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 “When you’re traveling, you are what you are right there and then. People don’t have your past to hold against you. No yesterdays on the road.” – William Least Heat Moon

African Safari:The Dark Continent Beneath Our Feet

Nairobi skyline at dust. It was all so different, and colorful, and chaotic. I loved it. -- Photo courtesy Wikipedia

A nine-hour, cattle-car flight – well that’s what it feels like if you fly economy – deposited us in Amsterdam, where we caught an eight-hour connecting flight to Nairobi, Kenya. We had left Houston at 3:30 p.m. on August 19, but with the 17 hours of flight time, a short layover and the eight-hour time zone difference, it was late evening on the 20th when our feet first touched Africa.

A Pollman’s Safaris’ driver met us at the airport for the ride to our hotel. He stuffed our luggage and six other passengers into a van that had seen better days. In fact, I don’t recall seeing a single vehicle in Nairobi that didn’t look like it had seen better days.

But the color and intensity of Nairobi at night stirred my blood, as did our driver who would have put a New York taxi driver to shame when it came to dodging oncoming traffic as he zoomed in and out among vehicles that seemed to follow no set rules.

The word Nairobi comes from the Maasai phrase “enkare nyorobi,” which means the place of cool waters. The city, founded in 1899, is better known however as the Green City in the Sun, or the Safari Capital of Africa. It has a population of about 3.5 million and is the fourth largest city in Africa.

The other three pairs of travelers, who had flown in on the same flight as we had, were each staying at different hotels, and they were dropped off first.

The Norfolk Hotel in Nairobi, Kenya, where Robert Redford and Meryl Streep stayed while filming "Out of Africa."

At one of the hotel stops, guards looked under our van with mirrors. At the next stop, the Stanley Hotel, there was no such safety precautions and we could hear partying and music coming from inside. It sounded like a fun hotel.

As we drove through the city, I observed a sign that said 16.7 million Kenyans live in poverty. In contrast we passed huge well-lighted Toyota and Yamaha factories. More interesting, however, was one car driving on a flat as if nothing was wrong.

Like Dorothy, we weren’t in Kansas, or Texas, any more.

It was about 10 p.m. when our driver finally took us past a guarded barrier to let us off at the elegant Norfork Hotel. The precautions emphasized the travel warning to Kenya which Kim and I had chosen to ignore.

The armed guards made the warning seem more real, but any fleeting thoughts of danger quickly faded when we were graciously greeted to the quaint hotel by a doorman in a long green coat and a tall green top hat.

Next Episode: Hemingway Slept Here

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