What do you do with all the time on your hands while on a long trip by bus? Do you pull out a book and devour some chapters before sleep comes knocking? Do you start that awkward conversation with the fellow sitting next to you about their strange accent? Or are you the kind that move around with those huge headphones that make it normal for you to shout each time someone tries to talk to you?
Recently I was on bus for a long trip. Kigali to Nairobi. It is slightly more than 24 hours if nothing terrible happens to make it longer. In other words, whether it is reading a book, sleeping or conversing, there is more than enough time at your disposal.
In true East African style, I was on a bus that set off from Kigali whose owners probably live in Mombasa and yet it had Ugandan registration plates and a mud flap with the name KANSIIME. Yes, that famous ‘brief’ girl from Kabale with the ability to shatter your ribs without touching you as she rants about everything and anything, has a bus branded with her name.
In the bus I sat next to a young man from the Democratic Republic of Congo who put my scanty French to the test. We talked about a lot of things but I felt pity for him having to part with $100 to pass through Uganda and $50 to enter Kenya. I wanted to apologise to him for how East Africa was treating him and his people. How do you charge $100 to the citizens of a country that gave us Franco, Papa Wemba, Tshala Muana, Koffi Olomidde and Fally Ipupa?
There were moments when I would get bored and start using my phone to tune into random Kenyan stations or simply staring out of the window like people do in American movies when they jump on a Greyhound bus to a far off destination. At around 10pm we finally arrived in Nairobi. And this is where the core of my journey was to begin from.
I didn’t have to wait for long before Anthony came to pick me up. We then looked around for a cab to take us to Nairobi Serena. Before we could identify a cab guy to negotiate with, Anthony went into brag mode and asked me if Uganda or Rwanda had Uber services. I am sure he knew the answer but you know how Kenyans love to rub it in sometimes. To you Anthony, sawa tu.
Tired as I was from the bus ride, I had to hold it in and find some rest at the Nairobi Serena before getting up at 5am to beat the Nairobi traffic on the way to the airport. As soon as I checked into the hotel, I ordered a quick dinner and sat in the bath tub for a while to cool my battered body.
The morning hit me so fast and at exactly 5am, I threw some clothes back on picked my bag and headed out of the hotel with Anthony and Morris. I knew I had not rested enough but I was consoled by the fact that my brother from Uganda, Bernard had actually just arrived that morning by bus from Kampala and was driven straight from the bus office to the airport (insert loud evil laugh).
When we got to the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, it was pretty obvious that Bernard was not one of us. Sleep was written all over his face and his red eyes made him look quite ‘presidential’ if you know what I mean.
Now this is a caution to other East Africans that are not Kenyans. Please if you find yourself talking about your country’s main airport remember to lower your voice a little or find something else to brag about. Don’t argue, just remember to do it. Anyway we then boarded our flight to Julius Nyerere International Airport which took slightly over an hour.
At the immigration check-in we had to have our yellow fever vaccination certificates in hand. I still don’t know why Tanzanians insist on this yellow fever thing but anyway you cannot complain much when you are in a country whose leader answers Hapo ni kazi tu to almost every question.
There is a harsh reminder that you are now in Dar and you get it the moment you step out of the glass doors of the airport. The humidity! A sudden temperature rise will have you thinking you just strayed into Mama Ntilie’s open kitchen and are now staring at the big sufuriya with that huge juicy samaki. Have you noticed that I now seem to be showing off my thin Swahili vocabulary? I can’t help myself you know.
Besides the heat you also have to deal with a drop in verbal communication confidence now that you are faced with unapologetic speakers of Swahili sanifu. We got a brief reprieve of the Dar heat as we were driven to the Dar es Salaam Serena. Some of us gazed at the wide roads and the huge high rise buildings along the way. There were loud conversations with the inevitable comparisons of the different EAC member states. It was like a mini EAC mobile summit.
At Dar Serena, we could not wait to jump from the car and rush inside the hotel because you know… the heat in between those two points was not funny. The Serena in Dar is undergoing some renovations to give it that signature Serena touch that wows you with a local theme. Nonetheless it does have its fine edges here and there. It is the biggest Serena property in the region with 230 rooms. It is so close to the Indian Ocean yet it surrounded by big business properties giving you that holistic coastal city feel.
After a brief tour around the facility, we had lunch and we were driven back to the airport for our flight to Stigler’s which is in Selous Game Reserve. The 45 minute flight aboard a Regional Air light aircraft was manned by two young pilots Kwame and Brian who made their job seem like it was an older version of a video game – so easy.
Selous is vast. Selous is serene. Selous also has two splendid Serena Hotels secret pearls. In fact I need another blog post to tell you all about Selous.
To be continued…