Kenya and Tanzania Unplanned…

It’s probably fair to say that the last six months, since Helena and I got married, have probably been the busiest six months of my life. A concerted effort to really push my writing (it’s worked to a fair extent – in the last six months I’ve been picked up as a regular contributor to The Fly, the UK’s biggest music magazine, and also had work commissioned by The Guardian and The Irish Sun) has been combined with taking on dual roles at Berlitz after the receptionist quit, and a surprisingly busy period generally, teaching wise. In a lot of ways, the coming trip is the reward for it all, but it’s also quite incredible unplanned.

We booked our return flight to Nairobi back in the summer, after our planned destination (Viet Nam, to visit one of my groomsmen) proved to be over twice as expensive, money we didn’t have. Since then, the trip’s been something of an after-thought: something we haven’t had a lot of time to sit down and think about. We secured our Kenyan and Tanzanian visas over the last month. Only yesterday we realized that we’ll be travelling during the ‘small rain’, Kenyan’s second rainy season, and this morning, sat in Dublin airport, we’ve given the guidebook more than a five minute cursory glance for the first time. Yesterday, my only day off work before the trip, involved a morning of writing up an interview (with the ever-hilarious Rubberbandits), and the afternoon in town grabbing some Kenyan shillings, booking insurance and making sure we have a hotel for the first night, when we arrive at 2am. Thankfully Helena had the foresight to sort out some malaria tablets (tip for Irish travellers – if there’s more than one of you, avoiding that ridiculous doctor’s charge to get a prescription by saying that one person’s going for twice as long, or three times as long as they actually are is worth a fair pile of cash. What a dumb system).

Anyway, as I write this, I’m sat in Dublin airport and have only a limited idea of what to expect. Obviously we’re planning on checking out some pretty intense wildlife, though we changed our minds just this morning from ‘probably around the base of Kilimanjaro tor Mount Kenya’ to almost certain Ngoro Ngoro Crater (seeing as we’re not actually going to climb – too expensive – it just seems logical). I’m dying to get into Zanzibar, too, in part because of a few tropical images I’ve seen from when my family were over there a year or two back (it’s where my sister got engaged), and in part to hunt down the birth place of Freddie Mercury and right a really offbeat style travel article on it. I know, it’s a holiday, but it’s just too interesting a music/ travel cross-themed story to miss.

One thing that’s already surprised me about East Africa is the price. It’s hard to say exactly how expensive it really is until you get there, but if you compare the prices of accommodation to Asia, which I’m far more familiar with, they’re significantly more. I find that a little bit odd, given that Africa’s image of poverty is comparable to places like India, and certainly more significant than say South Korea, or Taiwan (both highly developed corners), yet the cost of getting a hotel room in a major African city seems a whole lot more. You could get a fairly good hotel room in Korea for 15 Euro for two (hell, we got one with a sauna for that price once), while Nairobi’s lower prices seem to begin at nearer the 50 Euro mark for two. I hope it doesn’t restrict things too much, but I’ll reserve judgement until we’re on the ground. The place we’ve booked for the first night looks wonderful.

The other side of things is the reputations for violence. I’m told Nairobi is a more violent city than even ‘murder capital’ Johannesburg, and that a lot of travellers call it Nairobbery. We’ll be keeping things close to us at all times, and with any luck when we leave on Monday I won’t already have a theft story to tell you. It’s probably fair to say that it’s not all that unlikely that it might happen, but we’ll do everything we can to avoid it. Short of physically stopping someone, of course. Once we get out of Nairobi, it’s supposed to be far more bearable on the crime front, though we might drop in on Mombasa on the way back, which has an almost equally iffy reputation, before flying back out of Nairobi again.
I have really little idea what to expect, but at a guess, I’m expecting stunning wildlife, a slightly difficult environment in terms of getting around and general lifestyle (I actually quite enjoy that as a challenge when I’m in the right mood, as long as it’s not too ridiculous), and some really whacky experiences. Oddly, these trips, by my calculation, will be my 28th and 29th countries visited, and the first one not in either Europe or Asia. Bring on continent number three!
I’ll check back in from Nairobi,

James x

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