kenya: nairobi

If the retentive and reluctant tourist in you is going to emerge at any time, it'll be in Nairobi. The driver's assurance that Nairobi closes down at night and not a soul lives in the city centre isn't the relaxation tonic it's supposed to be when the armed guards are searching the underneath of your mini bus with mirrors and the heat is melting your face onto your jumper. Nevertheless it's an incredible place. Upon your first visit, the forbidden nature of it gets into your blood - the constant nag from your conscience that you really are not to leave the hotel grounds begs you to explore further, but as you settle back for a night cap in the gardens bathed in coloured fairy lights, even the faint drone of the local news announcing an explosion in the Mara (your home in less than 5 days), fails to divert your attention from your first encounter with nature; the 30 cm long, 5cm thick bright white slug that's making its way over to your table.

As you wake for possibly the most sumptuous breakfast ever cooked on a bunsen burner grill, and nod recognition to fellow travellers, you're relieved to find out that you are not the only female to get no sleep due to near suffocation after spending the majority of the night carefully manoeuvring the bed sheets to cover your face and body to prevent imminent death by mosquitoes that, in hindsight, existed only in our fragile minds.

The group gathers to settle hotels bills and frantically change currency in the belief that this is the last piece of civilization for 6 days. As we pile into the mini bus for our journey through North East Kenya to Samburu National Park, we are introduced to our driver for the week, John.

John is a young looking gentle man, who you forget has a wife and children whom he leaves behind for weeks on end to earn a wage the best way he knows how: driving tourists around Kenya. You (worryingly) soon get used to John's driving; think formula one meets Victorian cobbled Britain and you may have some indication of the comfort factor that is exclusively yours for the next week.

Road travel in Kenya is not to be avoided. Despite your long daily journeys, non-existent roads, searing heat and billowing clouds of dust, the children from the local tribes running across the scrub land, waving and eager to meet you never fails to lose its appeal. Neither does the roadside ambling giraffe, the scores of Africans on mobile phones and the bustling market atmosphere of each small town and village.

What no one can ever prepare you for is your first stop at a BP petrol station. Barely 5 hours on the road in Kenya you find yourself at Isiolo - the last outpost, and last stretch of concrete road, before your 90 minute drive to Samburu across rugged and potholed terrain. Pulling into the forecourt you are simply swamped with locals selling spears and knives that would make customs take one look at you and throw away the key. Bananas are forced though every available crevice, bangles and wood carvings tap on the windows as African voices call out to you, eager to know more about you, where you are from and what you think of Kenya. A quick bond was struck between the Scottish inhabitants of the vehicle and a local man through the instant association of "Sir Alec." This was followed by a somewhat surreal conversation about that evening's Milan football game between the locals and the Italian travellers.

As we nod, gesture and shake our heads in response to the various cries from outside, we subtly slide the windows closed, feeling incredibly uncomfortable, daring not to get our money out for fear of ambush. A far cry from 3 days later when the women proactively leave the bus to speak to and mingle with locals to negotiate use of the much valued (unclean but seated) porcelain toilets in Harambie.