Sunday,16th February- Monday,17th,1997
We arrived at Heathrow eager and over-early: after weeks of preparation I felt equipped for any emergency, with my pristine khaki luggage crammed with recommended medication &what I hoped would be adequate bush-wear(including an ancient but genuine panama, crushed into the kit-bag). The hours passed pleasantly enough: we snacked, and settled with our electronic word-games. At the check-in point we found two different status-levels- there was a red carpet with shiny gold posts for the Important Executives! Resignedto our fate as goats,we expected to pass through on common, everyday grey flooring- but NO! For some unknown reason, we were directed to the Red Carpet Zone- we went through the gold posts with broad smiles......
The flight, however, did not fulfil the high expectations thus aroused. The plane was not impressive at first sight; inside,minor deficiencies soon became apparent. One of the overhead luggage-doors simply refused to be closed,& after a succession of attempts by uniformed staff(one of whom wore enough gold braid to be the pilot) it fell off altogether. The earphone socket on the arm of my seat was buckled out of all recognition and hung on loose wires: the folding plastic table before me,similarly askew,could not be fastened and rested on my knees.
There was worse to come! Throughout the 9-hour flight we found it impossible to sleep. Our restlessness was not only the result of suppressed excitement:we were constantly disturbed by external stimuli. The overhead lights glared until 2am: there was a wandering, screaming child:&the chirping & cheeping of a hundred sets of earphones was only eclipsed by the periodic explosions from the disaster movie. Nearby, a large strange man spent much of the night standing in the aisle, swaying gently & surveying the passengers with narrowed eyes.
But all things come to an end: with relief we saw the sun rise over Africa,& as we landed in Nairobi I unfurled & donned the ancient panama. After an interminable wait for our luggage, we found the vehicle which was to take us to our Hotel. It was about 9am( 6 am in England ): my eyes felt like hot marshmallows, and I needed a shower!
Nairobi and the Serena Hotel
The ride through Nairobi in warm morning sunshine ( grey English February half a world away ) was rich with interesting sights and smells. This is an active and varied city, bedecked with brilliant flowering shrubs & tall, shady trees. There was a constant,complicated interchange of people & traffic during the brief journey: we were several times overtaken by a large white vehicle bearing a bright scarlet warning :- LEGEND CONTINUES: THE ROCKY DRIVING SCHOOL: KEEP AWAY FROM ME IM A LEARNER! Good advice! We passed an enormous articulated lorry on its side,ringed by admiring onlookers,& several 'matatus', brightly painted ramshackle public minibuses,crammed to the roof with passengers - the possibility of crashing in these is very high.
Architectural styles were often unusual & extremely individual. Several times we drove past large building-blocks with a haphazard framework of grey 'scaffolding' -they looked like Dyak huts on concrete sticks!
At last we arrived at the Serena Hotel,in a pleasant tree-lined part of the city- it was cool & welcoming, & surrounded by beautiful green gardens. The vestibule, with its red-tiled floor and dark timbered panelling, was open-plan; we could see,beyond the comfortable seating area,luxuriant tropical trees & blossoming shrubs, & hear the pleasant sound of trickling water. There was a peacock-blue pool, surrounded by sunbeds and tables,& an adjacent bar; these attracted Mary like a magnet. We bought postcards at the hotel shop & wrote in the sunshine under the parasols.
Here we began to make friends with Patrick, Louise & Jessica, & immediately felt at home with them- we arranged to go to the briefing meeting with them,& settled to doze in the sunshine. This was a welcome opportunity to rest after the gruelling flight. At the briefing meeting we further cemented relations with the Wilkinson family, &arranged to travel in the same safari van : we were pleased to discover that they, too, had booked a balloon flight- & chosen the same Mombasa hotel.
Our room was light & airy, & we were very, very tired: however, we found more time for sunbathing & Tusker(Mary & Louise), shade & fresh fruit-juice( me) before ordering a light meal. It was delicious! Mushroom, chicken & rosemary crepes, served in real style. We showered,sorted luggage & settled to sleep early, although we were disturbed twice before 8pm by helpful callers( one to check the drinks cabinet, & one with a 12 hours early wake-up visit!