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Final Days in Nairobi, KE

January 15th, 2022

Saturday morning we awoke to a clean car again and left Voi by 7am for the 4-6 hour drive back to Nairobi.

We got stopped fifteen minutes in by a major accident, then saw two more that did not affect us.  The highway (if you can call it that) here is full of large trucks – it reminded us of driving in Brazil: more trucks than cars on the road.

Enroute we saw baboons and passing by one Tsavo East short before reaching the northern gate, we saw an elephant beside the highway – maybe debating if it was worth crossing the road!

We hit the southern outskirts of Nairobi before 11:30 and stopped for gas and lunch at a fast food restaurant; got a Hawaiian pizza to share which was pretty good.

We then hit the construction slowdowns and things crawled and moved, crawled and moved.  As when we got into Nairobi, the Southern Bypass was a mess but we made it through and arrived at the same AirBNB we left nine days ago.  Elisha let us in just before it began to rain quite hard and we chilled the rest of the day.

Side bar: In 2013, student and photographer James Wakibia was so sick of seeing the plastic bags that littered the route between his house and the town of Nakuru, some 150 kilometers northwest of the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, he felt he had to take action.

“They were everywhere, in the trees, in the puddles and on the road. They were like air, just everywhere,” he recalls.

Two years later, he launched a social media campaign with the hashtag #ISupportBanPlasticsKE, calling for an end to single-use plastic bags. Wakibia’s activism attracted widespread attention, including from the government in Nairobi, which put a ban at the top of its to-do list.

Plastic carrier bags and their smaller, thinner counterparts used for packaging fruit and vegetables were outlawed in 2017. Anyone violating the plastic bag law — the strictest of its kind in the world — faces a maximum penalty of €32,000 euros ($37,000) or a jail term of up to four years.Police work closely with the National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) to enforce the rules, and so far, officials say, patrols of streets and markets have led to around 100 manufacturers and sellers being arrested and fined.

In 2020 the government banned single use plastic from Nairobi National Park with plans to extend this ban to all other parks in the near future. 

When initially implemented, this caused the loss of many jobs in manufacturing and there was criticism that this should have been phased in rather than begun immediately.  The recyclable  reusable fabric totes that have replaced the plastic bags cost 10 times the price of their illegal plastic predecessors. Many customers now bring their own bags or carry their goods in buckets instead.

*While we did see a sign when we visited the aforementioned park, no questions were asked of us (and we did have a few bottles in our cooler for our own consumption and short term reuse), nor was our vehicle searched.  We do have to say, however, after seeing the litter problem these bags caused in South American countries, the countryside here does look SO much cleaner and in our opinion, this was a bold and wise move.

Sunday we decided we should go to the nearby Nairobi National Park in hopes of spotting a black rhino.  The park opened at 6, and we got there before 7.  This park costs $43 for non-residents and again no maps (although you could buy one in the shop which was closed).  Entering was much more efficient but that’s where we stopped being impressed. 

There are roads everywhere and signposts with numbers and names of places but without a map, we were going blind and using when we could.  This park is supposed to have four of the big five (no elephant) but we only saw buffalo and a lion.  It was a very old lion whose roar was pretty weak and who looked like he had glaucoma.  Sad.  He was being kept company with a black backed jackal.

We saw lots of buck – mostly hartebeest, impala, eland, a few Thomson and Grants gazelle, one wildebeest and warthog, lots of ostrich and vultures.

By 10 we figured it was getting to hot for the animals and we decided we should at least try and see downtown Nairobi.  There are a few buildings of architectural significance.

We used Google maps to see if we could avoid traffic; but nope.  We hit a section of about 2km heading towards a couple of traffic circles that took about 20 minutes.  When we got into the downtown core, it was ridiculous to get around and there was no parking so we saw the huge mosque in passing, some government buildings and got out of dodge.  We did not want to go back that same horrific was so Fran found us a route that went through some slum areas near major road construction that looked like it’s been going on forever and we made it around the traffic jams.  We contemplated going back to the park as our ticket is good for 24 hours but the chances of seeing the rhino are pretty slim and it wasn’t worth wandering for hours.

We stopped for ice cream for lunch and went back to our suite.  Doug tried to go for a run but it was too hot and he didn’t have the energy levels.  Fran did a small load of wash and we spent the afternoon catching up online, typing and sorting photos.

Health Update:  The morning after our 14-hour flight, 8-hour time difference flight, Doug went for a jog and had some mild heart pain – like a fullness or heaviness. This has been occurring on and off for a few months, along with his resting heart rate increasing 4-5 beats since October. He talked to the owner of our Airbnb (a doctor) who advised him to go to the nearby heart clinic at the Karen Hospital (Karen is the neighbourhood we are staying in.)

They did a bunch of tests (including an Echo) which he passed with flying colors, except for the high cholesterol – higher than the last two sets of bloodwork he’d had done in the past year (however, they were impressed with the stress test – they actually had to tell him to stop!). So, they recommended a CT angiogram. We received the results about two days later and in it they found a 35% blockage on the left anterior descending artery (AKA the widow-maker).  

The doctor emailed Doug and they set up a call.  We thought about stopping in Nairobi on our way from Ol Pejeta to Amboseli but it turned out that was one of his days off.  He recommended a daily high-dose statin and a baby aspirin but doesn’t answer why the heart pain. They are confident he is not going to have a heart attack anytime soon but don’t know why he’s experiencing heart pain (mostly when doing nothing and only when jogging really hard doing sprints).   He did say a next step that could be taken was an angiogram procedure but he felt confident that it was not necessary at this time and may not be for at least ten years – the statin should bring down the cholesterol and help prevent faster plaque buildup and slow the growth of the one blockage as well as the smaller ones.  He will have to monitor liver function as a result of these meds by getting a blood test every six months.  So, as he already has an appointment arranged with a cardiologist in Uganda where he had already planned to get his annual Echo done, he will take all the results to him for a second opinion.   

Since Fran has also had some high cholesterol in recent years, (though not as high as Doug’s) she had one done on Monday just as an exploratory for our own information.  At the same time we met with the doctor to confirm the above and get the prescriptions. We should have her results in a day or two of that.  (NOTE:  Fran’s results came back with a score of zero so no issues but we’ve yet to see the report.)

So as you just read above, we spent about a half day at the hospital on Monday including getting the required PCR test done.  This test cost $80 USD and we had results in about six hours: negative.

We had Tuesday as a chillin’ and repacking, going through photos day before our flight out of Kenya to Uganda tomorrow.

Wednesday morning we met the rental car agent at the airport parking lot – way early because traffic was not nearly as horrendous as we expected. 

Inspection stop before entering the airport:

The car did its job but it now needs a new ball joint which we were honest about and told John.   Our cash deposit was returned and we went into the airport to drop our bags. 

When we dropped our bags the attendant asked if we’d filed the necessary PCR test application for arrival in Uganda – this was a surprise to us, so she gave us the website and over lunch we registered.  Even though you need a negative PCR test to get into the country, they want to do their own at a cost of $30pp.

So over the course of two weeks we drove 2,068 km / 1285 mi much of it over badly paved roads and dirt, muddy and rutted ones.

Final thoughts before leaving Kenya:

  • The people are super friendly and we were constantly being greeted
  • There are TOO many trucks on the highways – infrastructure needs help
  • The climate is wonderful along the equator IF you are in the highlands. We didn’t make it to the coast but we heard it was hot and humid.
  • For the most part, it’s an inexpensive country to visit – aside for park entry fees for non-residents but we really don’t mind that we pay more than locals.
  • We would recommend it to others for sure!

Rankings on the parks we visited

  1. Amboseli – the best experience of the five we visited – maybe we were somewhat lucky but it’s a small park with a large amount of game – and there are maps available!
  2. Ol Pejeta – the next best experience for sure – the priciest but it’s a private non-profit park that seemed well run
  3. Tsavo East – we had a great experience here with some lucky spotting but the infrastructure here was the worst
  4. Lake Nakuru – due to the decline of the flamingo population and the fact that only one side of the park was open, it was a bit of a let down but we did spot a rhino which was unexpected
  5. Nairobi National Park – well we saw a good amount of game as the park is small but it was rather disappointing not to see rhino when so many others we spoke to while there, had seen them – guess it ws not our lucky game spotting day – if you’re only going to Nairobi and not doing any safaris however, this would be worth it.
  6. Tsavo West – we saw the least amount of game in this park and had long stretches of seeing none; maybe this was an unlucky sighting day but we’d sadly give it last place

Note: we’d like to point out that we did not visit the Maasai Mara – this was due to a couple of factors; firstly, anyone whose followed our blog since the beginning will recall we went to Tanzania before our PanAm trip and did a five park safari there including several days in the Serengeti which borders the Maasai Mara; and secondly, this park requires at least two days if not three to do it justice (like the Serengeti) and it would have taken time away from the other parks.