Echidna Media Organization project S.N.A.L. (emo_snal) wrote,
Echidna Media Organization project S.N.A.L.

Nairobi to Addis Ababa

Tuesday, November 25th, Nairobi - Nairobi is a city that at first glance looks modern, many glassy skyscrapers just towards the sky sporting creative modern designs. Billboards advertise cell phone plans and insurance companies. But as you pan downward to behold the street level then you see the throngs on the sidewalks, they're busy, and some are well dressed, and all seem to be hurrying somewhere, which is a plus, but many seem a bit rumpled and harried, in places the sidewalk is broken to the degree of just being dirt. But what really catches your eye at street level is the traffic. It's bumper-to-bumper throughout the daylight hours. To get anywhere in the city by vehicle seems to take an hour, even if it's just a mile away. You're better off walking (and downtown was actually walking distance)

   In particular, our hotel, this cute little place called the Kahama, seemed to have a permanent traffic snarl in front of it. It was an elegant looking building, that looked like it had seen better days, had been proudly built in a nice location just beside a river ... and then a freeway overpass had been built right in front of it, such that it's second floor windows stare blindly into the concrete sides of the overpass and the third floor looks out at the cars. The old front door was then permanently locked, the former more upscale owners no doubt sold it to this budget hotellier, a new front door was put in the back, and the Kahama was born -- "economy with style!"

   Due to the barrier of awful traffic I was content to stay inside and catch up on my travelogue and picture wrangling, but around 11:30 Doug talked me into going with him to the craft market. The driver for the hotel (a very nice mellow old man, old enough to be retired, but working to save enough to buy his own car for about $6,500) had a friend with a booth in the craft market, so we headed there.
   Took only 10-15 minutes to get there I think, once out of the snarl by the hotel we traveled by side streets and it wasn't bad off rush-hour. We packed all our stuff in the trunk and checked out of the hotel so we wouldn't have to get back through the traffic maelstrom there.

   The craft market consisted of little booths that were facing inward on either side of a narrow aisle. Each booth was stuffed with things, and manned by a proprietor who would tell you they made it all themself. Sometimes though they'd only lay claim to the beaded bracelets and such and not the carved ebony, which is more plausible. The proprietors were mainly women, and they could be quite insistent.
   "Please, please, just look! Just look at this! I'll give you a very special deal! I made this myself! Look! two for this price... No, don't go, look at this!" I jokingly covered my eyes and said "I don't want to see it, I have no money!"
   Despite my intention not to get anything, the lady our driver knew did have some very nice bracelets. I don't know who I'd give them to, but someone would appreciate them. One was made with porcupine quills, which I thought was novel, and another with camel bone. Or so they say. I'm entirely cynical. But it seemed entirely plausible (not like that "lion tooth" some fat man in maasai robes sold to Doug after claiming he killed the lion himself). I had to carefully budget my money though because I now had only enough to pay the driver (as well as two old $20 bills that no one would accept. I hadn't started out with them but I'd exchanged local currency with other tourists at various points to take these "useless" bills off their hands). The two bracelets still sit on my mantel two months later gathering dust. No one to give them to.

   After we had finished there, we continued on past a jewelers booth, which actually had a lot of really nice pieces. And I'm not by any means a connoiseur of jewelry, but these things looked nice. Doug was haggling with him for one or two necklaces for his wife, and the prices were around 1300-1500 shillings ($14-$17), which seemed like a deal to me. I was well and truly out of money and alas have no one to get such nice things for but I had half a mind to go back when I had money and buy several just because I reckon I could put them up for sale back in the states for easily $60 each.
   As we were trying to leave the stalls Doug pointed out some cow horns on a shelf. I have a thing for large cow horns. At first I was unimpressed, just seeing short normal horns, but then I saw a nice big three footer and made the mistake of showing much enthusiasm, and the shop owners was on me like some sort of mind-sucking alien. You know the kind that grabs you by the head with their face tentacles. I told him I really didn't have any money but was curious how much he would want for it. He said $100. I said I got one like that that was all decorated in Guinea for less than $20 (I think it was seriously like $12) and he shook his head and said he couldn't go lower than $60. He was practically physically blocking my escape but I managed to extricate myself and flee. Then we had to come back that way to get out of the narrow labyrinth of craft stalls, and he again accosted me and said he'd called his dad (keep in mind he himself looked 40) and could sell it for $30. I said I didn't have money and he said he'd go with me to the ATM. He followed me out of the craft market but we escaped into the car.

A necklace Doug got for his wife

   From there we went to a mall for a quick meal from the food court, which was about as unimpressive as mall food court food usually is, but hey I've had worse. Also you may be intrigued just to know that in Nairobi they have malls that look very much like our own, in all their teeming mundanity. Then onward to the airport, arriving in plenty of time around 2:30, three hours before the flight. Check in line moved like molasses and this shady guy behind us kept trying to weasel his way forward in line. Ultimately it doesn't matter if you're a few people ahead or behind checking in but the shadiness of his behaviour really pissed me off. I made a point to stand right next to the post every time the line zigged around so he couldn't scoot ahead of us as he was trying to. Since I'd bought some stingless bee honey in Tanzania I had to check a bag at the ticketing counter.
   A friend who had run the NGO that brought Doug and I to Ethiopia the first time was going to meet us on arrival and take us to find a hotel. That NGO no longer operates in Ethiopia but he was kind enough to volunteer to help us anyway .. except just before boarding, with the last gasp of battery power in my phone I saw I had a message from him saying he unfortunately couldn't make it. Great, so no one was meeting us, we had no hotel lined up, and my phone was dead so I couldn't use it to look for a hotel. We were dropping into Ethiopia with literally no idea what we were going to do when we got there.
   To board the plane at the gate we had to go through one more x-ray machine (Ethiopian Airlines are crazy about security), and they didn't like my rungu, a decorated wooden stick that I suppose is shaped like a small club, which Maasai men apparently carry "so they'll look busy" (kind of like a clipboard in our society), so I had to check my backpack at the gate. Took my laptop out since I'd never trust it out of my sight, and boarded the plane with just my laptop and camera as carry-on, anxious that I'd never see my backpack again.

   Food on the flight was remarkably bad. I mean airline food is infamously bad as it is, but they gave us some kind of clammy reconstituted block of chicken as our main entree. As the trash was being collected I looked around and nearly every passenger whose tray I could see had eaten the carrot salad and other sides but barely touched the clammy block of chicken-spam.
   As it had last time I flew to Ethiopia, Addis Ababa suddenly emerged through darkness of over a ridge as a vast expanse of twinkling blue lights, shining like stars down below.
   Arriving in the immigration / passport control hall we first had to run a gauntlet of people in white medical coats and breathing masks, who took our temperature with hand held laser thermometers and collected forms we'd filled out saying we didn't have ebola. Then, after winding through the visa-on-arrival line for about ten minutes we noticed the line jumper from the Nairobi airport. This time he was standing off to the side of the front of the line just beginning to unhitch the line guide-rope in front of him, but he saw me fix a fiery glare upon him (The "old salty" is an ancient sailor's secret, the saltiest of sailors can start fires merely by giving their glare on the wood) and he retreated. I swear some people are just pathologically criminal, it would be easier to stand in line like a normal person but he has to try to cheat.
   A visa on arrival is just $20. Next I had to go through passport control, where they always ask all these questions about where one is staying and what one is doing. I didn't know the answers to these questions so I was a little bit anxious. By pure chance just before I reached the front of that line I noticed the two guys in front of me were speaking Norwegian, so I started talking to them in Swedish. Turns out they were here as missionaries. Then they got called to the passport control kiosk, and then I did ... and the officer there, having seen us speaking Swedwegian together said to me "you're with them right?" and after I made a vaguely affirmative noise proceeded to stamp my passport without asking any further questions.

   Next challenge! After emerging into the controlled area: where to go to from here? While trying to find out what the birr-dollar exchange rate was (no one would tell us), we finally found a guy with strangely bulgy eyes at the hilton hotel booth who would deign to tell us (20 birr to the dollar). Since he was so helpful we asked if he knew any good cheap hotels (as opposed to the hilton, which is of course NOT cheap). He said he "knew just the place!" whipped out his cellphone and placed a call, and moments later informed us that the owner herself was coming to pick us up. About fifteen minutes later he got another call and told us to go outside to the black mercedes. Sure enough there was a shiney mercedes there waiting for us, being driven by a well dressed and dignified woman. It seemed suspiciously strange, but she drove us across town to a nice hotel that wasn't too expensive (about $75 a night for a double room). At the hotel we were greeted warmly by extremely friendly staff, including a porter named Addis and a front desk girl named Addis.

   Being as it was late and had been a long day, I then just wrote the first draft of the above, and went to bed.

This is not the receptionist named Addis.

Tags: air travel, east africa 2014, ethiopia, kenya, travel, travelogues
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