Nairobi Day 1

Tue, 15 Jul 2008 06:10:58 +0000

Cairo Day 7 Index Nairobi Day 2

As expected, I didn't get a lot of sleep on the plane, maybe as much as an hour. But that's enough to be at least a bit refreshed. I collected my bag from the baggage claim (I'd checked it in because I had too many liquids, only to find that Egypt of all places doesn't seem to have bothered with the regulations I've had to endure in the rest of the world). And then to immigration. Where I was the only mug who'd applied for a visa in advance. I asked, and yes, Australians are perfectly free to get a visa on arrival. In other words, two of those four days charging around Cairo in the hot sun were a complete waste of time. And given that Kenya is so relaxed, it's a fair bet that Tanzania is the same. So all four days were wasted. I expect to have some time wasted on this trip, but four whole days? That really does sting.

So then a taxi to the hostel, which cost USD 22. I wasn't going to try to economise because I'm terrified of crime in Nairobi, and it was five o'clock in the morning and pitch dark. Wikitravel warns that Nairobi has had a big carjacking problem in the past, but it's OK because it's "somewhat improved" now. Not very confidence-inspiring. So I got into the rather nice official airport taxi. There was a very worrying moment when we veered off the main road onto a rather tiny industrial road for no apparent reason, and the driver flicked on the central locking at the same time. My brain started rehearsing horror stories about being driven into an abandoned lot and forced to give up all my possessions. But I reassured myself that a taxi company would have trouble retaining their official stamp of approval from the airport if they started robbing passengers, and after a few turns we were back on a main road.

Of course I was ridiculously early and the hostel was chained up, but their promised 24-hour reception eventually turned up to take off the padlock and show me to a bed. I noticed that quite a few of the other bunks had mosquito nets draped around them, which is a bit of a worry. Mine was in my lost backpack, and I'd decided a net is unnecessarily paranoid and not worth replacing. I'll go ahead and assume that the other beds are all taken by a group who take their guidebooks too seriously. Given that it's winter, pills and spray should be enough.

Since this was still before six, I even had time to grab a shower (cold, unfortunately) and a couple of hours sleep. But I didn't want to sleep too long, because I had to book my bus ticket out. Now that it was light, I decided to walk and get my bearings. Thanks to Nairobi's excellent street signage and long roads, I was able to navigate just on the basis of my downloaded Google maps, without GPS to help me figure out where I was.

Reception had told me that I could book my ticket at "the bus station", but it was pretty hard to find any recognisable building that deserved the name. Instead, buses seemed to just line up in the street. I asked around and was pointed up River Road. This is a significant name, because Wikitravel had told me never to venture into the area to the northeast of River Road. Still, I knew where I was going: the bus company is called, oddly enough, "Scandinavian", and their website gave their address as River Road. So I was a bit unhappy that I didn't have a nice big sensible transportation hub to deal with, but I knew I was on the right track.

Their office turns out to be a tiny little place wedged into the shops. And it turns out that the bus tomorrow is all booked out. Damn. So I'll be travelling Sunday instead. (The only seat free was number 13, which I'm guessing is always the last one to be sold.) I've been in Africa one day, and so far I'm delayed one day. Not a good performance so far.

The next thing I wanted to do was do some shopping for a few things I'll need, in particular a jumper. It's really quite nippy in the mornings, and I've only got t-shirts. I also need a charger or adapter so I can charge my PDA with the British power sockets they have here. I thought the best thing to do was check out the Westlands area, which apparently is where the shopping malls are, and should also be a nice place to get lunch. And to be honest, I felt like somewhere safe and comfortable.

So I walked there next. It was quite a long way, and I found myself in a neighbourhood that, while being fairly upmarket, didn't obviously offer any shopping. However, what was there was the Nairobi National Museum. Wikitravel confidently claims that it's closed, but it looked open to me. And since it sounded quite good, I gave up on shopping and went to the museum instead.

It's a fairly small place, and the 800 shilling entrance fee, about 8 EUR, is a bit steep, but it's still a pretty good way to get a taste for Kenya's various cultures. They mix artefacts with photos of them being used, which makes things seem a lot more lively and real. There were even a couple of kids playing a kind of marimba thing in one of the galleries, which gave off a nice vibe. There was a photo exhibition of rock art from all over Africa, which was fascinating. The natural history galleries are a bit kid-oriented, but worth a look.

One gallery's stated purpose is accumulating a stuffed specimen of every bird species in Kenya. Perhaps a slightly dubious enterprise, but kinda cool to see them all in their cases.

The whole place was teeming with schoolgroups, the younger children being led around in endless hands-on-shoulders snakes that tended to block the path a little.

But it's great to see such an emphasis put on education here - I can't remember ever seeing a school group in the Natural History Museum in London. And with all the intelligent design chatter you hear nowadays, it's good to see them being led past an uncompromising presentation of evolution. Understandable though: given that Louis Leakey was curator for many years, they've got an excellent collection of hominid fossils. These two girls asked me to take their photo. Not sure why, probably just to see the funny man with the long red hair do something. Happy to oblige.

After reviving myself with lunch in the museum coffee shop, I decided that the best way to get to the shopping malls was to swallow my pride and take a taxi. The Sarit Centre, although pretty big, looks distinctly shabby once you get inside, and not the gleaming garden of commerce I'd been expecting. I get a feeling from Nairobi that it's modern, but a kinda run-down and half-arsed version of modern. Obviously I'm comparing it to Cairo, with its ignored traffic lights and its donkey carts, but where there's plenty of money sloshing around the place to make things clean and fancy when they want to. Whereas Nairobi feels like a place trying to live slightly beyond its means. Also, Nairobi is proving quite a lot more expensive than Cairo, but this might just be because the services I'm prepared to spend money on are actually available here.

I bought myself a phone charger, had some coffee, and clean forgot to buy myself a jumper. It was getting quite hot by this time - not sweaty, but pleasant weather for wearing a t-shirt in. Absolutely glorious, of course: it was 38 degrees in Dubai, and it can't have slipped more than a few degrees below that the whole way through the middle east.

I felt I'd had enough exploration for one day, so I walked all the way back to the hostel, quite a long way. Just as I was getting back, it started to rain, and before long it was thunderstorming away very merrily. So I didn't feel bad about cutting my day a little short.

Instead I spent the evening using the Internet, charging my Nokia, and getting my backups sorted out. Charging is an issue here. There's only one powerpoint in my dorm, and since it's a long way from my bed I don't feel comfortable leaving my Nokia there overnight. Still paranoid about crime, you see.

The guy at reception showed me how to switch on the power switch to the bathroom, so I got a hot shower at last. And that's my day. Not a bad day really.

Cairo Day 7 Index Nairobi Day 2