Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Jambo Nairobi

A while ago, Dad took up a job in Kenya. We believe he took it up only for the chance of going on wildlife safaris, but why look a gift horse in the mouth? He has now returned to India and is more busy than ever with work, but while he was there, we got to take advantage of his hospitality and go for a trip of a lifetime!

Nairobi airport is in a constant state of chaos...that coming from someone who's familiar with the situation at Indian airports. Once in the city, it is quite unexpected to see such clean, wide roads. It is the same kind of eye opening experience that people from the Western world would get when they visit India for the first time ("How do you speak English so well?" "Where are all the cows?").

In my head, I pictured Africa to at least look as poor as it is made out to be, but I was pleasantly surprised by the well maintained city (I am told that being the UN headquarters for the region has a big part to play in that). The soil is extremely fertile which shows in the fresh, organic, tastier and good looking produce available (especially potatoes which everyone in our family is very fond of). Security though, is another matter altogether. It is best to stay off the roads after dark. Getting around the city is very difficult. Public transport mainly consists of jittery Matatus that might fall apart at any time, and taxis are very expensive. Dad had bought a car, and with a short-term driver that he hired, it made our lives so much easier.

Since Kenya doesn't have any phone connections provided by the government, the whole city depends on mobile phones. Even banking and wire transfers are done this way. Dad had an extra phone we could use to keep in touch, but our India phones had to be kept switched off to avoid the super-expensive call charges.

In terms of currency, even though the Indian Rupee is stronger than the Kenyan Shilling, you need a whole lot more of it to get anything here...the place is expensive. Whether you are looking to buy groceries or souvenirs, you better have a heavy wallet which you can empty at the cash counter. The prices souvenir shops will quote might shock you at first, but you need to keep in mind that they quote with a 100% mark up since they know tourists will start bargaining at 50%. So to get a good deal, start your bids at the 25% mark, and depending on how much you want the item, go up till you get it. The quality should also be taken into consideration. Like a bracelet Husband bought for me at a department store was for about 1500 Shillings...but it was made of wooden beads and had a polished bone clasp. You could get a similar looking piece for much cheaper with plastic beads and wooden clasp.


We had gone there in the month of August. It was quite cold (by my standards) and we didn't need the fan at night. The afternoon sun sometimes got very warm, but if you stayed in the shade you'd still need a shawl. Needless to say, I was always wrapped up in one. The house where Dad was staying at was in a nice quiet neighbourhood with a lawn regularly visited by birds, squirrels and other critters—a mini-safari through your window. Nearby was an Indian temple which also served as the local community center, which was a nice evening spent in peace and quiet.

The city blends in with its natural heritage and has its own National Park for those who can't make it to one of the country's many safari destinations. It also has an Animal Orphanage next to it, housing several abandoned, orphaned, or injured animals, and if you happen to be near the big cats' cages during lunch time, you will get to witness up close that caged and seemingly domesticated animals never lose their wild touch. They start getting fidgety around the appointed hour, and by the time the meat is being doled out one-by-one, these cats go on a frenzy, jumping on fences, snapping at everything and pacing around the enclosure.

There are many places in and around Nairobi that you can visit. We went to Nakuru, the Animal Orphanage, and a few malls. Apart from some souvenirs we picked up some coffee (for me) and tea (for Husband), but unfortunately we liked it so much that now it is difficult to go back to having the regular stuff! We need to find people who can keep sending us some on a regular basis. Any volunteers?

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