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Into Nairobi - Its In Africa You Know


Arriving at night in Nairobi, taking the shuttle bus to Arusha

2/16/10 9:30PM East Africa Time, or EAT: Arrival into Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi was as smooth as silk. After spending the night Angie and I, who had finally met up at the airport the previously night as her flight from Texas arrived 15 minutes after my flight.

2/17/2010: Today is Angie and my first full day in Africa. We are in Nairobi and I would find out today that… well read on.

Angie and I walked into town with her brother, who is a lawyer on contract in Nairobi and living with his family. He is a really interesting person, and he walks to work everyday. He has his little groupies along the way, people he passes every morning and night usually greeted with a big “Hello” or actually a “Habari Yako!” See my Swahili translation page for more words and terms I heard and learned.

There is the guy on the corner that sells things like Coca Cola, candy bars, and unrefrigerated milk. Hey, it is some special milk that does not require refrigeration; don’t ask me, I didn’t try it. Then there is a new casino that kept calling my name, a new Japanese restaurant called simply “Tokyo,” then there is the occasional child asking for a few shillings. Lane, Angie’s brother, usually reserved a few coins for these kids as I would too from now on. It is interesting to note, that while they asked for money, they were somewhat respectful and pleasant. A kind “no, I’m sorry” if you did not want to give them anything was all it took to shoo them away. The big smile you got when you did give them a coin or two, including a useless American quarter I gave once, was well worth the price.

Our walk was somewhat confusing to me, it took a little while to get used to crossing the streets with traffic going the opposite directions. That always takes me a while to get used to. One of us is driving on the wrong side of the road, which is all I know.

We parted ways as Lane went on to work, Angie and I visited the Chemist, or Pharmacy. Angie likes to investigate, and she also like to ask a lot of questions, where better to start our inquisition, but with the Pharmacist, or Doctor as they are referred to and documented as. We met Dr. Shah. He was a very nice man, after meeting us and me dropping 30% of my budget, he invited us to dinner which we ended up never being able to make it. In fact, that is why I leaned to say, “Mbili Kahawa,” two coffees. He bought me coffee as long as I went and got it. In America we call it, “I’ll buy if you fly.”

I was always looking for coffee. I love coffee, and my dream was to drink real, fresh brewed African coffee. So everywhere we went, and considering Angie does not drink it, nor did Lane stock anything other than instant, whenever we went out, I was looking for coffee. Fresh brewed! Another beverage I picked up on in Africa that I normally do not partake in, was Coca Cola in a bottle. It is everywhere, and I must say, never tasted so good to me as it did on this vacation. Everywhere you go, you see Coca Cola signs, logos, etc. and it is always available in glass bottles, be it in many different sizes all measured in milliliters. I drank a decent amount of Coke, and upon returning I did by a case of bottles at Costco. They taste good in America, but not like sitting in an open air market dining on who knows what in Africa, washing it down with a frothy, actually slightly less-than-room-temperature Coca Cola.

So we met Dr. Shah, and Angie quickly involves him in a conversation about health, healing and the medical industry. We tell him we are climbing Kilimanjaro, he said he and his sons just did it a couple weeks ago, and he was really excited for us. He started pulling out all this medicine he recommended, Malaria pills, energy pills, altitutde pills, nausea pills. Then he asked if we would allow him to check out blood pressure. We obliged of course, Angie went first. When he went to strap the Velcro band around my arm, he touched me and said immediately that, “You have a fever!” I thought, I don’t really feel that well, I even was doing my best to not spread germs to Angie as she is hyper-sensitive to things like this. I though maybe I was feeling something after coming off of the plane. As soon as Dr. Shah said that though, I felt light-headed and sick. He took my temperature and it was over 100 degrees, I forget what he said. Well out came a ton more medicine. When all was said and done he said something like 400,000 shilling or some crazy number. I said, “How much in American dollars?” He bounced the keys on his calculator a bit and came back with $329.00. I was thinking, “This is crazy,” but I needed it. Luckily there was a currency exchange next door. After returning from the exchange, Angie had already gotten rid of some of the medication, she was my ace-in-the-hole. It was somewhat less, I cannot remember how much now, but Dr. Shah kept saying we could return whatever we didn’t take. I skeptically believed him, but I also knew I had Angie, and she can return anything, anywhere, anytime, and always gets her way. So he did not know what he was up against when he made that statement. I felt confident we would see him again, in about 14 days!

That was enough for today, let’s head back. On our way down the street, Anna, Lane’s wife, picked us up on the road. She was worried about us. We were fine, fitting in well though I had the feeling Lane had told me aobut, common in new arrivals in Kenya. I felt like I was taken. You see, we American are so nice, we ask, “How much?” and pay whatever they say the price is. I learned quickly the ways of Africa, and upon my return paid much less for everything!!! Basically, everything is a negotiation. So I learned to start low, then begin to walk away. Then, when they come down to my unreasonable offer, I usually give them more, just not the original price.

Then there is tipping. This is one thing that drove Angie wild. I tipped everyone. In America, we tip, we are supposed to. In Kenya, I was informed that Kenyans do not tip, and it is not expected. Westerners do tip but not the standard 20% we are accustomed to. So my first few days, I over-tipped a lot of people. And as I always say, “A really big tip loses its impact and is basically a waste.” A generous tip for generous service, now that is a different thing but just giving someone way too much loses everything above the generous portion to the over-tip portion. It’s basically a waste.

Now I am not one to sit there and second guess a tip, or whatever. Do it, move on, heck your on vacation. I’ll tell you what, they remember you when they see you coming though, I always believe in that. If you know you are going to be somewhere for a while, tip at the front end, get great service and added benefits then thank them repeatedly and maybe throw a small tip at the end if they really take care of you. That is how The Riz rolls.

The other thing to remember is what I noted in my Swahili page, the Kenyan Shilling and Tanzanian Shilling are not the same. Throw a porter 5,000 Shillings in Arusha for bringing your bags to the room is only around $3.70. In Kenya, it is $7.15. that is a pretty big shift, and a mistake I made a few times. The other thing is the Shilling are kind of colorful and “cartoonish.” So I felt like I was giving away Monopoly money, but I was actually giving away “My money!” I know, I just heard you gasp, “No S__t Sherlock.” I heard that from Angie a few times too! She taught me to tip in 1,000 Shilling bills after a while. Like I said, my first few days I made some happy friends.

Back at Lane and Anna’s place, we settled in. I was pretty much heavily medicated and trying not to get anyone sick. They have three beautiful children from the ages of 18 months to 5 years old, or somewhere around there. I am not the best “kid age remembering” guy, but they are some really beautiful children, and well behaved. The middle child, a daughter had the flew as well when we arrived so she was somewhat subdued, but the youngest, Luke, took me through every nook and cranny of the gated, fenced with barbwire, courtyard of about a dozen Nairobi homes. The large, stone fences all had razor wire on top of them, which is no big deal for in Nairobi, and a full time guard to tend to the huge metal gates which had to be opened and closed upon arrivals and departures. When we visited his friend Jonathon’s home who worked for the U.S. Embassy, they had two big gates that had to be opened, and mirrors on poles for looking under the cars for I suppose, bombs!

Angie’s mom had flown with Angie to visit her son and his family. We had a nice dinner that evening and rested. The next day we spent time organizing our gear, packing what we were going to take with us and compiling what we would leave behind for them to hold onto until our return. They also took me to the Java House, a chain of Kenyan coffee shops founded by a Westerner and a local. They had some great coffee which I ended up bringing a bag back, Kenyan AA. It is really good. The beans are all different shapes and sizes, aromatic and light in color. They look different than the “Every bean looks the same and is perfect” coffee I am accustomed too here at home. I am almost out now and wishing I brought more back with me. I did bring some Tanzanian coffee back as well. It is worth mentioning that it was different in aroma and taste. I truly enjoyed them both.

As we turned in that evening, Lane had arranged our cab to get us through downtown Nairobi during the morning’s rush hour to make our Riverside Shuttle bus to Arusha. That would be an adventure in itself to say the least! It was a pleasure meeting Angie’s mom, brother and his family. Her mom is a classy lady from Dallas, Texas. The hospitality was excellent, and they are very kind and generous people. “What a blessing,” I thought.

If you want to read from their family blog in Nairobi, click here! It is quite interesting and you can learn about the wonderful work they are doing in Africa.



Riverside Shuttle to Arusha

I love when I told people and the one's that have actually gone from Kenya to Tanzania all say, "Oh, take the Riverside shuttle, it's cheap and it gets you there." Well we did, and it was my first real Africa driving experience, and I had a bad chest cold and stomach ache. After a ride from who would become our official Nairobi taxi driver, Amos, to the Parkside Hotel, where the bus departs from, we found ourselves right in the heart of downtown Nairobi. The first apparent difference between Africa and the U.S. is that I noticed the EPA is non-existent in Africa, or extremely lax. It seemed that no car had a catalytic converter, a device used to reduce the toxicity of emissions from an internal combustion engine. What ever car did do was expel huge puffs of black smoke. The fumes were visible, they were black and they seemed to just hang over the road in a constant jet stream. Seeing it made it even harder to breathe. black smoke covers the road ahead

The only good news for this portion of the journey is that the road is paved, and there are relatively no chuck holes. At this point other than my intense stomach ache, this ride was going to be a breeze. I kept looking at the passenger in the jump seat on the driver's left side, since he's on the right and we were driving on the opposite side of the road than in America. He'd turn around and talk to someone and I'd think, "Why is the driver turning around and not watching the road?" Then I'd double take and notice he was just a passenger. When we reached the outskirts of great Nairobi, the pavement ran out for the most part. There were several crossovers there we had to cross into an oncoming shared lane to bypass construction. There were also the famous, I say famous because I ended up seeing enough of them and they became infamous, "Diversions." A Diversion is when they highway commission basically takes you off of the highway and runs you on a red clay dirt road that runs along side of the main road. They are bumpy, rocky, muddy and rarely able to support the 80Km posted speed limit they tease you with. The bus literally sounds like it is going to just blow apart, rattle into pieces right there in the middle of the desert.

Bus road to Arusha turns to clay

Now the thing that hit me on this trip was the spirit of the African people. These poeple work hard, they also have a wonderful spirit. It shines as you come across them on the road, in the middle of the country side, riding bikes, walking. I noticed the smile, they seem content and I feel that they truly are "Enjoying the Ride." While rolling through the Kenyan countryside, it is common to see the semi-nomadi Maasai tribespeople hurding cattle through the countryside.

maasi tribesman with thier sticks.

The Maasai (also called Masai) are an indigenous African ethnic group of semi-nomadic people located in Kenya and northern Tanzania. Due to their distinctive customs and dress and residence near the many game parks of East Africa, they are among the most well known of African ethnic groups. They speak Maa, a member of the Nilo-Saharan language family that is related to Dinka and Nuer, and are also educated in the official languages of Kenya and Tanzania: Swahili and English. The Maasai population has been variously estimated as 377,089 from the 1989 Census or as 453,000 language speakers in Kenya in 1994 and 430,000 in Tanzania in 1993 with a total estimated as "approaching 900,000." Estimates of the respective Maasai populations in both countries are complicated by the remote locations of many villages, and their semi-nomadic nature.

Although the Tanzanian and Kenyan governments have instituted programs to encourage the Maasai to abandon their traditional semi-nomadic lifestyle, the people have continued their age-old customs. Recently, Oxfam has claimed that the lifestyle of the Maasai should be embraced as a response to climate change because of their ability to farm in deserts and scrublands.

maasai woman hauls sticks

Africa is a country of merchants, everyone is a merchant. Below is a short video of what the Kenya countryside looks like from the bus window on ride to Arusha. Kind of cool, everyone’s selling something. Don’t think Africa doesn’t have an economy, everybody’s selling, and somebody must be buying, otherwise you would have all those people set up selling things. And our bust didn’t stop, only at one gift shop with restrooms, and once when the bus in front of us got stuck in the mud, thank goodness.

Thank god this bus infront of us got stuck, we finally had an opportunity for a quick bathroom break, or a "bushes" break.

A bus gets stuck in the mud

Bus stuck in the mud

This is the road, and you see the road crew. Can you believe that this is actually a main thouroughfare?

We crossed the border and I noticed a Bob Marley bus being searched by custom's officials. For us though, it was a smooth process. We checked out through the Kenyan border office and into the Tanzanian border office. Luckily we previously secured our Visa's so the real waiting was for the bus to be released. Border officials did climb up on the roof and went through all the packages and some luggage befoe sending us on our way.

Bob Marley bus gets the third degree

I had a conversation with a Tanzanian Gemologist regarding the bus route. He said that the roads in Tanzania were much worse. I thought, "How could they possibly be?" Well he was right, they were worse. Luckily I was already familiar with the hand written sign "Diversion" and the row of tumbleweeds and sticks blocking the dormant highway construction ahead.

tanzania bus route

Well we made it. I decided not to bore you with all of the photos I took of every mountain we passed in Tanzania that broke through the clouds that I declared, "Kilimanjaro!" I was wrong everytime. In fact, I will not even get to see Mount Kilimanjaro until the second day of our expedition.

It was a tiring day and my cold was still raging in my chest. I was on my overpriced medication, but that's a whole different story. I was hoping Angie would not get sick and praying for a full recovery, BY MORNING! We checked into the semi-luxurious lodge for Africa, Impala Hotel sometime around 4pm. The bus ride was supposed to arrive at 2:00, so the old wives tale that it only takes 6 hours is a myth. It took 8 hours on the return as well.

Now that we were comfortably checked into the hotel, our phone rang. Team Kilimanjaro had assembled our climbing team and were meeting downstairs in the mezzanine as we speak. We hightailed down and joined in. This was the first time I met our chief guide, Joshua. He is running the show; he will be responsible for every aspect of out climb. He presented us all with Team Kilimanjaro t-shirts, the sleeping back I was renting and went over a map of our projected climb. Following this, I enjoyed the liberties of the hotel's internet lounge and sent out my last update before leaving for the climb at 7:30 the next morning.

Thu, February 18, 2010 2:01:25 PM: Hello my friends, a quick up date from Africa. For those of you that know I'm here, and those that don't, this is the long and short of it. Right now I am at the Impala hotel in Arusha. it is just shy of 2200 hours, I have just completed the final packing of my daypack, which is items I will need for tomorrow's hike, and my rucksack which the porters will carry. I am loaded, and thanks to my mom and sister, I have way more than I need. the darn energy bars weigh 4 pounds! Tonight, after a killer Indian meal in my hotel I met with our guide Team Kilimanjaro, along with the other 7 members of my climbing party. We went over the daily itinerary, the map, what we need to bring on us, what we need to put in the rucksack, and what we need to leave behind. Our head guide came to our rooms and went through all of our gear personally. We are set, tomorrow I will be picked up at the hotel, driven 4 hours by extreme land rover to 8k feet. We will then check into the Lemosho gate, then hike to Lemosho camp. The drive will be hairy, as I was told, and considering that today's ride from Nairobi to Arusha was 8 hours of dirt desert road, chuck holes, narrow lanes, crazy guys driving on the wrong side of the road. I felt that was harder than the climb will be. They told me those roads were kind of bad, the road tomorrow up kili is supposed to be really bad. Lucky we have an extended land rover.

Africa is awesome, the people are great. Things are cheap, and the beggars are polite so I don't mind tossing a few shillings here and there. I have Kenyan Shillings, Tanzania Shillings and good ole American green backs. Sometimes I put quarters in their cups knowing they will do them no good but the sound good clangin' around in the bottom of the empty cups, just kidding. I did that a couple times, didn't have any shillings.

Remember, you can follow live text updates of this climb by logging onto the main page of my website, www.itsinafricayouknow.com then following the link to live updates. when the Google map screen of Kili comes up, scroll the left hand menu bar all the way down and the last several links will be climbing parties on the mountain. Ours is BACLx8. We begin on the 19th at 7:300 Tanzania Time.

This climb is rather exciting. Our group is diverse and our plan is custom made for us based on all of our input. we have the potential to summit twice, along with camping in the crater and visiting the Reusch ash pits. and tonight a cave experience was added. Thank God for headlamps! Basically we will summit on day 7, then hike back down to the Arrow Glacier and camp. Then if everyone is feeling well, we will summit again the next day watching the sky’s for no clouds so better views. then we hike down into the crater, explore, camp and have a blast. 9 days on the mountain then back in this nice hotel for one night then I hate to say after a few days on a coffee plantation, I will ride that dreaded bus back to Nairobi. That ride is everything you think Africa is supposed to be. Out in the middle of nowhere are Sheppard’s in bright clothes with sticks herding cattle, sheep, goats and woman in bright colored dresses and big ole earrings hanging way down their shoulders. It's like national geographic. Cruising that road today I saw Zebras, Monkeys raising Cain, Camels, scroungy wild dogs, Straw huts, little villages, tons of school kids in impeccable uniforms. I mean these people are poor in the desert, they're clothes are clean, brightly colored and they are all smiling. Really wonderful people, our excess-living selves could learn a lot from them.

So then after about 7 plus hours bouncing around on this bus I saw Legoto. I said, "Is that Kili?" A guy said "No." It was big. Then a while later I saw an even bigger mountain, head in the clouds. I said, "Is that Kili?" The guy said "No." then we drove further, I saw this funny thing above the clouds way off in the distance. I just didn't fit whatever it was. we got closer, the sky’s were dark around it, it was raining. I has it's own eco system, it's own weather patterns. As we got closer I could make out the Glaciers. I have to tell you, this is the most awesome looking mountain eclipsing the desert like a space ship hovering over our planet. Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest free standing mountain in the world. 19,341 feet! I plan to stand on that summit twice within the next week. And wait till I start posting my video and pics. and we were told tonight they've gotten snow so we will be using crampons to traverse the final ascent which we will do in the early morning while the snow is still frozen to avoid slipping and landslides.

so, neatly said, this trip is going awesome. I am so excited it will be hard to sleep tonight, as it was last night,

As i always say, "Life is Grand!!!!"

"...enjoyin' the ride!"


Meeting Barry and Sachin for breakfast
In the morning me had breakfast with two of our climbing partners, father and son team Barry and Sachin Dalil-Clayton. Good guy, I think we all were anxious to get going!.

Stay tuned, I have a ton more notes....