From Kenya to Uganda

Before coming to Africa, we knew next to nothing about this continent. After all we’ve seen, now we know next to next to nothing; but at least we know our preconceptions have all proven wrong. I don’t know why, when traveling, it always surprises me so much to find cities, shops, cars exactly the same as I am used to where I live. It’s as if I know with my conscious mind that of course these things are common everywhere but then there’s a tiny unenlightened tenant in the corner of my brain that goes: “whooaa”.

This is what Nairobi looks like from the air:

That big stretch of savanna you see in the background is Nairobi National Park, a 45 sq mile reserve at the South edge of Kenya’s capital city.

It is surrounded by an electrified fence in order to keep wild animals and people separate but that doesn’t always work. Lions sometimes escape the fence and then panic ensues in the surrounding population. The lions leave the park usually following prey like warthogs and suddenly find themselves in the midst of an apartment complex. Nairobi’s population has been growing greatly and conflict between these two resident groups has intensified in the last decade. During these encounters, it is usually the lion who fares worse. As if that weren’t bad enough, the Chinese, as part of their aid to Africa, are building a rail line straight thru the park in order to connect Mombasa with Nairobi. While the rail line is expected to alleviate traffic, one can only sigh at the thought of its effect on the wildlife. Unhappiness with Chinese people, be they entrepreneurs, tourists, or poachers, is a common thread thru the African nations we visited. Mombasa Road is the main thoroughfare in Nairobi and divides the populated area from the National Park.

We didn’t actually get the opportunity to visit Nairobi: we were here three separate times but only to take connecting flights. During one of these trips, we had to spend a night in a hotel since our next flight didn’t leave until the following morning. It was an odd experience. Kenya depends heavily on tourists for its income and thus can’t afford to be thought of as “dangerous”, therefore it takes incredible precautions to provide safety for travelers. For instance, our escort from the airport to the hotel was not allowed inside the airport, we had to walk outside to meet him. He then walked us at a brisk pace for about 5 mins away from the mob of people waiting outside the airport doors simply to separate ourselves from large groups of people. Here we waited for what seemed to be forever for our driver, we found out why it took so long the following morning since we then had to do the entire process backwards. Drivers are not allowed near the airport. In order to pick up or drop off passengers, cars must go thru a checkpoint. All passengers must exit the vehicle and walk thru metal detectors. The car is inspected by security personnel as well as all luggage passed thru big scanners. One waits for the car to pick one up again on the other side of the checkpoint. The car will drop you off far from the airport itself and then you have to walk thru a tunnel and another checkpoint (with its luggage and people scanners) just to get inside. Once the luggage is checked (going thru yet another scan) you walk thru (you guessed it!) another scan into the waiting area. At check-in, you and your hand luggage will be scanned once again before you walk out on the tarmac to your plane. Here, you will be subjected to one last scan with a hand held device before climbing the stairs to your airplane. Pilots, flight attendants, and even the personnel bringing in the food trays are scanned as well, no one goes un-scanned.

While driving us to our hotel the previous night, which was only 10 mins away on Mombasa Road, we went thru about 5 checkpoints with humongous cameras with blinding flashes. Our guides explained that these are meant to see into the innermost corners of every car. They gave me a headache. Our hotel was surrounded by a 10ft fence and our car scanned with mirrors by AK47-wielding guards before being allowed inside the gate. Once inside, dogs sniffed our vehicle before they allowed us out. Our luggage was sent thru a scanner at the steps of the hotel and we also had to walk thru one before entering. Hallways in the hotel had doors not only at the end points but also midway which were unlocked with our key-card and guards could be seen thru our windows walking on the roof. While we never felt even the tiniest bit unsafe, we did feel a little sad about the need for this extreme security. However, everyone in Nairobi was wonderfully kind to us. Next time, we will be staying a bit longer to get the real Nairobi experience and visit Nairobi National Park where our guides assured us, Cheetah are so plentiful, they even climb on top of your cars!

From Nairobi, we flew into Entebbe, Uganda on the banks of Lake Victoria: Africa’s largest lake, second only to Lake Superior in the USA.

Unfortunately again, we didn’t get much of an opportunity to visit Entebbe as we were led to our very cute hotel for the night and picked up early the next morning for our connecting flight to Bwindi. Security measures in Entebbe weren’t as strict as in Nairobi but still more than we’re used to which again made us sad. Turns out that Entebbe is the departure point for bird-watching tours in Uganda which has been named bird-watching capital of Africa: over 600 species have been recorded here. Our tiny hotel had a huge tropical garden where people would assemble to begin their tours. We have a newfound respect for bird watchers as they require enormous amounts of patience and a very steady hand to be able to photograph those flighty beings! Our pictures were mostly blurs.

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We came all the way to Uganda in search of a much, much larger animal though and we were not disappointed.

Categories: Kenya, Uganda | Tags: , | Leave a comment

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