where houses were made of mud and no running water was found. $60 is probably 2 month’s wages for some of these people. And last but not least
- Just prior to departure, the same man told James in private his children were in expensive private schools and the costs were rising dramatically and anything the company could offer to help pay the expenses would go a long way. James doubted the private school story as nothing but an affront to make his attempt at asking for a bribe seem more moral.
The US is not above bribery of officials and gross neglect in regards to responsible spending of taxpayer money as well but this story above, having watched it play out, is a summary of the problems with modern Africa where government officials look to shake downs as a part of their job perks. The process seems so much more disgusting when the West id asked to offer more and more foreign aid to the developing part of the world. How many of our dollars go into the pockets of men like these while their own people live in to provide themselves with nothing but food and shelter. The world has been fooled to think these officials care for their people above themselves. As I have said before, the US has large corruption problems but due to a system f laws and justice, our government officials look like Mother Theresa compared to most in Africa.