10.01.2007 - 10.01.2007
10th – 11th January 2007
We arrived in Nairobi at the Upper hill Campsite at 01:00 (Nzioka, a friend of a friend, suggested the place when he declined our request to camp in his garden) and Claus was immediately very concerned about the three Pink Caravan buses on the premises. He had encountered the buses, filled with drunk Swedish teenagers, in South America and Australia. They were wicked buses, painted bright pink, with double beds inside and a dozen more on the roof, nobody slept in tents. I wasn’t the only man looking to get lucky with ‘Inga from Sweden’, as a Rastafarian from Ethiopia had already tried! One of the Swedish girls I spoke to only knew of one Inga, her ancient grandmother.
Perhaps the Inga phenomenon was from the 60’s?
The only really interesting and worthwhile site in Nairobi that I wanted to see was the National Museum. It was described as ‘a grand alternative to the dozens of poky little local museums dotted around the country’.
Mia, the New Yorker that never joined me in Kikambala, was still in town and wanted to meet up. I SMS’ed her suggesting we rendezvous at the museum, to which she replied “It’s closed!” I refused to believe her until minutes later, when I literally bumped into a gorgeous American blonde, who confirmed it was in fact closed. Adamant that both of them may be wrong, I insisted that there must be a way to see it. The blonde explained to me that she was responsible for the renovations at the museum and had been working on it for the past three months. I swallowed my words and asked if she could sneak me in, but it turned out that all the exhibits were in storage, and would remain that way for at least six more months!
Instead, we replaced the tires on Claus’ truck and met Mia for lunch.
She said I should look out for a five foot little girl. Finally there was a face to the voice and months of correspondence. She gave us the lowdown on Nairobi over a cheap meal of Ugali (maize meal) and Kapenta (a freshwater fish) inside a quaint eatery reserved for locals and savvy tourists.
We wished each other bon voyage and then Claus and I did our usual: popped into Jokers around the corner for some freebies and fun.
Workers came in during their tea/lunch breaks for a quick gamble, squandering their earnings no doubt. We came, we saw and we conquered, cleaning them up on the roulette table while enjoying free drinks and snacks.
We got lost in the traffic heading out of town, and I saw a massive sign advertising a swanky Casino.
We were both parched and famished so we avoided the gridlock chilled out at the casino, speaking to the locals about Kenya while waiting patiently for the buffet to open. I had the concierge make a few calls for me to investigate the buses to Uganda, and she found me a cheap bus direct to Mbale, home of the Abayudaya, a Ugandan black Jewish community.
We rushed off to the Akamba bus office to purchase my ticket before they closed. On the way there, while coasting around a gigantic roundabout, in the middle of four lanes of traffic, we drove into and over a pedestrian who literally jumped in front of our slow moving vehicle.
Suddenly, all four doors were simultaneously opened and eight arms were snatching at anything they could get their grubby thieving paws on. The guy we rode over was just a distraction, and in the end I don’t think the injuries he sustained were worth it. The thug who tried to rip my clothes off got more than he bargained for, a dislocated finger. Nairobi is notorious for crime and we had purposely removed everything from the car and locked it away out of site. There were four heavy, used tires on the backseat, which were wedged tightly together. The thieves got away with a towel, and Claus and I instantly developed eyes in the back of our heads, refusing to slow down for anyone or anything in our path.
We returned to the casino to continue discussions with locals and gorge ourselves on the delicious buffet, getting packs of imported cigarettes for free and unlimited drinks. It was bingo evening and the joint was filling up with people eager to win big time. I had never played before and decided to give it a go. Beginners luck, I won the horizontal line competition and walked away with a whopping KSh 6000 – about $90.
The next day I set off early to see as much of Nairobi as possible. After the previous evening of criminal activity and fearing the worst, I took with the bare necessities, a bottle of water and minimal cash.
I didn’t encounter a single problem and most people stuck to themselves. After searching for a week, I finally found a charger for my newly acquired digital camera that Claus had generously donated to my cause. It was one of only three items that survived his Australian tragedy. His car, an old Holden 4x4, was reduced to a burnt out metal cage, while he was walking up a mountain in the remote Northern Territory. He lost everything except the contents of his small day pack : the camera, some small iron-on flags from various countries, and an ugly grey beanie.
The camera came at the right time, just when my pathetic baby digital gave up the ghost, and it took high quality shots, even though it had endured its fair share of bashing about. Claus was travelling through 50 countries on every continent over a two year period, the cost of which he estimated at $ 60,000.
For the previous five weeks, I’d been searching for the ubiquitous white two-piece Moslem attire and couldn’t source it anywhere. It wasn’t exactly a touristy item, and I was pretty irritated because I am normally an incredibly resourceful human being, or so I am told. I was finally successful when I strolled through a small opening in a massive metal gate which was the front door of the local Sikh temple, situated down a small side street. I pleaded with the bearded man who greeted me, and made sure he understood that I didn’t want to convert, but that I desperately wanted an outfit similar to the one he was wearing. Ten minutes later I was given not one, but two ornate outfits, personally tailored, including a turban which I had no idea how I was going to wrap it around my braided Mzungu head!
While I was waiting, there was an old man wrapped in so many blankets that he resembled as Eskimo/Yeti/Abominable Snowman. He was shivering like nobody’s business (this expression makes no sense to me but has a nice ring to it and is a favorite of my friend Jano), as if he was defrosting from a holiday in the North Pole. At first I thought he was performing some sort of ritual prayer, because he was facing Mecca in the early morning sunlight, but I wasn’t certain that Sikhs even face Mecca! He also seemed very uncomfortable, he was sweating profusely and had a painful look on his weathered face. It turned out that he was violently ill with a serious case of Malaria and refused medical assistance.
I hope his god cured him.
I suddenly got worried that I might suffer a similar fate, as I had given up on my prophylactic course and the mosquitoes, who adore my sweet blood, were recently successful. I wasn’t carrying any test kits or treatment in case I did contract the dreaded disease, but in the back of my mind I believed I was strong and healthy and would not be an unfortunate statistic.
I returned to the campsite and we paraded our new outfits, much to the shock/delight of the American and Swedish guests. I was quite an enigma, a white Jewish Rastafarian Sikh Mzungu! The resident mechanic, who had just climbed out from beneath an old Mercedes, saw us trying to fathom what on earth to do with the turban thingy. He came over and demonstrated. He admitted that he’d once converted and had spent a brief period as a Sikh. The result was hilarious and we both took pictures with our timers, to one day show our grandkids.
Later the Dutch couple we had met and camped with at the Maasai Camp in Arusha pulled up and setup camp beside us.
They were travelling up and down the length of the African continent and were headed back home. I found it amazing how I kept bumping into the same people wherever I went, our paths inevitably crossing in the big cities, stocking up on food and visas, as well as getting some essential rest and relaxation. I suppose there are only so many budget options in the Lonely Planet (the preferred guide of most budget adventurers), so it’s not that surprising to see the same faces.
Their expectations of the Ngorongoro Crater were far from the marketing they were exposed to. The crater was teeming with snap-happy tourists, racing after the rare sightings of big beasts. Like so many tourist destinations the reality is quite removed from one’s expectations, sort of like a film based on a book.
I was dreading leaving the comfort and flexibility of traveling in an overlander, but the cost of fuel was astronomical and I was way over my budget by now, having at this stage spent on average $25 a day.
I jumped on the Akamba Bus at 21:00 and remembered my Kenyan friend David’s warning to stay far away from Akamba. I dozed off intermittently during the 12 hour journey and was disappointed to have slept through the crossing of the equator. It was probably better that way, as it’s just an imaginary line, and it was too dark to take the cheesy tourist picture of said tourist posing precariously with each foot straddling the Northern and Southern Hemispheres.
Two days later I also ended up sleeping through the second equatorial crossing back into the Southern Hemisphere!