Africa, Kenya

Kenya 2022 – Getting There

Let’s start at the very beginning. A very good place to start.

The Sound of Music

As you can tell by my quoting old musicals to start this epic recant of our trip, mama is *still* battling jet lag almost a week later. Also, the fact that I called myself mama is another strong indicator that my brain doesn’t know if it’s coming or going at this point. But you gotta start somewhere, so why not at the beginning? And why not with a musical?

I’m not sure how I’m going to break down this trip. I know it won’t be daily, because that would take too long to do and likely would never get finished. I know me. I know my track record. I never finished the Japan trip report, and there are non-existent New Zealand and Puerto Rico trips I never shared stories from. Maybe some day. Don’t hold your breath, dear readers, but maybe.

I think for this trip I will break it down into topics; getting there, each camp, ELEPHANTS, traveling with strangers, getting home, etc. Hubby suggested I post once a week to make it more manageable and I think that’s a great idea. So every Tuesday you’ll get an update. Maybe it will be one post, or it could be multiple. It depends on how the week went. These posts take some time creating, though, so we’ll start out realistically with once a week posts. Cross your fingers and let’s hope for the best!

Getting to Kenya in the year 2022 was easier than it would have been in 2020 (when we were originally supposed to go on this trip), but much more difficult than when we went the first time. There were three main pieces of paperwork that needed to be completed beforehand:

  1. Obtain an online E-Visa. This was the piece that took the most time and frankly was a pain in the patootie to do. You had to upload certain sized pics of a passport photo, your actual passport, the cover of your passport (this one was a mystery to me as to why), etc.. There was so much extra information they wanted, too, like where your parents were (why?) and some other things that seemed quite strange when all you wanted was to visit their beautiful country! I didn’t remember any of that from when we went to Kenya the first time and could just get the visa at the airport. The other tricky thing with doing this online is there were a lot of fake websites out there and people on Tripadvisor were falling for them and losing out on money they thought was going to pay for their visas. We found out literally the day after we got rid of our old ink jet printer and bought a new black and white laser printer – because who needs a color printer anymore – that we needed a color printout of the E-Visa. Of course we did. The E-Visa is also only good for 90 days from when it is approved, so you didn’t want to apply too soon in advance just in case, but at the same time you weren’t sure how long it would take to get approved. It only took us 24 hours or so to get approved and we applied about a month ahead of time, which gave us an extra month+ just in case we got stuck in Kenya for some (potentially Covid) reason. See the non-existent trip report to New Zealand where we were stuck during Covid for a couple of months.
  2. Vaccination Certificate. This one was pretty straight forward – you upload your proof of vaccine with your information and get a QR code. It was a lot easier to fill out than the E-Visa. The only strange thing about this is when you got the QR code it said, “Provisional”, which could be confusing. You never got another code after initially uploading your proof, so I’m not sure why they chose the word provisional. Maybe it means something different there.
  3. Travelers Health Surveillance QR Code. This one was pointless. Basically you answered questions saying you felt fine and weren’t having any symptoms. As long as you have your plane seat number you could fill this out at any time. Some of the people we were meeting filled theirs out literally weeks before their flight. Do you see a problem with that? Basically you could say a month or more before your trip, “Nope! No symptoms!” and get your QR code. It made no sense. The other thing that didn’t make sense is that the actual code didn’t have your name on it or any identifier as to who it was for. And finally, the thing that really didn’t make sense? NOBODY CHECKED THIS IN KENYA. What was the point? It was a waste of time and paper.

Once all the paperwork was completed and the colored E-Visa copies were procured from a local shop, it hit me. This trip was actually happening. It was hard to believe after the multiple postponements!

The last stressful piece was the packing. There is a weight limit of 15 kg/33 pounds per person, including carry on luggage, for the internal Kenya flights. You are also advised not to bring luggage with wheels as there is limited cargo space in the small planes and they often try to squish everyone’s luggage together to make it fit. For our main luggage we used the duffel bag and large-ish backpack that we used the last time. We also had a backpack with the camera stuff and a backpack for medicines, liquids, and stuff for the plane (Kindle (Sal left this in the pocket of his seat on the flight *to* Nairobi, so he didn’t have it the whole 3.5 weeks – yes, there will probably be a story about that), headphones, i-Pad, documents, etc.). No wheels for this duo! You guys – three or four of the main people we traveled with for the second half of the trip had luggage with wheels. I was shocked! Especially because the organizer that had been to Africa over 20 times. Nobody mentioned any trouble having it! I think they all adopted the, “ask for forgiveness, not permission” mentality. I’m thinking next time we need the wheels.

We always try to pack everything at least a week ahead of time in case we need to order anything else and to make sure everything fits. We were sure we were doing so well on the weight, until we actually weighed everything and the night before we were trying to figure out what we really didn’t need because we were over by about 4 kg/8.5 pounds. We decided not to bring the extra camera and paraphernalia that went with it. It was a risk. It paid off, though, because we didn’t need it. Phew.

We flew Kenya Airways, which is also who we flew last time. This time would be different, though, because we would be flying in Business. We decided to splurge at the last minute. Full disclosure – I was concerned about Covid. Even though for the flight to Nairobi masks were supposedly required, I didn’t see any flight attendants ask people to put their masks back on. Most people complied and it wasn’t an issue, but our original seats were going to be by the bathroom in bulkhead, and I remembered the last time we flew KA and had those seats that passengers liked to hang out and stretch there. I was really worried about getting sick before the trip even started, as this trip was very expensive and we had waited so long for it.

We flew out of JFK. From where we live, JFK is a pain in the butt to get to. It can take anywhere between 45 minutes and 2 hours. It’s a bit hard to plan. We used Blacklane care service, which isn’t cheap, but is reliable. Again, I wasn’t taking any chances. The car arrived on time and the drive was about an hour. The only thing I will say is that the driver didn’t know how to turn the radio on, which was weird. It makes the hour drive a bit uncomfortable because someone is listening to everything you are saying because it’s dead quiet in the car and they can hear everything. I resorted to texting Sal if I wanted to say something private, like ‘awkward!’, but Sal didn’t have his notifications on and I would have to motion to him to check his phone. Thinking back, I’m sure the driver probably caught my signals in the rear view mirror. Awkward!

At JFK we went directly to security as we had checked in online. Since KA has a code share with Delta, we asked the attendant if the Sky Priority line was the correct line for us. To be fair, on our ticket it literally said Sky Priority, however when I saw a list of the airlines in that particular line it didn’t list KA. She ushered us through and after maybe 10-12 minutes waiting it was our turn. Our TSA agent was quite frustrated when trying to scan our ticket, because guess what? We weren’t in the right line. The good thing was she was not frustrated with us, but with the attendant that told us to go in the line in the first place. She called her manager and had us step to the side. I would say we waited 5-10 minutes at most for the manager to mosey over, take our passports, go to another empty station’s computer and do a bloop bloop bloop on it that would allow him to let us through to the carry on scanning. I literally said, “Don’t you need to scan our tickets?”. Nope. He just needed our passports. We are probably on some troublemaker list now for people who don’t get in the right lines at JFK. The security itself was fine, except KA doesn’t have TSA pre-check so off with the shoes and out with the liquids.

One thing about JFK is that they actually have signs for terminals/gates and estimates on how long of a walk it is to them. Some of those distances can be up to 18 or 20 minutes, which is nuts to me. We were Business class, so we could use Delta’s lounge. The lounge was in a different terminal than our flight. Remember, our luggage didn’t have wheels? And on the way there we didn’t check anything because we had read some horror stories about lost luggage, etc., so poor Sal had to lug everything except one backpack. So 55+ pounds of luggage. Again, with no wheels. I still don’t know how he did it. He’s scrappy!

We enjoyed the lounge for a while, I’d give it a solid ‘B+’ rating.

We made it, Joe!

After some food/drink/relaxation, we made our way to our gate. We took some breaks along the way because it was quite a jaunt. At one point I wondered about getting one of those little beep beep cars that takes the celebs and the hoity-toity around in airports, but despite my dreams, we are neither celebs nor hoity-toity. Boo.

Pretty soon they were saying it was time to board. We got to load up first since we sold a kidney each to upgrade to Business. Just kidding – it was only stock – but you can’t take it with you so why not for a 13.5 hour flight? We tried to scan our tickets on our phones, but no bueno. We had to get a paper ticket. Why? Who the heck knows? We got the printed tickets fairly quickly, got back in line, showed our E-Visas/passports/new printed tickets, and were allowed to pass. Shew.

Cheers!
First lion spotted on the trip!

Before our flight I had pre-ordered a fruit plate instead of whatever the main meal was going to be on the flight. I had been doing great with food/exercise for weeks before the trip and I didn’t want to blow it. I was pleasantly surprised when meal time came, and I was presented with this:

Yum, fruit!

Sal got his first (of many) Kenyan beer!

Maisha marefu! (It means, ‘long life!’ in Swahili)

Little would I know after that first fruit plate that they would bring me a fruit plate for every meal. You guys! I could only handle two fruit plates before I was begging for a carb or piece of cheese…anything but more fruit! For breakfast they actually gave me a fruit plate instead of a sandwich, but my fruit plate came with…fruit! Way too much fruit, gang. Wow.

We deplaned pretty quickly, got through the first security – where all they checked was our immunization QR code – then made our way to the main event. Somehow we got lucky and literally had no wait before handing over our documents. I had a nice friendly chat with the Customs agent. I was in such a good mood because we actually got there. I’m sure I was working on adrenaline at that point, as well, because I hadn’t slept the whole flight!

After scanning our bags yet again, we made our way out, finding the currency exchange. There was a bit of unnecessary pre-trip drama regarding USD bills. On Tripadvisor they said that Kenya would not accept bills more than 10 years old. Our TA for the first part of the trip gave us information that said Kenya accepted currency after 2000. So which was it? I checked with our surly TA to have him double check as quite often on Tripadvisor it said the opposite of the information he gave me. He couldn’t get a straight answer from the higher ups, so instead insulted me by saying something along the lines of, “common sense would tell you to bring bills no older than 10 years old then”. This is why I called him surly. I will write at least a partial post about this dickhead in the future, but just know this was the straw that broke the camels back for me with him. We bank totally online with a financial services company and have for over 15 years. They don’t have a bank where you could pop in and say, “newer bills only, please!”. No ATM just gives new bills, either, regardless of what this British twat tried to tell me. So this pompous wingnut didn’t know what he was talking about. You better believe I matched his energy in my reply. We spent probably the equivalent of 3-4 weeks in Asia just for the week before the main part of the trip. The least we could get was civility and patience.

I had decided to bring all of the USD I had gotten, no matter what the year. It was a good choice, because when I asked the woman working at the currency booth what the rules were as far as currency dates, she had no idea what I was talking about. By the third time of me repeating the question I decided I would just hand over everything and hope for the best. It worked. Yay!

Once out of the airport we went to the bank to get more Kenyan Shillings. I tried the ATM first and was denied. I was sure there was going to be an issue with our debit card until Sal tried and had no problem. They give you some differently named account choices and apparently I picked the wrong one. Thankfully just a user error!

We found our guide/driver to Eka Hotel quickly. The paperwork had said it was 5 minutes away, but it was more like 15 with traffic. To go from the airport to the hotel you had to go past this section where people sell almost anything you can think of in the street, and that area is always very congested and slow. The driver and guide that took us to the hotel were both very friendly and we were there before we knew it. We had to scan our bags before we could enter the hotel, then they had us sit down and have some juice while the guide took our passports and checked us in. Looking back, I wonder if it was smart to let this guy I met 15 minutes beforehand take our passports (I had copies of everything separately just in case)? I think normally I would have thought twice about it, but at that point it was like four in the morning back home so I just smiled and handed them to him.

After a bit of a wait we eventually checked into our room and didn’t leave again until the next morning. Understandably, we were too tired to explore. I did some exercising in the room, read, we ordered room service, then slept. Nothing exciting. But you know what actually was exciting? The fact that…holy cow we were finally in Kenya!

More to come 🙂