Welcome to Nairobi

After thirty hours on planes and in airports, waiting patiently in the passport lines, and discovering that my bag might well have been the first onto the plane – and, thus, the last off – I met Chris outside the airport for my ride to the quiet hotel I booked, sight-unseen, online. I did run into a slight delay at customs. The camera equipment had them questioning my tourist-y bona fides, as did the weight of the books in my suitcase. I explained I was a writer. That didn’t help. It took a little convincing before he understood I'm not a professional photographer who should be paying some sort of tariff fee. I think my cluelessness finally garnered a touch of sympathy as the agent eventually wearied, smiled, and waved me on my way.

Chris works for the Hotel Troy-Nairobi, which offers a shuttle service for a nominal fee. I contacted them before I left and Chris, a tall-ish gentlemen stood with a sign with my name to greet me at the street. Ten minutes later and with the bags loaded, we departed into the dark for the hotel.  (Side note: Chris oomph’d at the big bag - For those who are fans of It’s a Wonderful Life, think of the scene where Jimmy Stewart is talking about the suitcase he needs, one big enough for all the stickers for all the places he’s going that can double as a life raft if the tramp steamer he’s riding goes down. That’s about the size of my bag. For much the same reasons.)

On the drive, I noted that Chris maintained a pretty steady 100 kph (about 60 mph) despite the flashes of what I took to be radar cameras. I asked, and Chris confirmed. Yep, they were speed traps but the government put the system in without penalty for the first year to get the drivers used to the notion. Strikes me that the government might be training them to ignore the cameras at the same time the drivers ignore the 50 kmp speed limit, but we’ll see, I guess. The Kenyans also drive a bit like the Koreans I remember. Painted lines are strictly advisory in nature.

Check-in was a breeze. It took a little trial-and-error to find the correct room, not that the hotel has many. The original room they set aside had an issue with hot water at the shower. The showers use an on-demand system that’s kind of neat when they work. The one in the first room didn’t, so we did a shift two doors down. I FB’d family that I was alive and crashed.

With my body clock a touch confused, I woke at about 5AM, Nairobi time. Interesting little fact. The folks here don’t get moving that early. I ended up taking a walk while I waited for the breakfast to open at seven.

The Hotel Troy-Nairobi sits on the outskirts of Nairobi with Nairobi National Park across the street. I meandered my way to the northwest and managed to see a monkey in the trees of the park. No bueno on getting a picture – the critter was moving pretty quick. I wasn’t.

Also moving quickly were the legions of men walking to work, some singly, some in clumps of two and three. The ones headed in the opposite direction mostly smiled when I said hello, though a few looked confused and one downright bemused. I gathered that I was not exhibiting typical behavior for a tourist.

Hotel Troy does not believe in allowing guests to be hungry. Breakfast was a Spanish omelet, a sausage of the type the British call bangers, potatoes with bell peppers and red onion, two rolled crepes, and beans. Plus watermelon, juice that I think was passion fruit – the taste was familiar but not from recent memory – and cups of tea.

Then, I went for another walk. This time, I aimed for a destination. The Galleria is a shopping center that would fit in most mid-size American towns. They had exactly what I needed. A phone, since Verizon doesn’t work in Kenya, and an adapter for my computer. The Kenyans clearly have not grasped how to be rapacious in their phone contracts. The phone was cheap, the minutes pre-paid, and no sell-your-soul-to-the-devil service contract. The people in Safaricom were also unfailingly polite, though they could speak up a little.

Little fact that most Americans don’t know. Kenya positively kicks our butt not just in running but in the use of mobile money. The program, M-Pesa, allows you to load money onto your phone and use it at merchants in the place of cash. Kenya is one of the leaders in the world at adopting this technology. Safer than carrying cash and more secure than a credit card, M-Pesa is a fundamentally different way of managing economic transactions.

A cynic might point out that the mobile money system would work in our country if not for the lobbying of the banks and credit card companies.

Nonetheless, M-Pesa is a godsend for travelers.

The Galleria had a bunch of other shops, too. I found a camera shop where I can get some new filters if I need them. A pharmacy and doctor’s office, both of which I hope to avoid. A book store. (natch!) A brewery that looks right intriguing. A Kentucky Fried Chicken place complete with a huge picture of Colonel Sanders.

In a major score, I found a bicycle shop that rents bikes for day use. I figure I’ll rent one in the next day or two and go on an impromptu bike tour of Nairobi’s environs. I brought a backpack so I can hump water and food to make a day trip of it. The lack of a map might be a bit of a hindrance, plus I need to remember that the Kenyans drive on the opposite side of the road. Still, I hadn’t thought of exploring on a bike.

Okay, that’s the update. I’m running eleven hours ahead, so it’s lunch time for me. Time for another walk, this time east-bound. I heard there’s a restaurant not too far away, one that doesn’t feature American icons.

First run will be tomorrow morning, before the heat – and traffic – comes in.