|In the days before airplane travel, a gradual adjustment to the world was possible for any adventurer. Passengers would board a ship in some chilly port of Europe to begin their journey. Slowly the temperature would rise and the days lengthen as the tropics neared.
For us it was an emotional farewell to family before being driven to Heathrow by our good friend Ian. It was minus 2 degrees and rush hour on the M25. Onto our Virgin flight and 8 hours later we emerged from the terminal at Nairobi airport squinting in the bright sunlight like a family of moles. I had forgotten how bright and intense the light is after nearly 6 weeks of a northern hemisphere winter.
In the hordes of people at the arrivals hall was a man with a big smile and an even bigger sign which read "Fatboy Jase" on it. I was a bit unsure whether that was the driver who had been sent to pick us up however Jason had no doubt whatsoever. He walked up to the smiling man and said, "Is your name Smile?" To which Smile answered yes it was and his face stretched into an even bigger grin. After handshakes and high 5's all round, we loaded up into Smile's people mover and joined the line of traffic heading into town.
Not even five minutes out of the airport and we'd spotted two giraffes having a snack of acacia tree. How fantastic it felt to be back in Africa. The kids were beside themselves with excitement having displayed a similar reaction when they spotted their first squirrel in England...easily pleased.
I could just stare out the window all day amusing myself with the names of the little roadside stores of Nairobi's streets. There was the Tidy Homes Furniture shop, Naked Hair Salon, House of Lubricants, Miracle Timber Centre and the Complex electronics and electrical shop. Next it was the matatus which got my attention. A matatu is a mini van bus service that has no real route and will not set out on a journey until it is full to bursting with people, luggage and animals. Not only is the way they drive a laugh but the names printed in big garish letters across the top windscreen are also quite comical. We passed Fort Jesus, Man of your Dreams, Baby Face, Watch and Pray (my personal favorite as that is what you literally do when you see one pass).
We arrived at the campsite owned by an old bwanaof Jasons's called Pineapple Doug. Pineapple has lived here since he gave up overland driving a decade (or two?) ago and is the size of three Fatboy Jases. I reckon Jason would have met the same fate had he stayed in Africa instead of marrying me and fathering three children (you can thank me later hon).
Having unloaded our gear and farewelled Smile, the kids set about befriending the three resident campsite dogs Bongo, Blackey and Yellow. Pretty soon the three (kids not dogs) were walking around the campsite like they owned the gaff. Cushion sword fights in the bar, hide and seek with three acres as a playground and mango trees galore to climb. Jason and I thought sod it let's have a Tusker, so with the kids barefoot and free, it was cheers big ears how good is this?!?
Our home for the next twelve months was waiting for us in the car park at the camp - a silver 2002 Toyota Landcruiser. We need to give it a name so if you have any suggestions please shout.
We climbed into Bob (let's call the car Bob until someone comes up with a better name) and headed to the giraffe centre down the road in Karen. The suburb is called Karen after Karen Blixen who wrote Born Free and features some smart shopping malls and rambling estates with high walls covered in bougainvillea. At the giraffe centre we got to feed a giraffe called Kelly who licked me on the lips. "Don't worry their saliva is antiseptic" the keeper assured me as I searched for baby wipes in my bag. A family of warthogs came trotting out of the long grass while we were feeding Kelly to a reception of squeals from the kids. Poor Kelly was no longer the star of the show as the warthogs rolled and frolicked in the mud at our feet.
With one giraffe fed, warthogs fussed over and two leopard tortoises having their shells stroked, it was time to take Bob on another outing in search of a rooftop tent. After visiting several camping supply stores it appeared all of Nairobi were fresh out of rooftop tents. We returned to the campsite empty handed and after a chat with Pineapple he gets on the blower. One of his mates has a second hand rooftop tent he's been trying to get rid of so he arranges for Eddie to come round that evening with the tent. A deal is struck, tent is strapped to Bob and it's not even dinnertime yet.
After sausages and chips for dinner, a shower in our bathroom which should be called Cell block H given the presence of concrete, rust and bars on the window, we climb under our mozzie nets and into bed tired but happy.