10 Hours in Nairobi (Airport!)

Final Destination: Jinja, Uganda—the mouth of the Nile

Tuesday, 12 April, 2016—Nairobi, Kenya

The New York Times may have all the tips for how to spend your 36-hour weekend in Nairobi, but you only need 10 hours to enjoy all the delights of the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport!

It’s going to be a long day, so wear comfortable shoes. The following is only a sample itinerary—feel free to craft your own.
5:50 a.m. Early bird gets the worm and all that. Arrive at Nairobi airport from whatever your previous port of embarkment may be. Drink in the fresh morning air (but please, not the water) and stumble toward your connecting flight. 
(Note: This is best enjoyed on minimal rest, so try not to sleep too much on your red eye.)
7:15 a.m. Pole pole (slowly), friends. Delays are normal, especially with Kenya Airways. The Avanti Cafe on the ground floor has reasonably priced tea and friendly and sympathetic staff. (They’ve heard your story before; don’t bother.)
Savor your mediocre latte and partake of the only free wifi in NBO. Don’t miss the sights: Watching disgruntled tourists aimlessly milling about in growing impatience is one of the unique pleasures of the airport experience.
8:15 a.m. Board your flight and prepare for take-off. Don’t worry, your day’s not over that quickly—we’re just going for a quick aerial tour of the beautiful city of Nairobi.
Sit back, relax, and enjoy the view on your 10-minute cruise above Kenya. “Technical issues” are just an official way of saying, “please don’t leave yet, Nairobi airport has so much more to offer.” 
9:35 a.m. Make good use of an hour on the ground before deplaning, and get to know your fellow adventurers. Enjoy a stale, rubbery apology croissant, courtesy of the airline, too. You’ll need your fuel; we still have 6 hours to go! You may also like to observe the unloading of your luggage, which was heading toward your final destination just minutes before.
10:50 a.m. Experience extreme disorganization first-hand. Join the pack, and wander confusedly from gate to gate, really getting to know the twists and turns of the Nairobi airport. Intimate knowledge like this is rare for the average tourist; you may even have time to peruse the least authentic curio shops in all of Kenya.
11:25 a.m. Head to Table 49 for a classic airport dining experience. As you sample your chocolate-cardboard muffin and piping hot tea, you may appreciate the opportunity to practice your Italian, French, Swahili or German language skills with some of the other diners—this is an international airport, after all.
12:10 p.m. Wave goodbye to some of your new friends as they head to the next (now fully booked) flight, then get to know some of the airline staff as they place you on the next one—5 hours later.

12:45 p.m. Why not head back to the unsurpassed Avanti Cafe for another visit? After all, no one has given you any free water, and you’re probably thirsty. Browse through Facebook, and daydream about arriving at your destination before dark.

1:25 p.m. Stroll upstairs to Table 49 for another complimentary meal. Totally edible chicken, rice and spinach, and a bottle of water to boot! Enjoy getting to know the remaining stranded passengers from the morning, and observe the effect that sleep deprivation may have on your conversational skills (hint: they improve).
2:55 p.m. Meander down those gray, expressionless airport terminal hallways one last time before you have to leave. Join the desperate crowd at gate 15, and since you’re early, why not finish up your conversations with your new friends.
3:50 p.m. Get on that plane, friends, it’s time to fly. Cross your fingers that your checked baggage makes it on with you, and settle in for a nap—you’ll need it. Safari njema (safe travels)!

In complete seriousness, as desperately long and painfully disorganized as my unplanned, extended layover in Nairobi was, I don’t think I’ve ever had as many conversations, in as many languages, with as many strangers, in one day. We were all looking out for each other, united in common misfortune and misery—which, miserable as it was, was also pretty cool.
And, it’s always better to laugh. Running on 3 hours of sleep and very disappointed to be spending my day off in an airport—instead of with friends in Uganda—I quickly found the entire situation completely absurd, and I had to laugh.
You have to laugh.
Frustration is useless, especially in airports, and a bit of humor can make a bleak day far more bearable.

So, enjoy your next visit to the Nairobi Airport, and let me know if you want any more tips—I’m probably an expert now.


Update: In Jinja, Uganda now, visiting some friends I haven’t seen since a year ago in Kenya, and enjoying some much-needed R and R. My checked luggage, if you were wondering, miraculously made it here, too!


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This Blog Post is Slumped Against the Bathroom Wall

This blog post is slumped against the bathroom wall like a drunk sorority girl on Saturday night.
This blog post is camping out at the Madrid Barajas International Airport for the next 12 hours.
This blog post isn’t wearing any underwear.
This blog post is afraid of the rain… which is why this blog post is stuck at the only café in Terminal 1 where it is apparently forbidden to lie down.
This blog post was disappointed to discover that the only source of power in the entire Estacion Intermodal de Almeria resided in the women’s restroom.
This blog post ate digestives and coffee for breakfast at 6am, purchased with centimos.
This blog post will continue wearing these clothes (perhaps with a change of underwear) for another 24 hours, because this blog post is the virtual incarnation of honey badger.
This blog post brushes its teeth in public bathrooms.
This blog post is running out of free wifi, and, furthermore, is rather irritated by the lack of free wifi at airports worldwide.
This blog post is going to Kenya.
This blog post is the unglamorous side of travel: sleep-deprived, hemmed in by bad weather, and rough around the edges. But you know what? This blog post doesn’t mind.

…This blog post needs more water…

My most recent home: Murtas, Spain

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In the last three weeks, I have spent approximately 35 hours in airports. Just in airports. I stayed the night in JFK, had a 10-hour layover in Newark, and passed in and out of the truly lovely Burlington International Airport at least 4 times. In my time here, I’ve noticed a few things.
Airports are strange. They are a bit like the purgatory of travel—the holding area you must pass through before moving on to better things (or worse, depending on where you’re heading). And this limbo-land of modern-day crossings offers every temptation your heart might desire: free WiFi (with the notable exception of JFK), cuisine from every part of the globe that never quite satisfies, an orgy of coffee and a baffling number of retail options.
Like purgatory, airports play host to every kind of person, too. Uniformed escorts wheeling old ladies with too much perfume to and fro. Business men in suits. Children visiting relatives, signs that read “unaccompanied minor” (or something to that effect) draped around their necks. Students carrying tattered backpacks. The mysterious person who left an empty handle of cherry-flavored vodka lying on the bathroom floor at the airport in Detroit. Somebody had a very drunk, cherry-scented neighbor on their flight Monday.
These vague, loosely defined souls crowd onto escalators and through security lines, into cafes and along moving walkways, each with their own, individual mission to arrive. They rarely seem to notice one another.
Babies are the notable exception to this rule. They will stare at you forever if no one stops them.
In the first class lounge (which I talked my way into in Newark), the light is softer, the announcements muted, and the cushions thicker. (Oh yes, and the food is free.) But you can make yourself comfortable elsewhere if you only find the right nook, the right corner in which to nest. I have found, too, that it is worthwhile to buy a drink or a sandwich at a sit-down restaurant just to have someplace to sit.
There is a 24/7 diner in JFK where the waitresses don’t mind if you lie down and sleep at night.
In Detroit, there is a really interesting fountain that can easily kill 10 minutes if you are early—I have been sitting here gazing at it for at least that long now. I have yet to find the pattern the jets of water follow.
I have noticed that most people are happy to chat if you engage them, like the Australian girls I met in Newark, or the guy working at the Skinny Pancake in Burlington. Others are perhaps too happy to chat, like the people trying to buy drinks for the Australian girls in Newark, whom I obdurately ignored. Still others will surprise you by how much they don’t want to talk, like the woman I smiled at in line last week who abruptly turned away in response.
Airports exist at a strange midpoint between private and public space. Most people seem to carry a small bubble of impermeable air with them as they travel through. I know I certainly do. And yet our meals, our naps, our personal conversations and our arguments take place in shared, public space. The airport paradox.

It is always too cold, or too loud, or too hard or too rushed. Airports are anything but comfortable and warm. And yet, I kind of like them. They are the limbo-land of my crossings to the next place, my next destination, and for that alone, they are bearable.
And then there is this awesome tunnel at DTW (Detroit):

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