Merry evening, all. First blog post of Will’s round-the-world.
To start, I’d like to inform my readers that I arrived in Nairobi safely, soundly, and without incident. I took a 30-minute flight from Philadelphia to Newark, where I laid over for 4 hours—an 8-hour flight from Newark to Zurich, where I laid over for 1 hour—and finally, an 8-hour flight from Zurich to Nairobi. My seatmates included, respectively, a silent, dark-skinned unknown, a cute blonde accountant from Switzerland, and a greasy oilman from Newfoundland, Canada. I watched a Matthew McConaughy movie on the last flight. It was awful.
Before detailing my last few days, I’ll be starting with two disclaimers.
Disclaimer #1: I’m currently in Africa, so I’m going to talk about Africa. Africa is rather different from anywhere I’ve ever been, so I’m going to talk about these differences. However, I’ve only been here for 3 days, and when I leave for Dubai in 5 weeks, I’ll reread this post and, in all likelihood, feel like a clown. My conjecture will seem limited, my opinions young, and my words unjust. When my time in East Africa is up, I should have a fairly good idea of what it’s really all about, so until then, please bear with me.
Disclaimer #2: If you’ve read this blog before, you should know that my posts seldom take the this-is-what-I-did-today form. However, for now, they will. I’ve been traveling for 3 days, I’ve done a few things, I have a few minutes, and my world hasn’t shattered nor universe exploded just yet. So—I’ll just tell you what I’ve been up to.
I woke up in Nairobi at around 11:00am on Thursday, January 5th. I really hadn’t slept much in the previous, say, 3 weeks, out of sheer excitement for this trip. Maybe 6 hours a night, on average. On Thursday, the adrenaline settled, and I was finally able to sleep in. I got up and hopped in the shower, which consisted of a bathtub, a faucet in that bathtub, and a small bucket with a handle—probably the size of a measuring cup. After breakfast, one of the staff members at the guest house at which I stayed, Eva, took me around Nairobi for the afternoon.
Eva shown here:
To get into town, we took a matatu, which is the possibly infamous yet certainly ubiquitous form of Kenyan transportation. A matatu is essentially just a van, packed with roughly 20 seat-belt-less travelers, often outfitted with a sketchy sound system and a set of posters ranging from Notorious B.I.G. to Manchester United. Nairobi is full of matatus, chaotically barreling down the street, unconcerned with which lane actually belongs to them, as reggae music blares from inside. The Kenyans don’t seem to mind. The city itself seemed rather average, as advertised, but is a massive metropolitan center nonetheless. Eva and I walked around for a bit, visiting Uhuru Park, a couple of government offices, and viewing the entire city from atop one of Nairobi’s tallest buildings, the Kenyan International Conference Center. Shortly after, we sat down for and a chicken pie and a Tusker (Kenyan beer) for me, an orange Fanta for her, and then headed home.
The next morning, I woke up to a bunch of Oxford-Brooks students that had just arrived at the guesthouse. Mostly seniors. These students were doing a 10-day social enterprising field trip to Kenya, with their first stop Nairobi. In the afternoon, I was able to tag along with the group as they visited one of the largest slums in the city—Kibera. Kibera is home to roughly 1.2 million, and is a massive collection of huts, most outfitted with rusted tin roofs, and a serious lack of plumbing, food, running water, electricity, and general infrastructure. Few pictures shown here:
We were told that these slums are the largest in Africa, seconded by Soweto in South Africa. They definitely made for an interesting and sobering afternoon. Shortly after, I parted with the students, grabbed my backpack, and headed towards Nairobi Railway Station to catch the night train to Mombasa.
As you may know, Mombasa was and is a majorly important port city in East Africa. In addition, I believe it was the entry point for the British, when they colonized Kenya many years back. In any event, there are many ways of getting to Mombasa from Nairobi—a very popular travel route for locals and tourists alike. Since the two are only about 400 kilometers apart, you can either hop a short flight, maybe an hour—a might-be-hijacked-on-the-highway bus, maybe 5 hours—or the overnight train, which takes roughly 15 hours. I opted for the third. Slightly uncharacteristically, I booked a first class ticket which, for $50, afforded me a 2-bunk sleeper cabin, a full dinner, and a full breakfast. Cabin looked as such:
The next morning, I awoke to a breakfast of poached eggs, mystery sausage, and a terribly anti-climactic pile of roughly 11 baked beans. Shortly after, I went to hang out with my friend Ali who I had met the night before—a 23-year old American from Los Angeles. Ali had just finished up a 4-month service stint in India, and was there with her father, a frighteningly well-traveled, used-to-live-in-Kenya Nigel Thornberry lookalike—her mother, a Philippines-native—and her neighbors from home. She’ll be heading off to Vietman in roughly 2 weeks, for a few months of Southeast Asia. I hung out with the group for the remainder of the journey which, while advertised to terminate at 10:00am, did not pull into Mombasa until 2:30pm—20 hours after I boarded. It took forever, but was still really cool. During the daylight hours, we had endless views of the African bush, flew by by countless small villages and communities, and were constantly greeted by shoe-less, often singing locals shouting “Mzungu! Mzungu!,” the Swahili word for white person. I’d probably take a bus next time, but the journey was definitely one to remember. Here’s a few pictures from along the way:
Upon arrival, I went for lunch with Ali and her entourage in the city, and then headed toward the beach-front property at which they were staying in the next town over. About 15 kilometers further up the road lies another town, named Diani, in which I planned to stay for the night, so the idea was to just stay in the car after unloading the others, and head in that direction. Instead, Ali’s relentlessly hospitable mother insisted that I stay the night.
Honestly, I tried to say no. I really did. I’m definitely not one for crashing family vacations, but Ali’s I’ve-been-everywhere, we’re-in-endless-support-of-our-daughter-Couchsurfing-with randos-all-over-the-world, no-man-left-behind, keep-paying-the-favor forward parents and neighbors really did seem to want to shelter me for the evening. I eventually caved, and yes, they will be getting a few bottles of wine tomorrow if I can find this place again or, at the very least, a few postcards from a few different places as I continue my travels. The offer was truly amazing and, as all would agree, this house possibly even more so. After unloading the bags, we went for a swim on its essentially private backyard beach, watched the day fade into night, ate some bean soup (with the “special ingredient” of beef jerky), did some writing, and retired for the evening. Here’s a few pictures of the beach, myself, and Ali:
So, here I lay, at 4:47am, finishing this post from under a mosquito net, as the Indian Ocean hums in the background. The alarm is set for 5:55am, at which time I’ll be waking up for sunrise. Rough life.
Thanks for reading this far, and please, stay tuned for more. Big shout to Azreen Othman, Brian Yates, Sarela Herrada, Aitan Lawitt, Lindsay Corey, Brandon O’Donnell, Kelsey Rudolph, Kangda Zhou, Adrianna Very, Annie Urish, and all of the other IE’s starting their last semester in roughly 48 hours, if my time zones are correct. Go go.
Diani and/or Mombasa tomorrow, hopefully a lot of pictures, and Kilimanjaro in a week. I seriously hope I haven’t underestimated this climb, because I haven’t trained at all. Somebody is definitely singing outside of this house right now, by the way. Hoping it’s not al-Shabaab.
All the best and comments encouraged,