Monday, May 26, 2008

The Full Tank Blues

Petrol stations across Nairobi are telling a similar story to those told all over the world right now: fuel prices are skyrocketing and there’s no end in sight. The station around the corner from us has consistently been out of premium unleaded and whether that is due to the 99.99 Ksh/litre price tag or a simple lack of supply in the area is unclear.

To put that into perspective for you, we paid $6.40 USD per gallon today. A slightly less than full tank (4000Ksh or $65 approx) usually lasts us just under a week. The even more cheerful news is that petrol was 101Ksh at the petrol station next to Adams Arcade – the first station in town that I’ve seen cross that 100 shilling threshold. The scary part is that I know it is only the first of many that will do so.

While you and I might kvetch about the price of a tank of gas, the truth is that we can basically afford it – even if we cringe while we do it (it’s been a double hit with the falling US dollar). For most people in the developed world, there is often the option of taking public transportation. Here in Nairobi the story isn’t quite the same.

Public transportation here usually takes the form of a matatu. These 14-seater minibuses usually get people all over town for 20 Ksh – about 30 cents. My driver Rock told me on Friday that due to the increase in petrol prices, most of the matatus in town have raised their prices. To get from Kawangare to town during rush hour, for example, now costs 50 Ksh – about 80 cents. In a matter of mere months the price has more than doubled during a time of day when people have no choice but to take a matatu to get either to or from work.

For many people, this increase cuts directly into what little money they were making in the first place. For someone who earns 1,000 Ksh a day, for example, it used to cost only 4% of their daily take home salary for the privilege of getting to and from work – it now costs 10%. And for people who are living hand to mouth, margins like that cut deeply.

To put this into perspective, imagine your local bus service – the TTC for those of you back home in Toronto – had raised its price from $2.00 to $5.00. Now imagine that increase had taken place since March. It wouldn’t really go over that well – people would be up in arms about such a drastic hike. Here in Nairobi, there isn’t anyone to complain to that can or will do anything to fix the situation (and with Kenya trying to fund 42 cabinet ministers at a cost of US$500 million in the next six months just for them, good luck trying…).

The worst part of this fare hike is that it has effected the people least able to afford it – the poor and working class citizens of Nairobi. Nor has it only affected their commute to and from work – the price of food in major supermarkets like Nakumatt and even at the small dukkas has also gone up. And it is all due to the rising cost of oil.

So next time you complain about having to cut down your venti frappachinos in order to afford to put gas in your tank remember – some people have to cut back feeding themselves and their families the basics.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Random Thoughts from Zanzibar

We have been watching the MTV show “X-Effect” for the last little while and are somewhat disgusted by it, yet completely incapable of looking away. The entire premise behind this show is that two people who once dated – and are now seeing other people – secretly wish they were still together. So MTV gives them just that chance!

The two couples go to a swank hotel and before they can even get to their rooms they receive a mysterious message asking the new half of the relationship to go to the front desk. (Nothing suspicious there!) With the couples separated from their new SO’s, MTV then throws the exes together in a sweet suite and treats them to everything from massage lessons to romantic meals. The twist is that their new SO’s are watching – after all, the whole thing isn’t set up at all despite the fact that there are cameras following the couple everywhere. Just like real life!

The whole show is set in a “romantic hotel” called Casa Bella. Which brings us to how this show relates to Zanzibar. We kept joking to one another that if a note turned up asking one of us to “go to the front desk for a message” that it would be a bad sign.

(Yes, that entire story was much ado of nothing and amusing to no one but us but I wanted to share it anyways because I love all my Devoted Readers so much! Or something.)

One of the really weird things about the hotel was the number of snails that were wandering about everywhere. And not small ones either! That said, they were kind of cute. I quickly decided; however, not to order the escargot if I saw it on the menu. *shudder*

This is a photo of the top of Mount Kilimanjaro. No, we didn’t climb Kilimanjaro, we flew by it – which is almost as cool (if somewhat lamer). The pilot on our return voyage to Nairobi very kindly pointed out the famous landmark and flew by it very slowly. Hubby and I were quite fortunate that it was on our side of the plane as we certainly weren’t the only ones grabbing our cameras to take photos from 20,000 feet. The mountain looked close enough to touch!

Our original flight on Kenyan Airways was shockingly cancelled which meant that we flew Precision Air both to and from Nairobi. Kudos to this airline as their small planes appeared well maintained, their crews were incredibly courteous and efficient, and they didn’t lose our luggage. Heck, both flights were even on time!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

File Under TMI

I realize that most of you don’t tune into my blog to find about my hygiene habits but… Too bad because it’s vacation-related so you’re simply going to have to deal.

This is a picture of the lovely, oversized soaking tub in our room. They had an even bigger bathtub at the spa!

The highlight of the room’s bathroom; however, had to be the outdoor shower. Oh yeah, you read that right – showering outside in the fresh air while standing (in part) on smooth river rocks. Can you believe that Hubby actually used the boring indoor shower at first? What was he thinking!?

Friday, May 23, 2008

The Ocean’s Shallow End

As I mentioned the other day, Hubby and I greatly enjoyed the views from the Hotel’s jetty. We sat our there the first morning and enjoyed the cool breezes, each other’s company, and a couple of good books. On our second morning Hubby decided to explore the water personally – snorkeling off and on for several hours while I continued to enjoy my book. (It was a long book!)

This photo was taken around 10:00 a.m. on our final morning. Thank goodness Hubby didn’t have any snorkeling plans that day! The tide was so low that there was an actual beach to walk on. (You normally have to take a quick 5-minute shuttle down the road to get to the beach.)

When we walked to the end of the jetty we saw that the low tides extended all the way out to the reef. We even noticed several people walking out there. Where these people are standing, Hubby says the water was about six to six and a half feet deep when he went out two days prior.

As we sat drinking and enjoying our last morning in Zanzibar we were able to witness the tide coming back in. There were still people out on the “dunes” but now they were wading in up to their knees or higher. We even saw a dhow pass by once the waters rose sufficiently.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Relaxation 101

The Kempinski was our first ever "resort" holiday and I must say that I can understand the appeal. While I wouldn't want to stay at a resort-style hotel like this for more than 4 or 5 days (as we did in May) the quality of the entire experience was top notch. From the golf cart to take you to your room upon arrival to the champagne breakfasts it was hard to find much to fault. That said, I'm glad we went off season and did not have to pay full price for our half-board holiday. For what we paid it was fabulous - for what I would have to pay for the same holiday this weekend? Not so much.

The food at the Kempinski was quite good. Our second night there, we made reservations at the hotel's seafood restaurant and enjoyed a bottle of champagne (which we picked up at the Duty Free on our way in) while nibbling lobster and freshly caught fish. Tough life, huh? This particular photo is from our last night there when the staff decided to move the BBQ buffet out to the pool. Great food and a romantic setting helped make for a fabulous final impression.

As I mentioned yesterday, Hubby greatly enjoyed the pool's basketball hoop and could frequently be found shoot free throws. While I was busy in the hotel's spa getting a facial and massage he swam a few laps and did his best Kobe impression on the pool's low rim.

(We will not be discussing my basketball abilities as they are somewhat humiliating.) (But it wasn't my fault since I couldn't wear my glasses in the pool and therefore couldn't see anything.) (Not that I'm making excuses.) (And we're still not going to talk about it!)

Random plug: the UV shirt Hubby is wearing TOTALLY worked! White-boy didn't get so much as a freckle during our time in Zanzibar. I realize that the surf shirts must work or they wouldn't be so popular but I was withholding judgment until I saw the burnless proof for myself!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Return of the Silent Blogger

I would love to say that I’ve been busy for the last three weeks, but the truth of the matter is that I’ve simply had a case of writer’s block. That or laziness, I’m not sure which. In either case, I have now decided to emerge from my self-imposed silence and blog once again.

When last we left our intrepid heroes they were relaxing up a storm at the Zamani Zanzibar Kempinski Hotel. We debated for quite some time about where we should stay for the May long weekend. If we stayed at the Serena in town we would have our typical vacation of running around doing touristy things. On the other hand if we stayed at the Kempinski we would be far from Stone Town and forced to relax for the entire holiday. I voted do nothing and relax. (Surprising, huh?)

Since I am still suffering from writer's block I have elected to tell the tale of the best vacation Hubby and I have ever taken in photos!

This is the jetty Hubby and I "discovered" our first morning. The cooling breezes were only outdone by the lovely views from our chaise lounges.

On our second morning in paradise, Hubby donned his flippers and went snorkeling while I watched, sipping whatever lovely concoction the fabulous bartender had created for me. The staff at this hotel were fabulous - there when you needed them but discreet when you wanted to snuggle on the chairs looking out at the ocean.

Although we never managed to arrange a trip in a local dhow these fishing boats appeared plentiful. I want to point out that I have not doctored the colours in any of these photos. That incredible shade of blue is the real thing!

But we couldn't spend all of our time in the ocean - the salt is bad for my hair you know! The infinity pool at the hotel was incredible and even had a basketball hoop that I will tell you more about tomorrow.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

What did you do today?

8:30 a.m. Woke up and enjoyed my outdoor shower.

10:00 a.m. Champagne breakfast (incl. with room)

11:00 a.m. Lay on a divan on the jetty under an umbrella and enjoyed the ocean breeze.

1:30 p.m. Massage and facial at the spa

And it isn't even dinner time yet....