Saturday, August 17, 2013

The Streets are Alive in Nairobi

A city that has become famous for its high rates of theft, Nairobi, or more widely known as "Nai-robbery", is a place of pure chaos. Most travelers fly in here and get immediately out, fearing that their precious cargo will get instantly ripped off. Not wanting to fall into that cliche, and more importantly having a desire to see what Kenya's largest and most bustling city is like, I took a leap of faith and decided that Nairobi was worth more than a few hours of my time.

Upon arrival into this bustling East African hub you can instantly see why many are deterred from coming here. The traffic here has coined its own definition of insane and although many speak of the horrors of driving here, it is not fully appreciated until you are emersed within it. As a traveler I am usually prepared for the unexpected: I carry wet wipes in case I am thrown up on; a head lamp for power outages; a rain coat for all wet things that fall from the sky (is that really water coming from the ceiling?). However in Nairobi being prepared only gets you as far as your matatu and from there your life is as predictable as the weather.

The sky decided to open up on us as I arrived into Nairobi. I already knew that I had a bit of a drive (45 minutes to an hour) from the airport to Westlands, where my guest house was located. However, I had no idea what was in store when my driver Nicholas looked at me with a worried expression and explained that because of the rain it was going to take "a little longer" to get to my hotel. Sure, no problem, I thought, sitting in the car a little longer is not big deal. Two and half hours and 5 kilometers later I now had a different appreciation for the expression "a little bit longer".

What I also came to appreciate is how Kenyans are able to maneuver in such chaos; even when roads are blocked solid with what is perceived as no where to go cars find ways to move forward. When my driver got frustrated with the stand still traffic he took matters into his own hands. Rules and regulations were quickly cast aside as the van whipped on to the sidewalk. As we cruised down the sidewalk and past the lines of cars memories of playing Grand Theft Auto with my brother flashed before my eyes. I waited for the proverbial "F*$! You" to come flying out of the mouths of those on foot but nothing came. At points where fingers would have been thrown and curse words spewed in the U.S., courtesy waves were given. People moved out of the way and in most cases even assisted with the new flow of traffic. 

The streets of Nairobi are worth the visit in and of themselves. Back in the US sitting in traffic is often a drag; in Nairobi the streets are alive and is a place where you can get most of your errands and then some accomplished. While traveling through Nairobi you can purchase a puppy, a bed, any kind of curio, bananas, papaya, and bunches of sukuma (kale) and more. America may have invented the drive-thru but Kenyans have taken it to whole new and impressive level.

Although Nairobi can feel daunting upon arrival, its tough exterior does soften. With a population of over 3 million, Nairobi is a place that has much to offer visitors of all kinds. From the diplomat to the budget traveler, Nairobi should be given a couple of days, even if you just come to haggle from your car.
Baby Elephant at the David Sheldrick Orphanage

Must See:

Nairobi National Park. Spanning 44 square miles, this national park is the only National park within a city in the world. Its gorgeous vistas and accessible animal sitings makes this place a worthwhile trip. What makes this place even more desirable is the fact that it is home to an elephant orphanage. Due to poaching, man holes, mudslides and elephant traps, this orphanage has become home to 26 elephants, ages 3 days to 3 years. As a way to raise awareness and funds for this project people can visit the elephants from 11-12 daily for 500KS. Although skeptical at first, it is definitely worth your shillings to see these baby elephants wrestling with each other over a bottle full of baby formula.

From the elephant sanctuary one should then head to the Giraffe Center where you will come face to face (and more!) with the endangered Rothschild giraffe. No matter what your opinion is of the giraffe, I guarantee that these tall beauties will not disappoint. Entrance into the center is 1000KS which includes a well versed guide and the potential for the most unbelievable kiss of your life. Have no fear, Giraffes saliva is antiseptic to protect against the acacia tree thorns so a good lickin' from one of them will cause no harm or herpes.

Masaai Market
A Masaai Market. On specific days of the week local curio sellers set up around Nairobi to sell you any and everything your heart desires. From hand carved bowls to beaded jewelery to beautiful batiks, these markets are a good place to go, get lost, and bargain (hard!) over prices. Even if you are not in the market for local crafts, it is a great place to watch the magic of negotiation.  

Got Extra Time: Check out Village Market with its fantastic food court; walk amongst butterflies at the Nairobi Butterfly Centre; eat nyama choma (Kenyan BBQ); and most importantly drink a Tusker or two.

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