What not to do in Kenya

It all started way before either of us realized it, but there was nothing we could have done; it’s one of those things that only in retrospect has a clear path of rights and wrongs. It was right of us to cancel going to Mombasa, for example, where only a week before our arrival in Kenya terrorists threw grenades in a dance club, killing three and injuring many more.

It was wrong, though, and only now I see it, to have tried to climb Mt. Kenya. Even on the drowsy bus ride across the Tanzanian-Kenyan border I should have used a brief moment of clarity to realize we were not in any condition to climb another mountain yet.

Kenya is not a country for independent travel for two reasons: first, people are not friendly. By not friendly I mean people are openly and unashamedly relaxed to see a tourist in trouble; if there is no rule that explicitly says they have to be nice to you and help you in that situation, then forget it, you’re on your own, buddy, and do I look like I care? The second reason is that Kenya is rapidly becoming a very expensive country to visit, and unlike in other places, doing things independently might perhaps, if you’re lucky and clever, save you about 10% of what you will pay for an organized, all-inclusive, no-adventure, adventure tour. That 10%, no matter how much money it is, is just not worth saving in exchange for all the hassle and mundane bullshit you’ll have to go through.

So there we were, bloody scabs inside hiking boots, runny noses, and aching muscles, standing at the gate of Mount Kenya National Park with ready gear, guide, and porter. Then, suddenly, everything went wrong. The daily park fee that we had budgeted was apparently a few months out of date, and it would cost three times that price. The thing about mountains, they don’t have a lot of ATMs sitting about, and unlike the technologically savvy Tanzanians, this was not a national park that accepted credit cards. Oh, and by the way, there’s nothing to cook or eat with up in the mountain huts. This was a casual observation our porter made, looking at the gear and food we had brought. This is perhaps the kind of conversation one might have with a knowledgeable guide BEFORE heading off to the mountain, but our guide was mostly concerned with sobering up when he jumped in the cab with us. It was in this moment of frustration and stress that I put Jim’s credit card in the pocket of the rental jacket I was wearing. That single unconscious moment made an invisible and irrevocable turn that would bring a number of challenges later on. But we had plenty on our hands at the time.

First came the maneuver of trying to get our money back for pre-paid guiding and porter services, rental of jacket and day pack, and the sad waste of a return taxi ride to that fateful park gate. All I can say is, if you’re ever in Nanyuki and come across a mountain climbing agent called Bob, please punch him in the face and call him a thief.

Cheese and crackers, anyone? Perhaps some fresh veggies to make a healthy soup or two? Pasta, salami, chocolate, you name it, we had a fabulous array of camping food, now slowly rotting in a hotel room.

Rights and wrongs, rights and wrongs. One right, at least, was to take our camping wants to lake Naivasha and go on a biking visit to Hell’s Gate National Park. That lovely weekend was only partially clouded by the jolt of discovering the missing credit card. I won’t go through the mundane details, but it’s fair to say that on the night we were scheduled to fly out of Nairobi, we were looking forward to getting out of Kenya. It would have been a lovely flight, even if we had to drag ourselves to the airport at midnight, but the misnomer Customer Service Agent for Ethiopian Airways had other plans for us. Apparently, as punishment for having lost the credit card, he decided we could not check-in and get on the flight, because, who knows, there are so many scammers who use stolen credit cards to book flights, so even if we can prove beyond any shred of a doubt that we are the people who owned the lost card, that we are the passengers that appear in the reservation, that we have receipts and money withdrawn from the airline, sorry, it’s just not enough.

Arguments dragged on at every pitch of voice and every level of courtesy, down to screaming insults and threatening to stay in Kenya for as long as I needed to in order to see this man fired, but it was simply no use. We had to wait until a decent hour in the morning for the office of Ethiopian Airways downtown to open in order to continue the futile plea of even the slightest show of common sense and empathy. The fact that I’m writing all of this while still in Nairobi might give you a clue as to who won that fight.

With any luck we’ll leave Kenya tonight and maybe, just maybe, touch down in Addis Ababa for a completely different experience.

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