Friday, August 9, 2013

The Amazing Race Loser

It was supposed to be a two day trip not four plus.  But when we arrived in Brussels, our connection to the flight to Nairobi, I went to the ticket agent to see about a seat upgrade due to the long flight and she said, " we may not be flying to Nairobi, there's been a fire in the airport terminal".  i was shocked.  An hour or so later, after I scrambled to use the internet and communicate with Ella in Nairobi and as luck would have it, Alex from the US Consulate in Kenya who happened to be on Google chat at the moment, I decided to take the one of two options offered to me.  Brussels airlines either offered to put us up for up to two days in Brussels but warned that there would likely be no open flights to Nairobi for much longer than that.  The other option I chose was to fly to Entebbe, Uganda from which it was my responsibility to find my way to Nairobi.  It didn't look too far on the map and I didn't think the Brussels hotel option sounded good. 

We arrived late into Uganda, about 11pm but I had a woman, Jessy from FL who had chosen to go ahead with her three week long safari trip in Kenya, who was going to share the hotel room with me.  It was a pricey option but I booked it from Brussels and just wanted to know that I would for sure have a decent place when I arrived.  So at the suggestion of Alex the state Dept guy, I booked the Serena on Lake Victoria.  Five star!  

When we landed, Jessy was greeted by a representative of her tour company, Friendly Planet (for those of you who need a good recommendation for that sort of thing) and they took care of her, guided her through immigration and hotel, and transport.  Lucky for her, but lucky for me I had also met Lia Rains, a young woman who as it turns out is from Mukwonogo WI.  She was coming to visit her missionary brother and sister-in-law in Thika, near Nairobi.  So asked if she could stay with me and so we got through the mass confusion of the Ugandan airport and customs where we had to pay royally to just enter and exit the country in less than 24 hours time, grrrr!

We got to the Serena to be informed that they wanted to up the already exorbitant room rate since Lea was with me.  We negotiated and the desk clerks, said 'we'll see in the morning". So we got to bed about 2am and had a 5:15 wakeup call. Never did see the beautiful Serena in the light of day.  It had a beautiful terraced garden overlooking Lake Victoria. http://www.serenahotels.com/serenalakevictoria/
I made sure to tip everyone helping us that night and the next am and they did decide to not upcharge us for Lea, yeah!

Ella told me to be sure to be early for the bus, but due to some confusion about the location of the bus depot and the laid back nature of the locals, we were almost a half hour later than we should have been.  It is also an international holiday and the bus was booked.  I could have had a seat but I wouldn't leave Lea alone in Kampala, Uganda to fend for herself and there was a woman there talking about hiring a van to take a group to the border.  So I said I would do that but if I gave up my bus seat, she couldn't have it since we needed her to share the van with us.  She laughed and agreed.

Her name was Beatrice and she became our Kenyan guardian angel.  She travelled this route alot and knew the ropes. But one big problem was that she'd negotiate a price and then when the driver saw us white girls, they'd jack up the price.  Eventually, I'd give her money and she'd disappear and then pay before they could rethink the price.  Luckily, I had brought more US cash than usual and US cash was working for us. Lea said, 'the Lord knew that we'd need it.'

So we got to the border and we had to get a different driver to drive us across the border and then another to take us to Kisumu in W. Kenya.  We had a long wait at immigration at the Besia border town into Kenya.  My bladder was so full I was looking for a bush, but then Beatrice said, the Immigration office has a really clean bathroom and it was my turn to go in to the office so I asked and was told, "it is for staff only".  I stood in line a minute or two more and then I said really loud so everyone could hear me, " you mean I'm paying $50 to get into this country and you won't even let me use your bathroom?"  They ushured me into the 'really clean' bathroom.

So we got to Kisumu and Lia and I wanted to catch a ride, a tour van, and go but Beatrice said, we really need to eat something.  It was about 3 o'clock in the afternoon and we hadn't had anything since 5:30am or so.  When I got out of the van, I realized that Beatrice was right, I was a bit dizzy and confused.  A meal and cool drink felt immediately revitalizing.  

We went to the van depot and just missed the 4pm and so we waited and waited until they sold enough seats for the van.  I was getting so impatient I ended up buying the last two seats, it was only about $11 each.  So we were able to spread out alittle.  But the road from Kisumu to Nakuru was horrible, mostly bone rattling potholes for about 100 miles I would guess.  Everything was taking two to three times longer than predicted.  Originally we thought we'd get to Nairobi by 6pm. We adjusted our schedule while communicating with Ella and Ken using Beatrice's phone regularly.  It got to be about 9:30 and we saw the lights of the city, I thought, oh well, we're finally here, late but we're here.  Then I was informed, that this wasn't Nairobi, this was Nakuru and we still had two and a half hours to go.  I have rarely ever felt so disappointed in my life.  During this trip I felt a few moments of emotion akin to 'poor me' but in general was handling it all quite well.  But this disappointment was enough to get me to shed a couple tears in the darkness of the van.  But still it's only two and a half hours....but then the fog set in.  And normally I really appreciate a cautious driver, something we never find in these developing countries.  This guy was very cautious.  We were being passed by large tour busses going twice as fast as we were.  Would we ever get there?
I spent part of my time counting the hours I had been in transit.  And earlier I had thought that this adventure reminded me of the show The Amazing Race.  But I realized that we had lost the Amazing Race.  We arrived about midnight into Nairobi.  

I got to Ella and Ken's to find out that Ken was leaving for Trinidad in about five hours.  I got to greet him and and hold the baby, Liam Theodore, who I just kept in my mental sights throughout this saga, the Holy Grail.  Ken's flight was one of the first to leave Nairobi today.  I slept twelve hours without getting up once.  We had a good homemade chicken dinner tonight.  Life is good!

Jean, Nairobi, Kenya 

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