The Two Faces of Nairobi.
The Embassy of The Sudan reopened after the weekend of The Haj. Boas arrived at Wildebeest at 8:30 am and we weaved our way between the traffic of the Southern Bypass and through Kibera once again, arriving at the Embassy shortly before it opened.
The Embassy is accessible through a small gate house on the roadside. The guard here let people through in turns. Once inside the embassy I waited in line to hand in my papers. I had collected forms on my previous visit and had the South African High Commission compile a letter of introduction for me. This time all I had to do was pay some money, and leave.
The embassy required a letter of invitation, a clearance certificate from the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, the Carnet for my car, a valid visa for Egypt, a photocopy of a credit card, hotel bookings, completed forms (including statement of religious belief and church) and no history of travel to Israel. I handed everything over, along with 5000 Kenyan Shillings ($50) and the man behind the desk gave me a slip of paper reading “Wednesday, 11am”. I was all set.
I walked to the market near the French Ambassador’s residence and wandered around until Boas arrived, taking me back through Kibera to Langata. This time I asked him to stop for a little while, and I got off on the little bridge over the Nairobi River.
I took off my helmet, put my bag down, and got my camera out. There was no feeling of menace. Some passing people waved to me and Boas assured me it was okay to take photographs. Kibera is infamous, but it didn’t feel as scary as I thought it would. Mostly it was just people going about their daily lives.
On the other side of the Southern Bypass is Langata and Karen. This is where I spent most of my time. The Galleria Shopping Mall is large and impressive. I frequented the Art Cafe there, which was usually full of elegantly dressed people and the parking lot was full of expensive cars.
Nairobi has a split personality, like so many cities. I’ve never seen it so extreme. On one hand there are vintage car shows and gourmet restaurants, and Kibera on the other. The thing that links these two worlds is the same kindness and friendliness of the people. I had heard so many horror stories of Nairobi, but I can say that my experience of the place was so different. I’ve heard it called Nairobery and such, but really it’s one of my favourite cities on the continent.
My visa was ready on Wednesday morning. I arrived at the Embassy to find a team of South African overlanders applying for visas. They were heading north too, in Land Cruisers and on Motorcycles. Also at the Embassy was a Swiss couple in a Land Cruiser. Later I would learn that they had been travelling around the world since 1984 and held the world record for longest overland trip. They Also invented the roof tent, I think. I collected my passport with no trouble and headed back to camp, where I compared passport stamps and visas with Ying.
Nairobi marks the half way point on a Cape to Cairo trip. It’s also the point at which things become difficult. From Cape Town to Nairobi is no trouble at all, but North of there it’s a different world. I spent some time prepping for the big push to the north. I was planning to head to Marsabit as my first stop. On my first visit to Wildebeest there was a Spanish journalist who had spent time in Liberia, who reacted in horror at hearing my plans to head to Marsabit. “That’s where Al Shabab is!” Jessica managed to talk me out of leaving Wildebeest for a few days. In fact, I stayed on until the last possible day before my whole schedule was ruined before I decided to make the big push north, over the equator and into the big unknown. I could have stayed in Nairobi forever.