Wednesday, September 16, 2009

"Sometimes the bar, well ... he eats you"

I'm not sure where we went wrong. Maybe it was overconfidence. Maybe it was just bad luck. Either way, Nairobi, you got the best of us.

It started out well enough. We decided that we would try to just cover the 500 miles between Mombasa and Mbale in one day. It would be a long day, but with not too many days left, we figured there was no sense in wasting two days on super long bus rides.

These were deluxe buses, too. I mean, given the typical local conditions. We left Mombasa at 8am, were supposed to arrive in Nairobi "no later than" 5pm, well in time for the 8:30pm bus to Mbale. About halfway between Mombasa and Nairobi, we took a mysterious detour into the mountains. No problem, we got time. Then we took another, even more mysterious, detour to pick up the passengers on a broken down bus. Again, no biggie.

But we dawdle in the mountains for a while. Sun goes down. Dawdle a bit more. We're really getting "down to the wire," which wouldn't be a big deal except that every now and then, these international buses really keep to the schedule. But we're doing ok. We get to the outskirts of Nairobi around 8pm. "Just enough" time, except that the bus breaks down. As in, it really just dies, right in the middle of the street.

We piece together that they are sending another bus to pick us up, because even though it's not too far from the bus station, apparently walking at night in Nairobi = trouble. We get to the bus station around 9, and miracle of miracles, the Mbale bus is still there. We buy tickets, we get on and all is well.

I guess someone up there heard my pleas from the first bus, because not only did the second bus not leave on time, it left like two hours late. Thank you, Africa Time. Not that I'm complaining. That would get us into Mbale at a much more reasonable hour. Plus, the bus didn't leave without us, that was all I asked.

Well, I forgot to ask one thing. We got to the border around 5am. Luke goes digging around for the passports. Check. Good. Then he goes looking for the money to pay the border guy with. Not there. Strange. But things have been disappearing lately, most likely because Luke insulted the evil jaja spirits playing Ouija with a Turkish dinner guest. So we figured the money had escaped to another pocket, or my pack, or his sock. Seriously, don't anger the jajas.

Then we realize, not only is that money missing... so is Luke's wallet. And his camera. So I look and sure enough, so is my camera. Crap. After the initial rage, we realize that either way we are going to need to pay for these visas, or we'll get stuck in some scruffy, shady transit town on the wrong side of the border while it's still dark.

We wheel and deal. Exchange various weak currencies with the border hooligans for various other stronger currencies. We flat out refuse to pay any bribes to the Kenyan soldiers, who were clearly angling for one ("for chai. promote me"), because we didn't have any shillings to spare (plus, the dude had a weak hustle. he tried to tell us our visas were only good for air travel, not ground. cmon, you need to do better than that, even if you're carrying an automatic weapon. where is your passion for excellence?). We bargained with the Ugandan border guy, who was either (a) sympathetic or (b) too bored/tired to care. And with a combination of Ugandan Shillings, Australian Dollars, US Dollars and Euros, we got through.

Thieves in Nairobi... who knew? On top of all this, Luke's phone "escaped" from his pocket the first night we were in Nairobi, and they even got the GPS toy that doesn't recognize African roads. Enjoy that, I hope it navigates you right into a lake.

And the worst thing is that, despite losing a pretty solid amount of stuff, we don't even have a good story. At some point during a 24 hour bus marathon, some sneak rooted around in our packs and stole some stuff. That's it. He didn't get caught red-handed and try to jump out the bus window, or run up and down the aisles half-naked chewing on raw chicken, or just get some good kiboko from an angry mob.

Oh well. It could have been a lot worse. I'm really just bummed to lose those pictures of the Kenyan coast.

* * * * *

Just to be clear, though. Though the timing couldn't be worse as far as leaving Africa with a sour taste, no thieving Kenyan gypsy is gonna wreck my memories. As far as I'm concerned, this is the take-away from the last six months:

("Thanks for coming up and talking with us about starting businesses. Even though we fed you an outrageous spread of fresh, delicious food, take these chickens. It's our culture to honor guests.")

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