Kenya - Round The World Tour 2003 Day 72

Nairobi

Friday 23rd May

So, here we are in a cheap and reasonably comfortable hotel somewhere in the middle of Nairobi. After a very dubious breakfast this morning in a setting with more flies than customers, we loaded our backpacks and ourselves onto the twenty-one-seater minibus. As it happens, we bought the very last two available seats for the morning trip. I couldn’t refuse a little chuckle to myself when I remembered the bus ride to Monduli the other day in a minibus half the size but with twice the number of people in it.

As the drive up to Nairobi was going to take several hours, I found myself reflecting on some of the intangible aspects of travelling in the manner in which we have chosen. In the past, when we have been travelling whilst on holiday somewhere, we have always been in a rush and always working against the clock. With timetables and flight schedules to keep, it’s always been necessary to get to a given location on time and to leave early enough to accommodate unexpected delays. Accordingly, time has always been the unwanted companion on all of our previous holidays. The ticking clock is the most annoying and demanding travel companion on any trip and most people are forced to take it with them. Here in Africa, however, it’s completely different. There are no schedules to keep, no flights to arrive in time for, no screaming clock yelling at us at every turn. When we were returning back from the Serengeti last night, for example, and broke down several times, I remember feeling completely unconcerned about the whole situation. So what if we were a couple of hours later than expected back in Arusha? We knew would get back eventually. And even if the delay extended from hours into days, so what? There was nothing in Arusha pressing that was waiting for us, as we’re pretty much making up the itinerary as we go. We just sat back, enjoyed the view and actually laughed at the experience. In fact, it was thoroughly enjoyable. If it were a regular two-week holiday, I would probably have been extremely annoyed and much stressed about the whole thing. That, I think, is the single biggest difference between a ‘normal’ holiday and the trip that we are currently on.

With the Tanzania/Kenya border crossing fast approaching, my thoughts became less content and I remember distinctly feeling steadily more nervous and apprehensive. We’ve not particularly enjoyed the various border crossings that we’ve had to navigate thus far and there is always the worry of having to deal with an irate immigration officer who may be intent on making life difficult for us. How much will they charge us ‘this time’ to pass through the border and how long will the process take? You always have to go through the ‘departure’ immigration office for the country that you are leaving before clearing the ‘arrivals’ immigration office for the country that you are entering. Clearing the Tanzania side of the border was swift enough. They are only interested in confirming that you have not overstayed your visa term and quickly stamp your passport to let you through. We had been given a tip by some overlanders in Arusha to ask for a ‘transit visa’ into Kenya since we are not planning on staying there very long. A transit visa is supposed to cost a lot less money and allows a shorter length of stay but they can ask for proof of onward journey before issuing one and we had none. The only thing that we have is our flight ticket out of Amman, Jordan but this won’t convince anyone of our ability and intention to leave Kenya. At the Kenya arrivals desk, I handed over our passports and asked for two transit visas. “Certainly sir. Just fill in this form and that will be $20 each please” was the very pleasant and unexpected reply that came back. The man even gave me a nice smile and was quite talkative. This was by far the most pleasant and hassle-free border crossing that we’ve experienced, not only in Africa but anywhere else in the world. We were soon on our way to Nairobi and I was once again in a content frame of mind.

The minibus arrived at the airport and dropped us off. We wasted no time in hunting down all the options for making the next available flight to Cairo. It turns out that there are only a couple of flight operators that fly from Nairobi to Cairo – Kenya Airlines and Egypt Air. Since the bus had ejected us almost immediately in front of the Kenya Airlines ticketing office, we strolled in and inquired about the next flight out. Everything was smooth sailing and the price was also about what we had expected at around $490 for the two of us to fly the one-way route to Cairo. But then the bubble burst. One of the ticketing agents started to look concerned and asked us about how our onward journey from Cairo. I explained to him that we planned on travelling overland to Jordan, where we would pick up the return leg of our flight ticket that we already had to Dubai and then onto London. Since we did not have an onward flight ticket from Egypt itself (a Middle-East country), Kenya Airlines would not sell us the ticket. Disaster! Overland travel through the Sudan or Ethiopia is simply not an option for us. Perhaps we would be forced to by a flight from Cairo to Amman to satisfy the airline guidelines but this would add an unexpected and substantial expense to our already limited and overextended budget. The only other airline that flies to Cairo is Egypt Air but their ticketing office is in Nairobi itself and not at the airport – how ironic is that!?

We walked over to another terminal building to try to find someone, a travel agent perhaps, which might be able to help. Luckily, there is a travel agency at the international arrivals hall and we chatted with them about our dilemma. We spent the next hour or so walking from airline office to airline office trying to find out how to bridge this critical gap that now appeared in our itinerary. The travel agent that we booked our trip with gave us no indication that arranging this connecting flight would be a problem but we booked this trip several months ago and a great deal has happened on the world stage in that time which could have caused this apparent change in regulations. We ultimately found someone who called Egypt Air on our behalf to get to the bottom of it all. Curiously, they were quite willing to sell us a one-way ticket and were bemused as to why Kenya Airlines would impose this restriction upon us. Since they were over $60 per person more expensive than Kenya Airlines, we were reluctant to book with them so we took the information they gave us back to the Kenya Airlines ticketing office and explained to them that Egypt Air had no qualms about selling us the ticket. After a bit of cajoling, they finally agreed to print us a ticket. We would need to show our flight tickets out of Amman during check-in but at least we would make the flight. The next available flight departs on Sunday at five o’clock in the afternoon. This gives us two nights here in Nairobi – just enough to time do some curio shopping 🙂

The travel agent we dealt with did some phoning around and arranged our hotel stay and a taxi ride into town. We bargained hard for the price of both. Once we arrived and unloaded, we wasted no time in hunting down the city curio markets, which were fortunately just a couple of minutes' walk from our hotel, to see just what we could get for our dollars, pounds, traveller’s checks and any other bits of clothing we might be able to bargain with. I seem to have developed a passion for curio shopping and revel in the activity of searching around for the good stuff and bargaining hard for it. I’m getting quite good at it, in fact. Contrary to what we had been led to believe, the curios here are more expensive that we have seen elsewhere. Perhaps because the quality is higher or the wood is different or perhaps just because we are in a big city, but the starting prices here do seem to be much higher in general. There are still a lot of bargains to be had, however, and pretty much everything is still very cheap for us in the grand scheme of things but certainly not anywhere near as cheap as Victoria Falls or even some places in South Africa were. Perhaps the economic woes of Zimbabwe were such that the locals there were forced to sell things at a loss to us and we have been spoiled as a result.

Even though the starting prices are higher, everything here is negotiable and we spent well over an hour in one shop, just around the corner from the main market area, bargaining hard for a very nice and very colourful collection of masks and a set of wooden dishes and spoons. I ended up paying a bit more than I had originally set in my mind but we still ended up on the better end of the deal for everything that we bought. Even Sandy had struck lucky with the purchase of some sort of stringed instrument that they referred to as a guitar (although it looks nothing like what we would call a guitar).

Since it started to get dark and Nairobi is no place for two white tourists to be wandering around too long after dark, we went back to the hotel and have now settled in for the night. It’s still early but an early night will certainly not do us any harm after the tumultuous past couple of days.

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