WEDNESDAY 6 NOVEMBER – IRON HORSE TO MOMBASA Along with Maria [I have no recollection who that was] we checked out of the New Kenya Lodge and walked up to Nairobi Burgers Ltd for breakfast. Maria had a room booked at the Iqbal so we left our gear there and I set off to find the office of the New Zealand Consul.  It took about 20 minutes to walk down Kenyatta Avenue, across Central Park, and up Nyerere Road where the consul’s office was located. It was a simple job to get two letters of introduction printed up by the consul’s friendly secretary.

By the time I got back to the Iqbal it was hot and I was damn thirsty so we walked round to the Terrace Bar at the 680 for a cold drink and while we were there we wrote a few letters.  

We spent most of the afternoon relaxing in Maria’s room at the Iqbal and about 6:00pm Lawrence and Gaylyn turned up ready to go. We hired a taxi to take us to the railway station (KSH15 each) and said goodbye to Maria. The taxi, a beat up old Corolla, took about 10 minutes to thread its way through the bustling traffic to the station where we selected the right carriage (neatly labelled “MR & MRS WORCESTER, MR AND MRS KEY”) and settled into our small but comfy compartment.

The platform outside the window was dark and hot, with people running to and fro in preparation for the imminent departure of the train. At precisely 7:00pm the carriage gave a slight lurch and we moved slowly out of the station, gathering speed out into the warm, dark blanket of the African night.

An attendant came round selling beers so the four of us bought one each along with some bottles of bitter lemon to drink with the vodka that Lawrence had brought with him. At 8:45 the gong rang for the second dinner sitting and Linda and I went along to the immaculately set out dining car which was complete with white linen table cloths and silver cutlery bearing the logo E.A.R&H – a relic of the old East African Railways and Hotels company. The meal was tasty and filling: soup, fish, curry, stew and pudding with tea or coffee to follow, all for the princely sum of 160 KSH (£3) each, a small price to pay for sampling the style of a by-gone era!

After a long conversation with a strange Australian over beers in the bar, we went back to our compartment and went to bed, lulled to sleep by the gentle rocking and clatter of the train as it rolled across the darkened savannah.


TUESDAY. After changing some money at Barclays, we caught Matatu¹ Number 23 out to the suburb of Westlands where the Pakistan Embassy is located.  Westlands is a lovely, quiet suburb with large houses set amongst all manner of trees and flowering shrubs. The scent of frangipani in the cool morning air was quite exquisite, and the trees were tinged with the purple flowers of jacaranda along with a dozen shades of red, orange and white.

The staff of the the embassy were very friendly and helpful and even though a visa to visit Pakistan normally requires a return air ticket, a little bit of calm reasoning on our part with the diplomat assigned to deal with us, soon convinced him of that our intention to travel overland into India after we’d spent time in Pakistan, and that we had enough money for such a trip, was genuine enough to have our visas granted. The cost was only KSH45…we had expected to pay US$50 each!

Back in the city, we went round to the Iqbal where we had arranged to meet two Americans who wanted to share a four-berth cabin on the train to Mombasa. The four of us walked over to the train station and joined the queue at the ticket office. The two Americans, Lawrence and Gaylyn, had done the trip before so they knew the ins and outs of buying the tickets and we were soon in possession of four tickets aboard the 7:00 PM departure tomorrow.

After that, we went to the Post Office to check the mail again (nothing this time) then we went back to our hotel to rest up and pack. At 1:30 I caught a matatu out to Westlands again and picked up our passports, and then, finally, back at the hotel, we crashed out for the rest of the day.

In the evening, Neil, Linda and I went round to the Terrace Bar at the Six Eighty [readers will remember the Six Eighty as the place we stayed prior to our overland departure back in ‘89] for a cold Tusker, then to Nairobi Burgers Ltd for a snack.  

¹A matatu is a minibus for conveying passengers, as many as you can cram in, around Kenyan towns and cities. The name matatu is Swahili and means “one more”, a reference to the fact that they can always find room for one more passenger.


MONDAY 4 NOVEMBER The flight was uneventful and passed quickly. The aircraft, a Boeing 767, was old and tatty, the food was unremarkable, and the in-flight movie, Home Alone, was funny but in such eye-straining colours and ear-splitting volume that it was hard to sit through.

We touched down in Nairobi just as the sun crested the horizon, shining across the fog-shrouded savannah around the city. Along with our new friends Marina (NZ), Linda (Oz), and Neil (NZ), we caught a black London cab into the city for KSH60 (Kenyan Shillings) each. It was rather incongruous to be sitting in a brand new Hackney cab with open savannah speeding by outside the windows.

In town we booked into the New Kenya Lodge, four of us in a room for KSH75 each. It was early in the day so a whole bunch of us set off to walk over to the Post Office to check for our mail. Linda got 3 letters: two of them from her mother and one from her friends Jennie and Lydia. Once the mail was collected, Linda and I set off in search of a cheap flight to Pakistan. It took us most of the morning and a lot of hassles before we finally were able to secure tickets from Gulf Air for US$252 each. We ended up putting the cost on my Visa card as the rigmarole involved with changing exactly the right amount of money and supplying copies of our currency declarations was too much effort.

After that, we went back to the hotel and crashed out along with most of the people we had arrived with. At five o’clock, it began to rain heavily and the downpour lasted for an hour and a half. When it stopped, Linda, Neil, Marina and I walked up to the Iqbal¹ for a cheap meal of beef and potato stew with rice.

¹The Iqbal was a Nairobi institution among the backpacker fraternity. Lovingly known as “The Dog-Bowl” it was a scruffy, bug-infested shit-hole…but it was cheap, accessible and you could get an inexpensive feed there.