A brief stop-over in Nairobi

Trip Start Aug 31, 2005
Trip End Aug 25, 2006

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Friday, November 18, 2005

Sick of buses, and not really wanting to waste 6 days travelling by bus from Addis to Nairobi, we splashed out on a 1hr 45 min flight to Nairobi with Air Kenya. We arrived in "Nai-robbery" not quite knowing what to expect.... Money was stashed throughout our bags and down my bra just to be on the safe side!

First impressions were good. We managed to make a deal on our visa - managed to swindle a transit visa at $20 (as opposed to $50 for a normal visa) when we weren't quite entitled to one, and felt exceedingly pleased and proud of ourselves - a nice welcome to Kenya! The next welcome was a sign in the arrivals lounge "Nairobi Backpackers Transportation" - a taxi service that stopped us from being robbed and ripped off on our first day! And then, a lovely warm inviting backpackers with a bookshelf of English books and soooo many travellers around our age! A very nice welcome to starved us who had seen only 10 backpackers in 6 weeks in Ethiopia. We settled down and read and read and chatted and exchanged travel stories with the other backpackers.

As in Ethiopia, Kenya was in the midst of a tense political situation. A referendum was being held on Monday (we arrived on Friday night) to change the constitution. The yellow BANANAs (the government) was wanting to change it. ORANGES were against it. Rallies for both bananas and oranges were held (in the same park!!?!) on Saturday and riots seemed to be expected. We were warned to stay indoors.

For Saturday we took this advice and kept a low profile, only venturing out to walk the 3km to the local shopping centre. The walk was beautiful - lots of greenery and flowers (our hostel was in the diplomat area) and the streets were filled with wonderful scents. The shopping centre was also a welcomed surprise - everything in the world we could have asked for all under one roof! Coming from product-deprived Ethiopia, we thought we were in paradise. Suncream, lettuce, rubbish bags... anything I could get in London was also available (for a London price) here.

The next day we could not sit still any longer. The rallies the day before were quiet, so we decided to venture into town. We hid money on us and tied a camera around us, determined not to be robbed.

Again, it was a lovely walk into the city - Nairobi is actually a very beautiful city! Lots of greenery and parks and flowers. It turned out that robbery was not an issue - we had to be more careful of the scammers. It only took 5min for one of them to approach us. "Oh, you're from Australia - I'm starting at xxxx University in February. Can I please give me 5 min to let me ask some questions about Australia?" We turned him down 3 times before agreeing to a quick talk. It didn't take long for him to approach the real subject. He was a political refugee from Southern Sudan ("see my bullet wounds?" - he did have a LOT of scabs all over his stomach) and he had been picked up by a helicopter when he was shot and dropped across the border in Kenya illegally. He needed to go down to Tanzania to meet up with his resistance group, and needed money for the train fare, and could we help him with a little bit of money? Of course not, we said. We are not the people you need to be talking to, go to a church, the authorities, the UN, but don't ask us, we are poor students and can't even afford a cup of coffee. He then tried to pull the racial card, asking us about how we viewed black Africans. We went wild and said that he had spoken to us under false pretences, and that we were leaving. He surprisingly let us go without too much problem. Once we got back to our hostel and mentioned the incident, everyone was worried about us - "you didn't give him any money what-so-ever did you?" Apparantely the real scam starts from when you want to get rid of him and give him a couple of dollars. The 'police' turn up saying that the guy has been known to pass fake bills, and what do you know it, these bills are fake, and you must pay a fine of $50. Some German tourist a couple of days before us actually fell for it! But enough of scams... travel weathered us did not fall for it!!

We then caught a bus out of town to the rich colonial suburb of Karen where I had seen a pamphlet for a bead factory which employs single mothers. The drive was beautiful - the area was full of huge mansions with purple, red and blue flowers peering out from behind the big security gates. We were dropped in the middle of nowhere and were told to walk down a tree-lined street for the bead factory. Apparantely not many people take the bus then walk - it was a good 3km walk. Eventually we made it, just in time for closing. We had about 5 spare minutes to whizz through choosing the odd bead or two as a souvenir, before being shown the door.

Not sure what to do next, we went down to the bus station to check out buses to Uganda, and found one leaving that night... Next stop, UGANDA!
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