As we sat in traffic I noticed the minibus behind us create a unique solution. It simply left the road, onto the footpath, honking like crazy as pedestrians fled to get out of the way. begun. Luckily no-one was hurt as the bus sped out of sight leaving the taxi driver and I considering our options as we sat in traffic, motionless, chewing on the dusty pollution wondering whether it is better to bake in a car with no air conditioning or shorten our life expectancy by a few minutes through the onslaught of carbon fumes. Welcome to Nairobi, welcome to my fist ever solo trip, welcome to travelling.
I landed in Nairobi less than 24 hours before on my first ever solo travelling trip. The plan was to fly into Nairobi, out of Johannesburg with a whole lot of adventure in between. Looking back, as a first solo trip it one hell of a learning experience, particularly having lost my wallet, phone and Passport in Dubai airport, but that’s another story.
Nairobi airport, Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, is rather straightforward. You just follow everyone off the plane to the visa desk, pay $50 and pass on through. There are several options on visas into Kenya, so make certain you get the correct one. I had a simple Kenyan tourist visa, but you can also get a transit visa if you are travelling straight through and out of Kenya which I believe is $30 or a multiple entry visa for $70. If you plan to leave Kenya and re-enter make certain you get this one otherwise you will end up paying the full $50 again upon re-entry. Bear this in mind if you are considering of doing a gorilla trek in Uganda and coming back. All of these visas are available for UK citizens at the airport, although other nationalities should probably double check before flying.
After clearing immigration I gathered my bag and wandered out of the airport. As soon as I emerged I was accosted by about 15 people all crying “Taxi Taxi” – very intimidating. I didn’t want to get in the first one I came across as I wanted a bit of time to gather my thoughts so I strolled around for a bit but every other step there was someone else wanting you to get into their taxi. The first man to approach me grabbed my arm and tried to drag me to a car, he was leading me to the car park, pointing at his car. It was away from the main taxi area and seemed to be pretty beat up so I chose not to trust him and moved on, in fact, I was somewhat wary about most of them so I made sure I got into one with an official sticker on it. It dawned on me later that I had no idea what an official sticker should look like but I guess the idea was there. After picking my taxi and nearly causing a fight between the guy I chose and the first man that talked to me (apparently if you lie and tell them you are not after a taxi to try and lose them and then get in someone else’s they take offence). Anyway, safely in the cab I was on my way to downtown Nairobi.
The ride from the airport turned out to be okay. The taxi driver was a nice guy, we chatted as we sat in traffic, trying our best to stay cool. His driving was pretty erratic, but nothing compared to the aforementioned minibus, I’m still amazed that no-one was destroyed in that manoeuvre, on or off of the bus. It seems that you make your own rules here and I think that will be quite an adjustment.
I stayed at The New Oakwood Hotel, very basic and cheap but right in the middle of the city which was convenient but quite loud and unfortunately the TV only had one working channel playing some awful music. I use the term music very liberally.
That evening I went for a walk. The aim was to find the Nairobi train station and buy a ticket for my onward train from Nairobi to Mombassa, but I got lost. As I walked I felt very uncomfortable, I was certainly not in a tourist area and I noticed that almost every shop had guards brandishing an AK-47 or a shotgun outside. Most of the people I walked past on the busy streets seemed fine but every now and again I felt myself receive a look and it just made feel uneasy. As the sun set, I started to feel very nervous, I think this was culture shock setting in, and it was a lot scarier than I expected. I decided it’d be best to head back to the safety of the hotel as I didn’t really know anything about Nairobi, and didn’t want to be out alone after dark. I spent the rest of the evening in my hotel, enjoying a meal in the hotel restaurant and the first of many Tusker beers, a rather nice Kenyan brew, while looking ahead to a fresh start in the morning.
The next morning I thought was an ideal day to do a spot of exploring around Nairobi but I didn’t know where I was. I asked the receptionist in the hotel if they had a map, which they didn’t, but he told me of a tourist information place just around the corner where I could get a map of the city, so off I trotted.
One of the problems with Nairobi seems to be everyone wants to “offer” you something, be it a whistle to get your attention followed by calls of “taxi taxi” or just a quick chat and then ask for money. My destination was within 400 metres and as I was walked I counted three separate people offering me taxi before a guy came up to me, right outside the tourist office, and asked me what I was after. I explained that I just wanted a map and walked straight past him into the tourist office.
Once in there, the lady told me they had no maps but told me someplace else that would and pointed to the guy who I ignored outside as someone who could show me where. I thought it strange that a place advertising tourist information had no maps, but given that the hotel I stayed in pointed me this way I trusted the place and wandered off with the guy from outside and learnt his name was Charles and he would go on to become a good friend.
If you would like to continue reading about my experience in Nairobi, how to buy a train ticket and whether I survived the whole experience, please follow the link to be taken to part two and my walking tour of Nairobi.
The blog above is based on a chapter of my Kindle book: How To Clean Your Underwear in Africa; Diary of an unskilled traveller. It chronicles my journey through Africa and the hard lessons I learnt on the way. If you would like to know more about the book and how to get it for just 99p, please head to Amazon or get a FREE pdf copy by signing up for updates and subscribing to The Travel Blogs. Free e-books, loads of great travel content, it’s kind of a win-win!