Habari gani, marafiki! How are you guys? It’s been a little over 24 hours since I arrived at Mpala yesterday, and after a night of sleep and a few gigantic meals I am feeling slightly more human. Traveling to east Africa is a long haul; I left Los Angeles at around 5pm on Monday evening, flew ten hours to Amsterdam, spent about eight hours there, and then boarded another plane at 7pm for an overnight flight to Nairobi. While my seatmates were generally nice (though I could have done without the window-seat-over-airplane-wing-then-middle-seat-between-a-manspreader-and-an-amazingly-chit-chatty-German-Evangelical-missionary combination), it was so nice to exit the last plane and find myself in the relatively spacious comfort of the immigration line.
(Side note: can we talk about how insanely awesome the Amsterdam airport is? I rolled in all bleary-eyed and mildly claustrophobic (that window seat for ten hours sort of killed me), hooked up to the wifi to text my family that I’d arrived, and my sister-in-law told me they have SHOWERS you can RENT for like, 15 euro. MONEY WELL SPENT, LEMME TELL YOU. It’s just an in-airport hotel for layovers that, in addition to hotel rooms, offers the individual services of napping rooms (rent just-a-bed, basically, instead of a whole hotel room or suite) and big private bathrooms with showers, shampoo provided, and a blowdryer to perfect your “I’m stuck in an airport, help” look. Just go straight at the in-house casino, past the mini science museum, turn left at the small-scale Van Gogh exhibit, and go up the stairs. Can’t miss it.)
Back to Nairobi: I arrived at around 5:30am, which left me plenty of time to get through customs with all my stuff before catching the cab my friend Doug had arranged to pick me up. Keep in mind, I was slightly worried about customs: last year I got held up in the immigration office for over an hour or so until I very reluctantly bribed my way out. And, as a scientist, you tend to travel with equipment that makes you look INCREDIBLY sketchy. Case in point: I had a 40lb plastic crate packed with two empty steel pipes (for taking soil cores!), 100 plastic syringes (for taking air samples!!), two soil moisture probes made out of Arduino micro-processors and brimming with open wires (I SWEAR IT’S FOR SOIL MOISTURE), and a large box with an ‘on/off’ switch (SERIOUSLY IT’S FOR MEASURING CARBON DIOXIDE). These items, together with a menagerie of diagrams and manuals and batteries, was enough to make me feel increasing trepidation as I approached the customs counter. I had prepared for this moment by labeling everything in the box as explicitly as I could, and adding a ‘for conservation research’ rejoinder to the end of each label for good measure. Oddly enough, it worked this year! I didn’t get hauled into a customs office, and nobody tried to make me pay a bogus inflated tax on imported goods. The only hiccup was when my immigration officer picked up my travel mug, which I’d stored in its box for packing.
“This is a nice mug.”
“Did you bring more?”
“…no, just that one.” *confused*
“next time, bring many.”
“OH HA I SEE HA OKAY BYE” *no longer confused*
(For those still confused: a half-assed attempt to get me to give her my travel mug as a bribe to get through. Which I guess didn’t actually impact her decision to let me through. Never change, Nairobi airport.)
I went outside to find the taxi driver whom Doug had called for me, and after not too much waiting we identified each other in the small but growing crowds of arrivals and their rides. His name is Wilfred, he had driven in from Nanyuki (4 hours away!), and he was great company considering we were both exhausted from our already-long days. Wilfred then proceeded to be not only great but AMAZING, and drove me all over Nairobi from 6:30am til about noon, in order for me to visit various research permitting offices and chemical supply stores. I’m incredibly lucky he knows the city so well; I had vague directions to each place written down in my notebook, but, as anybody who knows me is aware, I am…directionally challenged. Getting lost in traffic in Nairobi sounded awful, and Wilfred not only knew where to go but the best shortcuts to take at various times of the morning in order to avoid the inevitable gridlock.
We left Nairobi at noon after I visited my last permitting office, and hit the road for Nanyuki where I had plans to stop and go to an ATM, and to purchase phone credits. Well, Wilfred hit the road; I hit the hay, hard, in the back seat of the van. I only woke up when Wilfred tapped my shoulder to tell me we were about to arrive in Nanyuki, and hadn’t I wanted to stop at the store? Blinking viciously, I stumbled out and stared around at the now-familiar main street, then perked up. Woohoo! I had been terrible company in the car, but I was almost at Mpala. A few stops later, and we hit the road again.
We arrived at Mpala at around 4 or 5pm, and things have been simultaneously calmer and a whirlwind ever since. More to update you on later, on my first day back in the field; exciting pictures of animals to come. At the very least, it’ll be more exciting than my regaling you with (riveting, I’m sure) tales of airport travel. Field work: sometimes it’s a giant pain in the butt to get ‘there’, but it’s always worth it.