Although Nairobi is undoubtedly East Africa’s prime metropolis, it offers surprisingly little of interest to the average visitor. We have a few favorite spots where we’ve taken most of our guests, such as the elephant orphanage and giraffe center, but our list of must-visit places is rather brief. It was therefore a bit of a challenge to come up with enough interesting activities to fill the three days we had in Nairobi before D’s family departed.
Posts tagged ‘car’
We had just turned into the wide, open plains of Solio when our car experienced an unexpected loss of equilibrium. We had been driving on a flat, dirt track, going approximately five kilometers per hour as our visitors tried to photograph a troupe of vervet monkeys. All of a sudden, the car lurched to the left and ground to a halt as if it had fallen into a deep ditch. When we got out to inspect the damage we found that the right front wheel had come unhinged and was sticking out at a 30-degree angle.
There are few good options for those who want to tour Kenya on a shoestring. Walking, horseback, or camelback safaris are a good alternative for exploring the bush, but to see big game up close a vehicle and driver are a must. Comfortable budget lodgings are also hard to come by. There are dozens of high-end all-inclusive safari lodges and self-catering camping is possible in some parks, but there is virtually nothing in between.
Rarely warmer than 80°F and almost never colder than 50°F, Nairobi’s climate is perfect nine or ten months out of the year. The two rainy seasons are the exceptions to the rule, as torrential downpours inundate large parts of the city. The long rains typically come in April-May so we tried to time our R&R to coincide with the rainy season and only caught the beginning of the rains this year. The short rains are harder to predict, especially with the advent of climate change. At least half a dozen different times over the course of the last several months, we’ve watched Kenyans look skyward and declare the start of the short rains, only to see the rains dissipate after a few days and give way to weeks of uninterrupted sunshine.
For S, commuting across town to work has never been stress-free. On an average day, she leaves the house before sunrise to try to beat the rush hour traffic. Nairobi residents joke that their city boasts the world’s largest parking lot. Not only is the traffic maddening, but it’s also dangerous, even when it’s barely moving. Sitting in stand-still traffic one morning, for example, S watched as a rickety truck attempted to skirt the cars in front of it by climbing the curb; its axle snapped and it fell over, crushing the car that was right next to the one S was driving.
It probably took longer than it would have in the United States, but we finally got our car fixed… sort of. A month and a half after we had deposited our broken vehicle at the repair shop, the mechanic called to say that it was ready for pick-up. And not a moment too soon – S had a friend in town and we had been planning a weekend getaway with her. We cancelled our plans to hire a car and driver, excited to have our own wheels again after driving a busted Mazda rental the better part of the last two months.
It’s now been three weeks since our automotive misadventure and life has pretty much returned to normal. It’s uncanny how events that seem momentous as they are unfolding tend to pale in their significance with the passage of time. The day after the accident had a touch of the surreal to it. Although we were up for close to 24hrs straight, we puttered about the house after finally arriving at home, too tired to actually go to sleep. When we did finally go to bed – around 4:30am – sleep descended like a leaden blanket. It was profoundly deep, but also surprisingly short.
We got up before dawn to go on an early morning game drive in the hopes of seeing the elusive leopard. Alas, we saw no more of him than the day before – a tail wagging teasingly from the foliage while several dozen LandCruisers and matatu-style tour buses jockeyed for position along both shores of the densely wooded ravine where he was ensconced. It was a little after 10am by the time we breakfasted and packed the car for our return journey to Nairobi. It took us the better part of two hours to navigate the conservancy back roads and re-cross a sliver of the Maasai Mara Reserve to arrive at the rough road that would – after 80km – lead to pavement and the highway back to Nairobi. Seven or eight kilometers before we hit pavement the car suddenly swerved. D tried to correct the skid but to no avail. We fishtailed back and forth across the sandy surface before going off the road and crashing into a ditch.
When one of D’s colleagues quipped that the most important thing he learned in training was how to fill out forms expeditiously, he was only half joking. In fact, one of the biggest drawbacks to the Foreign Service lifestyle is that by joining the diplomatic corps we have agreed to simultaneously submit our lives to the regulations of two different bureaucracies. Years of travel have conditioned us to expect incomprehensible rules, bureaucratic inefficiencies, and senseless delays from foreign governments, especially from those that consistently rank low on Transparency International’s corruption perceptions index. Encountering the same red tape from our own government, however, always feels like a letdown.
Kenyan roads are not kind to automobiles; off-roading on self-drive safaris is even less so. After a few trips on roads whose questionable surface almost made us regret leaving the city [see African massage], our car started making all sorts of odd noises. At one point, S considered calling into NPR’s Car Talk to ask for advice on why our car was whistling and tweeting like a bird. Sometimes the squeaking would go away for a day or two, but then we would drive over a bad patch of road, the underbelly of the car would rattle, and the noises would return.