Stop hold your fire, put down your weapon – Nairobbery heaven

Posted: November 26, 2010 in Africa
Tags: , , , ,

I warn you this is a long blog – I’ve had 9 days to sit and compose this in the hotel business suite (not as nice as its name suggests) fuelled on Tusker beer……

So our plan to stop in Nairobi for 5 days and then have a long stay in Egypt were curtailed by the ever expedient Indian Embassy – it takes 5 working days to process visa applications for non-residents. After a quick grump from both of us we decided to make the most of our elongated stay at the Kivi Milimani Hotel. First we had to contact STA and reschedule the flight for Monday 22nd – this brought our second dose of bad news because the earliest flight we were offered was on Sunday 28th but when we emailed to confirm, the tool at STA informed us the 28th was no longer available because she forgot to hold the seats. So, we were staring at a flight on Tuesday 30th November, leaving us now only 4 days for Egypt so plans were scuppered.

Anyway, we decided it was time to relax and just accept what ever happened, so we started to make some plans to get the most from our time in the city. Here’s a daily account because we’ve packed so much in (if you have a low attention span, skip to Monday 22nd as that’s the best day):

Wednesday 17th

Having discovered that the Indian embassy was closed for a national holiday (we wondered why it was so empty!), we checked into the hotel and spent the afternoon pool side, soaking rays. The pool is the best thing about the hotel – 20x10m, really clean and well looked after with a 2.5m deep end that encourages diving action. We sampled the hotel food for dinner and discovered the chef could actually cook, so we went to bed happy and collapsed into our king-size bed and slept like babies.

Thursday 18th

Embassy day. We were told by Muneeza’s friend Anoop to expect chaos and weren’t disappointed. We queued outside from 8am waiting for it to open at 09.00 – people start queuing about 07.00. By 08.45 chancers were trying to push to the front and the queue broke into a free for all. Those of us who had been there waiting patiently grouped together to elbow the hustlers out and to the back. Some complained to the security guard whose job it is to keep order but he was oblivious and completely uninterested.

Once inside the chaos descended into farce. There was a mad scramble to get to the visa office on the 4th floor. Some took the lift, which wheezed into action reluctantly, others ran up the stairs to jump ahead. Nobody from the embassy had any control. On the 4th floor, the queue was already snaking down the hall and into the stairwell. The lift was stupidly right opposite the visa office, so newcomers tried to push in which increased the anger levels. Raised voices were forcing people to observe the queue because the security guard was oblivious.

Once inside the office, the queuing system was unique. There were rows of seats from front to back and instead of giving people numbers, you had to take a seat and then move to the next seat each time someone was called. Of course people tried to push in. There was nobody to stop people coming in and going straight to the front to the kiosks. After 10mins of rising tension, an English woman in the queue had had enough and verbally admonished each person trying to push in and told them to get to the back. She grabbed the security guard and told him he needed to control the situation, which he feebly attempted to do. In the end we all took over and blocked the aisles so nobody else could push in. Anyone trying was shouted at by the mob!

Eventually we got called and then found out there was another form to fill in because we were non-residents, even though that wasn’t explained on the website when we downloaded the forms. That set us back 10mins but finally we had the application forms ticked, a receipt issued and we were on our way. We’d been talking to an elderly Indian couple in the queue who live in both England and Kenya and the man kindly offered us a lift to the Bank of India where we had to pay the visa fee and get our receipt stamped. This saved us hassle as we had no idea where it was, so we were able to get back to the hotel for lunch and then spent the afternoon chilling and swimming to recover from the stresses of the Indian chaos.

We hooked up with Muneeza’s friend Anoop and his wife Nixi in the evening. They are a really cool and lovely couple who made us feel instantly welcome. They took us out to Harndi, a highly rated Indian restaurant. The food was really good and after a few cheeky sherberts, I needed to be rolled out the door. Anoop and Nixi insisted on treating us as their guests which was an incredibly kind gesture, especially as they also chauffeured us around.

Friday 19th

My laziness was becoming apparent to my jani. After a fat boy breakfast (the breakfasts at the hotel make it worth the extra money – included in the room rate, choice of cereal, cooked, fruit, pastries, toast, yoghurt etc and I’m tucking right in!) we made our way pool side. I’d decided that whilst we were here I’d make the most of the facilities and have a health kick with swimming. Starting with 50 lengths, my plan was to increase by 10 lengths per day until I was swimming 100 lengths daily, 2km. You can’t beat self indulgence and I love basting in the sun, then jumping in a cold pool for a swim.

The only sortie for the day was a quick trip to town to check the post office for costs of sending stuff home and take advantage of cheap internet and calls. Walking into central Nairobi involves running the gauntlet of tour guides and touts (or tourist information guides as they like to call themselves). They target me, so sometimes I pretend to be French to avoid hassle – works like a dream. Every block somebody thrusts a business card in your face and then they look crest fallen when you politely decline. I spoke to one chap about organising cultural tours instead of safaris as we’d done the safari thing to death in Tanzania, but after 10mins of assuring me they did that, he then showed me info on safaris. We’ve noticed that in Africa often people don’t really listen or don’t really understand and just tell you/give you what they want to. This is best demonstrated in restaurants where waiters never write down what you ask for, then bring something completely wrong and look in disbelief when you point this out. For example, I ordered a steak medium rare and repeated the medium rare bit twice to be safe and the waitress nodded – the steak came out incinerated. We’ve also learned there is no point arguing or sending it back – you won’t get what you want unless you can realty speak the lingo. After a while you just get used to it and sit there and laugh.

Saturday 20th

And so the routine continued. The morning and afternoon passed by quickly pool side with yet more swimming and some pilates thrown in for good measure. In the evening we went out with Anoop & Nixi again. This time they sent their driver to pick us up – we only mix in the best circles don’t you know! We realised how successful Nixi’s family business was when we drove up their driveway past the 6 security guards. Her parents house is huge, I mean really huge. On the grounds there are 2 other houses, 1 of which Anoop & Nixi live in which is a 2 bedroom flat and stylishly decorated. It seems a double edged existence to be rich in Nairobi – on the one hand you can enjoy the perks of being able to afford to go to the best places, on the other hand you are an constant target for the criminals of which there are many and they are also quite brutal.

They took us to a local restaurant called Smokey’s which is an outdoor bbq place where you cook your own food, they supply the ingredients. Nixi’s sister Amrita came with us and some of their friends also pitched up. We had a cracking night and I got battered because Amrita kept ordering me double whiskeys and I was too gone to notice, so nailed them without thinking. We got back around 01.30 and I passed out into a drunken coma before the lights went out, giving Muneeza the night of her life!

Sunday 21st

Hangover day. I had to force myself to breakfast and then into the pool to try to wrestle some sanity from the bowels of pain and misery. We met up with Anoop & Nixi at lunchtime and they took us to an awesome restaurant overlooking the national park. To reach the restaurant, you have to walk across the only original wooden suspension bridge in Kenya. The back drop is the national park and on the way back we spotted some giraffes. We stopped by a Christmas market on the way home for Muneeza to buy the obligatory jewellery. The rest of the day was spent lying in bed, recovering and doing as little as possible.

Monday 22nd

To save money, we decided to organize a local day out instead of a trip to the national parks ($60 entry per person per day). We booked our reliable hotel taxi driver to drive us for the whole day for $80 which may sound steep but we were packing in the miles.

The first stop was the David Sheldrick elephant sanctuary that rehabilitates orphaned elephants (and now rhinos). The trust is highly successful and integrating keeper dependent orphans with wild herds to help release as many as possible back into the wild. Words can’t describe what an incredible place it is. For 1 hour daily they bring the orphan elephants to a play area and feed them and you can watch. The elephants walk right up to you and you can stroke them. The smallest, a 6 week old female, stopped right next to us and started to grab my hand with her trunk, pulling it to her mouth to suck my fingers because she is teething. You can’t believe how human elephants are up close – the way they interact, their facial expressions, mannerisms etc. Watching 10 baby elephants play was hilarious, just like kids – some are clam, some stir the others up, some just want to mess around and play in the mud. What’s funny is that when they get too boisterous, a quick clap from the keepers puts them straight back in line. With elephant poaching once more on the rise in Africa, driven by human/animal conflict and the influx of Chinese labour and helped by the poor attitude to ivory trading by authorities worldwide, trusts like this are a beacon of hope in protecting this wonderful animal.

We left elated and headed to the Langate Giraffe Sanctuary where we spent 45mins hand feeding Rothschild’s Giraffes. The centre protects this endangered species and helps breed them to release into the wild when possible. It was a truly bizarre experience. The male won’t let you stroke him. The female will if you feed her but if you stand close without food, she head butts you. One guy put the food pellet in his mouth and let the giraffe take it out with her very long grey tongue. What was disgusting was that he came back and did it 4 more times, each time getting more saliva in his beard. I think he climaxed.

The last stop of the day was the animal orphanage where we had arranged with Joe the taxi to be allowed into the cheetah cage to meet the cheetah orphans. Before we went we had the impression this was a place where rescued orphans were looked after and, we hoped, rehabilitated into the wild when possible. However, within 5mins of being inside we realised it was more like a glorified zoo and we were dismayed. I’d vowed never to set foot in a zoo again after my Lima experience in 2001 and this felt too close for comfort. We just wanted to get out but had to endure the tour before we could be allowed in the cheetah cage as the keeper had to wait for the managers to leave. Eventually they let us in but Muneeza was too upset by the caged environment and stayed outside. I thought, sod this I’ve come all this way, and went in. The next few minutes are the most amazing I’ve ever had with animals (no dodgy gags please!) – being up close with 3 male cheetah cubs, only 1 year old, and stroking them whilst they looked into my eyes was spine tingling. My excitement was matched only by my fear, the realisation that despite having been in captivity since being orphaned these were wild cats at heart and they could attack.

Tuesday 23rd

Eat, swam, sun bathed. Went to a Maasai craft market – Muneeza spent all our money. Ok, not strictly true or fair but we did buy 2 unique hand carved wooden masks (not gimp masks…).

Wednesday 24th

We took another day trip. First stop was the crocodile farm which was excellent – got to see a lot of gnarly male and female crocs as well as little hatchlings. The good news is that they do release the crocs back into the wild when they are older – apparently despite being bred in captivity, they adapt very quickly to the wild. In the afternoon we went to the Bomas of Kenya, billed as a glimpse into traditional Kenyan tribal villages where you can watch tribal music and dancing. Little did we know this took place inside a purpose built modern auditorium so the authenticity we had hoped for was shot. The villages themselves are a tacky tourist attraction with mud huts in small clearings but not a person in sight. Basically, you walk around and try to imagine what village life must be like. The music was superb (the highlight being the school kids dancing) but the place was cheap and tacky and we left quickly. My advice – if you come to Nairobi, avoid the Bomas, arrange a tour to an actual village where people live.

The good news of the day is that we managed to find a flight on the 26th to get more time in Egypt – it is costing us $120 each but we’d just have to pay for a reschedule to our next flight anyway if we flew on the 30th.

Thursday 25th

Indian visa collection day, the day of reckoning. The will they/won’t they question had loomed over us like a dark cloud since last week. Waiting again in the chaotic queue another English girl told us how she had been waiting for 2 weeks to get her visa because they lost the telex form from London. Panic levels were rising. However, the Malawian good luck bracelet must have been working because we got in, were handed our visas and left within 10mins. We shared a big, relieved hug in the lift and the adrenalin rush of finally sorting the visa was immense. It also meant our travel plans were in tact and the Asian odyssey was ready to rock. Muneeza called her parents to tell them the good news so they can now try to get visas and meet us in Delhi.

We went out with Anoop & Nixi for dinner to celebrate and despite our best efforts to treat them, they insisted on getting the bill again. We ate at a Tepanyaki restuarant and then retired to Casablanca so the ladies could indulge in a spot of shisha. I nailed the JDs again and rolled out the bar. We’ve never experienced hospitality quite like it, they have been incredibly kind and generous to us and made our stay in Nairobi highly enjoyable. They’re also very cool people to hang out with so we’ll look forward to returning the favour when they visit the UK.

Leaving Nairobi

We’ll actually be sad to say goodbye, especially as now we leave Kenya. Nairobi has a bad reputation for crime and aggression, yet we’ve found it a cool city to kick back in. Provided you avoid the no-go areas near the slums and broken society, the city can be a lot of fun. However, the traffic is nuts and the pollution is crazy. It has been fun seeing the sights but if we hadn’t had the luxury of a good, clean hotel, our impression might have been very different. Sometimes it pays to avoid the backpacker traps, especially in big cities where the quality is shocking. For only $20 more per night we lived like kings.

love james & muneeza x

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Comments
  1. Chris Twine says:

    all good stuff mate – keep it coming…

  2. sammi says:

    Lets hope my mum can get a visa now!

  3. Ian C says:

    V funny giraffe story! It’s disturbing to know that bestiality stretches as far as the ‘big five.’ I don’t fancy his chance with a Rhino.

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