Welcome to Kenya
Part 4: The Journey Home
2019-10-01 00:00:00 -0500

At the end of the trip, we ended in the Maasai Mara, approximately six hours away from Nairobi. So, we had a long day of travel ahead of us to start our journey home. But, our trip planners didn’t want to have a boring last day, so they planned a few extra stops. Here’s what our original itinerary for the day looked like:

  • 8:30am – Optional activity (morning game drive, short game drive + Maasai village visit, sleeping in, etc)
  • 12pm – Meet for lunch at a mall between Maasai Mara and Nairobi
  • 5pm – Meet at Carnivore Kenya for a dinner buffet
  • 8pm – Arrive at Nairobi International Airport
  • 10:50pm – Our flight to JFK departs 🛫

However, hardly anything we planned actually came to fruition. And here’s why…

The Optional Activity

At 8:30am, we loaded up our safari trucks for the last time. However, this time, we split up into different groups than we normally did. My partner and I were separated for the first time during the trip, as he decided to go on a morning-long game drive, and I opted to do a half game drive + half village visit. You can read more about the Maasai village visit here. Instead, my safari truck filled with two other travellers in our group, and we left the Fig Tree Camp.

While on this safari, we did manage to see several more animals, including a pack of cheetahs (which is rare, since cheetahs are usually solitary animals). About halfway through the game drive, we left and continued to the Maasai village. While at this village, I did have a unique experience where I asked where I could go to the bathroom, and one of the members of the village started leading me away from the rest of the group. I originally thought they were just leading me to a secluded bush, but as we continued walking farther and farther away from the rest of the group, I was a bit concerned that I might be kidnapped. But eventually (after walking through a poop-filled pasture), the man led me to a locked metal hut. This “washroom” was really just a hole in the ground, with a metal slab that we could use to scoop and shovel 💩 with. All-in-all, it was very kind of the man to take me to use the restroom, since it was so far away, but I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t a little nervous about the whole ordeal.

I did manage to make it back to the safari trucks in time to leave with the rest of the group, and actually, with plenty of time to spare. Another traveller from our group, whom we ended up calling a “mini-shopaholic,” was busy trying to make a special purchase. One of the items the Maasai village uses in their ceremonies and day-to-day life is a special horn made out of elephant tusk (or rhino tusk… I don’t quite remember). Our fellow traveller decided it’d be a good idea to try to buy it from them. After about 10 minutes of negotiating with the village—and holding up the safari trucks—he ended up being able to almost make the sale for about $250💸💸💸. However, one of our safari drivers decided to intervene before the actual sale took place. The driver figured that it would be risky to try to bring back protected wildlife through the airport; he was nervous that our friend wouldn’t be able to bring it home. Poor guy… even I think that would’ve been a really cool souvenir to bring back to the states.

On our way out of the Maasai Mara, we had to pass through the national park gated entrance. We decided to stop to use the restroom quickly (I wish I had known that we would stop about 20 minutes earlier). But as we opened the door to let a few of us out, we were bombarded with village women trying to sell us their beads and crafts. We ended up shutting the windows because they kept trying to talk to us. They’d stick their hands in the doorways to get the items closer to us, and none of us wanted to buy anything. Eventually, our truck driver had to get out of the truck, go up to them, and shoo them away in Swahili. We were grateful to our driver at that moment, because it can be intimidating having people in your face trying to get you to buy things.

But sooner or later, we left the Maasai Mara, and were on our way to lunch. The only thing was, we were running about 45 minutes late. Which normally wouldn’t have been a huge deal. Except for the rest of the day happened…

Lunch

While on the safari truck drive to find lunch, I found myself really needing to use the bathroom… again… I think I must’ve drank a lot of water at breakfast. I ended up managing to look up the exact shopping mall we were stopping at on Google (thanks Google Maps!). I used that as a reference to know when I would be free to run into the bathroom. Unfortunately… I couldn’t make it the two hours to the mall. We had to stop on the side of the road to go to the bathroom (which we call “checking the tire”). I only felt bad because I knew we were running late already, and we were only stopping the whole truck for one person, but when you gotta go, you gotta go 🚽.

So, now we’re back on the road… running one hour late. As we approach the lunch spot, our group leader leans back and says “Since we’re running late, let’s only do a half hour lunch. We need to get back on the road to make it back to Nairobi by 5pm.” We all nod in agreement… all of us (except vegetarian me) have been looking forward to Carnivore Kenya since we arrived 13 days ago.

As we pull up to the mall to stop for lunch, hungry and needing to get out to stretch, we head into the only restaurant in the whole mall to meet up to the rest of the group. The rest of the safari trucks are all already sitting inside, waiting for their food. They then inform us that the wait for the food at this restaurant is very slow. AKA, they ordered their food 25 minutes ago, and are still waiting… some are still waiting for just a cup of coffee.

So, my safari truck heads upstairs to the grocery store to grab a bite to eat. The good news about the grocery store is that the food in Kenya is super cheap compared to the U.S. I ended up getting a roll and fries from the hot deli (there’s not much at a hot deli for a vegetarian in Kenya), and I also grabbed a bag of popcorn as a snack (since I’m vegetarian, I was a tad bit nervous about the food selection at Carnivore Kenya). All of that cost about $3.50. In fact, the cashier asked me if I had any smaller bills. Oh… and the checkout lines in Kenya are very, very, very long. I waited for about 12 minutes in the checkout line behind two people, and neither of them had very many items.

By the time I got back to the safari truck, we had just hit the 30 minute mark. However, I was one of the prompt ones back to the truck. We ended up having to wait for several other people who were still in the grocery store, and for a group of others to finish paying in the restaurant. My partner said that his food did eventually arrive, but it was cold 🥶. Others said that their food never arrived at all, meaning that they missed lunch entirely.

The worst part of all of this is that in Kenya, as soon as you order, you’re expected to pay (unlike in America where if your food never arrives, you don’t really need to pay for it). So, as the safari trucks started to leave, a couple of the restaurant employees ran out demanding that we finish paying for our food. Once again, one of our safari drivers saved the day and finished paying off everybody’s tab.

And so, with all of the restaurant bills paid, and now running nearly an hour and a half late, we continued our drive to Nairobi.

The Drive to Nairobi

While we were on our lunch break, our drivers were informed that there was a hold-up on the road back to Nairobi which was causing a fair amount of traffic. Unlike in Minnesota, where you just take a detour route, and it only adds 20 minutes to your commute, there’s not a lot of other options in Kenya. To be exact, there was exactly one other detour route. And everyone decided to take it.

So while we passed through Lake Naivasha (which was at least an hour out of the way minimum), we hit terrible traffic. And I mean awful. Someone else in our truck compared it to traffic in India. For context, here’s a YouTube video of some driving in India. The traffic in Kenya was worse than that. In order for our driver to turn right in any sane amount of time, he actually had to veer into the left lane, and then turn right from there… that’s pretty crazy to me.

There was another time where there was so much traffic that a bunch of cars were veering off the road, onto the grass and mud, and then onto the pedestrian path to drive instead. We saw cars getting stuck in the mud and driving in reverse to get off the insanely busy road. In order for our trucks to all stay together, there was one time where another driver of ours got out of the truck, and walked over to ours… he was walking faster than our cars were moving. There were moments where a couple of the trucks’ walkie-talkies got disconnected, and the safari truck drivers had to call the others on the phone just to try to stay communicating. We had to drive on the shoulders, the “sidewalks,” and the grassy sides of the roads just in order to keep moving forward.

To summarize the horrible traffic, what should’ve been a four hour drive (for that portion of the trip) ended up taking six hours. And as we kept going, our estimated time of arrival to Carnivore Kenya kept getting pushed back farther and farther into the evening. There was an hour where we were concerned whether we could even make our flight back to the U.S. We were advised not to check-in to our second flight (in my case, JFK to MSP), just because we weren’t sure if we were going to make it.

Eventually, our trip guide had to call Carnivore Kenya and tell them that we wouldn’t make it. Then, the members of my truck had to message the other trucks and break the news that we wouldn’t get dinner. All except me, because I had purchased that extra bag of popcorn 🍿(also because I had 40 granola bars 🍫 in my bag, but that’s another story).

As we got closer to the city, we grew more confident that we’d make our flight to JFK on time. It turned out that by skipping dinner, we could make it to the airport right when we had planned to… yay❓🤷🏻‍♀️. We did need to make a few more pit stops before reaching the airport though. One of them was on the south side of Nairobi. The neighborhood we stopped in sort of sketchy, so our driver escorted us to the washroom, which was really just disgusting holes in the ground… like really bad. I won’t remember that pit stop fondly. Then, we stopped on the shoulder of the highway to gather all of our groups’ trucks together. We wanted to make sure we were all on the same page before proceeding because the NBO (Nairobi International Airport) can get a bit chaotic…

The Airport

The Nairobi International Airport has a bunch of security leading up to the gates. Apparently, they had some guns that were brought in in previous years, and they wanted to avoid that. As we approached the airport, we all had to get out of the trucks, and walk through metal detectors. I’m assuming our trucks were searched separately in a long line, because we then met up with the trucks at the other end of the gates.

We climbed back in the trucks and continued to the dropoff point. By the time we got there, all of our trucks were completely separated. We all filed out and went to retrive our bags. But, then we learned that the truck that my partner’s bag was in had broken down in Lake Naivasha. Apparently, a few of our other safari trucks had gone back to pick up all the people and bags in those trucks (resulting in a couple of very packed safari trucks), but that meant that we had no idea where my partner’s bag was. We ran around for a couple minutes, until eventually we managed to locate it in some pile of our unclaimed bags.

Once we got to the door of the airport, we faced another round of security and metal detectors. We had to show our passports, screen our bags, and walk through metal detectors. Then, we went to the check-in line. Kenya Airways didn’t really let any of us check-in for the flight ahead of time, so we all had to do it there. At this point, we’re all sweaty, wearing our dirty safari clothes, and starving (except me, remember the 🍿?). As we waited in the long check-in line, we began to realize that it wasn’t just grocery checkout lines that take forever… it must be all Kenyan lines.

We arrived to the airport at 8:20pm. We didn’t get through the check-in line until 9:30pm. Then, after checking our bags, we had to proceed to the next round of security. This one didn’t include metal detectors, but instead was just a screening person where we handed our boarding passes and our passports. We stood in that line for another 20 minutes. Then we proceeded to the next round of security upstairs… I know, right 😨? It was at this part of security where all of the people that accidentally had dangerous souvenirs in their bags (such as daggers, knives, and spears) got stopped. Luckily, my partner and I scooted right through… we took the hour long wait downstairs as the opportunity to make sure our carry-on bags were security-ready.

Lastly, we made our way to the gates. Once we got there, most of us really wanted/needed to use the bathroom 🚽(I never knew the need to pee could cause us so many issues in one day!). After waiting to use the three-stall restroom, it was about 10:10pm, and our flight boarded at 10:20pm. So, in a rush, we made our way to the LAST round of security—the final metal detectors and passport/ticket check before the gate. At this point, the security had to stop a couple more people with sketchy souvenirs, and physically open and search each of our backpacks. By the time I finally got through, the waiting area of the gate was packed, and there was no point in finding a seat… you’re about to board in five minutes.

Conclusion

By the time we all got seated on the flight and were getting ready to leave, I was as content as middle-of-the-middle-seat could be. Although the past 12 hours had been stressful and insane, we all made the flight on time, managed to change into comfier and cleaner clothes, and were just fine. And as a bonus, only a couple of (debateably irresponsible) people had their souvenirs taken away by security.

Well, the “we were just fine” opinion is purely my perspective… we can’t forget that everyone else was starving… except for me… 🍿, remember?