Arriving into my third continent I was looking forward to Africa albeit a little travel warn from around four months of non-stop travel of India and Indonesia. I was looking forward to unpacking my bags and resting for a two week holiday with Gabs, a close friend from school days and Cambridge. Travelling on Ethiopian Airways the most unluxurious of airline so far but one of the cheapest to get to Kenya from Mumbai; two time zones and 1500 miles away. Being shoe horned in between two very large and smelly African chaps (one of which looked like the nutty professor) and with no movies, free drinks and bad food I managed to fall asleep for the first leg to Addis Adaba, from there it was only a short 3 hour flight to Nairobi and to meet up with Gabs.
The first sightings of Africa were completely different to what I expected to see. I my mind I envisaged a dry and arid continent but I was mistaken. From the plane windows I saw a lush green landscape ahead of me. As soon as got through customs I immediately felt the pace of life slow down to almost a stand still. People sleeping everywhere, no one eager to do anything that required any hard work and certainly no hordes of hawkers eager to steal a few quid off you. Welcome to Africa! Nairobi being around 2000m high up enjoyed an all year round warm climate of about 25⁰C which was a relief from the intense heat of India.
When I arrived at the hotel in Nairobi and found Gabs lounging by the pool with a Guinness in hand, I could see he had certainly settled into the Christmas holidays in style escaping the nasty Ice Age that had recently gripped the UK! Our itinerary was to spend one more night in Nairobi and then take the overnight train down to Mombasa to meet Gabs’ family. Gabs’ Dad emigrated to Kenya some 40 years previous whilst working for various hotels in Kenya when Kenya was the only place to Safari. The night of arrival we spent catching up over one or three beers and gorging ourselves at the famous Carnivore restaurant. Carnivore, as the name suggests is a meat lovers paradise and not for sandal wearing veggies. From my former meat working days I was excited to see what was on offer. The set menu meal comprised of all you can eat meat, so donning my Homer Simpson elasticated pants we arrived salivating for the gut expanding feast ahead. Food arrives at your table in big skewers where they slice off cuts from Beef, Turkey, Lamb, Crocodile, Chicken and anything else that could bleed! The restaurant gained its fame from serving game meat like Zebra, Antelope etc but the government banned game meat a year or ago. For me it was heaven as I had not had red meat for the last 3 months or so.
An hour or two later and a few pounds heavier we finally gave up and surrendered as none of us could muster another mouthful! We had a few more drinks and rolled into bed much later that night. The next day we headed into Nairobi city centre to do the touristy thing. With Gabs having lived in Nairobi until he was 14 proved to be the perfect guide around “Nairobbbery” as it most unaffectionaly known as. Luckily it has shaken off its unwanted name in the last few years and is a safe place to walk around during the day. We walked down from our hotel past Central and Uhuru Park and into the centre to grab lunch at one of Gabs favourite Italian restaurants.. After glorious pasta dish (another food group I hadn’t tasted in a while) we took a trip through the streets up to the Kenyatta Conference Centre Tower to get a bird’s eye view of the city.
Kenyatta was the first president of Kenya after the British relinquished colonial power in 1963 and is adored throughout the land and features on all Kenya bank notes. From the top of the Conference centre we got a great view of the sprawling city around us. The city centre (about the size of Hull but boasting around 2.5m people) itself hasn’t much to offer in sights (no temples like in SE Asia but old dreary square blocks of brown buildings) bar the hills in the North to the slums beyond the centre. We headed back to the hotel to lounge round by the pool in the afternoon sun to get ready for the night train down to Mombasa.
Around 6pm, just before we headed down to the train station that evening the heavens opened and we endured lashing rain, lightning and thunder which lasted around 2 hours solid. It was so heavy that it flooded the city centre, wiped out all power and the taxi drive that was only supposed to take 20 mins to get to the station took 1 ½ hrs. In the end the taxi couldn’t reach the station so we waded the last leg through massive puddles, streams and lakes to get into the chaotic station. Swarms of people were crowding the entrance either getting out of the rain or making their way to the thrice weekly train to Mombasa.
It was here that Nairobbery lived up to its name. The entrance was a pickpocket’s heaven as people pushed and squeezed their way in and Gabs wallet was swiped in the melee. Angry and frustrated we boarded the very narrow train and waited for departure in our small cabin with darkness descending around us with no lights on the train or platform. We had booked first class tickets which meant apart from the massive price difference we were given beds and a meal instead of a wooden seat. We finally left after a three hour wait with no reason for delay. A common occurrence in Africa is that nothing leaves on time and you have to go with the flow. Instead of being frustrated and annoyed which leads to nowhere apart from getting hot and bothered you have to mutter “TIA” – This Is Africa. This is used as an explanation for anything that breakdown, late, unpleasant and annoying – many things in Africa!
We travelled for about an hour through the darkness of Nairobi and its surroundings before we came to one of many stand stills in the middle of nowhere, again no explanation! Dinner was served in the dining car and comprised of stew and rice with a few beers to console Gabs in his recent loss of around £100 and some credit cards which we managed to cancel. The journey was hot and muggy with no air con and little breeze going through the train and no view of the country side due to the darkness around us. All that was left was to make it Mombasa some 12hrs away from Nairobi, we hoped!