Birthdays Abroad

I am way behind on this post as Layne's birhtday was in October and mine was in December, but even if just for my own memories I want to record our birthday celebrations. I'll start with Layne's.

Layne loves his birthday. Usually, we hold Birthday Week and every day I give him a small present or a special meal or something, celebrating with a bigger gift on his birthday. We'll also often try to incorporate something Halloween-themed since his birthday is October 30. But, Kenya does not celebrate Halloween and Birthday Week seemed excessive with all the wonderful trips we had planned. Layne in particular wanted to go gorilla trekking, while I was slightly more wary given my encounters with primates, so we decided that trip was to be his biggest present. But he still wanted to celebrate the day with his friends and staff. The night crew very sweetly decorated the office for him as a surprise, and we ordered a cake from ColdStone. (Yes - they have ColdStone in Kenya and it is just as amazing.) They also got him a little trophy that said "World's Best Boss."

In Fletcher tradition, we played "the game." It doesn't have a name, but the idea is simple. Whoever we are celebrating that day, everyone tells them something they like about them or why they admire them. It's a nice way to make someone feel extra special on their special day. Listening to the staff say their favorite things about Layne was so sweet, and when it was my turn I was oddly emotional and teared up a little. Not cool of the boss' wife to cry in a staff meeting, but that's just the kind of embarrassment I am!

The staff loved the cake, and some of them said it was the only time they got real dairy. Not a concept we are familiar with in the U.S., right?

The staff loved the cake, and some of them said it was the only time they got real dairy. Not a concept we are familiar with in the U.S., right?

After work, we hosted a bunch of our friends for a traditional Kenyan bbq. We cooked on a charcoal-burning jiko in the open air, and it was just one of those slow, loud nights where you know there's no place else you'd rather be. Our cab drivers were some of our best friends in Kenya, and Layne invited them to the party. They were so sweet and each got him a gift. Maina bought him a hat (a shared love for both of them), Simon got him a cake and a book to learn Swahili (of which we learned very little - it's super hard!), and Robinson got him an entire branch of baby bananas (one of my favorite Kenyan treats).

I am less keen on birthdays. With my birthday being December 13, it was always eclipsed by holiday celebrations. My little sister's birthday is a month later, and my mom would often just combine our parties and host it in January. In college it was always finals week, and one year my brother even left on his mission on my birthday, which left a veil of depression over everyone and tainted the day. Needless to say, I keep expectations low. And this year, I was - of course - sick. I desperately wanted to go to Egypt while we were in Africa, so that was my combined Christmas/birthday present. 

Still, we celebrated. The staff got me a ColdStone ice cream cake as well, and it was so fun to celebrate with them. But the main thing we did to celebrate the day was a visit Giraffe Manor. You all know how much I enjoyed feeding the giraffes at Giraffe Centre. I couldn't wait to do it again and get even closer! Giraffe Manor is a beautiful private home converted to a hotel. 

Super love for these gorgeous paned windows. 

Super love for these gorgeous paned windows. 

One of the best things about Kenya - the indoor/outdoor living. No A/C and near perfect temperatures year round means doors and windows are always open. 

One of the best things about Kenya - the indoor/outdoor living. No A/C and near perfect temperatures year round means doors and windows are always open. 

Unlike Giraffe Centre, there's no fence between you and the giraffes. You can even walk directly under their necks as  you feed them! I scheduled an afternoon tea, and we had the place basically to ourselves.

So happy. So, so, SO happy. 

So happy. So, so, SO happy. 

Giraffes are gorgeous!

Giraffes are gorgeous!

The baby giraffes don't eat the pellets, but it was so cute watching their mamas feed them. 

The baby giraffes don't eat the pellets, but it was so cute watching their mamas feed them. 

Both of our birthday celebrations were very fitting for who we are as individuals, and they were definitely amongst our most memorable birthdays! It will be very hard to top them next year. 

Swimsuit Season is Coming...

The weather is finally warming up and that can only mean one thing - swimsuit season is fast approaching. Luckily, I got a head start on my tan considering it was the height of summer when we left Kenya in February. One of the last trips we took was to Diani Beach on the Kenyan coast and I have to admit - I am devastated that we did not go earlier. But it's probably a good thing, as I would have refused to go anywhere else thereafter. Besides Diani Beach being the most prefect and beautiful place I have ever been (just look at that water!), I also had the perfect new swimsuit for the trip.

I'm a sucker for anything gingham, and the black and white bralette and ruched bottoms were calling my name when I checked out LimeRicki's newest collection. While one of Kenya's oddities is the lack of a postal system, my mother-in-law was coming to visit. I had the suit shipped to her house and after her flights DC > JFK > Amsterdam > Nairobi I had it in my hands! 

Besides being such a cute pattern, I absolutely loved the fit. A lot of times you get these swimsuits and you're so afraid to move in them in case - you know - something pops out or a string comes untied. But with this suit I was able to play in the waves, swim in the warm Indian Ocean, and even went snorkeling for the first time! It was so comfortable and flattering that I just tied a scarf around my waist before lunch and dinner and hung out in the suit from dawn til dusk. 

Be sure to check out Lime Ricki's full collection of amazing, colorful, and comfortable swimsuits as you prepare for swimsuit season this year.

This is a sponsored post by Lime Ricki. All opinions are my own.  

Relaxing on the Kenyan Coast

Our trip with Kelly to the Kenyan coast was - no joke - probably the best vacation of my life. It was the most relaxing and beautiful location I have ever been to. 

The white sands were soft and fine, like flour. As you walked across it, you sunk a good 3-4 inches until you approached the surf and the beach grew harder where it is battered repeatedly by waves. Wind whipped briskly across the beach, lifting the brightly-colored sails of the kite surfers and throwing my hair back, knotting individual strands into an absolute mess. The wind was in fact the only thing that made the summer heat and humidity bearable, our January visit lending extra strength to the equatorial sun. But the most enjoyable aspect was the tranquility. I had never been to the beach on such a perfect day without having to spread a blanket and push for elbow room. But on this beach, there wasn't another visitor on either side for at least 100 yards. It was our own little paradise, and we spent our days napping and sunning and enjoying the warm Indian ocean. 

Pictures c/o Home Away.com

Pictures c/o Home Away.com

We rented a 4-story house right on the beach for just $100 a night. It came with a maid, a chef, and groundskeepers. The chef took our order every morning, and then went to the market to pick up the freshest ingredients. His cooking provided the best meals I had the entire time we were in Kenya! The maid took care of all the clean up, and let down the mosquito nets around our beds at sunset. The groundskeepers monitored the property at night and took our beach chairs down to the sand every morning. They also shooed away neighboring monkeys that attempted to sneak into the house and eat anything they could get their hands on. Our every need was taken care of. Beach boys, essentially street hawkers, walked up and down the beach all day selling trinkets and souvenirs, or coconuts for drinking and fresh aloe for the mzungu sunburn. We even saw a man leading camels up and down the beach, stopping at each small group to see if they wanted a ride. It was tropical and remote and absolute paradise. 

Left: View from our house's balcony. Right: Camels stroll along the beach. 

Left: View from our house's balcony. Right: Camels stroll along the beach. 

Our last day there, we decided to go snorkeling. A glass-bottomed boat came right up to our stretch of beach, and we waded out and climbed in. We shared the experience with a German couple who were incredibly friendly. The wife didn't speak much English, but the husband discussed American television and movies the entire way to our snorkeling point, a sandbar maybe half a mile out. On the way, we saw huge sea urchins and the most insane starfish - bright colors and spikes like I had never seen on a North American starfish. 

That moment when you feel the starfish fall off your shoulder... 

That moment when you feel the starfish fall off your shoulder... 

When the time came for us to leave, none of us wanted to. The only thing that got me on that plane was knowing that we were headed to Masai Mara the next day! I have never left a place and been more sick with myself for not staying longer. Worse yet, I have no idea when (or even if!) I'll make my way back to Diani Beach. But I'll always remember my days there as one of the top highlights from our time in Kenya. 

The wind was the best source of relief from the sun, heat, and humidity. 

The wind was the best source of relief from the sun, heat, and humidity. 

Sharing Kenya

Our time in Kenya was such a special and unique time in our lives, and we were lucky enough to share it with my mother-in-law. We've lived by my in-laws, Kelly and Steve, for most of our Just before we left, she came out for a week and we took her all over the country, making sure to hit all of the best spots. 

We kicked off Day 1 at the Elephant Orphanage and Giraffe Manor. After our first visit, it had secured itself as one of my all-time favorite highlights from Kenya, and it had not lost its appeal. Layne had to work, so it was just us girls exploring Karen. 

The elephants were especially playful and friendly that day. They were play wrestling with one another, lolling happily in the dirt, and slurping their water greedily. 

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The best part was when we posed for a picture, and then suddenly there was a loud trumpeting and stampeding behind us.

We got charged mid-pose. Note: the pure panic.

We got charged mid-pose. Note: the pure panic.

Not as innocent as they look. 

Not as innocent as they look. 

In between the Elephant Orphanage and Giraffe Manor, we visited Kazuri Bead Factory. The company was set up as a way to employ single mothers, and after nearly 30 years it is now employing more than 400 women, providing them with healthcare and fair wages. We went on a tour of the factory, where they make clay-fired beads, pottery, and figurines and finished in a room that I think may have been heaven for Kelly. She owns her own jewelry company that has focuses on unique pieces with a global leaning, and we spent well over an hour pouring out buckets and buckets of beads, selecting each individual bead for its unique properties. 

After lunch, we headed over to the Giraffe Manor. At first, Kelly had a lot of nervous energy. Sometimes people try to toss the pellet to the giraffe, shirking back from the long purple tongue as it searches for the food. But it didn't take long for her to adjust and to begin feeding it like an old pro. She even let the giraffe eat the pellet right from her mouth! 

That night, we had a dinner with the Yum staff so Kelly could meet all of them. Just looking at these photos really makes me miss these guys! They bonded quickly, as everyone does with Kelly. She is just so good at drawing people out of their shelves and making them feel special. 

She stayed with us for an entire week, and this was just the first day! Get ready for posts that take us from the east coast of Kenya to the western plains. 

Gorilla Trekking in the Land of 1,000 Hills

A.k.a. - the hardest thing I have ever done in my entire life. Ever. 

Layne desperately wanted to go gorilla trekking while we were in Africa. I was a little less interested, and by a little I mean significantly. First of all, we're not big hikers. Meaning... I had never hiked outside of church camp before, and I had certainly never paid hundreds of dollars for the joy of climbing through the mountains. And where do you do gorilla trekking? The Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. The area is also nicknamed "Land of a Thousand Hills." That terrain sounds like it's for beginners, right? Second of all, I had developed a fear of monkeys. And considering gorillas are approximately 5,000x stronger than Colobus Monkeys, I was a slightly terrified that this hike may result in my life ending. Nbd - whatever.

But Layne was just so excited for it! So even when "The Sickness" hit for the first time just two days before the trip was scheduled and it cost us more than $1,000 on top of what we were already paying to re-schedule it, we were committed. And that's how I ended up ringing in 2016 in the mountains of Rwanda. 

Let me just say - Rwanda was beautiful. Like, incredibly, stunningly, gorgeous. Kigali, the capital, was similar to Nairobi but with a few key differences. It was a smaller city, and because of Rwanda's recent genocide and new government, the city had all new infrastructure. And once a month, the entire community participates in a cleaning day, meaning that instead of the littered streets and disorder of Nairobi, the grass in Kigali is neatly clipped and all of the rubbish put in bins. The roads are smoothly paved, and almost all of them have sidewalks. While the style of the buildings and gates were familiar, the manicured streets were startlingly different. 

As we drove north, the scenery was incredible. Rolling hills laid out with checkered plots of tea and coffee plantations, and rusty corrugated steel roofs tucked around the lush greenery. After a very quiet New Year's, we woke at 5 a.m. and headed straight for the rainforest. We took winding roads through the mountains, at times so narrow we teetered dangerously on the edge. The morning mists rose like a wall at the edge of every cliff, swirling and reaching greedy fingers toward our van. The dirt road was washed out in several places, nothing left but a rockslide where a path used to be. I wish I had taken some photos, but I wasn't feeling so well (what a surprise) and was intently focused on sticking my head as far out the window as I could, gasping for fresh air and trying not to throw up as we wound through the mountains and deeper into the forest. 

This is the valley we climbed in - thick vegetation, and hill after hill after hill. 

This is the valley we climbed in - thick vegetation, and hill after hill after hill. 

After a brief explanation from the park rangers, we broke into groups. Not too many people can get close to the gorillas, so you're limited to eight civilians, 2 guides, and 2 armed park rangers. There are mountain elephants in the area, and African elephants are vicious - unlike the Asian elephants that can be ridden. The armed rangers won't shoot the elephants; just shoot a blank to scare them off. 

We began our six mile hike - up one mountain, down the other side, then up again, and down again. The guides were bushwhacking in front of us the whole time, cutting through the forest the most direct path to the gorillas. The ground was slick with the morning dew, vines and leaves completely covering the ground. I found myself standing on the side of a mountain, on a steep 60 degree angle, clinging to the vines that had not been chopped down as my feet slid around below me, the occasional branch snapping and dropping one leg another few inches. At one point, I lost my shoe in the vines, and had to stop our entire party as I untangled it and tied it back on more firmly. 

We heard the gorillas before we saw them. Low grunts and cracking branches, though the giant gorillas were still completely hidden in the lush vegetation. Then - suddenly - directly overhead... 

He stared down at us with watchful eyes, slowly munching on leaves and making it clear to all of us that this was his domain and we were just visitors. 

Then we went around another corner, and there was the lead silverback of the group. He pensively munched leaves for a while. Layne's favorite part was when he leaned to the side, let one rip, and then settled back down. Then he turned and walked away, giving us a great view of the infamous silver-colored back. Our guides hacked a path behind him, and suddenly we found ourselves in the midst of the entire family. 

The gorilla families have been conditioned for years to accept human presence. Still, you can only spend an hour with them before you need to leave them on their own. 

Baby gorilla!!!! 

Baby gorilla!!!! 

It's amazing how close we are able to get! 

It's amazing how close we are able to get! 

More than any other experience we had in Africa, this is one that people described as "once in a lifetime." There are only a handful of places where you can find these lowland gorillas, and since they limit trekking permits and the location is so remote, it definitely felt that way. I am incredibly glad that we took advantage of this opportunity when we were so close. The similarities between us and the gorillas was shocking, and there was a of emotion in their eyes. They were somehow wild and domestic at the same time, and sharing a small moment in time with them was indescribable. 

This guy stopped and just vamped for us for a few minutes. 

This guy stopped and just vamped for us for a few minutes.