Exactly one year ago today, I boarded the Kenya Airways flight bound for Nairobi. This was to be a trip filled with firsts: first visit to East Africa, first safari, and first time meeting my friend Krista’s children.
The actual purpose of the trip was to attend Krista’s surprise 50th birthday party in Malindi, Kenya on the beautiful coast of the Indian Ocean but I am getting ahead of myself.
I arrived at NBO (Jomo Kenyatta International Airport) at approximately 5:45 am. Getting through customs and immigration was a breeze. They did not ask to see my yellow fever card but they did fingerprint all my fingers and thumbs on both hands (Singapore is just one thumb and Malaysia is index fingers). I was through the whole process so quickly that I was outside before I knew it. I had not seen a single shop, restaurant, or exchange kiosk. I also had not changed my clothes. I had to go through the screening process in order to go back inside so that I could go to the ladies room.
Back outside after having changed my clothes, I waited and waited. Several people approached me to ask where I was going. There were people holding signs but none had my name on them. I reminded myself that I was early. I had anticipated a longer process to get through immigration. I also needed to change money and would have probably bought things but there was no place in the airport to do that. So there I was waiting. It was 6:45 am.
George, my contact at Right Choice Safaris, had indicated my pick-up time as 7 am. At about 7:20 am I remembered that I had suggested 7:30 am in order to accommodate my need not to have anyone wait for me. I waited some more. It occurred to me that some women travelling alone to an unfamiliar country in Africa might be a bit freaked out by the prospect that they could be stranded. I approached a young woman who was holding a sign in such a manner that I could not read the name upon it. The person she was waiting for was Peter something. I am clearly not a Peter. She suggested I get a SIM card and call the company that was supposed to pick me up. I asked if there was somewhere in the airport where I could change money as I had been unable to get Kenyan shillings in Singapore. Her companion walked me to a place at the far end of the arrivals area where I could change US dollars, then I walked back to the Safaricom kiosk to buy a SIM card. I was told that I had to have Kenyan ID to buy one and that I should try a place over in the departures area.
I waited a bit longer and then dragged my suitcase along the sidewalk to the departures area. I stopped in at a convenience store to ask if they had SIM cards, they did not but they sold African souvenirs and alcohol. I walked a bit further and was about to turn back when a security guard approached me and asked what I was looking for. I told him I sought a place to buy a SIM card so that I could call the company that was supposed to pick me up. He used his own mobile phone to call. Three more people, including a taxi driver, got involved but eventually, I was in the heart of Nairobi at the office of Right Choice Safaris. Here I met Tom, my guide and driver, and the first day of my six-day safari began.