Saturday 12 May 2012

The Nairobi Trip

It is hard to give impressions of a country on the basis of a one-day trip. Not that it was literally a one-day trip. But the other three days were spent inside the hotel at a conference. It was a very good conference, the business bit is written up here

On that one free day I went around Nairobi with a friend, for whose time I am very grateful. She took me first to the Masai market and helped me to navigate the goods, the general clamour and the people who wanted me to buy simply everything.

I was reminded of the guy in Jamaica who wanted me to buy a large jewel encrusted dagger, insisting I’d have no bother getting it back through the US; or the guy in Paris determined I should buy a huge carpet from him. The goods on sale in Nairobi were far more practical and I bought quite a few, making sure they were customs-friendly and would fit in my suitcase.

The colours were amazing. Is that to do with the light in Africa? I've heard it said, but I don't know. I do know that some of the carvings on sale are the same as those on sale 6 miles away from where I live in the UK - large wooden giraffes. I didn’t buy carvings , doubting they’d survive the luggage battering of a long haul flight, but I bought other stuff including sandals and fabric, in colours and styles that I can't get at home.

Then we went out to the Karen Blixen house where there was a wedding in progress.

What an amazing setting for a wedding. The Out of Africa story is well enough known not to repeat it here, but it was an amazing experience to see the setting and many of the artefacts for real. It was like being transported back to an exotic 1950s England. Photographs were not allowed inside the house, apparently due to some rights issue in relation to the film.

From there we visited the Nairobi National Park.

We missed the trip that would have taken us right through so we walked around the walkway instead. We would have been allowed to drive in ourselves but as it was the start of the rainy season we would almost certainly have got stuck. We walked first round the orphanage seeing the young animals that had been brought in as orphans. Many big cats and also crocodiles, a warthog and a zedonk.

Out on the walkway with its magnificent views over the park and the river we saw some animals we couldn't identify. Of course out in the wild they aren’t labelled.

Impressions of Nairobi? Not unlike many big cities. Some areas of great wealth, helped along by the presence of the UN, and some areas of great poverty. Nairobi houses one of Africa's largest slums. Everyone talked about how bad the traffic was and it did look pretty horrendous at certain times of day but I was lucky enough not to be held up anywhere. Apparently there are frequent pileups which doesn't surprise me in the least. There is a style of driving that is Nairobi's own. I never felt in the least uneasy but I don't think I would like to be behind the wheel.

As it was the beginning of the rainy season, the traffic flow wasn't helped by occasional floods and huge potholes that, once filled with water, were impossible to gauge as to depth. Nairobi's rolling stock is somewhat battered and pretty muddy.

It's a shame to go somewhere and spent three quarters of the time inside a hotel. Saying that it was the sort of hotel in which it was no penance to stay. With its huge atrium some 15 stories high, its shopping mall, bars, gardens and pool, there was no sense of being enclosed or hemmed in. Security was tight because of the recent problems but I felt no personal sense of threat at any time.

Even in the worst of the traffic – cross roads solid with cars in all directions – there was little evidence of bad temper. Situations which in London or New York would have generated a cacophony of shouts and car horns were really quite peaceful. Kenya was advertised to me as a very friendly country. It genuinely seems to be so.


  1. Love the photo of you as an African Carving. Great blog - makes me want to go there. I have only visited Africa once - South Africa - and fell in love with the Cape.

  2. What really surprised me was how the trip envigorated me. I'm told it's to do with the air in East Africa, though given the traffic fumes in Nairobi I'm not sure that can be the whole story.

  3. Similar to Sue, only North Africa for our honeymoon. Would love to really dig into Africa and spend a few months there. Great blog. Nice vids. Dx

    1. Coo, North Africa for a honeymoon. Great choice! Thanks for the comment.

  4. It's much greener than I anticipated - okay it was the rainy season - but I was still surprised. Obviously my mental image of Niarobi is well off. Thanks for taking the time to put up the post & vids. Interesting.

    1. Thanks for coming to comment. Yes, it was lush and green, but I don't know how much that changes with the seasons.