2.5 Days in Kenya

Trip Start Feb 15, 2008
Trip End Mar 02, 2008

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Day 1-Feb 15
We live in the fast lane, so there is no luxury of spending a day packing and then departing at a convenient time.  Usually we catch our flights right in the end of the working day or end up going to the office after landing at 6am.  This trip is no exception!  After a busy day of packing and finishing things up in the office, I catch a 4pm bus to Heathrow.  My flight to Doha leaves at 20:30.  Tima's flight to Doha is departing Moscow after midnight.  This is the first time we are travelling with backpackers gear!  No wheels, so I'm carrying my huge rucksack, which was dormant since 1999 when I went on a two-week backpacking trip in Europe.  I think we are ready for almost anything that might happen in Africa: Imodium, ibuprofen, malarone, kweele (motion sickness meds), deet spray, sunscreens, Swiss knife, antiseptic gel, band aids, etc.  Machete we can buy when we get there if needed for protection.  We are on our way to Africa!

Day 2-Feb 16

Surprisingly our flights arrive to Doha on time and, as scheduled, we reunite in front of the gates to Nairobi.  For a change things go according to plan.  After acquiring sufficient duty free alcoholic supplies for disinfection in Africa, we board our flight to Kenya, which is, needless to say, half-empty.  Besides a few crazy Americans, you wont' believe it, the plane is full of Chinese!  Apparently, they are the latest tourist boom in Africa!  Well, of course, we are the only Russians on the way to Nairobi (all wiser drunk souls from Timur's Moscow flight proceeded to the Dar Es Salaam departure gates).  Availability of seats provides for a great opportunity to catch up on some sleep.  

The trip continues to surprise me with its perfection.  After the super-fast and friendly passport control, oh miracle! I see both of our bags on the luggage belt!  Knowing my travel luck, we both packed our carry-ons to help us survive in semi-clean clothes for at least 3 days (in case the luggage never arrives).  The brisk, bribeless customs experience is followed by the huge sign: "Smile, you're in Kenya!"  Not actually believing the fact that we are in Africa, we can't help it by smile.  I cannot feel any fatigue when I'm so excited, so sleepless night doesn't count especially when the second miracle happens: a black skinny Simon, with a carton board with my name on it, is waiting for us!  

It is pleasant +25C in Nairobi, which is a change of 40 degrees for Tim and 20 degrees for me. Voila! Adventures begin.

The Nairobi airport is actually quite nice (certainly not any worse than SVO in Moscow but less crowded). We hit the road and the heat hits us... I'm in heaven.  Air conditioning doesn't exist here, so only fast driving helps control the temperature.  The driver is friendly and his English is good enough for Timur to understand.  Education in Kenya is in English, though Swahili is spoken by all the city locals as well.

Nairobi looks alright. Considering the fact that visiting Kibera (one of the huge slams in Nairobi) is not a part of the tour, I find the city less third-worldish than Morocco or Sri Lanka for a moment... but I guess it is sort of the same.  Feb is a great time to be here as it's a dry season and flowers are almost vulgar in their abundance!  So, beautiful!

Roads certainly remind of the old Soviet days in Russia, but the advertisement boom, crazy traffic, well-dressed people really make Nairobi sort-of modern.  Many people walk along the road, but once again, I'm impressed how clean and well-dressed they are.  I think English women have something to learn here, as summer outfits are concerned.  And yes, there are a lot of beautiful women here...so, I hope Tim is enjoying the fact that I dragged him all the way to Africa:).  

By the time we arrive to the hotel we don't see a single dead person or any signs of violence, so Nairobi is under control.  We quickly arrange with Simon to be our driver for a day tomorrow and head to the pool.  The begging for a cocktail by the pool results in no service, but otherwise, hotel people are very friendly, so it's hard to get mad at them.  We picked a hotel which is a training ground for the hotel hospitality college of Kenya.  The real manager of "Hotel Ruanda" was trained here (see the film if you don't know what I'm talking about).  It was OK...very run down 4 stars, so there are certainly better options, but the pool was great and only 2 nights here definitely were not a problem.  The good thing was, we were among the locals and a few whites, not the other way around.

Petrol is expensive here, which makes Nairobi far from a cheap destination. A taxi to dinner costs $60 but it's worth it.  The dinner (previously booked online) is amazing!  Yes, it was mostly for whites, but Carnivore was voted one of the top 50 best restaurants in the world and we see why!  

We start the night with Dawa (a local mojito type of drink) and then the feast begins.  After a light soup, they bring a huge tray with 8 sauces and 8 salads and hot plate with a baked potato and after that waiters with huge sticks (shampur) come and serve you all sots of meat.  All exotic things (zebra, giraffe, wildebeest (gnu), etc) are forbidden for hunting since 2005 (thank God!) but we tried amazing lamb, lamb ribs, beef, chicken wings, ostrich meatballs, fried crocodile, turkey, chicken livers (I think a few types of pork were offered as well but we restrained ourselves).  I'm almost a vegetarian but I couldn't prevent myself from trying some of these amazing meats.  Croc was interesting but 2 pieces were enough, ostrich was my favourite though!  They serve you meat until you give up and put the little white flag down.  Local beer is great, though we were recommended not to experiment with the local wine.  Indeed, Carnivore was a great experience and a lovely celebration of our first day in Africa.

Day 3 Feb 17
Jambo!  Busy day today: we arrange with our driver Simon to pick us up at 9am.  His services cost ~105$ per day and it's a great rate for Nairobi.  First he takes us to the Giraffe Centre.  20 minutes is enough to enjoy the place, but it's unforgettable!  Rotschild giraffes are so beautiful, so gracious, so adorable.  We fed them for a while and they gave us a few kisses.  Such friendly creatures, I wish they came in smaller sizes, I'd get one as a pet:).  The centre is located in the posh suburb of Nairobi and that reminds very much of Moscow suburbs where the nouveau riche build their fazendas.  You won't believe it, but most of the styles are the same!  The only difference is of course, the quality of the road (Moscow is better this time) and people walking down both sides (those who come to serve the rich).  Then for 1 hour we went to visit the David Sheldrick's elephant orphanage.  They have cute little elephants there.  Some of them were just a few month old and they were so playful and scared the crowd every now and then by running into people after swimming in a terribly dirty pool.  Baby elephants do not survive without their mothers in the wild.  This foundation finds the little ones who lost their mother for whatever reason and raises them.  It is really not an easy task and many elephants don't make it past age 2.  Elephants need milk up to age 5.  They are being fed special formula (cow's milk is not suitable) and they are cared for by the "family" of orphanage workers.  A given person can never stay and feed the same elephant for too long, so they are always rotated.  Otherwise, a baby elephant gets so attached to a specific person, that if that person is gone even for a short period of time (1 week), the elephant can die from distress and refusal of food from anyone else.  The foundation also has 2 rhinos, but one of them is blind and the other is absolutely huge, so visitors can see them only in the cages while they are being treated.  

We didn't have time for the croc and ostrich farm and headed straight to the Nairobi National Park.  The latter is wonderfully maintained and it was our first exposure to safari.  We didn't see lions or elephants, but zebras, warthogs, impalas, giraffes and all sorts of bids were abundant.  Seeing all this wildlife was quite amazing considering Nairobi skyline was in the background!  And plus, oh well, it was the first safari of our lives!

After a few hours of driving we went to Nairobi city centre.  The street lights are very rare here, so chaos on the road is crazy, but surprisingly we didn't see any accidents...it's a self-organising traffic system.  Some parts of the city are quite nice.  Supermarkets are modern and people are always friendly.  One cool thing we found at the supermarket were the baobab seeds!  Tastes rather disgusting, but we had to try.  After that we went to the local café for lunch and we took Simon with us. Tim and I were the only whites there and we had a real local, non-touristy food.  It was simple, tasted well and was served immediately.  The fresh-squeezed juices are sublime!  Guess what?  We didn't even get any stomach problems! 

After that we headed to the Nairobi National Museum.  It looks very beautiful and modern and I would love to visit it, but it's closed until next month for re-construction.  So, we only went to the Snake Park which is located right next to the museum.  It has a collection of East African snakes, so for us it was a nice learning experience about the area, considering we have 5 days of camping ahead!  Thank God all the cobras and mambas were behind the glass (but I was still speechlessly scared), all crocs were in huge cages, but there were a few trees where real snakes were hiding (we counted 5!)...and under one of them was a friendly reminder: "Trespassers will be poisoned!" 

When we arrived to the hotel, a pleasant surprise awaited us.  A local band was playing beautiful music and singing in Swahili by the pool.  What a perfect end to a day! Alive and well we are heading to Tanzania tomorrow.  Asante!
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