Travel Log from California to Kenya
I just arrived back this week. Nothing has really happened yet, so I’ll just write about what did: a 49 hours and 52 minutes of planes, trains and automobiles, except without the trains. Which is the shortest amount of time it’s yet taken to get from my door in California to my door in Kenya. And, my dear reader, I pray your forgiveness, for I have just finished Tom Sawyer and I cannot but retain some nineteenth century vocabulary and Twain sarcasm in my voice. It may wear off by and by.
My alarm clock started beeping and I my heart leaped with the anticipation of the tortuous few days ahead of me. I would have awoken on sunny Sunday in Temecula, California in my parents’ home, but it was before sunrise and so not very sunny. I did some last minute packing of things I had forgotten, and then got in the car, Dad driving and Mom asleep in the back.
After breakfasting at McDonalds, we arrived at the airport. I was dropped off and waited in the first of several lines. It passed slowly, and I had the good fortune of seeing my esteemed teammate Vivian Lu while in line. Time slowed, as it always seems to do while in a line, but I managed to make it through and check my bag. I waited in another line and went through that strange and loathsome ritual of undressing before a hurried line of travelers and dreary eyed TSA officials. Belt, shoes, pockets. *Beep* Watch.
Vivian and I arrived in Houston. The few hour flight was not so wearisome, and it seemed about morning, though what time the clocks said I cannot now remember. We waited for our next flight for a few hours in a crowd of people who had built up single-chair airport fiefdoms, strong with mental fortifications against interacting with their equally-well fortified neighbors.
We boarded this next flight and were presently en route to Paris. The passengers were a strange assortment of well-dressed Europeans, Texan-dressed Texans, and poorly-dressed us.
I passed the time by listening to the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. He was a rather interesting fellow, and it made the trip speed by, though my focus wanted towards the end for want of sleep, my burgeoning illness and my back pain (a long-time friend, who always accompanied me on such journeys).
And so we arrived in Paris. The funny thing about France is, firstly, that everybody speaks French. But by some sorcery, everyone was able to figure out that we were not in fact French, but Americans. But for spite, I think, they still started in French. I would ask if they spoke English, they would betray annoyance, and then continue in English. I was glad it wasn’t the French equivalent of “Why don’t you talk ‘Merican?”
On the plane, we had noted the pilots indication that the temperature outside was 17 degrees Fahrenheit. I, being from California, did not understand what this meant. It was surely colder than normal cold California weather of 60 degrees, but impossible for me to estimate. I think I supposed 50 degrees was right around as cold as things got, so steeled myself for that. I was dressed for California/Kenya weather, and so was equipped with a long-sleeve shirt and a pair of slacks. I figured I should steal a blanket from the airplane as it would probably find some use in the new cold land.
We wanted to find our next flight; the time was 12 hours away and the terminal about a thousand miles away by foot. Let the reader beware: Charles de Gaulle airport is very large. Everything was ready so we had about 8 hours to spend in Paris. So we walked outside.
It’s difficult for me to describe what 17 degrees feels like to a Californian wearing a light shirt. Words like ‘soul-sucking’ and ‘*%*#’ come to mind, but fail to capture quite what it was like. Vivian had a two-layered jacket and graciously offered me the outer shell. This made deathly cold into I-want-to-die cold, and permitted the exploration of the city. Vivian adapted the Continental Airlines blanket into a scarf.
We took the train into town, and attempted to buy a day-use city subway pass. This simple task was quite difficult as the cold had significantly impaired my cognitive abilities. But we figured it out and retreated into the bowels of the subway where at least we wouldn’t die. For the next few hours, we explored the city, choosing an attraction, popping up from underground for just long enough to photograph it, and then retreating to the warmth of the subways again. In this manner, we were able to see Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triumph.
We went through the security ritual again, we boarded our last plane, and took off for Nairobi. Perhaps because He felt bad for the joke of the French weather He played on us, God smiled warmly on us in the plane. We had been upgraded to Business Class! It had been some time now since I had slept, and so I was looking forward to the reprieve. Unfortunately, my illness was intent upon making my remaining journey as miserable as possible. With malice, it pressurized my sinuses (which is a cruel trick in an airplane, I’ll have you know) and made my nose run like the Mississippi. By the end of the journey, my nostrils were so chapped they were almost bleeding. But I was able to get a few hours of sleep in the warm plane under a warm plane blanket, the horrors of the preceding afternoon drifting away.
We met our fellow travelers who had arrived before us and together left the airport. We got in a car, and headed for the bus stage. Nairobi traffic is quite interesting and unlike most places. Some developing country traffic arrangements are quite chaotic, with little regard for lines or directions. But Nairobi seems to be a patchwork. In places, there is the utmost of order. And then sometimes it is customary for drivers to pass on the wrong side of the road simply because an opportunity presented itself. But we arrived at the bus stage after about an hour or two. That’s a guess, but what I do remember is a lot of not moving.
The bus stage is a unique place in that it is positive, tangible evidence to the Atheist that hell does indeed exist. It seems that all of the most worthless and unsavory characters have been sentenced to reside in what is literally a hot, steaming pit of filth. So, like Dante, we descended into it, but without the help of a guide so kind and helpful as Virgil. Seeing white faces brought a swarm of these tormented souls to our ‘assistance,’ desiring to ‘help’ us carry our bags for a ‘fair’ price. One swooped in for one of our bags, and I blocked and then proceeded, hoping that they’d go away if we ignored them. But unlike stray dogs and pimples, this did not work. They followed in train, and we ducked, pushed and swam through the throng.
So we had some time to wait. I, now fully in torment from illness, hotness and pain, sat on the aisle seat doing everything in my power to hold on to hope and lose consciousness. But while hope fled, consciousness remained as every ten minutes a person would not walk sideways down the aisle and give me I solid bump with their hip and promptly not apologize. I say every ten minutes, but it wasn’t that; for even the luxury of regular bumps eluded me and I was bumped, it seemed, whenever it was that I was about to escape into sleep.
Finally, we arrived. We walked about half a kilometer to home, carrying our bags, relieved to be off the hellish bus. As we met friends along the road, all were greeted warmly but me; when people greeted me, they seemed somehow frightened. Which, if I looked one tenth as bad as I felt, would be the appropriate reaction. But we finally, finally got home. 49 hours, 52 minutes and 48 seconds.