Moyale, Kenya | 4 May, 2007 | $2.26 (my share of a 2-bed room)
While in Addis I met someone who wanted to travel together along the long, rough overland route to Ethiopia. Folks, don’t do it! It is not worth the hassle and discomfort unless you have your own car. If I could go back in time I would have bought the connecting flight from Cairo> Nairobi with a one month layover in Ethiopia. Looking back, riding in the back of a cage through bandit run countryside for 24 hours is a great story but it was a breaking point for me. It didn’t help that my travel partner abandoned me at the Kenyan border.
The Ethiopian side of the border is much more developed but we needed to catch a ride first thing in the morning and didn’t want to risk missing the police caravan. When I asked for a shower I was taken to the roof, given a bucket and pointed toward a spigot and outhouse. Once I was inside and undressed in the pitch black shack a man walked onto the roof and started his evening prayers ten feet away. I felt pretty awkward but he thankfully left before I finished scrubbing the layer of orange dust from my skin.
Me-go Mix: Track 8
“Wanaume Mabinti” — Lady JayDee
To download using Windows “right click” and save to disk. Mac users, you know what to do.
At the end of my trip I wanted to buy some music that reminded me of my time in Eastern Africa. A lot of the music heard around town is not local (Shakira is quite popular), but the local music I did hear varied and no one song stuck in my head. I ended up buying a compilation called “Bongo Flava” from a music shop in downtown Nairobi. A quick listen at the shop confirmed it was the sort of music I heard around town. I don’t have a lot to say about this song other than Lady Jay Dee’s music was some of my favorite on the CD. It turns out she’s from Tanzania and has had a number of controversial hits in the past few years.
Below is a video for a different song by Lady Jay Dee, “Distance.” She sings in Swahili, Zulu, Lingala, Kinyarwanda, French and English in this song.
A lot has happened since my last post. My seven days in Nairobi were all about getting money, eating food and booking a flight home. I spent the entire time scouring websites and travel agencies to find a cheap flight home. From Africa, I was considering anything under $1,000 cheap.
Trouble is it’s high season in Africa and Europe. When I asked travel agents for a price most looked at me like I was crazy and said “you know it’s high season, right?” Many told me to check the web instead and a few suggested I not go at all. In the end I was torn between flying to London on Kenya Airways or Qater. I figured that it might be worth paying an extra $100 to stop in Qatar for a day or two. But, on the last day, when I was making my final decision the Qatar agent told me I’d have to arrange a hotel through them. I walked out.
I paid, in cash, for my $500-ish one-way flight from Nairobi to London on Kenya Aiways on Monday afternoon. That’s a student fare, folks. I was quoted the fare at $490 but when paying in shillings she figured the price at $1 to 69 shillings when the banks are all charging 66 shillings. That adds up. I’ll stay in London for a few days (I haven’t been back in about seven years) and then fly on American direct to Chicago. My flight lands around 3pm which should land me back home before rush hour on the I90 is in full swing.
My transit visa was ending so on Tuesday I took a direct bus from Nairobi to Kampala, Uganda. I paid extra for the luxory bus with wide seats because many people told me the regular bus often breaks down and takes 20 hours. This bus had three less seats than the seating chart listed which meant I had no seat. I made a fuss and they finally gave me a single seat, which is what I had booked. We were even served breakfast—two pieces of fried bread, a small sausage and passion fruit juice.
The ride was completely uneventful and I surprised myslef by not reading my novel or listening to my novel for the entire 15 hours. I have become a master at passing time. The nun sitting across from me was overly concerned about where I was going and when we got off the bus at 10pm she took me aside to arrange a taxi. I just stood back and let things happen and in the end a Korean missionary from my bus took pity on me and gave me a ride with his Kenyan missionary friend. It took us an hour to find the place and I felt bad for inconviencing them.
My first full day in Uganda I rode a boda-boda (motorcycle taxi) into town with another American girl who’s traveling alone. We were both hunting for spare gorilla permits but didn’t come up with anything. At the moment permits for Uganda are $375, ut they raise to $500 July 1st. Rwanda has already raised it’s fees to $500.
We had a nice lunch at a Western mall and then saw Oceans 13, which just came out here this week. We walked around lookgin for internet and shopping a bit before landing at an Irish pub for the night. She had met a drummer a few nights before and we sat and listened to a Uganda band play mostly American music in an Irish pub. It was probably the least “Ugandan” day I could possibly have.
There are a lot of activitie here including white water rafting on the Nile, gorilla and chimptracking and a few chill-out lakeside spots. I have some plans in the works and will let you all in on what’s going on as soon as I’m back in internet range.
One of the more significant things that has happened to me recently is my iBook screen dying. It’s been a slow death but the Apple dealer in Nairobi proclaimed it “too expensive to fix.” I left it in a locker in Nairoi. What that means for you is that there will be no map, budget, sketchbook, souvenir or gallery updates until I get home in August. I’m as sad about it as you, believe me. My iBook has been my best friend on this trip and I already miss it.
We’re just hearing that there was a suicide bomb at The Hilton downtown in Nairobi. It was at 8am and you know I was sitting here, 3 kilometers away, eating a mango pancake. No worries. I’m heading out to talk to an Apple repairman on the ther side of the city. By taxi. Please don’t worry.
Since I’ve returned back from Madagascar last Wednesday I’ve had a lot going on. Although I haven’t been out on safari or sightseeing at all I’ve been really preoccupied. First of all, the customs officer at the airport gave me only two days on my transit visa. I’ve been buying seven day transit visas in Kenya because I’ve only been in the country for a short time both times. It was impossible for me to get money, settle in and buy a bus ticket in that amount of time so I spent a little while in the immigrations building downtown pleading for an extention. Like usual, the officer told me “we aren’t supposed to do this” but gave me the full seven days I had paid for.
I managed to take out a good chunk of cash (but not as much as I need) from an ATM here and convert it to US Dollars. I’ll need a lot of dollars to pay for a trip to the gorillas (if I can get a spot) and all of the visas I’ll need. Once again I’m getting fraud notices from my bank. I’m still steaming from the unwarned cancelation of my card in Ethiopia. After that I set about town to find a good deal on a flight back home. I’ve discovered that there really aren’t many good deals to be had. It’s peak season and even on the internet, even with student fares, I’m going to pay a minimum of $1200 for a one-way flight to Chicago (probably through London). To add insult to injury there was a sign exclaiming “Nairobi – Chicago: $790″ in one of the offices. Of course, those fares are long sold out, even two months in advance.
To get the cheapest fare available now I’ll have to fly Kenya Airways to London and then Virgin or American on to Chicago. I would prefer not to fly Kenya, not because they just crashed in Cameroon, but because my mom knows they just crashed in Cameroon and will worry more than she should. I’m really more concerned if they have personal screens for the in-flight entertainment.
Even to do that I will have to buy the first leg here in Kenya at the STA representative and then buy the second leg through the UK STA rep over the phone. I could buy a flight through London all the way on British Airways for $1318, but once I add 5% to use a credit card and $30 to stopover the price is right up there with most Airlines. If so, then why not fly Qatar Aiways and take a one day stopover in Doha?
If I wasn’t getting so much pressure from home to return I would just wait until September and continue South to fly out of South Africa. But with each email my mom asks more directly when I’m coming home. Somehow a graduation party for my brother has become a sticking point and everyone’s waiting for me to buy a ticket so the party can be planned and my sister can fly home from Colorado, where she lives.
To make all of this more complicated my iBook just died. If you remember, it’s been having a hard time since Ethiopia and the screen finally went completely black two days ago. I’ve gone as far as to buy the tools to open the bottom case and attempt the suggested fix myself but it didn’t work. The Kenyan hardware stores I visited were well stocked but they still didn’t have a spludger. I think either the logic board connection is totally severed or one of the cables connecting the screen got pinched. The nice people over on the Mac support forums can’t agree on that.
The idea of not having my computer is scary. I’ll have to find more books and other forms of entertainment. I won’t be able to sort my photos or update any of my site besides quick posts like this one. It kills me because I can hear it working and know the drive is still operating, it’s only the screen that’s a problem. Mac has special cables to connect to external monitors so without finding an Apple dealer my computer is unaccessable. I’ve found a “Macintosh Users Group in Nairobi” online and one of the members emailed me back today, saying he forwarded my email to an Apple dealer in Nairobi. I would love to just know where you can buy Apple products here. It probably won’t happen though because not only do I have a bus ticket to Uganda on Tuesday, my new extended visa expires on Tuesday so I have to move on.
After waking up at 3:30 this morning to make my flight from Tana I’ve arrived in Nairobi. Unfortunately, the visa I was given is only for two days. I asked for a 7-day transit visa so this may be some sort of ploy to get more money. Tomorrow I’ll have to go down to the immigration office and sort it out because I can’t get out of the country by tomorrow.
I’m slowly updating things but the connection is quite slow and there’s about five other travelers with laptops here so I am only getting enough of the connection to upload late at night.
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.