29 October 2014

In and Around Nairobi

My trip to Kenya wasn't just about safaris and animal conservation; I also took in some of the sights and activities in Nairobi. 

On my first afternoon after we'd all had a nap (necessitated by my 3:45 AM arrival) we went grocery shopping. Which is a lot more fun than one might expect; foreign grocery stores are always a delight. And leave it to Kenya to have shops packed full of British goods. I stocked up on shortbread cookies. I stocked up on a few other things as well, everything being cheaper there than it is here in Istanbul.

Including alcohol! In addition to the cookies and a handful of other things I also picked up a bottle of nice, imported South American red and a bottle of Skyy passion fruit vodka. Don't make fun of my vodka choices. On top of that I bought several spices. Ironic, no? that I live in a city famed for its spice markets and stores but I'm going nuts in a Nairobi grocery store over its stock. Yes Istanbul is chock-a-block full of spices...but they're all the same ones. The variety available is really limited but thanks to Kenya's large Indian population, spices in Kenyan grocery stores are off the hook. I stocked up. I also got a couple boxes of powdered coconut milk and cream. I haven't tried them yet (I'm waiting until next month when I'll get my hands on some Thai red curry paste) but they were worlds cheaper than the overpriced coconut milk here.

After grocery shopping we went to the National Museum where we didn't actually visit the museum exhibitions but the attached snake center. Who has a snake center? Apparently the Kenya National Museum. Home to a variety of snakes, turtles, alligators, crocodiles, and a really lot of flounder... I wanted to get a snake of my own and send it to my brother-in-law who is forever posting pictures of clowns on my Facebook page. Clowns are freaking terrifying, and not just the Pennywises among them. No one is that happy unless they're crazy. Apparently my b-i-l's only kryptonite is live snakes. Sending a snake from Kenya being too difficult; I continue to plot my vengeance.

Pedestrians cross willy nilly

I really had no idea what to expect of Nairobi. It was almost comforting to discover that it's a big city like any other big city: big, dirty, loud, construction, and traffic. Oh the traffic. With a population of a little over 3 million one expects traffic, but I did not expect traffic to be worse than it is in my 20 million populated city. Istanbul traffic is offset by good public transportation (there are some people who would argue the "good" there but have you experienced Metro in DC?) but there is almost no public transportation in Nairobi. The most they have are mini buses and vans, like the Turkish dolmus, but these are privately owned and as far as I was able to discover, unregulated. 

The road to Samburu

Traffic flow problems are not helped by what seems to be an utter lack of road rules and by the arbitrary roadblocks police set up. These are not to control traffic but to pull over people for real or manufactured infractions during which police shake down drivers for bribes. My friends told me this happens to them regularly and it happened twice while I was there; once in the safari van on the way to Samburu and once on my way into the airport as I was leaving. The last at least gave me a chance to admire the plains zebras who were calmly grazing in the median.

Nairobi wasn't all grocery shopping though...there was lots of other shopping to do! If you're in Nairobi, or just want something pretty (you can buy them elsewhere) go to the Kazuri Bead Factory. There they hand make and paint beads of all kinds which are then turned into jewelry or sold loose by the gram. I was particularly interested in the factory as it largely employs single mothers. There are a number of male employees as well who, they joke, are given the crap jobs (really they make all the ceramic plates, mugs, etc) but who are largely responsible for looking after the kilns. Because Nairobi is already hot enough the kilns are only fired at night and they have to be monitored constantly.

My friends also took me to glass blowing factories. I'm also a sucker for hand blown glass; I always sit to watch the demonstrations at the Maryland Renaissance Festival. Apparently the two most well-known glass factories were either one or at least worked in consort but there was a falling out and now they're separate entities; so separate that they've built a tall fence between them.

Sold by the meter

Best I can tell, we visited first the Anselm factory where I was enchanted by the cafe garden with its glass furniture and what must be insanely heavy hanging decorations. Prices for these beauties are really super reasonable too. Shipping is where you're going to have trouble. If you're lucky enough to work in Nairobi for a company that ships your things though you could make a nice little side business taking orders for people.

The grounds around the factory and showroom were really charming. I was imaging it as the setting for a Rapunzel/Hobbit crossover. Which might be something interesting to explore. Merry and Pippin were single if I recall correctly and Rapunzel did have twins...

That bird is real. And scary.

After Anselm we visited the neighboring Kitengela factory where these giant, scary birds roamed among the factory's art.

If I thought Anselm had the better grounds, Kitengela won the showroom contest. I did end up buying things from both places; a set of glasses from Anselm which had the better glassware, and a wind chime from Kitengela which had more art and novelties.

Kitengela also has several guest houses you can rent and a lovely infinity pool that overlooks Nairobi's very own safari park.

Thanks to my excellent friends I was finally able to check off one of my biggest life bucket list items: an African safari. It was an amazing adventure, one I'll never forget, and I could not have ask for better people to share it with. Thank you E&M!

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