Arrival in Kigali
Trip Start Feb 13, 2011
30Trip End Mar 14, 2011
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Where I stayed
The flight left on time at 10:40. I was interested to note that about half the passengers were Chinese workmen.
After less than an hour in the air, the first layover was Malabo. It is the largest city on the island of Bioko, and capital of the nation of Equatorial Guinea, the mainland section of which is sandwiched between Cameroon and Gabon. Equatorial Guinea suffered for years under a genocidal dictator who murdered a large section of the population in an ethnic cleansing program in the 1970s. The country hasn’t fully recovered, but Bioko is now a major oil producer so the population is increasing again, and there are lots of foreign roughnecks who work there.
We had a short turn-around at Malabo; almost all the Chinese workers deplaned, only to be replaced by about an equal number of Chinese who were probably starting their long trip home. Kenya Airways now has a direct daily flight from Nairobi to Guangzhou, which is one indication of how important the Chinese connection has become in Africa.
The flight across the continent, into Nairobi, took about 4 hours. As is often the case we hit some strong turbulence over the Great Rift Valley just to the West of Nairobi. The Rift is quite an amazing geographical feature. It is a great natural trench in the earth, nearly 6000 km (4000 miles) long that runs north from Mozambique in southern Africa all the way through the Red Sea and the Dead Sea (which is the lowest surface area on earth), the Jordan River and the Sea of Galilee, and up into Lebanon in the form of the Beqaa Valley. The Rift contains the second largest lake in the world by volume (Lake Tanganyika) and is home to some of the beautiful East African nature reserves such as the Mara and Amboseli national parks. The rift is breathtakingly beautiful from the air or ground on clear days, but it was cloudy as we approached Nairobi.
We landed in Nairobi around 18:30. My ongoing flight to Kigali via Bujumbura wasn’t going to leave until nearly midnight, so I had time to catch a taxi into Nairobi for dinner. There are no real restaurants in the Nairobi airport. When traffic is light it only takes 15 minutes to get from Jomo Kenyatta airport to the center of Nairobi. It took a little longer this time due to traffic. The taxi driver introduces himself as Joseph. I noted that it was a Bible name. He laughed and said yes, and that he was a pastor as well as taxi driver. We chatted about that for a while on the drive, during which it started raining very lightly. It has been dry of late, Joseph told me so any rain is welcome.
He dropped me at the Norfolk Hotel for dinner. The Norfolk is not the most luxurious hotel in Nairobi, but it is one of the two oldest. The crowned heads of Europe and other hunters like Winston Churchill and Theodore Roosevelt stayed here as they came and went on hunting safaris at the turn of the last century. From the Delamere terrace, the coffee shop where I had dinner, one could actually shoot game, sometimes lions, in the papyrus swamp in front which has since been drained and is now the location of Nairobi University. They’ve saved some of the old hotel buildings, which have been refurbished, the main front building and the Delamere Terrace have been changed pretty radically even from the first time I came here 15 years ago. But it is still fun to have a meal there and imagine what it would have been like 100 years ago, when Africa was till mysterious and largely unknown.
As I was having my butternut squash soup and chicken curry (since the British brought in many Indian civil servants during the days of the Empire, there is still an Indian flavor to the cuisine in Kenya), a heavy rain began. It really poured, which I know was quite welcome. This part of East Africa is very fertile when the rains come, but they often don’t, and drought can mean famine.
After dinner and a leisurely walk around the premises, to see how things had changed since my last visit, I called Joseph to pick me up and he drove me back out to the airport. I went through all the exit formalities, waiting in the Kenya Airways lounge and we boarded the plane about half an hour before our midnight departure. I sat next to a Frenchman from Paris who has been working in southern Africa for several years, but was new to Burundi, where he was to deplane and to Rwanda. So we chatted a bit in English and then French about safety issues, places of interest, how business is done, best value hotels etc., typical kinds of conversations for expatriates.
After sitting on the tarmac for 45 minutes in Bujumbura, we finally flew to Kigali where we landed after 02:00. I cleared formalities quickly and took a taxi to my usual hotel in Kigali, Chez Lando, not far from the airport. It is good value for the money. They have a few rooms for $60 a night, one of which I had reserved; good food, good security and free Wi-Fi in most rooms. It has been a long day; I shouldn’t have any trouble sleeping tonight.
Tomorrow I will be in touch with Mr. Mundeli, our elder here, to confirm how we will use our time together.