Nairobi for a Day or Two

Posted by on May 8, 2007 in Kenya, Madagascar | 5 Comments

Well, folks it’s time. Tomorrow morning I fly to Madagascar. After some frantic emailing with Air Madagascar’s office in Nairobi I finally got a confirmed reservation when I checked my email in Moyale before crossing the border to Kenya. I spent the night on the Kenyan side and was ready to get to Nairobi the next morning along with the Australian woman who tagged along.

She had a lot of Ethiopian money left over and changed it to Kenyan shillings with the black market dealers on the Ethiopian side. Because she had so much we decided that I would borrow money from her until we arrived in Nairobi and I could use my ATM card. Surprisingly, in the morning while I was talking to truck drivers and arranging a ride South she made a call to some friends and decided to stay in Moyale to wait for them for a day or two.

I was shocked, not knowing this was even a possibility. If I had known I would have been mentally prepared to travel in a truck alone and certainly would have changed money. I was pretty upset, not liking sudden changes in plans. There was a group of Finns in a 4×4 who were heading South and they offered me a ride if nothing else worked out. I talked to the man at the bus window and he promised to save me a seat on the bus until after the bank opened at 9am. I was going to have to change my last $100 at a bad rate. I was also worried because the truck convoy was supposed to leave at 9am and I was worried I would be stranded.

So I impatiently waited outside the bank while men in uniforms with rifles guarded the door. Rain poured down and the entire population of the town crowded under the overhangs of the tin roofs staring and the muddy mess in front of them. Although I woudl have rather been in the 4×4 I figured the bus would be good—it went straight through the night to Nairobi and I would have a seat. Most of the truck drivers I talked to had already sold their front seats and wanted to stuff me behind the seats or in the empty cargo hold in the back. The bus sounded good.

By 9:10 I had cash and a bus ticket and was standing in the rain with my bag. I finally sat on the bus but nothing seemed to be happening. I kept my eyes on the 4×4 and waited until 10:30. Finally someone on the bus said something about tomorrow and I discovered the bus had been cancelled for lack of passengers. This, after I had been told the bus was sold out and after the ticket man acted as if he was doing me a favor saving me a seat. I was not happy.

I jumped off the bus and all the trucks and the 4×4 were gone. I was stranded. Standing in the middle of the dirt square in the rain I looked around in despair. A few locals came up and asked the typical “are you fine?” This time I said “no, I am not fine” and threw a small tantrum. One of the guys around my age told me he would look for a car and took me to a shop where a car was waiting in the back. “Look, it’s a Landcruiser, very good.” It was a 4×4 car but the back was a pickup with a large cage welded on top. The front seat was taken and after five minutes insisting that I would only pay half beforehand I was pushed into the cage. The entire floor was covered in suitcases, boxes and bags but there was only one woman and her two small children in the back with me. Since I was paying the same price I would have to ride in the front of a truck I figured that we would be alone in the back. I was wrong.

Usually I ask all the questions needed during negotiations but I was so frazzled that I was just happy to be leaving town that day. As soon as we pulled out of the back we stopped and 15 more people got in. The crowd yelled at me through the cage to put my small backpack on the roof and when I refused (it had my camera and other electronics in it) they told me I was selfish and that they are paying as much as I am and so on. Seeing as the bus was 1,500 shillings and no one wanted to ride I can only assume that this was a lot cheaper than the bus—not the 8,000 they claimed. I paid 2,000 and knew it was too much. It wasn’t getting off to a good start.

We finally left town and went through no less than 15 police checkpoints between Moyale and Isiolo. We drove for six hours straight to Marsabit with no stops and no opportunity to stretch our legs. Seeing as my knees were around my shoulders and two different people were sitting on my feet I could barely walk when our cage was opened and we were freed. This wasn’t what I had agreed to. I had assumed we’d spend the night in Marsabit but we continued on after dinner.

The driver was nice and didn’t flinch when I mentioned I couldn’t sit in the back anymore. I suggested that I stay in Marsabit and get another ride the next morning but he happily suggested I sit in the front next to the breastfeeding woman. He assured me that the man sitting there wouldn’t mind. He tried to talk me out of it but I left Marsabit in the front seat. Despite the fact that the woman was talking up much more than her share of the seat and her 7 year-old daughter had to sit on my lap with my bag on her lap I was happy to have my legs stretched out.

It was tight but sitting next to the window watching the stars while listening to my music was amazing. We stopped about three hours before Isiolo and the man came back and starting yelling at me to “go back where I belong.” I simply stood next to the door and suggested that I was where I belonged. He continued to yell at me “not to argue” when he was the only one even speaking. I stood my ground and the driver told me to sit down. That meant that the woman sat next to the window and I had to balance the girl with one leg outstretched and the other bent over the stick shift. It started to rain.

We arrived in Isiolo at 4am, 16.5 hours after leaving Marsabit. It continued to rain and the woman next to me had fallen asleep on my shoulder while her daughter fell asleep on my lap. I was holding the woman up with my shoulder, the girl back with both of my arms so she didn’t hit her head on the dashboard and my bag up against the front window. After all of this the passengers were still cold to me and the woman next to me refused to get out. I tried to maneuver out of the driver’s side and got stuck between the steering wheel and the driver’s bag. Finally I pushed out and didn’t look back. My large backpack was still in back but definitely more flat than when I had left it. Later I would fine that my laptop’s screen had developed a flicker.

The 6:30 bus to Nairobi was sold out but the men at the window promised “to find me a seat.” I sat around for two hours and finally got on the bus and realized just how bad I smelled. I ended up in Nairobi by noon and managed to bargain down a taxi driver to a reasonable rate to my hostel. It’s a whole different world down here, not only do they drive on the other side of the road but many people are walking around in business suits and I haven’t noticed one person sleeping in the middle of the highway. Still, Nairobi is notorious for it’s crime and poverty and I’ve stuck to the hostel at night.

Yesterday I ran errands around town, picking up my ticket to Madagascar and buying a guidebook and French phrasebook. I haven’t had enough time to update my site completely and I only hope that the screen flicker isn’t an omen of my laptop’s final legs. It only needs to last a few more months! I’m starting to get excited for Madagascar, despite the French and the costs. Even my family told me they watched a special on Madagascar tonight so I think we’re all ready for some lemurs.

5 Comments

  1. Nancy
    May 9, 2007

    Wow, thats, I dont know what I would have done! Hope the next leg is better!

  2. lamesha
    May 10, 2007

    ahhh east africa. i swear nobody there has any sense of personal space. my husband is from uganda and we laugh about this all the time. he was telling me how a plane just crashed in nairobi and i immediately thought of you even though i don’t even know you. i’m glad you are ok and made it too madagascar. it’s funny that you didn’t go to mombasa or zanzibar or any of the usually touristy things in east africa. are you going to later?

  3. Megan
    May 11, 2007

    Nancy,
    For me, travel comes down to dealing with these sort of situations. I guess you take the good with the bad.

    Lamesha,
    Funny, I was having a discussion with another traveler in Nairobi and he said the same thing. I don’t see it, but maybe I’ve gotten used to it. For me, Chinese in China have the worst violations of personal space.

    I’m not planning on seeing much in Kenya, but I do want to go to Zanzibar and on a safari in Tanzania.

  4. Lucas
    May 12, 2007

    My hat goes off to you. Stuff like this makes me want to stick to overland tours in africa.

  5. Megan
    May 12, 2007

    Sure, but an overland tour would mean sitting on a bus for days with the same people. I decided that I would go stir crazy and possibly hurt someone. Even people I like can’t stand up to my temper in those situations. And, hey, I got some good stories out of it.