Friday, September 28, 2012

--The African journey begins, via Zurich! --

Another early morning start, this time at my friend Rebecca's (the Canadian) which kindly lodged me at her place for a few days when I had decided to vacate my apartment before the holiday. The day is a bit cold but sunny catching the last rays of sunshine in the short Irish summer.
I take the LUAS and Aircoach combination and get to Dublin Airport with no hassle. I even have time to enjoy a nice Irish breakfast before saying my good-byes , clear security and wander around the terminal while waiting to board my Swiss Airlines flight bound for Zurich in Switzerland.

Our Airbus A321 soared up the skies on time, just like expected with this particular carrier from "the land of clocks" and a lovely Irish lady sitting next to me starts making conversation when we are served a basic vegetarian Ratatouille and Swiss chocolates. The two-hour flight fly by in between stories of moving around countries and traveling. She seems amazed about my journey and asks me to keep in touch whenever I am back in Switzerland (where she resides) or she is back in Ireland.

As we approach Zurich airport, the flight gets a bit bumpy and the city receives us with foggy skies. It is still rather warm and soon, strong deja-vus about the last time I was here as a cabin crew for Qatar Airways come to mind. No rush this time, I clear immigration and take the train into the city.
Once I get to Hauptbanhof, it is time for me to explore Zurich as a local and take a tram up the hills to the neighbourhoods of the city in order to meet my friends Bianca and Julia, who I had met in Bolivia before. 
I see how Zurich extends over a deep valley, clearly defined by the Limme River and green hills, the weather is tempered and pleasant and in only a matter of minutes I reach my bus stop and my friend Julia meets me. 
Soon we head back into town to meet Bianca and it's time for sightseeing. Interesting how the memories of my last time here three years ago were still so fresh, I remember clearly about what I did back then and the city has remained the same. We take a small boat trip through the river and the lake, tourists are taking pictures everywhere and we disembark by the Chinese Gate park just outside the city centre.

It is the end of the afternoon, joggers are everywhere (some of them running in very funky ways) and couples are overlooking the lake while enjoying snacks and sandwiches. The sight is soothing and the sun sets quickly over the West hills. 
We take the tram up the hill to the University grounds bursting with students having coffee while enjoying one of the prettiest views of the city centre. Bianca struggles a bit with the coffee machine to amuse all of us. Zurich is finally waking up for a busy night, tourists crowd the restaurants and the smell of fondue gets stronger through the narrow streets of Old Town

We wander around trying to look for a place to eat. We climb up a tower with a bar on top just to realize we were not supposed to be allowed in without reservation but we briefly manage to enjoy a 360 degree view of the city and surroundings. Tired, we head back to my friend's apartment in Segantinistrasse to have the best "homemade/microwave" lasagnas while enjoying stories of "queueing for food" in London, South American idiosyncrasy and tons of laughter after watching some revealing and interesting music videos from that part of the world (whoever has heard about "Wendy Sulca" or "Delfin Hasta el Fin" will know what I am talking about). I try to download the pictures of this hectic day onto my friend's computer and all photos get damaged, meaning there are not pictures available of this part of the journey.

The short Swiss layover was extremely enjoyable and I only manage to sleep about three hours before heading back to the airport to catch my flight to Nairobi. The city is waking up from its lethargic warm night and kids crowd the tram while heading to school. I already have a boarding pass and don't have my luggage with me, so I proceed to go through security and immigration and an endless combination of tunnels, passageways and Skytrain to my departure gate.
Passengers are already waiting, many Americans connecting from the US and soon we board a brand new Airbus A330. The flight leaves with a delay of 10 minutes and we hear apologies in four languages due to this "massive catastrophe in Swiss history".


Interesting mix of top end tourists (mostly continuing to Dar Es Salaam and Zanzibar) and volunteers workers with only a few seats occupied by locals.
The green soft hills of Kloten are quickly covered by a layer of thick clouds and soon the Materhorn is clearly visible while we go around and set course south towards the Balkans and onwards to Africa.

Clear views of Serbia, Montenegro, Croatia and Greece entertain my eyes while we are served a basic lunch. Soon the Egyptian coastline welcome our flight to the African continent and hours of flying over the Sahara desert go by while watching TV shows and (couldn't believe they had it) ,"The Lion King" on my personal screen.

The equatorial winter makes its presence while we cross this area of heavy thunderstorms and rough weather. It is dark and bumpy at times but only lasts for a few minutes. Soon I see we are finally flying over the South Sudan-Kenya border and the top of descent is announced. My heart starts pounding harder and I feel excited about finishing this journey for today. We cross a thick layer of clouds before finally being able to see the Kenyan plains and Nairobi National Park.

We land with an hour delay because of bad weather and a few go-around the thick thunderstorms and it is already dark.

I hate arriving anywhere at night time. It makes it more intimidating and Nairobi is definitely not the place to be at this time. A strong smell of clove and saffron scent strikes me as soon as I get out of the airbridge, I am indeed in Africa!
It takes me about an hour to clear immigration and visa formalities (as everyone gets visa on arrival and three international flights arrived at the same time) and then I exchange some Euros into Kenyan Shillings.

It is mildly cold outside, which reminds me that Nairobi is actually in a bit of an altitude. The arrival hall is crowded and as soon as I am in the public area, around twenty taxi drivers address me offering their services. The city looks rather poorly illuminated and outdated. I pretend I am waiting for someone else while remaining calm. 
They leave and I ask one of them for a lift into Millimani. I take note of the license plate and gamble my luck for a bit, or at least I think I do,  and we start our journey through Kenyatta Highway fighting our space on the road with worn-off buses, taxis, mototaxis (called boda-bodas) and matatus (minibuses).

I feel intimidated, Nairobi looks like a dark, chaotic jungle. For the first time I feel I am in the wrong place but I don't let that to interfere with my experience. Suddenly all of the things I had read about "Nairobbery" as they call it come to my head but we get to the hostel safely.

Millimani Backpackers was the pick for this city. And a right one, only a few kilometers away from the city centre, on top of the hills and surrounded by forest and embassies,  looking like an expats paradise in this famously odd city. Tall walls, fences and two security guards welcome you inside and the place looks rustic yet authentic.
I am tired after the journey and go to the canteen to enjoy a cheap cheeseburger and some Tusker, my first time having local beer here.

A crowd of Brits, French and Irish gather around me and soon I feel more confident and relaxed about being in Nairobi when hearing their stories and experiences in the Kenyan capital. My mind still does not believe it but I am tired. Time to go to sleep, protected under a thin mosquito net.