16/8/89

We spent most of the morning sussing out a cheap place to stay from tomorrow night as our paid up accommodation here at the 680 runs out tomorrow. We finally settled on the Iqbal¹ on Latina Road after looking at several other highly suspect looking places. You cannot book for the Iqbal so we have to be here at 8 a.m. to be sure of getting a room.

With somewhere to stay sorted out we went to the market and I bought a straw hat for K/SH 25 and a carved mask for KSH 50.  Linda bought a very nice pair of sandals from a street stall for 200. We had a drink at the Terrace Bar when we got back to the hotel and spent the afternoon relaxing in our room.  We had tea in the Simba Room.

¹The Iqbal hostel, colloquially known as the “Dog Bowl” was a famous, if somewhat squalid, hotel that was popular with backpackers travelling on a budget and none too fussy about the quality of their digs as long as they were cheap! 

My travel diary from our four month African overland in 1989.
Route map and budget for our trip. Again, this was compiled in our little attic room at The Woodman, a long way from Africa, but the place where we dreamed our African Dreams for four months as we worked hard and saved every penny we earned for our trip.

15/8/89

We went round to the Zaire Embassy and picked up our passports. The visas cost K/SH 160 each which is £5. I have got a dose of the shits so didn’t do much all day.

The following images are of a letter that I wrote to my brother, Joe Blakiston, from the 680 Hotel. I commenced writing it on August 15th and finally posted it on August 18th.

14/8/89

We got a fairly early and went out in search of the Zaire Embassy.  After three quarters of an hour of wandering we finally found it on the 12th floor of Electricity House.

To apply for our visas we had to fill in the same form four times each and supply them with 4 photos. Thus we were introduced to African bureaucracy.

We went to the African heritage cafe for lunch with Lynda then walked up to the Nairobi Snake Park. Here they have a display of about 30 varieties of snakes from all over the world ranging from the non-poisonous grass snake to the highly poisonous mamba and the non-poisonous but no less deadly python. There was also an aquarium and several species of crocodile on the display. 

From the snake park we went to the museum and spent an hour and a half there before returning to the hotel.

My travel diary from our four month African overland adventure in 1989.

The cover page of my diary, drawn in our room at The Woodman, the pub where we worked for four months prior to going to Africa.

13/8/89

We collected Lynda at about 9 a.m. and had breakfast in the restaurant.

We then walked up to the police station to check progress but all they could tell us was that the car had been reported stolen and it was obvious to us that the case was closed as far as they were concerned. One of the detectives roped us in to donating 20 K/SH in aid of his brother who is studying engineering in India.

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Receipt for our “donation” at the Nairobi Police Station.

We went to the African Heritage Cafe for a cup of tea then back to the hotel for an hour’s rest before Linda and I set off round to the Hilton where we had arranged to go on a 4 hour trip around Nairobi National Park.

We found Silas, the guy who is organising the trip, and watched with some trepidation while he and several others tried to put the door back onto the battered old Kombi van. It had fallen off when he slid it open!  We decided we wouldn’t get in the van until there were some other white people with us so we sat on the steps outside the Hilton watching the stupid tourists pass by.

Eventually, 5 other white people arrived and we set off chugging out of Nairobi and along the highway to the park. Once inside the park the driver slowly drove through the bush and out onto a ridge called Impala Point. The first animals we saw where a group of lovely sleek impala grazing right beside the track and unconcerned about us. The group was made up of about 20 females, several young, and a little way off, keeping his eye on things, was the buck with his ornate spiral antlers.  Further on, 3 buffalo stood chewing the cud and lazily slapping their long ears to ward off the flies. A giraffe stopped munching the top leaves of a tree long enough to give us a casual stare, then went about his business and the other tourists in the bus ooohed and arrred and clicked off their cameras.

As we drove around the many tracks that criss-cross the park, which must cover at least 30,000 acres, we saw herds of zebra, ostriches, more impala, ibex, a group of baboons and several more giraffes. Many of the trees were roosting places for the horrible, ungainly, but funny looking vultures. They are so ugly that you can’t help but like them.

We had to walk up one of the hills as the poor old Kombi couldn’t get up with us on board, then a little further on we stopped by a small river. We left the van and along with a horde of camera happy loopies¹ wandered along the banks of the river. Turtles were basking on rocks, logs and any other available space, and three hippos were submerged in a pool, only their ears eyes and nose is visible. A game warden pointed out a school of fish sliding slowly through the still water and it would have been a wonderfully quiet and peaceful place if it wasn’t for the crowd of tourists jabbering in four or five languages.

We left the stream and drove for another 20 minutes to the exit then back to Nairobi. At 7 we met Lynda for drinks and dinner in the hotel restaurant.

¹Loopies is a New Zealand slang term for tourists.

12/8/89

We didn’t get up until 1:30 p.m. today which was quite lazy but we do have 10 days to fill in so why not fill some of it in by sleeping late?

We went downstairs and deposited most of our trip money in the hotel safe and changed £50 into 1650 Kenyan shillings.  We met a girl from Christchurch in the lobby who is doing a 5 week Kumuka trip and arranged to meet her for a drink at 7 tonight. We went out and search of food and ran the gauntlet of many guys selling safaris. In the end, a polite, well-spoken Kenyan stopped us outside the Hilton and we arranged to come back there tomorrow and go on a half day trip to the Nairobi National Park. His name was Silas A. Wadhane and he has a business management degree and was a lot more polite and intelligent from most of the ratbags, friendly ratbags, yes, but ratbags nevertheless, that stand on the corners selling the same trips.

We had lunch of Kenyan food – sweet potatoes, arrowroot, mince, fish, and beans – then went back to the hotel.

We met Lynda for drinks at 7 as arranged then decided to go out for something to eat. That was when the trouble began. We were standing on the corner of Kenyatta Avenue and Muindi Mbinghu Street when a man came up to us, ripped Lynda’s handbag off, and ran to a waiting car. Lynda and I chased him and tried to stop him and several passersby came to our aid but the guy was big and very strong and he got the bag into the car which then took off. We still had hold of the man but we had to let go as the car gathered speed and we crashed to the pavement. The car was a yellow Toyota Corolla, registration number KQV 590. The bag had all of Lynda’s stuff in it: passport, t/cheques, money, air tickets, travel and hotel vouchers and vaccination certificate.

We went back to the hotel and after a lot of explaining got the police. They took us up to the police station where Lynda told her story four times to various officers. In the end a “detective” took a statement.

The activity and the station was quite interesting to say the least. A never-ending stream of people in plain clothes walked in and out of the cell area without question. The uniformed police all carried sidearms and many of them carried Armalite rifles, UZI submachine guns, and what I think we’re Stirling submachine guns.  They carry them quite openly and one guy talked to us with his UZI sitting on the table pointing straight at us!

It was a long drawn out process but we finally got the statement across and left the station.  We caught a taxi back to the 680 not wanting to risk walking. We went up to Lynda’s room and got a meal brought up then left her and went to our own room.

10/8/89

Ahh…the ecstasy of flight! Once again we are in the skies, flying the second leg of our journey down to Nairobi and the start of our adventures in Africa. 

The first leg of the trip began at 8 p.m. London time when we left England on KLM flight 128 bound for Amsterdam.

Bernie and Sue Farquhar dropped us off at Heathrow Terminal 4 in the late afternoon and after we checked our bags in, we wandered round the terminal, had a drink and bought some reading matter from the bookshop. We boarded the plane (a Boeing 727 I think) at about 7:40 and took off about 5 minutes late at 8:05. We circled over the huge stacks of the Mars factory, Slough, immediately after takeoff over the outskirts of London then climbed to our cruising altitude of 29,000 feet as we flew east over the darkening greens and browns of Southern England and out over the North Sea towards Holland.

Forty minutes later, after flying over several oil rigs in the North Sea, we touched down at Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam. With an unknown amount of time to wait for our connecting flight to Nairobi we bought some postcards for 50 Guilders and sat down to write them. Of course we had no sooner done that when our call to board came so we went and queued up for half an hour then boarded the Jumbo on which we would fly to Africa.

KLM Flight 519 took off on schedule at 11:53 p.m. and headed south over Europe bound for Nairobi then on to Johannesburg.

The flight was pretty routine, with two meals, a movie and not much else. I sat next to an old guy from Texas who, after retiring from the insurance business, had taken up breeding Brangus cattle. The flight took 9 hours.

Dawn came up when we were somewhere over the Sahara Desert. As far as the eye can see, and that is a long way at 29,000 feet, was flat, barren land broken only by low mountain ranges and the courses of muddy rivers. The whole expanse country was the same uniform light brown colour; the sky above it a lovely turquoise shade of blue. Even the rivers were brown and it was hard to tell if there was water in them or not, but I think they would be full as this is the wet season. Trees dotted the landscape below and there were few roads visible, although we did pass over a railway line. Only a couple of villages were visible by their corrugated iron roofs, but there would be more villages there that were invisible from that height.

We landed at Nairobi International Airport at 8:40 a.m. about 20 minutes early, disembarked and went through passport control. Security and facilities are far from the standard of European airports but no one seems to mind and one thing we did notice were the armed guards on the tarmac.  We retrieved our packs and filled out our currency declarations in which everyone must declare how much money they have in an effort to combat the flourishing black market. We changed £20-00 pounds for 600 Kenyan shillings after we had gone through customs. The rate, well that is to say the official rate, is 30.50 K/SH to one pound.

A hustler got us a taxi into the city for 200 K/SH (34 shillings “cheaper” than the going rate) and the driver of the taxi, a beaten up and very old Datsun Crown, told us a few things about Nairobi and Mombasa on the way in. He also offered to take us to see some animals “for more money” but we politely refused. The outskirts of Nairobi are run down and shabby as is much of the central city. The roads, cracked and pot-holed, are packed with an array of old jalopies in varying states of decay, many of them years old. The trucks we passed on the Uhuru Highway on the way in were all old Leylands, Macks, Mercedes: probably cast-offs from European countries. The road rule appears to be “get through when you can” and there is much blaring of car horns. Every corner has a collection of people selling things.

We were dropped off at the 680¹ and checked in then went around to Kumuka². We met Scotty, our driver, and he told us all we needed to know about the trip and that due to a hold-up with the C.A.R³ visas we wouldn’t be leaving until the 20th so we have got quite a few days to kill in Nairobi.

We went to the market and spent half an hour there fending off vendors but still managed to be sold a bracelet each. Linda’s was 20 Kenyan shillings and I beat my one down to 15.

We wandered the streets for a while and went back to the hotel for a shower followed by tea on the balcony restaurant. Ee sampled the beer and while it is drinkable it isn’t nice by any means.

It was dark by 7 and we were in bed asleep by 8:30. So ended our first day in Africa.

¹The 680 Hotel was the hotel where we had booked to stay for the first few days that we were in Nairobi.
²Kumuka Africa was the tour company we were doing our overland trip with.
³The Central African Republic.


17/7/89

CHRIS AND SANDY ARE GONE, YAY!!⁰

We spent the morning lazing around upstairs then packed up a bit of stuff and walked up to Paradise Park Zoo. We got in free because yesterday (Sunday) I had shorn their three sheep for them. The head zookeeper, Stephen “Frog” French, had picked us up in his little yellow van with three motley looking sheep crammed in the back, and we had driven to a farm over at Cuffley where there was a shearing plant (actually only an overhead dagging plant¹ but in surprisingly good order and sharp!)

They were easy shearing and it was good to do a bit after nearly a year away from a farm and Frog said we would come up to the zoo and look around for nought².

We spent 2 hours there looking at the animals with Frog telling us about them.  They have lions, camels, highland cattle, goats, donkeys, coati mundi, mountain lion, sheep, reindeer, Vietnamese pigs, a llama & other bits and pieces, all in spacious and we’ll set out cages.

After we left there we walked down to Hoddesdon through the back roads in the woods. We spent an hour and a half in the pub then Linda went to Family Planning for a new supply of pills and some advice on the effects of antibiotics on it. We had tea at Maggie’s Bar and got a taxi home.

⁰They moved on to manage another pub…and good riddance: they were lazy, good-for-nothings.

¹A dagging plant is a machine for removing dirty wool from a sheep’s rear. It consists of a suspended electric motor driving a hand-piece.

² Pronounced “nowt” and meaning “nothing.”