Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Africa (and a bit of Dutch)

This might be a lot shorted than my usual travel blogs. Somehow "We got up, mounted the Landrover, drove around and saw amazing animals" doesn't make for a long narrative. Actually, if there's one thing I regret is that I wasn't quite aware how little we saw of the country
and the people.

Other than that, seeing these large animals in the wild was mind blowing, they are so much larger, better fed and active than in the zoo.

SFO to Nairobi

Yeah, very long flight. 10 hours to Amsterdam, 7 hour layover, and another 10 or so to Nairobi. Thank god for the iPhone, Kindle for iPhone, and an extended battery pack that worked all the way to the hotel in Nairobi. I got on the KLM plane is SFO, watched 4 episodes of The L Word, read Andrew Zimmern's Bizarre World and slept a bit. [Unrelated side note: How come that KLM can serve edible food on the plane while all US airlines claim that's impossible because tastebuds work different at altitude or some other BS?]

Schipol was as clean, efficient and antiseptic as usual, so I dropped my only bag in the coin locker after some wresting with the non-working credit card locker, walked to immigration in 30 seconds, and got on a bus to Amsterdam to the Rijksmuseum and its Rembrandts.
Nice pictures, but since 2/3rds of the museum is undergoing renovations, the 11 Euro visit was over in 45 minutes. And I really looked at every single piece they exhibited. Outside, Amsterdam is the boring city I remember from earlier visits. Everyone is nice, rich, rides bikes, and
the streets and cute and clean. But like all of the Netherlands, it just feels as if they said "OK, that's it." and stopped developing in the late 1970s. Even the dozens of head shops and coffee shops look dated.

I had some bad herring--since it's a local specialy, and very unusual for me was so disheartened by the other food choices and dejected looking breads and pastries downtown that I ended up having dinner at the Burger King back at the airport. A big plus in Schipol is that they have confy
chairs and places to stretch out and sleep on the 2nd level, so I got in a couple fo hours of sleep before getting on the Kenia Airlines flight [note: they can also serve decent food]. Some more iPhoning, but rather little sleep since the guy next to me flipped every switch on his seat and the entertainment system every minute. I get being nervous about flying, but I dearly wanted to give him some sleeping pills.

Kenia is--like India--very much a former English colony. In other words, the bureaucracy is mind boggling. To count:

1--fill out landing card on the plane
2--fill out 2 page health questionnaire at the airport
3--turn in health questionnaire after folding and ripping off the lower
two inches which instruct you to give it to a doctor in case you get
hospitalized with swine flu.
4--fill out 2 page visa application with the same info you put in the
landing card and line up to give both to the immigration officer
5--watch immigration officer 1 type it into computer
6--watch immigration officer 2 copy it off the computer into a paper
ledger by hand
7--pay $25
8--watch IO3 write a receipt while IO2 enters the $25 payment into a ledger
9--watch IO1 copy your information of the computer screen into the
visa sticker by hand
10--watch IO2 copy the visa number and expiration date into another ledger

Well, at least everyone is employed.

Now, with all the stories and warnings about Nairobi ("MOST VIOLENT TOWN IN AFRICA!!! IF YOU WALK ALONE, YOU WILL DIE!!!") I was a bit apprehensive, but 5 minutes into the taxi ride to the hotel the only thing that came to mind was "This is so much less of a clusterfuck
than Delhi". The traffic was obviously at a standstill, but nobody slept on the highway, only a few hawkers weaved between the cars, there were no cows, rikshaws, or ox carts on the road, and drivers rarely used their horns. On the other hand, it lacks the frenetic energy that's part of the fun of visiting India. Everyone I met in Kenya is very laid back. I'd liked to have seen more, but after checking into the hotel, I basically passed out in my room.

In the evening our group met, had a very decent dinner--including terrific Kofta Curry for me, and discovered to our delight that beer is less then $2 a pint. Both recurring themes for
the rest of the trip. Due to the large Indian community, many cooks turn out amazing Indian or Indian inspired foods.

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