Thursday, March 19, 2020

Our Kenyan Kidnapping Attempt

We had one last breakfast at Enchoro Wildlife Camp.


We were the chef's favorite and only guests.




I really enjoyed driving through the Kenyan countryside. There were nice scenic views as well as quick peeks into local life.












Peter said two hours until the next stop. I asked him if it was going to be another goddamn roadside trinket shop and he answered in the affirmative. Sensing my annoyance he continued “if we stopped in the city the people there would disturb you. Also the souvenir shops have very clean bathrooms.” Ok point made and argument over. We had only walked the streets of Nairobi about 15 minutes before we had a following “fly on poop” beggar situation where he followed us for blocks.

I had been considering buying one of those classic African, super colorful shirts called a dashiki but I didn't see them for sale in any of the touristy shops. I asked Peter about the dashiki situation and he shut that down pretty quick. "Those are for ladies." Amusingly Greek Lydia has been calling it a tzatziki and I don't feel a pressing need to correct her.




At one point along a country road we saw some locals whose van had gotten stuck in the mud. Of course Peter pulled over to help them. We'd helped so many stuck drivers at this point that I was getting annoyed. This was supposed to be a safari not a tow truck driver school. I asked him what the deal was and he replied something about we need to help people when we can so that when we're stuck they will help us. Well they'd really be helping me out a lot if they kept their 1994 Chrysler Town & Country's on the damn pavement. We never did get them out. We tried pulling them with a rope but it snapped.


I heard the phrase ashe enkai enough that I asked what it meant. "Thank god".


When we stopped for gas Lydia and I popped in for some snack action. The person behind the counter was so excited to see us that they whipped out this old map so we could point to where we live.




They sold milks in these little triangle boxes.


"Tropical Heat Wave Potato Crisps are more crunchy, more tasty, and more fun than ever!

They are produced using only the best quality hand-picked potatoes, nurtured in our most fertile soils, supporting thousands of farmers in Kenya.

What's more - they are gluten free and contain 0% trans-fat. What does that mean...? It means no worries! Hakuna Matata!!"






I made Lydia try a Moringa Drink.








We drove past one town that really, really liked carrots. I think it's time for a carrot intervention.


We finally arrived in our destination of Nakuru. We'd stay here and do some more safari and other fun stuff. We pulled up to the Nuru Palace Hotel. Things were about to get real.




Maybe the last happy, worry-free moment of the trip.




Things started off bad right from the jump. Peter thought we were in good hands and so left. The front desk couldn't find our reservation and were acting like we needed to pay them. Nope. Had to call Peter and have him come back and deal with it. Ok. Then the front desk staff took our passports and looked at every single page. Longer than any immigration agent I've ever encountered.


We hadn't had internet for the last few days while we were living in a tent camp, so the long wait and lobby wifi gave us plenty of time to catch up on the deteriorating covid pandemic situation.


Finally we got through the check-in process and went to our room. I would have rather been back in the tent. For one thing there were permanently cracked windows and the door didn't sit quite right in the frame, and the result was that there were already mosquitoes waiting for us in the room. Great. The wifi didn't exist in the room either so if we wanted to use it we had to sit back in the lobby. Our reservation included meals so we went ahead and did that. I ordered beef Stroganoff because you never see that on menus anywhere and it's just delicious.


Then we headed back outside to wander around town a little, as we had very little else to do now that our driver had abandoned us. We were strolling through the courtyard when the rude front desk lady summoned me to her office to have a word. What the heck do you want now lady? She informed us that we were now under quarantine, we were not allowed to leave the hotel for 14 days, and that she was in contact with the Kenyan ministry of health who would be checking on us every day. I think my last words to her were "that's not going to happen." Ok now we're in freak out mode. First, to be fair to her, I did check the ministry of health website and I think it did say that there was now a quarantine. Cool. However, the fact that she let us check in first, didn't mention it once, let us interact with her and the staff, order room service, and sit in the lobby touching everything while using the internet was pretty shady.  


The hotel was empty except for us, and there were two prices posted in the lobby: one for locals and one for foreigners. So in conclusion I think it was this lady's plan to let us check in and then trap us there, forcing us to pay to stay at this awful awful hotel. At least the tents out in the bush zipped up in order to keep the critters out!

Ok so first I called our tour company and told them what was up. Next was my very first call to a US embassy. I've almost been to 50% of the countries on the planet and so far have had pretty darn good luck with a lack of international incidents. The embassy staff I got ahold of said that the hotel couldn't keep me there if we agreed to go straight to the airport to leave the country. Sounded like a plan to me.


I was reassured that the host of Celebrity Apprentice was back at home leading the nation through these troubled times.


When Peter finally showed up we were relieved to see his face. He and the garbage hotel manager lady exchanged some harsh words. I told them about the US embassy's recommendation and told them we would like to just to go straight to the airport and leave the country. That seemed to end the conversation. We had already packed up our bags and we just grabbed them and ran to the jeep and drove the heck out of that place.


It's funny because we had just driven through the streets of Nakuru without a care, returning smiles and the occasional wave from a child. Now I felt like fugitive and leaned back in my seat without making eye contact with anyone. Who knows when some police officer might pull us over and demand that we quarantine in their trunk for two weeks.

Yesterday I said the words “we saw so much today that if I woke up home tomorrow I would be satisfied with this trip.” Welp. That might just about come true. Out of Africa indeed!



We drove through the night to get back to Nairobi. Since that guy from the pizza hut commercials decided to close the borders, contrary to health expert recommendations, but give everyone a little bit of notice, the air travel system was a shambles. We needed to rebook our flights to leave ASAP instead of a couple days from now as planned. Neither Expedia nor Air Canada would even take our calls and they were so bogged down that they wouldn't even let you sit on hold. Our internet connection, bummed off of Peter's cellphone was barely existent and went in and out, and neither of the company's websites were giving us any options either. Lydia was going into full blown histeria and was researching Airbnbs for us to live in long term if we were unable to get out of the country. Exacerbating this circus was that our tour guide manager guy told us(erroneously) that today was the last day that flights out of the country were even happening. We couldn't see news of that anywhere and so were hopeful he was mistaken but the doubt still lingered. What a mess.






Peter took the whole incident in stride and even teased me about how seriously I took the whole kidnapping situation. I mean, that was the first time someone tried to put me under house arrest so I thought I should respond decisively and get the heck out of there.


There would likely be no dinner today so Peter stopped at the side of the road where multiple people were selling hard roasted corn on the cob.




For 30 cents each I was pretty happy with my investment.


Not only were there no flights available anywhere but the flights for subsequent days had skyrocketed in price.


Well as we had no way of speaking to any airline employee or travel agent of any kind, we were forced to drive all the way back to the airport in order to speak to a ticket agent in person.




I took this screenshot surely because it was so shocking and scary at the time. As I belatedly write this blog in January 2021, yesterday the US had over 4300 deaths in one day!


The unfortunate part of this airport plan was that at this airport you had to go through security and really slow metal detecting to even get in the door. Unsurprisingly there were no earlier flights than the one we booked available. The ticket agent also told us that while our flight was still scheduled, the flight before it was cancelled and so there was a cascading flightless person surplus going on so to arrive at the airport early.


Peter was waiting patiently in the airport parking lot. We had our bags with us and everything so he had no idea if he would see us again. Our plan to leave the country having failed, now the question was: where should we spend the night.


Well I figured if on the off chance I was going to be under house arrest for the next couple weeks I would like that to be at the grand old Hotel Stanley from the beginning of our trip. Before he dropped us off Peter paused and then was like "so... do you want to go on safari tomorrow?" We had been in such a panic mode all day that we had forgotten that this was supposed to be a vacation. Since we were unable to leave the country any earlier than planned, why the heck not? I also figured if the locals (or we) had cooties the safest place to be would surely be in the middle of nowhere looking at lions where there were no other people around.


I mean, they have Dasani in glass bottles. How much fancier can you get?










Adding to our fear was the fact that the flight that we did have booked kept changing.

Originally it was supposed to fly Swiss to Zurich then to Canada. Then that flight died so then it was Lufthansa - Frankfurt to Zurich to Montreal to Toronto to St. Louis. Then I think Europe closed its borders. So then it turned into Dubai on Emirates then Chicago then St. Louis. As long as the damn thing ends in St. Louis it can have a stop on the moon as far as I care.








In the few days since we left the Stanley things had notably changed. The metal detector security procedure at the entrance now included a temperature check and hand washing, and hand sanitizer dispensers appeared in the elevator.


We had a little debrief/self therapy session about the travel drama of the day.