97 – When you’re happy and you know it clap your hands

3rd Mar, Nice hotel, Dubai, UAE
In the morning, i packed and took the airport transfer that Milimani Backpackers arranged for me (1200 KSH). It’s around 12km to the airport, and i had my own car and driver dropping me there. Paid my tab (my internet tab was free since i fixed their router, haha).

Jomo Kenyatta International Airport is a pretty nice place. I checked in, got stopped at the security baggage check when they asked me to open up and declare my bangles. I was still wondering why they were so particular about my souvenir bangles when i heard ‘ivory’. The Chinese tourist ahead of me had his suitcase full of plastic bags of food. He had bags of biscuits which the security guy asked him to open. Inside, wrapped in foil, are chunks of ivory. Wow, what a way to smuggle through the airport customs.

Inside the waiting area after i checked in now. I was trying to prevent the need from changing any more kenyan shillings, so i was keeping to a budget over the last couple days. So now i was pretty famished after eating my spaghetti. On the plane, i ordered Beef Salami Combo (22 AED). The flight was 4 hours and UAE is one hour ahead of Kenya. AirArabia is a ‘no-frills’ airline that now flies to 30 countries. I think they are pretty impressive in being able to cover so many places since they started out in 2003. As of now, they cover the GCC, India, bits of Africa, a substantial number of European cities and even central Asia. They are based in Sharjah, and Casablanca (for their European destinations). And heading into the UAE from Singapore is pretty straightforward. There are many transport  links within the UAE for transfers between Sharjah, Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

I reached Sharjah airport at around 8pm local time. I’m probably very lucky. There is a bus new service that just started yesterday (Route 111, 2nd March) from Sharjah Airport to Al Rashidiya Metro Station. It passes by Al Quasis Sonapur station. The fixed price for all journeys? 10 AED. And it is oh so convenient. 50m from where you exit the Arrival area. http://www.khaleejtimes.com/darticlen.asp?xfile=data/theuae/2010/March/theuae_March4.xml&section=theuae

At the Rashidiya metro, i gave a call to a friend Fabian who offered to put me up at his place. (Fabe if you’re reading this, thanks buddy!) This meant saving a bomb on Dubai hotels. He picked me up from the station, and it was basically smooth sailing from there. We went out for dinner at an Indian restaurant, beef pepper masala, yum. It was a completely different scenario from the last couple weeks. Nice hotel, airconditioning, facilities, no mosquitoes and a very relaxed atmosphere.

Here’s a shot of my towel after 3.5 months, and the hotel towel. Both are clean, and whitish.

96 – Bits of travel wisdom

2nd Mar, Milimani backpackers & Safari lodge, Nairobi, Kenya
Early morning i was up having breakfast.. I stayed in the whole of today. After three trips in Nairobi, i had no desire to walk around the city again. There were of course other activities, like a jaunt to the upmarket neighbourhood of Westlands, or even a safari that can be done in half a day in Nairobi National Park nearby. But i was frankly too bushed and in my mind i’m down one gear already. So i was content to stay here. Instead i wrote down thoughts about the last 3.5 months over the day.

1)Self-catering: Too much milk gives you the runs, even though you may not be lactose intolerant
2)6am in eastern East Africa is bright, but 6am in western East Africa is still dark. Don’t walk around town alone at this time.
3)No matter how much i deny it, everyone concludes i’m from China. So yes, i’m actually Jackie Chan, in disguise.
4)Don’t use the flash when you take pictures of a lioness sitting 2 metres away.
5)Cattle trucks are best left for transporting cattle.
6)Tuck in your shirt when you bungee jump
7)When complete strangers walk toward you, get out of their path. Or you might get a bloody nose.
8)No matter how full a bus / boat seems, there is always room for one more
9)When you tell someone ‘No’ when they ask for money, be prepared to reason why.
10)Everything changes, unless its a ‘samosa’. These triangular meat-filled triangular tasties are the only constants from country to country.
11)Bodha-bodhas, piki-pikis, dala-dalas, so good you have to name them twice.
12)Injeera, one man’s bane.
13)Ethiopian buses help you master the zen art of sleeping on your forearm while sitting at the edge of your seat.
14)Never climb mountains with no rations, and equipped with only 10 hardboiled eggs.
15)Lonely Planet’s inaccuracies make you want to cry sometimes.
16)If you want to be a millionaire, or at least look like one, go become a Somaliland money-changer.
17)A better way to get rich quick is to buy a toilet roll and stand outside a public toilet in Egypt’s tourist sites. At 1 pound per entry, and 10 busloads of 40 pee-filled tourists as your customers, you are set.
18)Don’t mess with tribespeople with sharp teeth, and sharper daggers. Politely refuse when they ask if they can beat you up.
19)Half the world calls it chai, and the other half calls it tea. Someone needs to do a poll and settle on one name. And one teacup size. Preferably a big mug. With milk and sugar.
20)The following anti-mosquito techniques should be used as a step-by-step guide in conjunction with your room stay. (a) spray the closed room with insecticide to excite mozzies. (b) burn a mozzie coil, go for dinner. (c) come back and go on a mozzie killing spree in the room. (d) put on repellent (e) hide inside a mozzie net.

Other random thoughts. I weighed myself, still 69kg =) Peeling skin badly from the beach excursion. Also, by the end of the day, i was something of a hero, having got the wireless router working again. Tomorrow it’s back home.

95 – Backpacker’s lodge

1st Mar, Milimani backpackers & Safari lodge, Nairobi, Kenya
In the morning, i decided i would stay somewhere else besides the New Kenya Lodge, where i had been staying the last 3 times i was in Nairobi. Milimani backpackers was located just outside of town (300 KSH  by cab from the city centre). It was like the Red Chilli back in Kampala, a backpackers enclave that was more well equipped and mod than New Kenya. Where New Kenya had just basic rooms, Milimani backpackers (600 KSH per night) had a bar, its own restaurant, and internet cafe and besides dorms, also had self contained rooms, safari tents and camping grounds for those overlanders.

The crowd were mainly westerners, no doubt here after reading LP’s entries. There were independent backpackers, some in between safaris as well as the regular long term occupants. It was a slightly different atmosphere than New Kenyan, with its regular clientele of Asians, Japanese and Koreans whose guidebooks direct them there. Me im comfortable in either surroundings.

Due to its relatively obscure located outside the city, its was safe. A little expensive too, since unless you walk down to the city centre to self-cater, getting food means buying off the restaurant menu, which is more pricey than eating in town. Still, it was convenient, and the food i had for dinner was pretty good (350 KSH for a chapati, chicken curry and vege). To get into town, its bus number 46 outside around 100-200m down the road, and coming back its 46 taken from the bus stop outside the Hilton.

The rest of the day was spent lounging around in the seating room, and me trying to fix the broken wireless connection without succeeding. Watched dvds (ingluorious basterds) at night. I’ve one more night here, and i’ll see if i just want to laze, or i can be bothered to go into town.

85 – Saying Hi to Mount Kilimajaro

Fri 19th Feb, Kibodya Hotel, Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania

And so the story goes, at 2am on this Fri morning, a sleepy traveler boarded the bus bound for Dar Es Salaam. He read that the journey takes 12 to 14 hours, therefore reaching Dar at 4pm or so, perfect in that there is enough of daylight left to hunt for suitable lodging and get oriented with the city. (2am)

The road from Nairobi to the border was bumpy, but since it was dark, the traveler could not make out the terrain outside. Instead, he did his best to make himself comfortable and get some much needed sleep. This was next to impossible since he was jolted awake each time the bus passed over a particularly high hump. So it was with much good fortune, he thought, when the bus stopped suddenly. He could finally get his desired rest. (4am)

It was light when he woke up. The bus was stationary, and there was a commotion outside. The traveler peered from bhind his window curtain and saw to his surprise, numerous trucks and buses on the road in front of and behind his bus. All were not moving. He was to later discover that the road was blocked. Continuous rains over the past few days meant that the sandy road was now mud, and a huge container lorry had sunked in and blocked the entire path. Other smaller lorries had tried to navigate around and similarly got themselves into trouble. No one was going anywhere. (7am)

The traveler thought to himself “Let them sort it out” and proceeded to read his book back on the bus. He had spent enough of his traveling life on long distance buses and nothing fazed him anymore. Eventually a giant JCB tractor came along and pulled the lorry out of the way. Getting the tractor to the scene was an effort in itself. Cars and buses and lorries had to make way for the tractor. It was like playing those block puzzles where you had to shift the blocks around limited space to form a picture. (9am)

The bus chugged along the bumpy road (why such a well-trodden route was not tarmacked the traveler could not understand) to the border.  The immigrations officers started to ask the traveler questions about his constant ping-ponging between countries, but let him through all the same. (10am).
It was bad road all the way after that, but the scenery was spectacular. Like the traveler mentioned elsewhere before, Tanzania has the best clouds. And along the way, the bus route took the traveler to Arusha, skirting the regal Mount Meru in the process. And beyond that, to the town of Moshi, where the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain, loomed in the background, its summit hidden completely by clouds. The traveler was contented to see this spectacular mountain up close (a lack of time and budget prevented him from attempting to summit the peak). (3pm)

The bus company, Kampala Coach, included a meal with it’s ticket price. The traveler stopped for dinner at 6pm, by which time he was utterly famished. He suspected that the dinner was actually lunch, but we only arrived in the evening. It was more travelling by night, and the traveler kept himself occupied with his copy of Newsweek. (7pm)

On reaching Dar Es Salaam, the passengers were dropped off at Ubungo bus terminal, an inconvenient 8km from the city centre. It was 12am. Not wanting to travel anywhere on foot by dark after previous unsavoury experience, the traveler engaged the assistance of a Kampala Coach mechanic to hail a cab. The price was exorbitant, he bargained it down from 150000 to 10000 TSH, and instructed the driver to Kibodya Hotel. (12am)

Accomodation is always more expensive here in Tanzania, he thought to himself as he forked over the 24000 TSH for the nicer rooms, since the basic rooms were full. He had a tv and airconditioning, both unnecessary since his laptop and the fully blasted ceiling fan are able substitutes. He would change to the cheaper 16500 TSH rooms when they are available tomorrow. (2am)

Photos below are from previous day

84 – The Masai, and More Safaris

Thu 18th Feb, New Kenya Lodge, Nairobi, Kenya

We went out in search of more game in the morning, promptly spotting a couple of cheetahs (mother and kid) frolicking on the long grass. It was a toss us between the leopard and the cheetahs but i think the cheetahs win, that was the highlight for me.

On the whole, it was a very good safari experience, having been grouped with a pleasant bunch of people, as well as a great guide and cook.

On the way back, we stopped at the Masai village (1000 KSH if you opt to go). Here’s where you get a villager to show you around the village, and the Masai way of life. It’s very much catered to the tourist, but you do get to see them in their colourful red garb, dances by the men and then women (where you can join in) and see them demonstrate how they make a fire. You get to visit a Masai home, and of course go to the trinkets and handicraft back area where you can buy souvenirs. Other stuff include being introduced to various plants like the sandpaper leaf which as per its name is rough and used for smoothening surfaces, a mosquito replling leaf, and a leaf tha gives the red pigment used in Masai clothing.

Back in Nairobi, got my Kampala Coach tickets to Dar Es Salaam (leaving around 2am, the bus comes from Uganda and continues to Dar, 2900 KSH, includes one meal). I stayed half the night at New Kenyan (asked and got half price 300 KSH for half night).

81 – Fast food & photos

Mon 15th Feb, New Kenya Lodge, Nairobi, Kenya

For want of a catchy title, ive decided to go with Fast Food & Photos, which was as exciting as the day got. Started the day in the internet cafe (you can get cheap ones at 30 KSH per hour, but the speed deteriorates as more people use up the bandwitdth, so it makes sense to go early when there’s no one). Next up was lunch, which was another quarter chicken and chips combo (150 KSH). The “Fast Food” chip shops are in abundance around town. This i must admit is a very unhealthy option for lunch, but it is one of the cheapest and most convenient you can get besides self catering. And the locals are evidence that this diet isn’t actually the healthiest around.

Next, i set out to find a cheap camera. A second hand camera without the cables and battery was around 150000 TSH, last i checked in Mwanza, Tanzania. And here, the New Kenya staff recommended Ebrahim Centre to get a cheap camera. I headed towards the electronics shop, and after some deliberation, got myself a Sony Cybershot older model 10.2 mega pixel camera for 8350 KSH, plus a 1 GB memory card for another 1500 KSH. Pretty basic functions, but that is all i need for now.

I booked myself on the New Kenyan Lodge run safari, which sets off tomorrow for Masai Mara National Park. This was a 3 day trip (300 USD). According to the staff doing the hardsell, the travel was by one of those open top vans, and accomodation was in their own safari lodges at or near the park, which looked pretty decent in the photos. There were 5 others setting off as well, with pickups at the other hotels, apparently. With my new camera, i could at least get some shots of animals. =)

The rest of the evening was spent chatting with various travel people in the place, Peter from Switzerland who gave me helpful Dubai metro travel maps, a Polish guy who’s name i can’t recall now, Charlie the S.Korean plus the many Japanese guys. On a side, i probably got to watch my budget a bit; it is spiralling out of control with the safari and camera purchase.

80 – Time out in Nairobi

Sun 14th Feb, New Kenya Lodge, Nairobi, Kenya

At around 7am, i made my way to the New Kenya Lodge. This was home, i’ve been here when i was in Kenya, and the familiarity meant i could drop my guard and just relax. Today i would spend time just relaxing, i wanted to get a cheap replacement camera, but it was a Sunday and many of the shops in the city were closed.

Instead, i surfed the net for safari options, stocked up on LOTs of stuff (noodles, drinking chocolate, bread, shampoo). I also see many of the familiar faces still here. The Jap duo just came in this morning, after a week and a half in Mombasa, Malindi and Lamu. Justin and his dog were still here, they were supposed to leave in the morning to Dar Es Salaam, but he ran into problems with the coach company, got into an argument when they didn’t allow the dog (after reassuring him when he bought the ticket it would not be a problem). Instead he would leave tomorrow morning on a matatu to Arusha, halfway to Dar. The French guy with funky hair who works with some Agricultural firm was still here, and horny Pakistani old man was still around as well. Plus all the regular staff here, and i was comfortable.

Still contemplating whether to bother with a safari trip or just take it slow along the coast. I’ll stay another day and see what develops.

79 – Mwanza to Nairobi: Aftermath

Sat 13th Feb, On a bus to Nairobi

From Kahama to Mwanza. I took the TML bus, a four hour trip to Mwanza. I was asleep 80% of the time, but the time i was awake, we passed through town after town. Africans i realise can really balance anything, and i mean anything on their heads. The street vendors come up when the bus stop in town, carrying atop their heads anything from bananas, peanuts, fish and other assortment of stuff. Elsewhere i’ve also seen on their heads firewood, cloth, even a pickaxe!

Reached Mwanza at about 10am. After the events of yesterday i was a bit cautious. Slapped the hand of a pickpocket who halfway unzipped my pouch when i got off the dalla-dalla, i walked around the town centre looking for onward bus travel companies. It wasn’t such a big town, so i decided i might as well get to Nairobi, where all the amenities are there and i can relax. I couldn’t find the Scandanavian Express ticket office so i went for Akamba Coach. The bus leaves at 1pm (30000 TSH, 13 hrs) so i had a couple of hours to walk around and grab some lunch. There is a high concentration of Indians in this town, migrants who have set up businesses here.

From Mwanza to Nairobi. Again, more bus journeys, but this time the route took me pass the western edge of the Serengiti, so i was treated to a free mini safari. The scenery was spectacular as always, and i must declared that Tanzania has the best clouds i’ve ever seen. Oodles of fluffy clouds sitting on top of each other. As for animals, there were baboons, zebras and various birdlife.

At the border crossing, the Kenyan border official asked how long i’d be staying, he must be curious as to why this tourist is criss-crossing so many countries in such a short span of time. I had a lot of Tanzanian shillings on me, but the exchange rate at the border wasn’t good. One money changer guy tried to use sleigh-of-hand to swipe 10000 TSH from me, i just got pissed off by all these conmen, thieves and general jackasses, i shouted at them and stomped off. I’m trying hard not to be pissed at the general east african population, telling myself the actions of a few should not determine how i react to everyone, but it’s really taking some effort at the moment.
There was one guy from Burundi, now an Australian citizen, after he fled there as a refugee and gained citizenship after 3 years. He came back to visit family and his sister in Tanzania, and was on the way back home via Nairobi. Nice guy, and i didn’t have the heart to tell him “Hey you, i got robbed by your countrymen yesterday!” Like i read somewhere, no one is interested to listen to your sob stories. “Half the people in the world don’t care about your problems, and the other half are probably glad you have them.”

I reached Nairobi at 4am, together with Acchi, a Jap guy who was on the bus with me, we decided to stay at the bus office till daylight. The hotel was less than 200m away, but there was no way i was going to walk there in the dark this time.

69 – City slickers

Wed 3rd Feb, New Kenya Lodge, Nairobi, Kenya
Spent the day first with breakfast with the two german girls, then i went off for a spot of internet. Wandered around the city, much to say, but since i will be back in Nairobi at least once, I will leave it to a later entry (that and because this is so delayed).

In the end, I decided that i would make my way to Uganda after all, and bought a ticket on Kampala Coach for 1800 KSH. The coach departs tomorrow at 6am, and i would regret taking these early buses later on, just because they arrive in the late evening or when it is dark. Trust me, it is not easy to get around in a brand new city and orientate yourself when you have completely no idea where you are.

Took out some cash (both Mastercard and VISA exists here). After which, i decided to just take it easy today and caught a movie, Old Dogs, starring Travolta and Robin Williams. Price is 350 KSH, pretty much the same as in Singapore. Wasn’t a brilliant movie, i was planning to catch Sherlock Holmes, but couldn’t find a screen showing it.

The rest of the time was generally spent at the New Kenya Lodge, talking to the other travelers. This is probably the highest concentration of them so far in one place since Dahab in Egypt. The place would have been perfect if only there was wireless connection. =)

68 – “Nairobbery” (Addis to Nairobi – part 5)

Tue 2nd Feb, New Kenya Lodge, Nairobi, Kenya
Woken up by the same joker who brought us to the hotel, he just hangs around and gets under our skin. He tells us the checkout time is 9am and we need to clear. I can’t be bothered with him, but we needed to sort out transportation and so left the place.

The Polish guys left on the matutu for Nanyuki (200 KSH), the gateway town to Mount Kenya where they were headed. I went on a matutu, a seven seater van, (650 KSH) to Nairobi. Waited for the Aussies at the matutu station but they didn’t turn up so i left.

The journey was mostly on good road and way more comfortable than the last 4 days. I even managed to snooze a couple of times. We reached Nairobi around 3pm, roughly a 4-5 hour trip. Nairobi looks like a very modern city, more developed central district than the other central areas in other cities i based myself in. The matutu dropped me in the matutu area. I was a bit apprehensive about being in Nairobi, since it had the honour of being one of the most dangerous cities in the world to live in. I found the New Kenyan Lodge, a cosy little place with shared dorms at 500 KSH. There is a comfortable living room area where i can sit and watch tv and meet with others. The place is also popular with the Jap traveler crowd, so it must appear in those Japanese or Korean travel guides that i see the carry. So the hotel area i am in is relatively safe, as long as i watch my valuables and avoid going out at night.

Took a shower. It feels good to be clean. And i went out to the streets to get some food. There is a bit of a fast food culture here, with fish and chips, as well as chicken, being sold and ate at the counters, standing up even. Living costs can get rather expensive here though, since a decent fast food meal set me back around 440 KSH, for a quarter chicken and fries, plus fruit juice.

Came back before dark, with all the stories here, it pays to be careful. The hotel is a cosy place, where i meet other travelers to get info etc.