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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Kenya Dig it? Nairobi vs Kampala, and other news.

As you may have guessed, the time for Kenya has arrived. However, unlike the way we did Uganda, we're starting in the city first. Sunday morning, awoken at 5:30 by the call to prayer of Kampala's ever-too-close-to-our-hostel mosque, we packed and set out to catch the bus for our first long overland bus trip of Africa.

Setting out for Nairobi at just after seven in the morning, we rolled in roughly thirteen hours later just as the dark was settling. This may just be a pet peeve of mine while traveling, but I really detest entering into a new city after dark. But unfortunately, like Kasese, Jinja and Kampala before it, Nairobi became another city of twilight. There are many reasons for this dislike, but the main one is that I have a very hard time getting a proper feel for a city when the sun goes down. Everything in what could be an otherwise friendly place seems to gain a sinister quality that is just off putting.

Thoughts on Nairobi: It becomes apparently very quickly that Kenya is a country of considerably more wealth than its East African neighbors. The city center is clean and beautiful, with many green filled parks and looming skyscrapers. Prices for things are also a lot more expensive. At times walking through the downtown I felt as if I could have been in a part of Toronto on a summer's day.

The bad thing about Nairobi, sadly, is that reputation proceeds it. Outside the core of the city exists slums and poverty. The sinister quality of Nairobi after dark is more than just a trick of the mind in a lightless world. Crime is common, muggings frequent and vigilance required. It is unfortunate that a city with so much potential beauty is at the mercy of the economic divide that exists all over Africa. The ultimate result though, is that Nairobi gets the reputation of being boring. Taxis are expensive and the night life is dangerous; tourists can't be bothered or hesitate to really take in the city, and end up sitting in a hostel waiting for bed. Shame.

In stark contrast to Nairobi, is the vibrant nightlife of Uganda's capital: Kampala. Kampala is bonkers. My first look at Kampala was on a pass through on our way to Jinja from Fort Portal. Catching a late morning link bus from Fort Portal, we arrived in Kampala just around early evening, and set out on foot from the bus terminal to the taxi park to grab a matatu to Jinja.

Picture Kampala and its taxi park like this: You're walking in the woods and you hear the distinctive sound of a hornet's nest. Grabbing the hornets nest, you lay it on the ground and look around for a big stick. Upon finding that stick, you smash the hive repeatedly and watch the wasps swarm about you. Now instead of wasps, picture yourself on a dusty city block and people are swirling about you in like fashion. Most are in a hurry, some are trying to sell you crap and others just look lost and mill about. It is bonkers! There are literally hundreds of taxis, honking and strewn about the lot. Vehicles move by continually, opening and closing gaps in all directions; as you try to walk the world around you is turned into a shifting labyrinth of noise, metal and exhaust. The only thing more intense then walking through it is attempting to boda the streets during rush hour. Holy crap!

Link to a photo of the Taxi Park

Kampala proper is no less amazing. Take all the aspects of rural Uganda and drop them on a more built up metropolitan background and then magnify it 100 fold and you'll find yourself in Kampala. Markets spring up on all side streets, vendors spread cloths with their wears on the side of busy avenues and noisy children ask for your money. Yet, simultaneously behind it, fast food restaurants and fancy hotels exist, patronized by portly city dwellers; showing the first signs of people living in excess that I've seen in all my time in Africa.

At night the bars and clubs of Kampala light up, and keep going until late the following morning. In our escapades, Richard, Jess and I found ourselves at a small bar on a side street of Old Kampala that was actually featuring the rarity of live music. Already fairly intoxicated, we stormed the dance floor to find it deserted among a sea of seated watchers. Unhindered by the inhibitions of our sober audience, we tore it up, many times challenging the people in chairs to join us. Within a short time, obviously jealous of our fun, we managed to get the whole bar on the floor. Such was our enthusiasm that about an hour later as the band winded down its set, a round lady who had been working the bar came about the floor and pressed into our hands a coin. You heard me, I got paid to dance. A whole 100 shillings. I figure that to be about 4¢. Kampala is pretty awesome.

Aside from that, the only other big thing we've done in the past couple weeks has been our white water rafting of the Blue Nile in Jinja. Unfortunately the cafes in Nairobi don't seem to let me put up pictures, but anyone with Facebook access to Jessica or myself will see that there are a couple pictures up (mom and dad, ask Kase to show you!). The day that we went was beautiful, and the stretch of river was between 30 and 40 km. And, even though over that stretch there was only about ten rapids, the water was so warm and nice that during the calm periods we'd lay about in the river and take turns flipping into the water off the raft.

Not much is new besides that. We spent a little bit of time at the crater lakes near Fort Portal that were crawling with monkeys. That was pretty neat, as when you were eating or walking back to your room, colobus monkeys would be within arms reach, playing, fighting and making noise.

Currently we must sit in Nairobi for a couple days yet. Our English friends that we've been with for the past two and a bit months are flying out tomorrow for the north of Africa, and Brandon comes into Nairobi on Thursday. From here all signs point to Mombasa or Lamu which both lie out towards the coast of the Indian Ocean. Our time in Kenya will probably be only a few weeks, and then we'll head south to Tanzania!

Thanks for reading,


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