Day 318: Bonus Country

Thur. 27th June 2013

22 flags lining the path to Kenyatta's mausoleumKenya will be the 28th, and final, country that we visit on our trip. Though, when we left home, we hadn’t expected to be here at all. Instead, we get to visit it twice albeit that the second time will be just a brief stopover in Nairobi airport courtesy of British Airways ceasing their flights from Dar. Today, we’re heading there in order to spend a few days game spotting in the Masai Mara and Amboseli National Parks prior to meeting up with the boys in Arusha, back in Tanzania.

So early, we had to wait before we could even get in to the airportWhen booking a taxi to get us to the airport, we asked the hotel how long they thought it would take. After sucking on their teeth for a while and telling us how bad the traffic in Dar was, they all but suggested that we really ought to have started out yesterday. We settled on an hour and three quarters which just gave us time to get a bit of breakfast before heading to the airport. As it turned out, the traffic was all going the other way, into Dar, and we covered the 20km in just over half an hour.

Now that is proper leg room - just a shame about the legs!There wasn’t a huge amount to do in Dar airport – we couldn’t even get into the departures hall at first – and after we tried and failed to blag our way into the airport lounge courtesy of our BA silver card, we found a coffee shop (surprise!) and settled down for a wait. There was, however, good news when we got on the plane. We had been allocated seats in the emergency exit row above the wing and in the row in front, a seat had been removed to ease the access to the exit. This meant that, for once, I had a good amount of leg room in an economy seat. (Yes, we probably have been spoiled by all of these business class flights).

Welcome to KenyaIt is just a short hop up to Nairobi and even though there was a delay prior to taking off (Dar airport closed for reasons never explained) we arrived pretty much on time. Immigration was easy – although we still have one more border crossing to do – I have been pleasantly surprised that all of the horror stories that have been told about border crossings in African countries just haven’t applied to us.

We are so used to finding our own way into town on arriving in strange airports, that it was a very pleasant surprise to find a man with a board with our names on it once we had been reunited with our bags. Paul is going to be our driver for our time in Kenya (including the game drives) and so the drive from the airport to our hotel in Nairobi is a good place to start.

We're not sure what the 'Blessing' refers to!Paul immediately warned us that the traffic in Kenya is horrendous and that it might be next week before we get into town. We’ve heard this story told about so many cities (most recently, Dar) that we basically discounted it. He may have had a point though – it was incredibly slow going and we did seem to spend some long periods not moving at all. In the end, it took us longer to get to our hotel from the airport than we spent in the airplane – including the additional delay waiting for the airport to reopen.

The We did, though, make a short stop en route at a mobile phone shop for me to get a Kenya SIM. Here, Kenya really showed other African countries how to do it – one form to fill in, no need to show passport and just 15 minutes from walking in the shop to walking out with a working SIM in my phone. Even better, the SIM and 200MB of data cost a total of KES350 (about £2.60) – I’d better get used to data not being that cheap when I get back to the UK. [As a side note, I’m starting to do research on phone, broadband and TV provision for when we get home and it all seems quite expensive – any suggestions or recommendations would be very welcome.]

Boating lake, complete with pedallosOur hotel (the Heron Portico) is only 2km or 3km out of the city centre and the receptionist says that it is easily walkable (though we do forget to take into account that Kenyans routinely walk long distances). It is an easy walk along a mix of pavement and dirt track that runs parallel to the pavement but the track is sometimes in better condition. The streets are busy with pedestrians and cars and the brightly coloured miniature buses that are constantly touting for business.

Nyayo MonumentThe main Kenyatta Avenue runs between two parks and so we need to investigate. The smaller park contains the large, Nyayo Monument which is quite striking with friezes on all four faces under a hand holding a torch. It’s just a pity that we don’t know what it commemorates. The other park is dominated by a boating lake complete with (underutilised) pedallos. As with parks on sunny days everywhere, the grass is dotted with people sprawled out.

Gates to the parliament buildingsWe then commence a square circular walk (if that makes sense) of the city centre and walk past the parliament buildings where we are forbidden from taking photos. So, we go round the block to the other side (the front?) and take a photo of the gates. Further along the road is the Kenyatta Mausoleum with the tomb of the first president of Kenya after independence, Jomo Kenyatta. The gates are shut and guarded but the guards are friendly and helpful and explain that the public is only allowed in once a year and that the 22 flags lining the path to the tomb signify the date of his death 22nd August 1978. They are happy for us to take photos – just not of them – and are almost apologetic in explaining that originally the coffin could be elevated for viewing but that this is no longer possible.

City Hall building(As another side note, Kenyatta’s son, Uhuru, is now president after elections here earlier this year. Unlike the previous elections there was no violence when the results were announced but the locals that we have spoken to seem to be taking a very ‘wait and see’ attitude as to whether he will make a good president or not. They all know that he has been indicted by the International Criminal Court.)

Another monument in the parkNairobi is the biggest city that we have spent any time in since Cape Town. The British influence is clear in the street names, building designs, power sockets, the boating lake in the park, etc and there are some modern features – including an IMAX cinema (though, sadly we have just missed the showings of the new Star Trek film). It does, however, have a very African feel to it including that run-down sense of its best days being behind it. What we have found though, like elsewhere in Africa, is that the people are so friendly and helpful (and unlike other places, not so pushy for us to give them money). We hope that better days are ahead for Nairobi and Kenya.

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