Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Heathrow Airport, Nairobi, and We Are Finally Here - Traveling with kids

Bridget asked me today where we are now, so here goes, after a week of bone wearied jet lag I am finally ready to start communicating with the outside world again.  Oh and yes I like my children again.  This may sound a little harsh but when you can't sleep at night and then you finally fall asleep, being woken up by a child who doesn't want to sleep and then another child who doesn't, and then the one who doesn't but is just going to scream for two hours, well that is torture.  Didn't you tell me this was going to happen Bridget?  Jet lag with kids is terrible!  There was a point this week where I could just barely stand to look at Cheetah any more.  Today after two good nights of sleep I'm happy to report that is no longer a problem.  I was able to hug my daughter without gritting my teeth but it was touch and go there for a bit.  Has anyone found anything that helps with jet lag?  Melatonine? Sleeping Pills?  A kick in the head?  On more than one occasion we resorted to putting on Frozen while we tried to sleep and Cheetah ran around our room screaming.  Judge me if you must, but man, that first week here was ROUGH!

Here is sort of what happened besides lack of sleep.  We flew from Chicago to Heathrow and then Heathrow to Nairobi.  Note to the world at the International terminal in Heathrow they make you go through security again, and here they took some liquid based item that was deemed ok in Chicago from us and pretty much every plane friend we'd made who was flying on somewhere else.  For us it was the half empty 4 ounce bottle of Benedryl we were carrying to drug Cheetah.  True story, they took the half filled bottle saying that we could repurchase it upstairs and they left a half full 8 ounce water bottle full of laced with Benedryl juice.  I'm not even entirely sure they saw it.  Another note on Heathrow.  The airport is huge and has these long empty hallways with really long escalators and not bathroom.  You get off your plane, go through security, and then you sort of feel like you are in no mans land, trying to find concourse C and following these really small random little signs until you come to a little underground train.  You get on, a few more long hallways with nothing and then suddenly you are at a real terminal with real food and stations, and oh yeah the store they mentioned, where I didn't check for Benedryl but I happened to notice that these small boxes of candy were going 2 for 7 pounds. Two for seven pounds people!  I mean airports are always expensive but this just seemed like insult to injury.  Oh and by the way while we were up here I shared my airplane toothpaste with a friend from the plane because airport security threw hers away.  I'm seriously thinking it is a racket.  

We didn't really have set plans for what to do once we arrived in Nairobi.  We had a flight leaving at 7:30 in the morning that closed at 6:40 so we knew we needed to be back quickly and our flight from Heathrow didn't arrive until after nine.  We looked at some hotels online but they were so expensive, pretty much the most expensive hotels we've ever seen.  I'm not joking about this.  They were more expensive then what you'd see in San Francisco, Washington DC, or Boston.  They for sure rivaled prices in Europe and were much steeper then in the middle east.  We also felt really nervous about just booking one room.    We've sort of gotten to the point where showing up with six people to fit into one room just doesn't look so great, but on the other hand do you really want to just stick four kids in a room alone in some random hotel.  Plus the idea of paying all this money and then possibly missing our flight, well we just didn't want to do it.  So we didn't end up scheduling anything.  We sort of in the back of our mind thought maybe we'd just hang out at the airport for a few hours and then get on our flight.  Then we got to Nairobi.  The thing you have to understand about the Nairobi airport is that it is old, like probably it was made in the 60's or 70's .  The closest thing I can equate it to in the US is a really old bus station.  The second thing you need to understand is that half of it burned down a year ago.  So now when you arrive in country your plane lands in sort of the cargo area.  You pull your sleeping kids off the plane and down a metal stair case, all very Jackie O', except it is 9 o'clock, you are exhausted, and the kids are screaming, and you stink.  You board a fleet of buses, jam pack yourselves on with all your carry-ons and they drive you over to where you get the Visas.  There are some dividers set up and you find a line that looks like it might lead you to the right immigration officer.  At this point my kids started pushing each other, fighting, and crying.  I do not appreciate the three American business men and one business woman who used this moment to push in front of us in line.  Seriously people?  That is going down in the log of deeds of your life.  We got up to the officer, they checked passports, and our visa paperwork, took our $50 dollars a piece (just so you know that was my weight loss and Christmas money, so thanks everyone who contributed to that fund).  Then we were through and to the luggage consoles .  They are old as well.  I always get anxious when my kids play around the luggage thing but here there was no guard rails, no bumpers, and the metal edges were gaping and sharp looking.  Somehow we managed to get all our luggage without anyone losing a finger.  Then we started looking around the airport.  There is literally nothing in the international arrival section.  There are the three luggage racks, a row a chairs, a place to exchange money and that is it.  We exchanged $120 and tried to decide what to do.  As we were discussing our predicament we happened upon a table set up to schedule people with taxi drivers.  It was just a folding table as you left the airport, two folding chairs, three people, and a sign telling how much taxi rides to each place would be.  "Do you need a taxi?"  the man asked us as we walked by.  "Well maybe, but we don't have a hotel yet."  "Oh, no problem," so he pulls out all these hotel fliers, and there we saw the outrageous prices again.  The Hilton, $400, The Fairfield $300.  "This is insane," Dr. J and I mumble to each other.  "How much do you want to pay?" the guy ask.  "Well Dr. J says, considering we are going to be there probably five hours less I want to pay no more than between $150-$200.  The guy got to work immediately.  He started calling around and after calling four hotels found one that would give us two rooms and breakfast for $200.  The catch is you pay the guy at the airport and he fills out your paperwork.  Dr. J was a little freaked out we were going to be robbed, but I was pretty sure this was actually a legitimate airport service.  In desperation we took a chance.  We had to really scrounge to come up with that $200 bucks.  It was Wednesday night, Dr. J wasn't going to be paid until Friday and we'd pretty much emptied out our bank account prepaying for all our summer accommodations.  I pulled out the last few dollars I had.  Dr. J pulled out the money he was carrying and we borrowed, that's right borrowed, $70 from our kid.  For your information we had no idea he'd brought that much money with him but it sure came in handy.  Dr. J said as E was emptying his wallet, "This feels really sketchy?"  "You mean paying the guy here for the hotel?"  "No, taking money from our nine year old."  So there you go.  We are sketchy parents.

Then the taxi whisked us away to the hotel.  I really can't tell you much about Nairobi.  It was long after dark when we got there and all I saw was images from a window but there is definitely a lot of growth happening there.  All along the highway new stores and business are being built.  It is also obvious that there is a lot of crime.  Almost everywhere I looked had at least one if not more degrees of security.  There was always a fence, usually it had barb wire, broken glass, or electric wires on top.  There may or may not have been a dog and there was usually a security guard at the fence gate.  Our hotel was not different.  Down a tiny little street lined with full of customer tin huts housing restaurants, barbers, phone card sellers, and charging station docks we came to our hotel.  The staff quickly got us back to our rooms and we were relieved to see our payment at the airport was good.  The taxi driver agreed to pick us up again at five the next morning and like that we found ourselves trying to sleep in Nairobi some time after ten.

We split up me and the girls in the two double bed room and Dr. J and E in the single double bed room.  Everyone took a shower and if for nothing else it was worth that $200 to be clean again.  Then we tried to sleep, and tried is the operative word here.  We were all bone tired but also totally unable to close our eyes.  Cheetah screamed and went between our rooms probably four times before Dr. J absolutely refused to take her back and I was forced to placate her with pop tarts, CNN, and Kenyan soaps (the only two channels we got on the TV).  Before you knew it, it was 4:30 and we were sitting in the hotel cafe eating cornflakes (everyone serves cornflakes here but they are made without added sugar and to be honest I haven't had them a single time where they didn't taste a little stale) and delicious sausages.  Then we headed back to the airport.  This time we were headed out the domestic travel side.  It is much more comfortable than the international side.  The only complaint I have is that you have to stand on the sidewalk outside the airport to go to security, then you go to your ticket window to drop off you luggage, then you go through security again before you are at the terminal waiting for the plane.  I shouldn't complain though.  We are talking about a country that has had far more episodes of domestic terrorism and in recent years has seen an upswing as militant extremist come from Somalia and try to disrupt everyday life and tourism.  So two security screenings are ok.  After an hour our Jambojet flight was ready to go.  We just walked out onto the tarmac and then climbed up the white metal steps to board.  I wish I would have taken a picture but I was distracted by the man trying to take a picture of his wife with his iPad.  Our flight to Eldoret was nice and short.  They let me belt Cheetah onto my lap rather then forcing her into her own seat which helped.  My only other observation from the flight, those stewardess really knew how to wear their makeup.  I've always been hesitant about putting too much color on my face because of my darker skin, but these woman with some of the most beautiful dark skin I've ever seen were sporting purples, pinks, and blues and they looked gorgeous.  Seriously if you want to see some of the prettiest stewardess in the skies you should check out the ladies on Jambojet.  When our plane arrived a half hour later we were finally here.  Welcome to Eldoret.  


  1. Phew. What a ride.

    All I have to say is that we tried to go to Kenya for a vacation once because I found a cheapish flight there (from Cairo) but when we asked our friends for advice on where to go (they'd lived there for a year) they pulled out all these pamphlets for, like thousand-dollar per-person tours and things like that. And I was like, "We're not going to Kenya."

    Best of luck! And thank you for blogging again! :)

    Oh, and jetlag is usually easier coming back this direction, I hear.

  2. You made it! I applaud your adventurous spirit, I don't know that I would have done it.

  3. Yes, I told you about that!! Thanks for the update. Welcome in Kenya.

  4. My husband went to Kenya a couple years ago in December, and he never gave me all these details so I really appreciated reading all of this.



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