Tue, 15 Jul 2008 06:10:59 +0000
Nairobi Day 1 Index Nairobi to Dar
I had another big long sleep last night to make up for the flight the night before. Since it's chilly at night, I made up my bed with two blankets, carefully tucked in, and it was lovely and cosy. I didn't feel much like getting up. But there's stuff to do out there...
Nairobi is right next door to a big national park, packed full of bison and wildebeest and zebras and whatnot. But my feeling is, if I'm going to go on a safari, I'm going to plan ahead. I'm not just going to walk into a tour agent and try to find something to fill up half a day. So I'm ignoring the park itself, and instead decided to go on the "Nairobi Safari Walk". This is described as an "educational walk", in other words, very boring and no animals. But Nairobi is a little light on attractions, and it sounded like a way to pass some time. The other thing I wanted to see was the elephant orphanage. I don't think I've ever seen an African elephant in real life, so that would be a nice first, even if they're only small and in an enclosure.
At the youth hostel here, there's a guy sitting at a desk downstairs who will organise tours for you. Since I thought he'd know his stuff, I asked which buses I should take. A mistake, because he immediately started trying to sell me a tour. There was a tour group leaving today for the elephant orphanage and the giraffe breeding programme. Did I want to join? Sounded OK. How much? 200 USD. Ha! I told him how ridiculous that was, and it quickly collapsed to 100 USD. When even that was unacceptable, he took me through a bunch of options involving me only doing half the tour and taking taxis all over the place before I eventually decided to do things on my own anyway. But I did find out that bus number 125 was what I needed, from the rail station.
I caught a bus to town this time. I decided against the numerous matatus though. Painted black, plastered with scary-looking hip-hop decals, and blaring out rap music as they pass, they just don't look very wholesome. I'll brave them some other time.
I'm recovering from the stomach bug, and was quite hungry, so I found breakfast. There aren't an awful lot of obvious options, so I ended up going to Wimpy, clearly still an important Kenyan institution long after the British parent faded into irrelevance. A fried breakfast. I resolved to try to eat some vitamins later on.
At the train station I found a stand for bus 125. But it had a notice on saying to take buses from the "Citi Hoppa Bus Tent". Which I couldn't find. I asked around, and was pointed this way and that and eventually I found my way onto the right bus - which sat immobile for 20 minutes before we set off. So I was pretty late getting to the safari walk.
I was kicked out at the appropriate spot and went in. 10 USD seems a little steep. This, of course, is about six times what a local pays. Even non-citizen residents have to pay three times the local rate. When you get into the walk, of course you're confronted with the expected array of somewhat lecturing signs explaining about ecosystem destruction and so on. Which I care about, but already know. But it's also a sort of mini-zoo, with a few interesting animals in pretty good enclosures. The pygmy hippopotamuses were interesting, especially later when they were active and you could see their extraordinary canines.
There were also zebras and gnu and buffalo aplenty. The leopard enclosure was pretty big and I didn't expect to see him, but I managed to spot just the tail flicking back and forth behind a bush over at the far end. The leopard got up and walked a few paces before settling down somewhere completely invisible. It was an excellent demonstration of camouflage in action: even with the flicking tail, I couldn't see the creature at all until he moved. Here's a photo at maximum zoom. The tail's sticking up in the centre, and from there you can trace out the rest of him.
There are a couple of walks leading off to views over waterholes of the park. Since there's plenty of water around at the moment, these aren't the wildlife hotspots they are at other seasons. But as a gentle forest walk, it was lovely. I saw a few colourful birds, and sat and watched over the valley for a few minutes. Actually it kinda reminded me of the south-west forests back in Australia, and almost made me homesick again.
When I was finished I had lunch in the restaurant next door, which turned out to only have rice and beans. A very basic meal, but good enough.
I wanted to take a matatu up the road to the elephant orphanage, but I kept asking and none of them were going there. So I decided to take a matatu back to town and take a taxi from there, even though that involves absurdly expensive backtracking. The matatu that I caught seemed a lot more sedate than the ones in town, although it did have loud music the whole way. I was crammed onto the back seat and didn't have enough headroom, but it got me where I was going.
I had to negotiate the taxi price, since 1500 shillings seemed a bit much. I got one for 1000 instead. It was quite a long drive though. And when I got there, what happened? It was shut. In fact, it turns out it's only open from 11:30 to 12:00 every day, so I would have had to be very lucky to catch it open no matter what I did. Bit of a disappointment that.
But never mind. I caught another matatu back to town. I wrote a postcard and posted it. I finally bought myself a jumper. I also bought a cheap mobile phone, just in order to salve my paranoia a little. T-mobile texted me to say that I'll be charged GBP 1.50 a minute to use it, so if I am caught in an emergency, I hope I can report it in the seven minutes I'll have before my balance runs out. Whatever, it's a nice-to-have. I also tried to phone the TAZARA train people to find out what the story is with visas. The phone number on their website apparently doesn't exist. Typical. It'll have to wait until I get to Tanzania.
Another thing I bought was a pack of mefloquine to guard against malaria. I've been taking some chloroquine I'd bought in Cairo, but it only cost EGP 1.50, so I had my doubts that it wasn't really just sugar pills. There are mosquitoes around, although not really hordes of them. I wore insect repellant last night, and I don't seem to have been bitten yet.
I timed myself walking back to the hostel to see how early I have to leave tomorrow to be at the bus for 6:00. But talking to the guy at reception, it was obvious that it's a stupid idea to walk all that way in the dark, so I'll get a taxi instead.
Nairobi Day 1 Index Nairobi to Dar