Vignettes from Africa I – Driving to Nairobi

Here's a short series to be posted over several days, random short experiences in Africa. Not necessarily in any order, just observations collected over time.

Two hours 25 minutes beyond the lip of the Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania, we found a tarmac road. Open-backed, full-polluting Tatas tore across the flats outside town.

The run-up to Arusha was shady, tree lined, graceful. Then after the coffee plantations, ramshackle stalls like "Lucky Feed M ill." "Lucky Family General Store." "Moona Pharmacy." ("Moona is an obscenity in Finnish) "Beuty Saloon."

We got a driver in Arusha named Moses, and he said we'd make Nairobi by 4:00. Arusha called itself the halfway point between Cairo and the Cape. Maybe so, but I wondered, so what?

A few years ago a United Nations conference was postponed here because a snake fried the wiring of the Arusha International Conference Center. Made it too hot to use.

Over at the Mount Meru Hotel they’d be happy to arrange tickets for you on Air Burundi or Sudan Airways – whichever you’d like.

Moses stopped in at a little bar he knew for us to change the rest of our Tanzanian shillings into four Tusker premiums, and we sure did roll into Nairobi right at 4:00.


The most delicious thing in Nairobi was a three-day-old newspaper. It was nine days since we'd seen one. Walking back from the newsstand, a fight broke out right in the middle of Kenyatta Avenue. We stepped around the pile of people and settled into the ex-pat bar at the New Stanley Hotel, called the Thorn Tree.

Several cold Premium beers later, Maurice, a man from United Touring Company, came stridin’ in like the guy in those Keep On Truckin’ cartoons to settle a debt, clutching a one hundred dollar bill and a five.

Caught up, Premium braced and a hundred bucks richer, we felt like stepping out. They tell you not to brave the Nairobi streets at night. But the cabs wanted five bucks for two blocks’ walk, so we said screw 'em, and we walked to a place called Trattoria for Italian dinner, and then walked back. Most of the people on the streets were security men with clubs.

Next: Flying to Zimbabwe

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