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Sand Dunes and Safari, A trip to Namibia, Kenya and Uganda

Sand Dunes and Safari, A trip to Namibia, Kenya and Uganda

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Old May 30, 17, 11:24 am
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Sand Dunes and Safari, A trip to Namibia, Kenya and Uganda

After completing my visits to every country last year, I've been focusing on trips to places that I wanted to see more in-depth. I've since revisited Morocco, Haiti and Ireland in the past year.

Some of my travel buddies were planning a trip to East Africa, visiting Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda. I had seen a good bit of Tanzania when I went overland from Cape Town to Nairobi in 1998, but in Kenya I had only visited Nairobi. Since it had been nearly 20 years since I'd been there, I decided to join them on their Kenya portion for a safari to Masai Mara.

Namibia was another country that had been given short-shift. Technically I'd spent one night there on an island in the Zambezi river at the tri-border area with Botswana/Namibia/Zambia. Visiting the Sossusvlei dunes had been on my bucket list for some time. I hoped to combine a trip to Namibia with joining up with my friends in Kenya.

Ticketing was a bit crazy, as I've been using awards and Europe-USA-Europe tickets for my last few trips. For my family trip to Morocco last November I had booked one-way IAH-CDG-CMN using Flying Blue promo awards. Getting back to the USA, it was cheaper buying MAN-AMS-IAH-CDG-MAN roundtrips. We used that return ticket to visit Ireland in March. Likewise, from Ireland I booked a DUB-PHL-DFW-LHR-JNB ticket for $500. Then I planned to use United miles to fly NBO-IST-IAH-AUS. I bought internal flights JNB-WDH and WDH-JNB-NBO.

Flights:
Code:
AUS-DFW AA econ
DFW-LHR AA econ (part of DUB-DFW-JNB)
LHR-JNB BA econ (part of DUB-DFW-JNB)
JNB-WDH SA econ
WDH-JNB SA econ
JNB-NBO SA econ
NBO-IST TK econ award
IST-IAH TK econ award
IAH-AUS UA econ award
After booking my NBO-AUS award, the US instituted the electronics ban from Istanbul. I decided to continue with my friends to Uganda, and rebooked EBB-ADD-FRA-ORD-AUS on United. That also meant I needed to get the East African visa vs just a Kenya visa. I applied via the Kenya embassy in DC and got my passport back within a week.

I also asked DanielW if he was interested in joining my Namibia trip. We have done a few African trips together so far, and Namibia would be a new country for him. As it turned out, his gf was visiting family in South Africa at the time and would fly up and join us from Capetown.

I also got an email offer to upgrade my JNB-WDH flight. I figured I would be wiped from the long flights and even a short flight in biz would help recharge the batteries. Lowest offer was $75. Checking out flights it was about the same price if I'd originally bought JNB-WDH in business.
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Old May 30, 17, 12:00 pm
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looking forward to the report.....Namibia is a gem of a country
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Old May 30, 17, 1:01 pm
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May 17-18, 2017
Flight: Austin, TX (AUS) to Dallas, TX (DFW); American Airlines A321 first
Flight: Dallas, TX (DFW) to London-Heathrow, United Kingdom (LHR); American Airlines 777 econ
Flight: London-Heathrow, United Kingdom (LHR) to Johannesburg, South Africa (JNB); British Airways A380 econ

My flight this evening didn't depart Austin until 7PM so I was able to get nearly a full day's worth of work done before heading home when I realized I'd left my new laptop power supply at work! Which meant I had to bring my old laptop, which is about the size of a bus and weighs as much as one. I had booked a Supershuttle van for 4PM pickup, so I was surprised when a black car arrived. Looks like I got an upgrade to Execucar! Even more a coincidence, the other passenger was also going to Johannesburg, though a different routing.

There was no line for TSA Pre-Check and I was soon sitting in the Admirals' Club. The agent said she hadn't seen me in awhile, but maybe they always say that They had a new PB&J trail mix which was pretty good.

I boarded the DFW flight and was already settled in my seat when a flight attendant gives me a new boarding pass for F. An on-plane upgrade, sweet! This trip was turning out well so far.

On arrival in DFW I headed over to Terminal D via the skytrain. I still had nearly 2 hrs to wait before the LHR flight. There aren't many flights that depart that late at DFW so the lounge was quiet and nearly empty.

When boarding the LHR flight, boarding had nearly completed and I thought I was lucky to have an empty seat next to me, until a college sports team arrived and took up all the remaining empty seats. After takeoff, I ended up watching a few movies, Hidden Figures and Why Him? between getting some sleep.


DFW-LHR AA 777 econ


We arrived into LHR just past 1PM. I had a fairly long layover, 6hrs. My cousin lives right next to LHR but I hadn't been able to get in touch with her. I also debated going into town, it's been several years now since I was last in central London, but I had my backpack with me, so some other time. I just missed the bus from T3 to T5. Once there, I got my onward BA boarding pass and they let me use the fast track line, though security wasn't too busy this time of day.

I headed to the north BA lounge for awhile. I couldn't find my new AA Platinum card and only had my expired one from last year. But they didn't need to see it at the lounge and was able to get in OK. I found a seat and nodded off for awhile, waking up just in time to see a puff of smoke come out of my laptop's power supply! I quickly unplugged it and it smelled awful so I was hesitant to plug it back in again. I've had the worst luck with laptop power supplies, I've lost a few and fried several on dodgy power in various African countries, but this was LHR!

I left the lounge to see if any shops had replacement power. Dixons luckily had one with multi-tip chargers but wasn't cheap. They said it would keep a Dell laptop powered on but wouldn't actually charge the battery (luckily that turned out not to be the case). I wasn't too keen on prospects of finding a power supply in Joburg or Namibia so ended up buying it.

I then went to the South Lounge for a bit (last time I was here it was under construction) before taking the train over to C-gates. Luckily there was a Starbucks here and I was able to get in a final caffeine fix before nearly two weeks in Africa.

The BA flight to Joburg was on an A380. This would be my first time flying one in Econ... a few years ago flew KIX-BKK in TG F. I was in downstairs econ and ended up having middle seats empty on the flight. I watched Passengers and XXX: Return of Xander Cage. Mindless entertainment but fun.




LHR-JNB BA A380 econ
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Old May 31, 17, 2:09 am
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Thanks for inviting us on such an epic trip!



Looking forward to your adventures in Kenya and Uganda too.
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Old May 31, 17, 8:24 am
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May 19, 2017
Flight: Johannesburg, South Africa (JNB) to Windhoek, Namibia (WDH); South African A320 business
Hotel: Swakopmund Plaza Hotel; Swakopmund, Namibia; $50

Arrival into JNB was easy. I was the only person heading through transit (separate ticket). Despite being in transit they still stamped my passport. I was able to get my SA boarding pass at the transit desk (my paid upgrade had cleared) and I headed to the SA Premium Lounge to wait a few hrs for my flight to Windhoek. The SA lounge was huge with decent breakfast buffet. They had a meat curry that was quite good.

Our original plans were to do a Windhoek-Sossusvlei-Swakopmund-Windhoek circuit, but ended up reversing the order after availability opened up for two days at one of the accommodations near Sossusvlei. There are limited hotels and space books out quickly by tour groups. The other option is staying 30-50 kms away near Solitaire which isn't very convenient. With the change in order, I had thought about switching my JNB-WDH to JNB-WVB instead, saving a 4-5 hour drive.

About 30 minutes before boarding I wandered down to the gate area where I met DanielW. He had just flown in from Dubai via Ethiopia. They boarded business class first, despite it being a bus boarding gate and we all ended up on the same bus anyway. The flight to Windhoek was on an A320 with actual business class section. They served a full meal on the 2-hr flight.



JNB-WDH SA Business

From the air you can get an idea of how sparsely populated Namibia is. The area near the airport looked a bit like west/central Texas. We landed and walked to the terminal. The weather was gorgeous clear blue sky, about 70 degrees, just perfect. Immigration was quick and I only had carryon bags so went out to arrange the car. Rianda was already there in the waiting area.



I had arranged a dual-cab 4WD with Hertz, but via a 3rd party as it ended up being much cheaper than any CWD I could find. I added Rianda as a 2nd driver since Daniel had forgotten his license! I was pretty knackered so she drove the first bit. The Hertz attendant suggested we put our luggage in plastic bags as the canopy bed can get quite dirty! We headed into Windhoek to get a permit for visiting the parks. Normally you can get the permits at entrance to the park, but we planned to do a side trip on the way to Swakopmund and needed the permits first. The permit office was open and we left a few minutes later.

Gas stations are few and far between in Namibia, so we topped off the tank and grabbed some snacks before heading north out of Windhoek on the B1. Most roads in Namibia are gravel, only the B-roads and a few C-roads are paved. The B1 was dual-lane carriageway for a few kms before it reverted to two-lane, though they were significant roadworks in progress to convert the remainder. The paved route to Swakopmund makes a big loop to the north to avoid the mountains and escarpment. Windhoek is around 5500' elevation.

The road turned west at Okhandja along the B2, passing though a few small towns along the way. The landscape started getting drier, the grass and scrub turning into rock and sand. There were several huge uranium mines along the route. Namibia has a huge mining industry, gold, uranium and diamonds.




When researching Namibia, I came across the Welwitschia Plains drive. This was a side trip through the Namib-Naukulft park that had some amazing desert moonscape and unique plants. Namibia is super arid, some parts get less than 50mm of rain a year, The plants get their water from the fog that rolls in from the ocean. The D1991 turnoff was just after the town of Arandis. My offline GPS must have a bug in the data somewhere as it had a routing break near Arandis and was saying the best route was a huge circuit out of the way...

The new road was gravel, but well graded and mostly flat. You could see black dikes of dolerite crossing the horizon. Soon the landscape changed as we descended into a dry river valley, with barren eroded hills. We stopped for a bit for Daniel to try out his drone camera. There was someone sitting up on top of one of the hills above us. We then drove up the other side of the valley and stopped at a few viewpoints to see the crazy lunar landscape.






D1991 and Welwitschia road

The welwitschia plants themselves were actually still a fair distance away and it was getting near sunset, so we just continued onto Swakopmund, arriving at our hotel right at sunset. Namibia was once a German colony pre-WWI, when it was taken over by South Africa and was known as South West Africa untiil Namibian independence in the early 1990s. Namibia still gets a ton of German tourists. The air was much cooler here in Swakopmund as it is on the cold Atlantic.

Swakopmund Plaza Hotel

The Swakopmund Plaza Hotel was nice enough, in the center of town, which is fairly compact and walkable. Room was a bit small but fine for a night. After freshing up after the long drive we headed down to the pier to check out restaurant options. The pier was built by the Germans starting in 1905 and was supposed to be 640m long but was halted after breakout of WWI. It was closed for many years but reopened in 2010. There is a restaurant out at the end of the pier, but when we approached it it looked dumpy and closed. Imagine our surprise when we opened the door and inside was a huge, crowded and fancy place! Ordered cooked oysters appetizer and mussels in wine sauce. Quite good!




Jetty 1905 restaurant

Last edited by hauteboy; May 31, 17 at 8:35 am
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Old May 31, 17, 9:29 am
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Originally Posted by DanielW View Post
Thanks for inviting us on such an epic trip!

Looking forward to your adventures in Kenya and Uganda too.
looks like a CIA operative. :-)
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Old May 31, 17, 11:59 pm
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Originally Posted by mkjr View Post
looks like a CIA operative. :-)
And a bit of Indiana Jones too.
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Old Jun 1, 17, 6:21 am
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Glad to see you had a great time in Namibia, such a unique place to visit. I'm looking forward to the remainder of your report and DanielW's as well.
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Old Jun 3, 17, 11:51 am
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Aaah, my neighboring country. Hope that you had a great time - looking forward to the rest!!
Good grief, I have not set foot in an SAA jet in ages, but the colours of the seats on SAA look deplorable.
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Old Jun 16, 17, 8:38 pm
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May 20, 2017
Hotel: Desert Camp; Sesirem, Namibia; $100

I was up early this morning and decided to go for a bit of a walk around town. It was another gorgeous clear day, even a bit chilly. My first stop was the Hohenzollern Haus, which we had passed last night on the way back to the hotel. This was a gorgeous colonial building, formerly a hotel, with a statue of Atlas holding the world on the roof. Further down the next block was the Kaserne, a castle-like building that was used as the barracks for the jetty builders. Now it is a youth hostel. I continued down to the jetty where I ran into DanielW testing out his drone.



Hohenzollern Haus


Kaserne


Jetty

Back to the hotel for breakfast, which was a bit slow when they forgot my egg order! All three of us then set off to wander around town for a few hours. I found a place to buy a hat as I'd lost my travel hat last year. We wandered around to the Kaserne again, then back down to the corder of Kaiser Wilhelm Strasse and Bismark Strasse. The gorgeous Woermann house was here, it now houses a library. It is possible to climb to the top of the tower and get a great view out over town. The surrounding sand dunes provide a dramatic backdrop to the town.

On the way to the lighthouse we stopped at the Cafe Anton for a slice of appel strudel and iced coffee. Delicious! I loved the feel of Swakopmund so far, I even added it mentally to the list of places I might like to live someday. The lighthouse and museum were nearby. Then we went to the Mole, the old jetty built by the Germans. It's supposedly OK to swim here as currents aren't so bad, but the water is freezing.






Woermann Haus




Appel Studel



We headed back to the hotel and set off for the long drive to Sossusvlei. The road south to Walvis Bay ran along the coast and was paved, passing by huge sand dunes and fishermen. We stopped at Dune 7 for a few minutes, but it was nearly noon and quite hot by this point, so didn't attempt to climb very high here. The pavement ended just past the airport (WVB), and after that the landscape was flat, boring, dead straight road for the next hour. The road was gravel but well-graded and very wide.
`


Dune 7




Lots of nothing

Finally a large hill appeared on the horizon and we stopped for a break to stretch the legs. Vogelferdberg was similar to Enchanted Rock in Texas, a big granite dome. There were some picnic tables here. We climbed to the top where it was very windy!

The landscape kept changing over the long drive. The barren, blasted rock gave way to volcanic dikes, then acacia trees in dry creekbeds. We stopped again at an overlook with quiver trees, bizzare looking trees with waxy bark. Finally grass appeared and even fields full of flowers near Kuiseb Canyon. The road continued through some oasis river valleys before finally turning south. We reached the Tropic of Capricorn around 3PM. It was still another 130 kms to Sesirem! It was about another hour to Solitaire, the only 'town' we had seen since Walvis Bay. We stopped to fuel up and have a piece of famous apple pie from the cafe.


Quiver trees





Tropic of Capricorn







Solitaire

Sesirem was still another hour away. We arrived just at sunset to Desert Camp. These were 'luxury tent' self-catering accommodations. They had a fridge, stove and sink outside. Very nice. We hadn't brought any food but had purchased the meal plan. The Desert Camp doesn't have a restaurant so meals were provided by the Sossusvlei Lodge, about 6kms away. Arrived there after dark and we were one of the first ones to eat, tables were set up outdoors. They had quite a good buffet, with a grill station with various game meats, eland, ostrich, zebra, oryx, etc. The night sky was amazing filled with stars, you could see the Megallanic clouds easily, only visible in the southern hemisphere.




Desert Camp


Mmmeat
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Old Jun 16, 17, 8:46 pm
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May 21, 2017
Hotel: Desert Camp; Sesirem, Namibia; $100

Today the plan was to head into the park to see the dunes, then for the afternoon we had scheduled a helicopter sightseeing flight. There are lots of ways to see the dunes from the air, balloons, flights or helicopter. The helicopter took a max of 3 passengers and they could take the doors off for better views. Woke up at 5AM and went to breakfast at the Lodge about 5:45. Lots of other tourists here this morning, including a group of Americans.

The park gates open at 6:30. We joined to queue only to find ourselves 20-deep in line behind buses and overland vehicles. However the line moved quickly and we already had our permit from Windhoek. It was another gorgeous clear and chilly morning. Sesirem is still a long way to the Deadvlei, nearly 70kms inside the park, following the dry river valley that never makes it to the ocean. The road is paved for all but the last 4 kms. In the distance we could see several balloons setting off. The sand dunes are absolutely massive and line both sides of the road. It took 45 minutes or so to arrive at Dune 45, one of the easier dunes to climb. There was already a huge crowd of vehicles here. Some of the overlanders were setting down for breakfast and there was already a line of people climbing up the side of the 500' dune. I'm pretty out of shape, so Rianda and Daniel left me in the dust (sand). It's pretty tough going, 3 steps forward, 2 back. Even with lots of breaks to catch my breath, it took me only about 35 minutes to reach the top. Then the fun part, getting back down. We ran down the dunes, getting my shoes completely full of sand in the process, and taking only 5 minutes to reach the bottom.


Long queue










Dune 45

We continued on to the end of the road, there's a parking area before the last bit of sand driving (4WD only). For those without a 4WD, they have tractors that go back and forth from the parking area. There were a lot of tourists here between the parking lot of 4WDs and the tractors running back and forth. We walked the 1.1km to Deadvlei. This is one of the dry pans, hard white surface with ancient dead trees surrounded by the red sand dunes. The highest sand dune in the park, Big Daddy (1000'!) towers on one side. We could barely make out people way at the top. Deadvlei had been on my bucket list for some time so I'm glad I finally was able to visit.










Deadvlei




We made the long drive back to Sesirem and were back by noon. Just had a snack lunch at the petrol station before going back to the camp for a rest. The camp had a swimming pool that was ice cold but felt refreshing. Around 3PM we went back to the Lodge to pay for the helicopter and got a lift to the nearby airfield. Tiny helicopter but we all managed to fit. We had booked a 90-minute flight which went all the way to a seal colony on the coast. The view was amazing, especially with no doors, but the lighting angle wasn't the best for me on the way out. You really get a sense of scale of how massive an area the sand covers.. it just goes on and on. The sand started turning more yellow than red as we neared the coast, and the temperature dropped dramatically, nearly 20C as we crossed over the water. We buzzed the seal colony, barely skimming the waves before it was already time to head back. Amazing to see the dunes at sunset from above. After landing we headed to the Lodge again to enjoy a beer and dinner.













Helicopter ride
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Old Jun 16, 17, 8:52 pm
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May 22, 2017
Hotel: Hilltop Guesthouse; Windhoek, Namibia; $112 triple

Today we were going to make the long drive back to Windhoek. No need to get up so early this morning though so it was nearly 7AM before we had breakfast. Almost no one here this morning as the tour groups would have already left for the park. We had scheduled a 9AM cheetah tour at the Carnivore Center in Solitaire. We set off at 7:30 AM and were in Solitaire by 8:30. However I'd gotten information wrong and went to the wrong place 7kms outside of town before finding out we needed to go back to the gas station. No worries though we found the right place soon enough.



We took a Land Cruiser safari truck out to the cheetah enclosure. They currently have 7 cheetahs, a female and her 6 year-old cubs. The mother was caught at a young age and doesn't know how to hunt, so they can't be released to the wild. We lucked out as all 7 of them were sitting under a tree near the gate. Namibia has one of the largest populations of wild cheetahs due to the low population density. The center is working with local farmers to help them deal with any cheetahs or leopards they come across. Two of the cheetahs put on a show by climbing the tree.





Cheetahs

It was still a long drive back to Windhoek. I drove north out of Solitaire before turning east onto D1275. There was a big warning sign saying no trailers. After 50kms we came to the escarpment up the Spreetshoogte Pass. The road here was paved with bricks to help with traction, it was steep but still passable in 2WD. From the top of the hill there were great views out over the valley below. Lots and lots of nothing. We finally passed another blink-and-you'll-miss-it town, the only one other than Solitaire we'd seen. The road crossed back north across the Tropic of Capricorn before turning onto the C26. We finally arrived into Windhoek about 3PM. After the emptiness of the countryside it was odd being in a modern city with tall buildings, gas stations, hotels, etc.




We checked into the Hilltop Guesthouse, which provided cooling towels and welcome drink. After resting for a bit we walked down the hill to Joe's Beerhouse for dinner. This place was 100% kitsch and appears to be the place to go for expats. They had a huge menu. Some guys had tried to drive from Maputo to Luanda in a Mini before being turned back at the Angolan border. The Mini now sits above the entrance to the restaurant. As I'm wandering around this old drunk Aussie guy takes my photo then shows me his taser and says to be careful!



Hilltop Guesthouse



Joe's Beerhouse

A great meal to end the Namibian adventure. Daniel and Rianda were heading back home very early, and I was flying onto Nairobi to meet some other friends for Masai Mara safari.
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Old Jun 16, 17, 9:03 pm
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May 23, 2017
Flight: Windhoek, Namibia (WDH) to Johannesburg, South Africa (JNB); South African Business
Flight: Johannesburg, South Africa (JNB) to Nairobi, Kenya (NBO); South African Economy
Hotel: Hotel Decasa; Nairobi, Kenya; $28

DanielW and Rianda left about 3AM to catch their early flight. Mine didn't leave until 11AM though so I still had some free time this morning. I had breakfast at 7AM, quite good with yogurt, juice, eggs and sausage. I asked the owner about getting the car washed and he said there was one down the hill near Joe's. I drove into town to see Christkirche, a Lutheran cathedral. Some guy was in the parking lot and said he'd 'watch' the car even though I was only going to be a minute. I made it back to the car and a tour bus pulled up but he saw me and demanded a tip.


Breakfast



I hadn't seen any car wash places so drove back to the one the guesthouse had recommended. Arrived at 8:20 and was 2nd in line. The truck was quite dusty from all the gravel roads, especially the truck bed. Not a bad price, just over $6 for full wash and outside detail and they were done by 9AM. I headed to the airport, after fueling up and dropping off the car it was about 9:45. There were long lines at South African checkin, and one of the agents disappeared for awhile, prompting some people to complain. I noticed they had an on-departure upgrade option for 650 NAD ($50), so decided to go with that, though had to go to the ticketing office to process. I spent the last of my Namibian $ on a gift for miss hauteboy, then went to the lounge for a bit.


Carwash


Windhoek Lounge

The flight to Johannesburg was uneventful. I already had my connecting boarding pass so went to the South African lounge again for a bit. I saw Daniel's Ethiopian flight departing. The Nairobi flight was about 4 hrs and seemed to take forever! My last visit to Kenya other than a transit last year was way back in 1998, so it would be interesting to see how things had changed. They were checking yellow fever cards as we entered the terminal and freaked out when I realized I'd forgotten mine! They asked where I was connecting from and I said 'America' And they asked 'North or South?' heh. I said I had a yellow fever card, just had forgotten it. She said 'Well don't forget it next time!' and let me past! Whew. After I was through I remembered I did have a copy of it on my laptop at least.



SA WDH-JNB Business


SA Lounge in JNB


JNB-NBO SA Econ

The visa line was fairly long so I was glad I'd already gotten my East African visa in the USA. I got some cash at the ATM and arranged a taxi to the hotel, initially they wanted 2000 KES but talked them down to 1500. My friends were already at the hotel but getting ready for bed, they didn't expect me for another few hrs due to traffic! But this time of night there wasn't any and I made it to the hotel by 9:45. I was trying to recognize some landmarks, but didn't see any at night. Lots of electric billboards and new buildings and roads though that weren't here the last time I visited.

The Decasi hotel was near the minibus station, so it was pretty crowded. The hotel was pretty basic, and had some MC Escher style geometry for their stairs, but it would do for a night. They even were able to print out my yellow fever card just in case I needed it at the Uganda border. I wouldn't get to see much of Nairobi as we were departing tomorrow at 7AM for Masai Mara safari.
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Old Jun 17, 17, 2:24 am
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Thanks for the Trip Report
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Old Jun 17, 17, 2:26 am
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Good that the yellow fever certificate didn't cause any issues.

Just a short vid Rianda shot on the heli fight:

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