Day 1: They warned me. They said Africa does that to you. I didn’t believe it and now I know better. At the end of my trip I could safely say I’d contracted Mal d’Afrique – Africa disease.
But let me start from the beginning. Only two days after I’d arrived in Ethiopia I was already on a plane again, this time to Nairobi in Kenya. It was a morning flight and we, my boyfriend and I, arrived at Kenyatta International Airport just after noon. Immigration was easy enough as we qualified for ESTAs which we sorted out online in advance and I also already had some Kenyan Shilling with me so I wasn’t forced to exchange money at airport rates. Once we went through customs we met our driver who brought us to our hotel. On the way I got a good idea of what Nairobi might be like: a busy, sprawling, chaotically colorful metropolis. Wait, was that a zebra right next to the highway?! Yes, it was. I’d barely left the airport and was already on my first safari!
Nairobi wasn’t quite as much of a culture shock as I’d thought it would be. Two days in Addis Ababa helped me very well acclimatize. Here there were skyscrapers, men in suits, expensive cars but there was still a lot of poverty as well. Children forced to beg for clean drinking water was something I just couldn't get used to. This was a city of contrasts I was soon to find out: a Mercedes here, a wandering Masai warrior there. It’s hard to put it into words but I wasn’t scared a single moment in Nairobi. I loved it here! Of course I took the necessary precautions against pick-pockets and didn’t walk around alone at night. And maybe I was just lucky. But with a bit of common sense, a firm “No” on your lips in certain situations (i.e. people asking for money & extremely persistent souvenir shop owners) and armed with Google Maps it’s almost impossible not to fall for this buzzing place!
We arrived at our accommodation, the Kenya Comfort Hotel, and immediately set out to find a supermarket. There’s nothing cooler than to explore a local food shop! Of course there are a lot of brands everywhere that are internationally known but if you step away from the candy isle you might just find the really cool, local stuff: like Matoke crisps – fried, salted green banana. Yum! I would eat them a lot during the next week.
Then there are the obvious things you need on any Africa trip: toilet paper (trust me, you WILL need it!), hand sanitizer & lots of bottled water (don’t even think about using tap water to brush your teeth). Armed with a shopping list and a re-usable bag (you might have heard that Kenya wants to make plastic bags illegal – great move!) we found a fairly big supermarket in the Nakumatt shopping mall nearby. As with most public buildings there are security check points with two lines, one for men and one for women, and everybody has their bags checked and gets a quick scan with the metal detector. We got everything we needed and with two big bags (you guessed it, they were free plastic bags into which the attendant stuffed our purchases! Tssss...) we wandered out into the heat and back to our hotel only to unpack and decide that we’d need some coffee soon. A quick search on Google and we realized that the Java coffee house was only a few blocks away. Off we went in search for some caffeine. We found the place and they even had soy milk - win! :) I had an yummy soy latte made from Kenyan coffee beans. We’d come back here several more times during our time in Nairobi as the coffee was really nice. Now wide awake we wandered around this part of town a little bit more and discovered parks, lots of little local shops and a beautiful mosque!
In the evening we finally met our Tucan Travel tour group and tour leader for our briefing. I had done group tours before with Intrepid Travel and also Tucan Travel so I had a rough idea what would be involved: you introduce yourself to the group, sign some waivers and hand over the local payment. And then you move on to the really fun stuff: discussing the itinerary, getting a pep-talk regarding non-western toilets (or no toilets at all in the bush haha) and a rundown on local customs & traditions before meeting in the hotel restaurant for your very first group dinner together. It's basically a getting-to-know-the-people-you’re-spending-the-next-two-weeks-with meal - and we had lots of fun right from the start! The food was really good even for us vegan peeps: boiled spinach, potatoes and vegetable stew with yummy chapati bread. We ate, we talked and we got to know each other a little. We were a relatively small group of only five people (one Australian, one New Zealander, two English and me, the token German - I always tend to be the only German on those tours lol) plus our tour leader who was also from NZ. It would be a cosy and comfortable two weeks with this fun bunch of seriously well-traveled people!
Over dinner we got some more information on what exactly we should pack into our over-night bags we’d take into the Masai Mara with us the next day: clothes, insect repellent, sunscreen, shower gel and -wait for it- toilet paper of course. The bare basics for two nights of assisted camping in permanent tents - at that point I had no idea what that even meant but I was soon enough to find out! Our big backpacks stayed in the hotel for the next two nights until we returned. Back in our room we frantically tried to decide what to take with us and what to leave behind. This was, after all, our very first proper safari! I had no clue what I'd need... Now I was extremely grateful for all the compression bags and stuff sacks I brought – my love for packing solutions may be called obsessive but hey, at least I'm organized! ;)
All packed and with an early alarm set I crawled under the mosquito net into our bed and with that my first day in Kenya came to end.
PS: Stay tuned for my next post: You'll meet some beautiful big cats and I'll take to you a Masai village!