A Travellerspoint blog

September 2018

Matatu back to Nairobi

Nairobi, Kenya

The next morning, we awoke to rooster, birds, and other farm animal sounds. We had one last homemade meal and said goodbye to our hosts. They walked us over to the gas station in Kasuku, where we had to catch a matatu going to Nyahururu (the wrong direction). We were told it would be faster to get one going there and then from there an express to Nairobi than waiting for one to come by in the other direction to Nairobi directly.
I'm not entirely sure how correct that information was.
On the one hand, the matatu that picked us up was a local one, with tons of stops. Every few seconds, the drive honked at one of the many people on the side of the road to see if they would nod yes or no. If they nodded yes, the door guy opened the door and packed people in, then banged when we were ready to go. That didn't necessarily mean the person was seated, just that they were in the van enough to not fall out the open door. Then, as people needed to be let out, he banged elsewhere on the van, and the driver pulled over to let the people out. In the course of a very short (few minutes) drive, we picked up or dropped over over a dozen people. In some cases, we had a seat for the individuals. In some cases, the door guy would pack more people in that we really had seats for, or would sort of hang out the door in order to make room for some additional individuals. He also took the money. We paid 70 cents each, which seems more than reasonable for a 10-minute or so drive.
When we arrived in Nyahururu, we bought our return tickets to Nairobi ($5 each) and waited until the van filled up. The guy told us it would likely be an hour, so we checked out the town a bit before settling into the van to wait.
This town has a small grocery store with shelves full of packaged goods. We stocked up on snacks and drinks for the ride.
I'm a bit embarrassed to say it, but I packed a pair of toe socks with two of the same socks, and so I was short a pair. From previous experience, I made the assumption that once we sat in the van, vendors would pop by selling all sorts of goods. I planned on buying my socks from one of these people. And sure enough, some guy popped his head into the van and showed off his box of goods. He had enough socks that I even got to choose the color. And paying 70 cents for a pair of socks is certainly cheaper than having them done by the laundry at one of the hotels we stayed at. Probably, I could have negotiated for a better price, but I figure that I was happy to pay up to a dollar, and the guy certainly needs whatever I could have negotiated off more than I do. I'm happy to support local entrepreneurs.
eggs and sausages

eggs and sausages


Other vendors stopped by the van, like a guy with a cart full of eggs and sausages, or another guy with sodas and candy. I'm actually quite impressed with the convenience. Amazon could learn a thing or two. You just show up at the bus stop, and all of the shopping comes to you.

Eventually, the van filled up and we were on our way. The drive was much faster than the drive to Nyahururu because we on'y stopped to let people off, not on, and it was at least an hour before the first person got off. Plus, only a few people wanted to get off before Nairobi.

The return trip scenery was much the same as the scenery on the way up- lots of farmland, people on the side of the road, and cattle. Tons of churches marked every living space as well.
herd

herd


guy walking on the side of the road

guy walking on the side of the road


I did notice a few signs that I hadn't noticed on the way up.
First, I saw that we were crossing the equator.
Second, I saw a sign that one of the big scenic viewing areas I had noticed on the way up was part of the Great Rift Valley.
great rift valley view

great rift valley view


Also, I paid more attention to some of the roadside vendors. Most sold produce, but there was one person who seemed to be selling live poultry. Again, what amazing convenience it is to not even have to enter a store, and be able to pick up live chickens on your way home.
At one point, the driver stopped on the side of the road and went to check on something in the back of the vehicle. In that brief minute, a fishmonger popped her head into the window and offered to conveniently sell us fish. My nose is glad that nobody took her up on the offer, but I'm still impressed with her opportunism.
fish lady

fish lady


As we neared Nairobi, the land turned more and more suburban and industrial.
I was amused that in one area of road construction (presumably financed by China), reminders to drive safely (from a Chinese company) were painted on the construction road barriers.
I also noted the large quantity of shuk-like markets consisting of rundown wooden stands that surrounded the city. Once you're actually downtown, the buildings are modern and you forget that these shanty-style structures are so close.
The shuttle let us off relatively close to the Central Business District.
We grabbed lunch at some dive we passed on the way to the CBD. The food was very local (I had beans, cabbage, and fresh chapati), but like most of the food, wasn't particularly flavorful.
When we got to the CBD, we just wandered around for a bit. We saw some of the important government buildings.
CBD

CBD


We happened upon a market where locals sold crafts. But there weren't a ton of customers in the market- neither tourists nor locals seemed to be interested in it.
nairobi market

nairobi market

nairobi market

nairobi market


Eventually, we made our way to KFC to pick up (cheap) dinner before heading back to the hotel. Here, we were finally able to get some food with some spice. I got a paneer burger, which is not something I've seen before, and it had plenty of flavor.
With our bag of dinner in hand, we went back towards the bus area to get the bus to the airport (#34). It operates like a matatu- only leaving when full. But I don't mean 1 person in every seat full, I mean 1+ person per seat, plus most of the standing room taken.
This is a 3-person job. First, there's the driver. Second, there's the lady who takes money and gives tickets, and has to remember who she didn't have correct change for so that she can catch them up later when people pay her in coins. Third, there's the shouter guy. While we were stopped at the collection point, an old guy kept yelling at passers by to tell them where the bus was going. Once we took off, a younger guy did that.
Similarly to the matatu we rode earlier, he hung out the side of the bus, banging on it to let the driver know what to do. Every time somebody got off the bus, he would make the driver wait until we collected a few more people before allowing movement of a few yards, where he would try again to pack people into the bus.
At one stop, a lady approached the bus like she was going to get on, but saw how packed it was, and decided that she was going to wait for the next one.
At one point, relatively close to the airport, after dozens of people had gotten on and off the bus, we let a bunch of people off and had a spare seat. We were at some sort of very non-busy corner, and almost at the end of the line. It seemed to me that the chances of us picking up anybody else were very small, especially considering I could hear another bus right behind us with a driver that was shouting for customers to the same place. I was so sure we'd just move on. But we didn't. I think the driver of the other bus may have even come and slapped our bus to tell our driver to move, but I'm not totally sure with all of the bus slapping that was going on who was actually doing it. In any case, we did wait several minutes before somebody finally took the seat and we moved on.
Like the other day, we all had to get off the bus to enter the airport area. But really, security is a joke. Half the people set off the metal detectors, and the security guys just waved us all through without checking anything.
Today, since we know where we're going, we were able to get the matatu to drop us near the hotel, and we didn't have to go to the airport first, saving a few bucks.
We had a similar room as before, but no upgrade to free food this time.
We spent a relatively calm and uneventful last night in Nairobi, before heading to the airport.
For breakfast, we again went to Pauls Caffe, but this time I did get the Korean food- bibimbap. While not as spicy as in Korea, and only made with cooked veggies and not fresh, it was surprisingly good.
We had an excess of time before the flight, which I spent mostly processing.
This trip has been pretty amazing at points, pretty hard at points, and pretty educational at points. It has certainly had its ups and downs.
I have to say that the safari definitely made the trip. For me, meeting people I have been working with was also a highlight, even if it wasn't the most action-packed few days of the trip. And as I look back on my Kilimanjaro experience, still coughing from my cold, I have to say that I'm glad I did it. I'm a bit upset that I didn't make it further, but still proud that, even while sick, I was able to get to the last camp and walk out on my own two feet. I don't think I could be convinced to try it again (at least not while I remember this trip), but I don't think I;d discourage anybody who wants to try it from going.

Posted by spsadventures 09:38 Archived in Kenya Comments (0)

Kasuku Saturday

Kasuku, Kenya

We slept well and awoke in the morning with no idea of what our plans were for today. Other than meeting some of the community and maybe getting to hike to Thompson's waterfall, we didn't know what the options even were.
After breakfast, we were invited to services, which we reached by bodaboda again. Services were pretty standard, and we were invited back to a nearby home for lunch afterwards.
5ff6f300-c272-11e8-941a-31c601828110.JPG
Personally, I was pleased to meet members of this community and see how they live and operate. I've been working with some of the leaders for several years now, and it warms my heart to see the advancement this community has been able to make. They went from a tent to a concrete structure that has an addition underway. At the home of one of the members, I noticed an overhead light. I remember them not having lights years ago and only being able to see the faces I skyped with by the reflected light of the computer screen.
social hall in progress

social hall in progress


That being said, the home was still plenty rural and rustic. The yard contained chickens, goats, a cow, a dog, corn, and potatoes. The home was made of wood, with plastic flooring covering the walls, which were decorated with old calendars and other drawings. Flies abounded.
cow

cow


When we were done with lunch, we decided to walk back to the guest house in order to stretch our legs and get a good view of the nearby area. It's pretty much all small farmland plots.
walking path

walking path


funky bird

funky bird


cow field

cow field


One had some party tents that had been erected in it. Crowds mulled about. Several individuals played music or sang. Apparently, this is a funeral.
One interesting item that I happened to notice is that a lot of the signs on the side of the roads have large xs through them. When I asked one of our hosts, he said that a lot of people put up illegal signs. They get crossed out to say they're not supposed to be there. But, you can see exactly what the sign says right through the light cross-out, so it doesn't seem very effective to me.
crossed out signs

crossed out signs


I also noticed that every school seemed to have its own motto. They generally said the same thing more or less, but each one found some way to present the motto differently.
school motto

school motto


When we reached the town, we wandered through it a bit. There's not much to it, but there are a few streets of shops and homes. We saw lots of small produce stands that all seemed to sell the same fruits and veggies. I wonder how it's not worth somebody's while to consolidate instead of having such small stands competing with one another. We ended up buying the cheapest pineapple I ever bought- $1 for the whole thing, and it wasn't tiny. We also got a thorn melon for 20 cents and a bottle of fanta for 30 cents. The prices here are certainly good.
kasuku

kasuku


fun named shop

fun named shop


Everywhere seems to sell TopUps for cell phones, or at least has signs for it, even small beaten-down shops.
top up

top up


The town had one restaurant, but we didn't see a bakery or any sort of roadside fast food. It had several butcheries, often combined with a hotel.
After wandering a while, we headed back to the guest house to relax, and finally met our host. He had been delayed with work, but made it back in time for us to chat a bit before a late dinner.

Posted by spsadventures 09:09 Archived in Kenya Comments (0)

Road to Kasuku

Kasuku, Kenya

Today is another bus day.
First though, we had to take a cab to the bus station area, because we didn't really know how else to get there.
The drive started out normal, but then we hit some traffic. The traffic was so stopped up that vendors walked through the stopped cars, trying to sell items through the windows. They sold everything from bananas and candy to belts and car parts. One was handing out some sort of free newspaper. The driver took it and read a bit. The car was technically in park, so we weren't going anywhere. Still, it was a bit unusual for a professional to just pick up a newspaper while driving.
driver reading paper 20180921_084515

driver reading paper 20180921_084515


Eventually, traffic started to flow again.
We passed through the central business district of Nairobi and saw fancy stores, fast food, and even some of the government buildings.
We ended up in an area where both sides of the streets were lined with passenger vans. The car was going very slowly in order to not hit anything on its way through. Many of the vans had religious or inspirational names or quotes painted on the side. Some had pictures of celebrities or other people. Each one was unique.
decorated van

decorated van


We exited the taxi near the Nulceur Shuttle area. (Yes, that's how they spell it. It's written like that on hundreds of vehicles.) This is one of many companies that run the shuttles, but this is the one we were told to use.
We requested a van going to Nyahururu, that would stop in Kasuku on the way. The ticket guy sold us our tickets ($5 each for a ~4 hour bus ride), and directed us to a van. We asked if we had a few minutes for breakfast or whether we were leaving now. He said we were leaving soon, so we rushed to buy something quickly and get back in the van.
But we needn't have rushed. They work like monit sheirut in Israel- they just sit there until they're full, and only then do they leave for their destination. As the bus filled, again, several vendors popped by offering drinks, kids toys, and handkerchiefs. I actually did buy a bag of spicy chips from one for ~20 cents.
Eventually, we were on our way to Kasuku.
We started in the city, but were soon passing lots of farmland and suburbs. This scenery is much greener than the Tanzanian scenery. The corn here is still growing, not all golden and dried. And the animals on the side of the road have much more grass to munch on.
sheep 20180921_113028

sheep 20180921_113028


Outside of Nairobi, each little town had a cluster of cement buildings that we brightly painted. Many of them were bright green and advertised Safaricom (cell phone/mobile money). Others advertised milk, betting, or soap. In each case, the whole building acted like a billboard.
Most of the shops seemed to sell food, clothing, or other normal basic necessities, but I also saw quite a lot of Agrovets. I guess with the amount of livestock, vets play a pretty fundamental role in everyday life.
agrovet and safaricom

agrovet and safaricom


We were dropped in Kasuku and taken to the guesthouse by bodaboda. It's basically a small motor scooter that acts as a taxi in this area.
The guest house is actually nicer than I expected- it has electricity, hot water, a normal flush toilet, a fridge, and is filled with furniture. It was quite clean. It lacked a kitchen, but that's ok as our hostess cooked us some lunch and will be providing our other meals.
While we waited for our host to get off work, his brother took us out to the nearby hippo lake. Again, we took bodabodas as our form of transportation.
However, this wasn't a 2 second ride. This was a good 10 minutes. While they don't really go fast, and the road is dirt, so even if you fall off, it's probably not going to hurt too much, I still didn't particularly want to test that theory. The road is super-bumpy so I couldn't really just sit on the bike. It required effort and some amount of muscles to stay on as it bumped along the road. It's such a bumpy ride that my phone fell out of my pocket and onto the road. Fortunately, the next bodaboda driver saw and I recovered it. It's broken, but all my pictures are safe on the memory card.
We arrived at the hippo lake, which extended as far as I could see left and right, so it seemed more like a river than a lake. The other side was far enough away that the homes there seemed very small. A ferry boat waited for us in case we wanted to cross to see the other side.
hippo lakeDSCF2696

hippo lakeDSCF2696


We didn't.
But we did want to see these hippos. Unfortunately, our luck with nature seemed to have run out. The hippos were not in a spot that we could see, even as we walked up the river a bit. We did see some cool birds though.
boda bodaDSCF2700

boda bodaDSCF2700


After our foray to the lake, we returned (by bodaboda) to the guest house for Friday night dinner.
First though, it rained a bunch. The rain was heavy, and I was glad we made it back in time to be indoors. Given that it's dry season in Tanzania, I was surprised. But here, it isn't really dry season and it still rains. I guess that's why it's so much greener here than Tanzania.
A bunch of kids were home from school for the holidays, so they joined us in the guest house living room for dinner. It was quite interesting that they all clearly felt so at home in the guest house. They would pop drinks into and out of the fridge. They would just come in and sit with us, watching. They didn't speak too much English, but I was able to at least get that one really liked math.
I was amused by the whole thing and was having as much fun watching them as they were watching us. My partner needed a little bit more space though, I think. I felt bad when we were ready for bed because we sort of had to kick them out in order to close and lock the door. But I didn't feel too bad, as I was sure they'd be back the next day.
487914e0-c1bb-11e8-b1e7-ef2b9ef91f50.JPG

Posted by spsadventures 11:37 Archived in Kenya Comments (0)

Bus to Nairobi

Nairobi, Kenya

We had booked the Riverside Shuttle from Arusha to Nairobi. We were supposed to meet the representative in the hotel lobby at 7:30, but he was actually early. So as soon as we checked out, he moved us to the bus stop to wait for the other passengers.
As we waited, lots of vendors tried to sell us some last-minute beaded jewelry, belts, and other items.
The bus filled up and took off.
The scenery was pretty much what we had already seen for a few days.
We arrived at the border station, and everybody had to get off the bus with all of their luggage to cross the border.
It was quite easy to exit Tanzania and enter Kenya. They did check our yellow cards and e-visas, but it was all in a reasonable amount of time.
On the way out, I noticed a board for money exchange. The rate for dollars depended on the bill type- as much as an at 18% difference in price for changing 50s vs ones. Bring big bills for the best rates, I guess.
money board

money board


We didn't have much Tanzanian money left, but since there was no commission, we traded it for some Kenyan money to have some pocket change. As we got back on the bus, more vendors tried to sell us souvenirs, and I'm sure they would have taken whatever money we had. One guy started haggling over a necklace, but it never got anywhere, so the seller couldn't have been that desperate.lady selling thru window

lady selling thru window


We continued on, but the scenery was a bit greener.
We still passed villages with brightly painted buildings, but as we neared Nairobi, the scenery became more industrial and suburban. Lots of businesses had signs that were professionally done.
near nairobi

near nairobi


At the entrance to the airport area, we all had to get off the bus again and go through metal detectors. We didn't have to remove our luggage from the bus, but somebody checked the bus itself.
The bus dropped us at the airport, which was ideal. We were able to get a safaricom sim with a bit of data and unlimited whatsapp for $3. We were able to use the ATMs to get cash. And we were able to save on lunch by eating at Paul's Caffe at the airport instead of paying crazy hotel prices. The food at Paul's was better than most of the food we'd had up until now (except the Indian) because they use spices and sauces. The menu was eclectic, and while I wasn't in the mood for pizza, Japanese, or African food today, maybe when we're back I'll explore the menu a little more.
It's a short ride to the Four Points airport hotel. We're staying here because it's free (yay points I got from work trips). But it's really a good place to stay. They upgraded our room to a suite (with some free food), so we have a ton of space. I've lived in apartments smaller than this hotel room.

Posted by spsadventures 11:22 Archived in Kenya Comments (0)

A vacation from the vacation

Arusha, Tanzania

I awoke barely in time for the end of the breakfast buffet and went back to sleep. The windows were open, so I was vaguely aware of the turkeys calling about the yard and a hiking group taking off on their adventure. Mostly, I was just passed out.
Some time around 1, I was coherent enough to get our stuff organized, return the borrowed gear, and get ready to move. I was still coughing. Since we had pretty much planned to spend a day in bed recovering, we decided to move back to the Four Points, which has comfier mattresses. On the way, the driver kindly stopped at a grocery store for us to stock up on supplies.
We got lots of soup, as well as some other items that could be made in a teapot. The prices were not cheap, but we were not going to put in the effort required for going out for food.
We got to the Four Points, checked in, and collapsed back into bed.
I spent something like 24 hours in bed, except to make soup in the teapot, shower, put lotion on my overblown nose, and use the restroom.
My cough is better, but still present. Also, I'm pretty sure I have bursitis in my heel, making walking less than comfortable.
On our last day in Arusha, we decided that we did want to see a tiny bit more of the town and get some food that wasn't soup. At around 5, we finally worked up the energy to venture out.
We headed in the direction of the central market. On the way, we passed some sort of rally. Boys tried handing us flyers, but we don't read Swahili. We made our way through the crowd to the center of the hubub. Apparently, the rally was run by an Islamic group and was in support of some martyr with Hussein somewhere in his name. The ralliers had black flags with Arabic writing on them and many were also in black t-shirts. I'm unclear as to whether they were rallying for somebody who died recently or were celebrating somebody from Koranic times. In any case, it was a peaceful rally that meandered towards the mosque. In the mosque parking lot, the leaders led chants and the ralliers repeated.
rally

rally


We moved on.
The central market is nothing like the Masai market in that is not at all for tourists. Vegetable stands lined the entrance areas. Other stands sold any kind of fly-ridden meat or fish you could want. Actually, you could also buy live poultry, which probably had fewer flies on it that the buckets of fish heads. Some stands also sold home goods like ropes, mosquito nets, and cloth.
chickens in market

chickens in market


We wandered through a few aisles and then back out. Lots of sellers wanted us to step into their shops, bu we weren't here to buy, just observe.
I was surprised by the lack of ready-food vendors near the market. Usually, there are at least a few vendors out with their grills at places like this, but not really here. The surrounding businesses were also shops and not restaurants. It took us a bit to find it, but we stopped at Hot Plate, a well-recommended Indian restaurant, for dinner. It's small, but the food is really tasty.
arusha market

arusha market

Posted by spsadventures 05:50 Archived in Tanzania Comments (0)

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