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Downtown Nairobi (outside the Stanley Hotel)
If we had known that our days in Hong Kong would turn into a rest and recovery period from China, we would not have bothered booking another rest and recovery period in Mauritius. As it was, by the end of our week in Mauritius we were all going stark raving mad from tedium. Everyone was becoming cranky and intolerant, sniping at each other, and missing home. We actually discussed whether we should stick it out for the entire year or come home early. We clearly needed a change.
For our last day at the Ocean Villas on October 14th, the sun finally came out in a beautiful blue sky with no wind. Unfortunately, we had to check out at 11:00 AM and sit around until 2:00 PM for our airport taxi, so our only recollection was that we were too hot and had no breeze. The boys finally made it to the pool, played "store" at the beach, and took a last turn on their beloved glider swing. Joss tried to pack yet another bag of shells and rocks.
(Joss had also picked up not one, but two new stuffed animals in Mauritius. The first was a dodo bird that he named "Sea Glider" then renamed "Yogurt." The second was a turtle that he named "Apple" then renamed "Water.")
On our taxi ride from Grand Baie to the airport across Mauritius (we got a van! hooray!), we got to see the parts of the island that we had missed coming in at 4:00 AM a week ago. As we passed through towns like Port Louis and Curepipe, we discovered that the weather in the rest of Mauritius was even worse than what we had in Grand Baie. It poured rain for most of the hour-long ride.
Months ago, Gail had spent countless hours planning the logistics from Mauritius to Tanzania in an effort to avoid going through Nairobi, Kenya. We wanted to avoid the complication and expense of yet another set of customs, passport control, visas... and yet another hotel. Gail was elated to stumble upon a direct flight from Mauritius to Kilimanjaro on Air Tanzania.
This was the flight that was cancelled a week ago. Our new itinerary called for us to fly from Mauritius to Nairobi and spend the night there. Oh well.
Our new pre-paid tickets were waiting for us at the counter. So far, so good. Then we looked at the names: "Russell Lee," "Gail Lee," "Cameroon Russell," and "Joss Russell." The airline had to put a notation into the computer so that we wouldn't be kicked off of a plane somewhere between Mauritius and Geneva. Our 5:30 PM flight was eased by yet one more chance to ride in Business Class (via British Airways) and take advantage of the accompanying executive lounge. We arrived in Nairobi at 8:30 PM, although our bodies were telling us it was one hour later at 9:30 PM. Our African adventure was about to begin.
Already late -- especially for the boys -- we stood in the long line at Nairobi immigration for passport control. When we reached our turn, we were informed that we should have been standing in the other line for visas. While waiting in the visa line, we heard from various people that our visas would cost $10, no $20, no $50 each (yes, they wanted US currency). Russell had to go find another line to stand in, in order to change money -- losing 10% on his American travelers checks in order to obtain American cash. After several hours, we finally stepped through immigration and officially entered Nairobi, Kenya.
(To be fair, the people at the airport were not only enormously helpful, but just plain nice people. Kenya is an ex-British territory, and English is fluently spoken by all.)
We knew that it was late, that we had reservations somewhere at Stanley Hotel (wherever that was), that we were coming back to the airport the next morning, and that we had five large and heavy suitcases. We debated whether it would be worse to haul them back and forth from the hotel, or risk leaving them in someone else's hands overnight at the airport.
Luckily, right after we retrieved our luggage we saw a man standing with a sign that said "Gail Lee." We wouldn't have to worry about a taxi; he would provide shuttle service to the hotel. As he gathered up our bags, we had the wisdom to ask him which hotel he was taking us to. He answered, "the Parkside." He also said that he had instructions to drive us to Kilimanjaro the next day.
Oops. Several things clicked in Gail's mind at once. Yes, she had made a reservation at the Parkside, but that was six months ago, when we had a different itinerary that included a shuttle bus from Nairobi to Kilimanjaro. But our plans had changed, and she had since cancelled those reservations, also months ago. Or had she?
Right next to the Parkside Hotel man was a woman who provided shuttle service to the Stanley Hotel. Apparently we had reservations at two hotels. After much discussion and several phone calls, we took the shuttle -- with our luggage -- to the Stanley Hotel. The Parkside man was very understanding; and when we called the Parkside Hotel later, they graciously offered to cancel our reservation with no penalty.
The Stanley Hotel is a high-star establishment located right in the center of downtown Nairobi, fifteen minutes from the airport. It was just renovated two years ago, and looked brand new. Again, the entire staff was not only enormously helpful, but just plain nice. They actually had no record of our reservation, but honored the price our travel agent had quoted us -- less than half of the normal room rate.. They even reconfigured several other reservations in order to give us two rooms with a connecting door.
In the short time we had spent in Nairobi, we were already very fond of the city. Any preconceived fears or concerns about our safety in Kenya had been completely eliminated by the graciousness and hospitality of the Kenyans. We were suddenly very sorry that we had not planned for more time here. Gail was elated to be shorter than the native men again, and she happily observed to Russell that "for the first time, we're both minorities."
The biggest irony was that here we were in the finest hotel we would probably see anywhere on our entire trip, and we wouldn't get to enjoy any of it. We finally got settled into our rooms at 11:30 PM (12:30 AM according to our body clocks). The boys had already fallen asleep (for the second time) aboard the shuttle bus. We would have to catch another shuttle back to the airport at 7:00 AM the next morning. Reluctantly, we set the alarm for 5:45 AM and turned out the lights.
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