Things unravel in Nairobi
Arusha hadn’t inspired me in the way I hoped it would. I’m sure it’s lovely when you’re in good health and good weather; I was not. My poisoning in Bagamoyo and my night in the wilderness had left me very weary, and the moody weather had followed me from Bagamoyo too. I had chosen this route specifically to see Mt Kilimanjaro and Mt Meru. Alas, I saw neither.
I prepared to leave for Kenya. I did the usual pre-border-crossing chores. I went buy some Kenyan Shillings from the Bureau de Change, as changers at the borders always rip you off. I also filled up the car with fuel. Nairobi wasn’t far away, but I felt like a clean run with no stops, apart from the border, would be good. In my short drive around town I was stopped no fewer than four times by the police. They did the usual checks; license, insurance, passport, did I have money for them? One police officer was so determined to fine me he checked all my paperwork, then he checked my car over. He made sure the tread on my tires was within the legal requirements. He checked that I had a fire extinguisher, warning triangles, a hi-vis jacket and he even went as far to check the washer fluid for the windscreen. Once I had demonstrated that all was in order he sulked like a child and let me go.
I left early the next morning. On my way out of town I was stopped again by one of the police officers from the previous day. She asked if I remembered her, and I did. Then she checked all my paperwork again, as if it might have changed overnight. The run to the border was pretty quiet, apart from a few requests for bribes; “Do you have a jift?” (gift) “jift, jift, you have jift? give me jift”
I arrived at the Namanga border post in the late morning. The Tanzanian side was a little disorganised, but it didn’t take too long to get through immigration and customs. The Kenyan side was the easiest border crossing I had done. No customs inspection, just a stamp in the carnet. There were some slightly irritating Samburu women who tried to give me “free” stuff that I really didn’t want, and then asked for a “donation”. They would try and force beaded bracelets over my hands and I eventually paid a money changer to keep them away.
I left the border post on the lovely new roads built to connect Nairobi with Tanzania. You can tell you’ve left Tanzania when the roads have painted lines. It wasn’t long before I came across my first police road block. I pulled over and prepared for the usual. But I couldn’t have been more surprised. The Kenyan police officer was friendly, professional and looking really smart in his blue uniform, which was a world away from Tanzania’s tacky, white uniforms. He just wanted to make sure I had everything in order, because sometimes people forget to buy insurance. He shook my hand and wished me a pleasant journey onward towards the capital. Such a stark contrast to the police in Tanzania. The were a few more checkpoints along the way, but they were all perfectly pleasant experiences.
At a military checkpoint a soldier gave me some tips on the road heading north, and some tips about getting into Nairobi, but unfortunately, there would be no way to avoid the terrible traffic. From Athi River, he said, it would be really busy. It wasn’t long before I saw for myself the awful Nairobi traffic. But at least it seemed to have some order to it, there were just too many cars for the road.
The traffic in Nairobi really is killer. But I made it into the Western Suburbs after stop-starting my way all the was up Langata Road. My first stop was the Galleria Mall, where I picked up a simcard and some lunch. Here I met a Swedish/Dutch couple in a Land Rover who were also driving around Africa. They were on their way to Uganda that day.
I found the Wildebeest Eco Camp in the forests of West Nairobi. This really is the best place to camp in the city. No doubt about it. There are other places that are more suited to overland travel, but for me it was a good place to recover. I was still pretty ill and very tired. I took a tent in a quite spot on the lawn. The hot, clean, shower blocks were such a treat, as was the clean loo. Wildebeest has a pretty good restaurant and there is wifi on the deck, but crucially this wifi is connected to the internet, and that’s an important detail in Africa.
Wildebeest seems to be the number one spot in Nairobi for backpackers, which is pretty nice as you get to meet some pretty interesting people. There was a cyclist from China called Cheng with whom I became friends. He had cycled from Shanghai to Istanbul, then flown to Nairobi and was planning to head south. There was a group of Norwegian medical students who were volunteering at a local clinic. And there were a few other travellers who floated in and out while I was there.
There was also the Safari scene. Well heeled tourists, who flew in to gawk at animals from a green Land Rover, stayed at Wildebeest too; in the luxury tents which have private bathrooms and king-sized beds. They came and went and kept to themselves.
On my 2nd day in Nairobi I made my way to the Ethiopian embassy, near the centre of the city. I found the official in charge of visas and asked to apply. This was the standard procedure for overlanders. Nairobi was a good place to do paperwork, and usually people did their visas for Ethiopia and Sudan here, and bought Egyptian visas on the ferry from Wadi Halfa to Aswan. The scary lady, who had tattoos on her face, plainly told me that it was no longer possible for me to get an Ethiopian visa here in Nairobi, unless I had Kenyan residency. She told me to fly home, and apply there. It had been a recent rule change, she informed me, and that it could change again, but there’s no telling when that would be. I then took a trip to the South African High Commission to see what their advice was for getting to Ethiopia. They told me that it was the first they’d heard about it, and that it seemed strange, given that a South African can get a visa on arrival at the airport, but can’t apply before hand in Nairobi. I went back to the Ethiopian Embassy to ask about the visa on arrival. They told me under no circumstances should I leave for Moyale without a visa, and that my best bet was to present myself at the embassy in Pretoria.
It seemed that as soon as my trip had begun; it was over. I may have been sick but I wasn’t defeated. The car was still running along nicely. I had come up against a wall of pointless bureaucracy and I could not move forward. My plans were unravelling before me. There were still so many visas outstanding. What if Egypt turned me down too? What if the Sudanese wouldn’t give me a visa? I searched online but found nothing about this new rule for visas. For the first time I seriously doubted that I would ever get to Ireland.