Posts Tagged ‘kenya’

An aside (as it would seem cancer is…)


Sorry I forgot this in the holiday monologues. A packet of cigarettes from either Uganda or Kenya. It struck me as funny. But then again on reflection it really isn’t.

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So 30 hours after we had set off from Fort Portal we made it to Nairobi. We went back to Wildebeest and had a lovely Thai meal in the food court of the 24 hour supermarket, Nakumat, the equivalent of going to Manchester Arndale for the last meal of your holidays – it’s amazing what island life can do to you  (any threshold for anything is lowered).

Being so completely knackered, we couldn’t get our brains to function as to what goodies to bring back to the Seychelles randomly ending up with a mosquito net, poppodams, coffee and tea. We crashed pretty early, intending to finish packing in the morning, except that there was a power cut so at 6am, there I was packing by torchlight, shivering from my cold shower. The power cut persisted meaning that my big treat of a ‘Starbucks like’ latte at the airport nearly didn’t happen but with minutes to spare before boarding, the power was back and there was no way I was leaving without one even if I did burn my tongue.

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We opted to take a proper bus from Kisumu and across the border into Uganda, to our next destination Jinja as we couldn’t face more matatus. We hung around drinking coffee and I tried to order ‘ugali’, a porridge like staple food made from maize or cassava flour but somehow got eggs instead. The bus was an hour late and due for a lunch stop so we waited while the hungry passengers from Nairobi had their fill. As we were lucky getting the seats, we couldn’t sit together and so I made small talk with the girl next to me who I found out was at Hell’s Gate same day as us – not with those busloads of tourists I hope (I neglect to mention the giraffe/toilet escapade). The journey took forever with a chaotic border crossing as everyone piled off the bus, made for the Kenyan side grabbing yellow forms and then when completed and stamped, heading to the Ugandan side to grab blue forms. We handed over $100 for two visas, changed cash (the money changers clad in yellow overalls presumably to add respectability) and were back on the bus and in Uganda, it looking exactly like Kenya except the road was better.

Still it seemed we were nowhere near Jinja and with the light rapidly fading, I was worried about us getting from Jinja bus station to the backpackers. Such worrying was needless however as we were all but dumped at a petrol station, just outside of the town*. The bus roaring into the distance, leaving us mightily annoyed, we were immediately accosted by boda boda boys (motorbike taxis). Given that we had a large rucksack, we preferred to get a taxi or matatu but quickly realising we had little choice as the matatus zoomed past us we ended up negotiating with one of the boda boys who convinced us that he could take me, the other one and our 18kg rucksack on his bike. This he duly did with me holding on for dear life as we clung close to the highway’s hard shoulder turning off to my great relief on to more residential roads to the backpackers. Minor catastrophe was averted when it appeared that the double room wasn’t reserved for us (my fault) but the lovely Nash on reception sorted it and we got our bed.

* Jinja I surmised later was probably not an official stop

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Back on the road

Phone top-up Kisumu style

top up your mobile in kisumu

An unsatisfactory day travelling; totally ripped off by the matatu boys at Naivasha (even though we bought our tickets at the official booking window and we knew it was expensive but had little choice), we had to change at Nakuru instead of going straight through to Kisumu where we were kindly taken by an honest matatu driver to the right place to change but because the prices were higher than we thought got all suspicious again, declined to get on the bus until we had shopped around some more but in the end got on the one we had been taken to, felt guilty (I searched the matatu place to find our man to thank him again but couldn’t), repeatedly politely declined the baseball caps, watches, tools, machetes, food, wallets and whatever else were offered us through the windows of the matatu while we waited, eventually arrived at Kisumu, walked the couple of kilometres to the hotel, showered, went out, drank beer, marvelled at supermarkets full of stuff and ate a lovely meal of fish and coconut milk. Slept, dreaming of what goes on at the Nakuru Miracle Academy that we had passed earlier on, and wondered if they would grant me the gift of flight.

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To hell and back


Another tiny step in my life’s evolution, laughing in the face of perceived wisdom that accident, shame and injury will follow the seemingly innocuous action of hiring bikes for the day (see kayaking and ball games for why this may be so) we cycled to Hell’s Gate, a national park that because it has no big cats around, they’ll let travellers daft enough to, cycle around it.

Along the lake road, we heard our first cries of ‘how are you?’ from children, often waving and running to keep up with us, who offer this greeting rather than hello as a mantra to the passing ‘muzungu’ (‘white man’ literally). Turning off, we bumped down the dirt track where one rock or stone is enough to provoke a fierce wobble of the bike and at the park’s gate, after finding that our Seychelles Identity Card didn’t count for reduced entry, paid $25 each and set off hopefully in the direction of the guard’s pointing hand, there apparently being no free maps.

On either side large outcrops of rock cut an impressive swathe through the African bush landscape. Our goal was to reach Hell’s Gate Gorge around 7 km away. Cycling in the morning sun, we were having fun enough- before we had even seen anything – not that it took long, a herd of zebra crossing the road in front of us, thereafter more zebra, warthogs, gazelles and giraffe were kind enough to let us share their space, the most amazing thing being that for 90% of the time, we were alone- just us and the animals.

Eventually, we reached the gorge and hiring a guide, we were asked if we wanted to take the short, medium or long route. Not ones to overextend ourselves, short it was, and so we set off on an hour’s jaunt through the gorge’s narrow, winding pathways, learning how it was formed (soon forgotten) and dipping our fingers in the trickle of the hot water springs for which the area is known.

Getting back on the bikes, now under the glare of the afternoon heat, was hard but happening upon a giraffe with two of her young grazing, gave us ample reason to rest and rapt we ditched our bikes and watched them. Until, my surreal ‘wandered on to a film set’ moment.

Heeding the call of nature as I’m so wont to do, pants down, the younger giraffe who was so busy eating before, clearly decided I was a curiosity to be observed more closely (how quickly the tables turn). Though some distance away, he starts towards me, I curse my bladder and hurry it along. The other one shouts and points in the opposite direction where, from nowhere (having seen three safari vehicles in as many hours), two coaches are noisily approaching, the sound of thumping bass getting louder as they near. Spotting the giraffe, people start hanging out the windows taking pictures and the giraffes, including my mate, move along. So saved by the busloads of tourists – I only hope they were too distracted to notice me pulling my trousers back on.

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Matatu moves to Lake Naivasha

After a breakfast of badly toasted bread, cold eggs and coffee…eventually (a blip in the otherwise great stay) we made for town to pick up a matatu to Lake Naivasha. Matutu’s are local minibuses that officially hold 14, unofficially as many as can be fitted in – only then do they actually depart for your destination. Their reputation for road safety is notorious (ly non -existent) but they are often the cheapest and most reliable way to get around.

River Road, the informal matatu station, was a honking, heaving shock to the system, thick with traffic and people. Luckily, we were dropped right by the ticket counter and paid the advertised fare of 170 Kenyan Shillings to Naivasha town. Seated with our rucksack wedged between my knees for over an hour, my relief at arriving in Navaisha was short lived as alighting the vehicle, people swarmed around shouting over each other, asking us where we wanted to go and following our path through the busy bus station. We found where we needed to go, politely refusing our hangers on and boarded the matatu bound for the lake (which left about 30 minutes later).

Forty five minutes from town, along the road that hugs the lake, the hustle and bustle of economic life was evident as we passed tourist lodges, flower factories and small villages, roaring past the pedestrians and cyclists going about their lives. We had to stop while an old guy was sick, a short time later slowing again for our pitstop, Camp Carnelly’s.

Our double room, one of four housed in a long narrow hut was basic, with the only thing double about it being the assumption it could hold a double bed – it only having two prison sized singles we could only guess. The bathroom facilities were shared and a short walk away- proper flushing toilets so not to be sniffed at.

The lake itself looked thirsty and forlorn with a ribbon of its weedy cracked waterbed winding around its circumference, though the surrounding vegetation was plentiful with tantalising splashes of colour glimpsed as birds fluttered through the camp’s canopy.

We found the bar and restaurant, the jewel in the camp crown, and more excitingly camembert samosas, hubba hubba. We drank beer, read and chilled and made a pact that if one of us needed the toilet in the night, the other would go too. Inevitably, it was me who needed to go and of course I let him sleep, making an entertaining toilet jaunt juggling torch, loo paper and Masai blanket while half asleep. No mishaps thankfully.

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Nairobi night

A Kenya Airways direct flight to Nairobi and in three hours (and no mention of YFC) we had swapped a tropical island for the choking traffic of Nairobi’s rush hour – four lanes of traffic, big buildings, lots of people – woo hoo! Skirting round town we didn’t see much apart from roundabouts and petrol stations and the road to our accommodation, its properties set back from the road surrounded by corrugated fences and the earth kicking up red dust, lent an alien air to arrival. Luckily, Wildebeest camp where we were staying set in green, serene gardens helped settle us in and around the dinner table that evening we enjoyed the company of a Belgian family on safari and three west coast Americans, one of whom had spent two years teaching in Namibia. After a few glasses of quality red wine, we retired to our safari tent (complete with ensuite bathroom and shower!) ready to face Kenya full on the next day.

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