Nairobi Kenya

Nairobi Travel Blog

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Lion at the National park

'The Road from Ethiopia to Kenya' was the planned title for this entry. Bah, the road turned out to be an hour and a half flight on Ethiopian Airlines. It seems my 'figure it out as you go' approach finally bit me in the arse.

Apparently, visas are quite easy to obtain for Kenya in every location except the one I was heading to--Moyale. I checked with the Kenyan embassy in Addis about obtaining a visa and they told me to wait four days. Four days!

As I wrote earlier, the trip through that part of Africa is often referred to as the wild west. I'm currently reading Paul Theroux's 'Dark Star Safari'
where he describes an overland trip from Cairo to Cape Town that he made about four years ago. During the Ethiopia - Kenya border leg he was on board three different vehicles that broke down and got shot at by bandits before it was all over.

It's a real shame I had to miss all that fun, but getting stuck for four days at the border town was even less appealing than being stuck in Addis for another four days. Especially knowing that I would then have to head down that rough road that took Theroux about six days. I just didn't have the time to spare. Anyway, I arrived in Nairobi without incident. The on arrival visa at the airport took about one damn minute. They needed four days in Addis?!

When stepping into the airport, it was almost jarring at how different Kenyans look from Ethiopians. For me, Ethiopians are a very attractive
people. Their skin color is almost like a mocha brown; they have sharp features with longish noses and they're also quite tall and a bit willowy.
You don't see a lot of fat Ethiopians.


Kenyans on the other hand look completely different. Their skin is very dark and their features tend to be more like the 'traditional African' with the wider flatter noses. And I wouldn't go so far as to say they are big, but certainly many are stockier than the more waifish Ethiopians. I hate to say it, but Kenyans look much more intimidating than their northern neighbors. That said, I have found the Kenyans, so far, to be a much friendlier lot than most Ethiopians I met. This could be due to the fact that English is an official language in Kenya and the Ethiopians were certainly less comfortable conversing in a foreign tongue. At any rate, they are both nice people.

'Nairobbery'--the popular nickname for Nairobi-- which is widely viewed as one of the most crime ridden cities in Africa--if not the world-- turned out to be fine.
The rail station
Don't get me wrong, I was smart enough not to do any late evening strolls and the camera bag stayed in the room for the most part. Everyone, and I mean everyone, tourist,local whatever will tell you to never walk at night. There is none of this 'might' get mugged talk. The taxi driver from the airport told me 'they will take your head'. I thought he said 'bag' at first, but no, he said head. The front desk lady at my hotel was giving me the usual check in spiel: 'The restaurant is open 24 hours, check out time is 12, make sure you hand in the key and (almost as an afterthought) you will get mugged here if you walk at night.'With all this mugging talk, I figured a shorter stay in Nairobi might be the way to go.

The next day I packed in a very busy schedule for myself.
I hired a driver to take me to the railway station so I could book passage on a train leaving for Western Kenya that evening. Once done, I headed over to the Railway Museum that's right next door. What a great little museum that turned out to be. The place had endless amounts of old photos, models and even paintings showing the great history of the railway in East Africa. And of course, they had actual old trains set up all around outside that could be boarded and explored. Walking around that place I couldn't help but think of my maternal grandfather who worked for a train company for years. I've always loved trains.

From the museum, my driver, Stephen, and I made our way over to the Nairobi National Park. During the drive I was surprised to hear old gospel country music coming out of his tape deck.
I tried to place the singer after a couple of songs, and when I couldn't, I asked him who it was. He laughed and said,'Reuben Kigami, a Kenyan.' He then pulled out the cassette case and sure enough, the cover showed a Kenyan man on a stool with cowboy hat and big belt buckle holding a guitar. Weird.

The Nairobi National Park is unique in Africa for its close proximity to the city. You literally drive just a few miles outside the city center and you're
entering a park with classic African landscape and more wildlife than you could ever imagine. Stephen and I entered the park around noon on an overcast day; the temperature was perfect. Near the entrance we stopped briefly at the ivory burning camp site. A location made famous by a former Kenyan president who burned twelve tons of ivory there as a message to poachers that killing elephants for ivory would not be tolerated.

A bit further down the road I spotted my first animals--giraffes. They were standing in a picture perfect African plain that was dotted with a few of the flat-topped acacia trees that so often symbolize African landscapes. What made this scene truly memorable, though, was that in the distance the skyline of Nairobi--a city of 2.5 million. We drove in the 117 square km park for about four hours. More wildlife included: huge feeding vultures; antelopes and zebras grazing in the distance; ostriches standing in the road; African buffaloes with eaglets perched on their backs and countless other birds of many different colors.

As we were driving back to the entrance on one of the more well worn roads I looked ahead and said stupidly, 'Why are those two trucks parked in front of that statue?' Stephen replied, 'That's not a statue.
That's a lion!' I couldn't believe my eyes. As we drove much closer--maybe only 15 feet away-- there stood a lioness on top of a large flat park sign looking for all the world like she was posing! She was casually turning her head back and forth and just standing there allowing us puny humans a chance to bask in her glory. I took as many awkward photos as I could from inside the car. The rule of not being able to leave your vehicle while in the park made perfect sense at that moment.

Very near the main gate, Stephen was telling me how lucky we were to spot that lion when a pack of baboons sauntered across the road right in front of us. One of them had a little baby clinging to its back that was quite cute, but two others had horribly disfigured faces that made them look monstrous.
It was a gruesome reminder that this place is not some city zoo.  At 6:30 that evening I said good-bye to 'Nairobbery' and boarded a train heading for the west Kenyan town of Kisumu. My first class ticket put me in a two bed compartment that I had all to myself. The first class car was almost empty save for two Estonian guys in the compartment next to mine and one younger Kenyan
guy. The train itself is very old and had no electricity. It was dark before we left the station and I had pulled out my head lamp so I could see. As old and run down as the train was, it turned out to be a great journey.

Dinner was served by flashlight about an hour after we left. They seated the four 1st class passengers in a single booth in the restaurant car.
Siim and Hanas were the Estonians' names and Pwainaina the Kenyan. We were served a three course meal of mushroom soup, either chicken or beef with rice and a slice of pineapple for dessert. The food wasn't great but the company was nice.

We started the conversation, as most travelers do, talking about the various places we had been. Then, the Estonians commented on how few Kenyans they saw smoking. Pwainaina told us that in some places in Kenya the punishment for smoking in public was very severe; as much as 6 months in jail. And I thought California was strict! He also told us how expensive it was to get an education in Kenya. It's only just recently that the government has started paying for primary (elementary) school education. The rest must be paid for, and college is almost unthinkable.
I mentioned how many governments don't like for their people to be educated because it's much easier to stay in control that way. The others seemed to agree.

That night I slept fairly well in my compartment and woke up at 6:30 to a spectacular view streaming by my window. Lush, green valley after valley rolled by for hours before giving way to flatter lands and tiny villages. We would stop periodically at a small village and I could see various people milling around going through their daily lives. There were so many small children, too, always happy to wave at the train. I felt very free that morning: no work; no routine; just a traveler in a strange land moving on.

We arrived in Kisumu 6 hours late, but that's never really a surprise in this part of the world. The town is situated on Lake Victoria and is a nice change from the bigger cities that have been my whole trip so far.
I spent most of the day fighting slow internet connections in the hopes of getting this blog out. I'll probably be here one more day working on that before moving on to the Ugandan border. 

Uganda is next...

Eric says:
I actually just finished reading Dark Star Safari myself, really fascinating book. Looking forward to the rest of your updates (Assuming you can find reliable internet!)
Posted on: Apr 02, 2010
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Lion at the National park
Lion at the National park
The rail station
The rail station
photo by: easyjobrob