After too few days in Lamu, we returned to Nairobi to drop Nikki off for her return to the US. Nairobi is the opposite of Lamu. Loud, chaotic and cosmopolitan we were immediately caught in the middle of the biggest city in East Africa. Awful traffic, drizzling weather and finding a place to stay well after dark, our initial impressions of Nairobi were awful. Nairobbery it’s often called, and on that first night we were on guard against everyone and everything.
Things are always better the next morning, especially in a city where there’s the opportunity for some retail therapy. You may remember in Zimbabwe we purchased some beautiful stone sculptures. Shipping them home, we were devastated to find out that not only had they broken but in fact they were “pulverized.” Unable to console ourselves, we’ve made it our mission to figure out how to get back to Zimbabwe on this trip and purchase more- suggestions are always welcome! In the mean time, we’ve looked for similar art everywhere and although it’s mostly copycat stuff made from soapstone here in East Africa, we took a chance and headed to the City Market in Nairobi to have a look around.
If you hate hard bargaining, stay away from this place. Seriously. It was a nightmare of pushy salesmen, vendors and hawkers who not only shouted at you, but also tried to physically pull you into their stores. Prices started at nearly 10 times a reasonable price and after just an hour we could hardly stand it anymore. Fortunately a year of practice has given us the ability to sniff out a fair deal and a genuine tradesman, so although it was a harrowing experience, we came out loaded with crafts, paintings and even a stone sculpture or two. Thankfully we had a very willing courier and a very large plastic duffel bag to transport everything safely home.
Feeling better about Nairobi and a series of small unfortunate events that have been plaguing us the last few weeks, we put Nikki on her plane and returned to the city. Only to find our room key missing. Astonishingly, this is the first time in more than a year of travel that we’ve lost a room key. Unable to find a working spare, we spent the night in another room and waiting to break in until the morning. The hostel people were wonderful about the key, and had a working spare made for us so we didn’t have to destroy anything to get to our toothbrushes. Twenty minutes later we realized that we had made a costly mistake in our travel planning- Ethiopia does not give visas at its land borders. Gathering our passports, we rushed to the Ethiopian embassy to try and get our visas processed before the weekend. Of course, they were closed for an extended weekend…until Tuesday which meant we’d have to wait at least five more days in Nairobbery.
It seems as though everyone comes through Nairobi, so although we were stuck for five days waiting for the embassy to open, we had plans nearly every day with other travelers, ex-pats, friends of friends and colleagues who happened to be in Nairobi the same time. It’s weird to realize that we’re nearly half way around the world and we know a bevy of people here. On top of that we have half decent internet here for the first time since leaving a continent with the word “America” in it and have enjoyed walking around town a bit.
The manager of the hostel we’re at told Danny that he’s been here for 23 years and that 10 years ago travelers like us were mugged on a daily basis. Now however, he hasn’t had a single mugging amongst his clientèle in the last 8 years. Maybe Nairobi is getting better after all.