Nairobi is congested with crazily-driven cars, smogged with dirty air, and swarming with locals trying to make a quick (and not always honest) buck from the tourists. I was incredibly glad to have my brother Adam with me, because Nairobi seems like the sort of place that is not good to travel around alone (and also because I really like hanging out with my brother). However, despite their reputation for trying to scam tourists, Nairobians are generally very friendly and helpful – and also incredibly well-dressed.
After a fearing-for-our-life taxi ride from the airport, we arrived in the city center early in the morning at a very budget hotel. Thirty-six hours of traveling with minimal sleep and brains telling us it was midnight were very hard to overcome, but we prevailed and spent the next few hours walking around the chaotic city center.
Sluggish with exhaustion and from breathing in the exhaust-filled, dirty, smelly air that seemed to stick to our skin and lungs, we decided early afternoon was an acceptable time to go to sleep for the night. The dirty blankets and loud construction noise at the budget Terminal Hotel weren’t very welcoming for a good night’s (or afternoon’s) sleep, so we decided to stay at the much nicer, way more secure Country Lodge in the nearby Upper Hill neighborhood (which unsurprisingly is on a hill overlooking the city center).
Twenty hours of sleeping and vegging prepared us for the next day, which we inadvertently turned into our food exploration of Nairobi. We spent a few hours sipping the famous Kenyan coffee at the popular Nairobi Java House. Then we headed to Carnivore, known for being the best restaurant in Nairobi. While a dozen natives danced and played music on a stage near our table, piles of meat filled our plates as the waiters came by offering lamb, beef, pork, chicken, ostrich, crocodile, and even ox balls!
Our visit to Nairobi would not be complete until we could see some cool African animals, which we did the next day. Right outside of Nairobi is the Nairobi National Park, the only game reserve in the world that is so near to a cosmopolitan city. (Our tour guide reassured us that the animals never roam into the city because a fence surrounds the huge park.) It is so weird and cool to spot giraffes (I LOVE giraffes!) and zebras with a panoramic city view in the background.
There are also ostriches strutting, antelope grazing, buffalo lazing, and tons of different kinds of birds screeching about. Unfortunately, the lions and rhinoceros only appear in the early morning to hunt for breakfast and spend the rest of the day napping unseen in the tall grass or under trees, so we didn’t get to see any of them. I was too engrossed with the hundreds of zebras nibbling on the grass literally feet from our car and the giraffes munching on trees and bushes (I’m pretty sure giraffes spend the entire day eating because that’s all I saw them doing – what a great life!) to even care about the lack of lions and rhinos.
We finished our Nairobi visit with an excursion to the Nairobi National Museum, where we learned about the origins of man and pre-man in Africa (many fossils helping to explain the evolution of humans have been found in Kenya, including the full skeleton of a homo erectus boy from 1.5 million years ago). We also learned about colonial Kenya, when the country was under oppressive British control (the British expropriated land and forced natives to become wage laborors, Kenyans weren’t allowed to attend British-built schools, and missionaries constantly – and successfully – tried to convert Kenyans to Christianity) until the violent rioting of the Mau Mau rebellion and diplomatic negotiations contributed to Britain granting Kenyan independence in 1963.
Now we are headed to meet our overland tour group, where we will board a truck-type expedition vehicle and begin our exploration of southern Africa!