Our driver has picked us up from the Nairobi airport, and he complains about the cold weather. It’s about 65 in Nairobi, and it doesn’t often get much colder than this here. Of course, it’s amazing for us to be above 60 degrees and a warming sun.
But still the air isn’t very appealing. We have left the world of animals, where elephant poop is the worst thing we would smell. Nairobi is exhaust, body odor and burning rubber. The interior of the car smells as bad as the outside and the short drive is lengthened by insane traffic. We’ve been spoiled by nature.
[Editorial Note: We have had to skip the rest of our South Africa trip, but it will eventually be posted. My computer died and I’ve temporarily lost some photos from five days of safari. With this post we pick up the journey as we arrive in Nairobi.]
Winter in Nairobi
The Fairview hotel is in the downtown area of Nairobi, which boasts 3.5 million people and a dozen or more skyscrapers. Nairobi has come a long way since the days of Nai-robbery, although the name sticks because it’s clever. And you still minimize your time outside at night for safety.
Fairview is one of several old hotels in the Nairobi area, dating to the 40’s in colonial times. It’s got the wood, rattan and leather feel of the old world. Security is tight because it’s located next to the Israeli embassy.
Lily astounds everyone by jumping in the Fairview pool even though it’s about 60 degrees Fahrenheit. She doesn’t stay in for long, but there is buzzing and chatter among the Kenyan staff because this is as cold as winter gets for them. But Lily runs hot, and she loves the water even if only for a few minutes. Emma and Trish warm up by the fire.
A gourmet experience
Fairview has the top dining restaurant in Nairobi, and after eating camp food for a week the Creekmore’s splurge on a 5-star restaurant experience. Trish, as the subservient and pampered wife, gets a menu with no prices. The gimmick works. She orders the expensive lobster.
Dinner starts with cute little ‘Degustation’ of sushi, a tomato broth and some duck. Emma even tries the sushi. She is (possibly because of peer pressure) getting more adventurous after years of eating only rice and bread. It’s a welcome change.
This blog was originally subtitled ‘Exploring the globe, sampling noodles’ because that’s all she would eat. But for her entrée, she doesn’t see much she can eat of the gourmet menu. The chef, however, is unwilling to make plain noodles for Emma, even when we say she is sick and can only eat buttered pasta. They eventually compromise and put a sauce on the side.
The room is a little cramped, but we’ll only be together for two nights. This is a work week for me, and I’ll be staying in Nairobi and then Congo until the family and I meet up again in 6 days. They will be headed to Zanzibar.
The next day we are able to sleep in a bit – if only till 8am but that’s a luxury after safari 5am wake-ups. I head off early to work at our Nairobi office and Trish and the girls do some sightseeing in the capital of Kenya.
Zonkeys, Giraffes and Beads
The first stop for them is the animal orphanage, which presents like a badly kept zoo. It’s easy to imagine that this is in fact, better treatment than these animals would get otherwise as discarded pets and confiscated poacher booty. But after being on safari, it’s tough to see small cages and dirty animals.
Most fascinating are the wild baboons that roam the oarphanage. They play with their caged counterparts – wonderful and sad at the same time. Lily does like the half-zebra, half-donkey – A Zonkey!
The giraffe feeding center nearby is a better experience. The center has at least 5 giraffes in a compound that you can walk around. Giraffe ‘snacks’ – little round brown nuggets – are avalibale for anyone to grab. If you are lucky, a giraffe will approach you and eat from your hand.
It seems lovely but moments after arrival, the place is mobbed with a few hundred kindergarden-aged Nairobi school kids, each in a different color jumpsuit to identify their school. The giraffes retreat from the cacophonous multi-colored mob.
Trish and the girls decide to leave because the chances of feeding a giraffe appears slim, but luck puts a solitary giraffe near the exit, and the girls each get a chance to feed the leathery tongue that curls around the snack and pulls it from their hands.
Kenya is famous for it’s beaded jewelry and one of the most expensive is Kazuri brand beads, hand made on the outskirts of town. They are sold in airports, malls and online all over the world, but you can see them make the jewelry at the factory and get a pretty steep discount.
They do both pottery and beads here from clay that is carefully textured and kiln dried before it’s glazed and fired again. Both kids have a blast picking out some jewelry. Trish creates a wonderful set of jewelry from different pieces.
Try not to die!
A simple dinner at the Fairview ends our day after I come back from work. Everyone sleeps well until the early 4:30 am alarm.
And so we have come to the week in our trip when the family splits up. You might think it’s because I have to go work in places to dangerous for family adventure like Pakistan and Congo. But really it’s because Trish can’t stand being so close to me for more than a week or two.
We head to the airport and they go to Terminal one, off to the Zanzibar beach. While I go to Congo for two days and return to Nairobi for three. It’s always hard to leave my kids, but Lily eases my burden when she snarkily yells ‘Try not to die!’ as her goodbye.
To Congo or not to Congo?
Getting through customs and immigration is hell for me. There must be a dozen major international departures going at the same time. It’s a good thing I left early.
When I finally get to the gate, and I can see the airplane not 40 yards away, I am asked for my Congo visa by the gate attendant. I have a ‘Travel’ visa, which allows me to board a plane for Congo and get my proper visa there. It’s an official looking document that our office prepared and got stamped.
‘Sir, for you to use a travel visa, you must be on our confirmed travel visa list, and you are not. I can not let you on this plane.’ What? She offers to ‘get me on the list’ but it will take all day and I’ll miss the important events in Kinshasa, Congo.
The situation is the same for a few other passengers, an Indian banker from Dubai, a young Chinese student from Yunnan and a gentleman from Gabon, who somehow makes a phone call that lets him through. But the rest of us, and our offices, are baffled. This is not supposed to happen.
It doesn’t take long to figure out this isn’t going to change. The Indian man offers her cash, but she pays not attention to the bills sticking out of his passport. That’s actually good for Kenya. Corruption and bribery are huge issues here. Even if they are wrong about this visa thing, it’s better that the problem not be solved with bribes.
I’ve never had to undo my passport control paperwork, and the Kenyan officials at the desk are unsure what to do. They gave me an ‘exit visa’ on my way out, and now I want to undo that. But my original visa is also expired now. In the end she just scribbles some stuff and signs it a few times. This could be a problem when I try to get back out, but I’m not worried about that now.
I’m more worried about getting my luggage back, which proves to be a hassle and cost me a few dollars ‘tip.’ But I got it all. My stay in Congo was only for two days, with all the events happening on the first day, so I’ll miss Congo and instead stay in Kenya.
How dangerous is Nairobi?
My next four days are in the Stanley hotel in Nairobi. The Stanley is a 1902 built hotel that housed some of the first European tourist safari hunters. It was common for big game to roam the streets of the small town. The hotel had to have guards to keep off lions.
Today, Nairobi Stanley Hotel still has guards, but because of terrorist threats. Nairobi was the scene of the largest Al queda attack before the world trade centers, when the US embassy was bombed in 1998 and hundreds were killed.
Kenya is still the target of Somali militants, and there have been several smaller bombings, and even more threats. In fact today, as Trish and the girls depart for Zanzibar the US embassy has issued a credible threat warning for Mombassa, which is the place their plane will refuel.
Although I’d rather go to Congo, it’s good to settle in Nairobi for a few days. I can get a lot of work done, exercise a little, shoot some ballerina pics, and catch up on some sleep. I think of the girls as I’m going back and forth from the office to the hotel. I miss them.