Travel Weekly reporter Michelle Baran has embarked on a 10-day trip to Kenya, to report on how recent violence in the country is affecting tourism. She will spend some time in Nairobi speaking to tourism officials before going on safari.
Day 2, Nairobi -- I was enormously curious about my fellow passengers on the flight to Nairobi. To my surprise, Kenya Airways’ Boeing 777-200 aircraft was full. There was a potpourri of student youth groups, elderly couples, Kenyan businessmen and safari hat-toting tourists. It was a calm flight, and when we landed at 6:30 a.m., Nairobi's Jomo Kenyatta International Airport was equally calm.
Had I not known that Kenya had been a country rocked by political and civil unrest over the past month-and-a-half, I wouldn't have guessed that anything was awry. It was a beautiful, sunny day in Nairobi. During the one-hour drive from the airport to my hotel in the city center, I saw people were going about their daily business in Kenya’s bustling capital city.
But I do know the details of Kenya's recent turmoil, and as we rumbled past workers trudging to their jobs in Nairobi's outlying industrial area, I couldn’t help but wonder what was going through their minds. Were they disgruntled? Disenchanted? Or just tired of the pain and suffering and simply looking for a sense of normalcy to return to their daily lives?
James, one of the tour directors on our Big Five Tours & Expeditions trip, gave his thoughts on the situation in Kenya. He said that things appeared to be calming down, and that Kenyans were eagerly awaiting the results of talks between rival parties, which were expected to be announced today.
While Nairobi is a bit chaotic in terms of the sheer number of cars on the road and throngs of pedestrians weaving between them, Nairobi isn't any more hectic than other cities in developing nations. During my entire day in Nairobi, I never felt unsafe. There was a sporadic presence of police and armed guards -- I spotted a group of the latter resting under the shade of a tree in the height of the afternoon heat. They obviously weren't very concerned, so why should I have been?
We even drove past a large slum area, and though extreme poverty is off-putting, nothing was out of the ordinary. No buildings, trucks or tires were burning.
And it was Valentine's Day, a particularly important holiday for Kenya, given the country's significant flower exports. The flower business has been threatened by the recent crisis, and Kenyans were hoping it would be buoyed by Valentine Day’s requisite rose-giving the world over.
With gleaming smiles that unleashed a uniform sense of hope, many people in Nairobi wished me a Happy Valentine’s Day.
To contact reporter Michelle Baran, send e-mail to [email protected].