After hearing a missionary describe Nairobi as a place where you can buy anything and eat at a multitude of restaurants (something we now consider a luxury), I had to go. So this week Bethany Joy and I went to Nairobi, Kenya and stayed at an Air BnB!
Our bus, which was comfortable with big seats, left our town at 2:30 pm and arrived the next morning at 3 am. Even this late, the city was bustling as the taxi driver drove us by night clubs and 24 hour stores teaming with life.
Even though things didn’t go entirely according to plan, our first day in Nairobi was a resounding success!
Our first stop was the Lavington Mall. The third ATM we tried allowed us to take out some Kenyan Shillings, so we went to the Art cafe for a late breakfast/early lunch. We had Eggs Benedict (our first in 4 months!) and a milk shake that literally had a piece of carrot cake blended into it.
Neither Bethany nor I are big mall shoppers, but it was really nice seeing familiar stores and products. Bethany raided a health store before we hit the closest grocery store for some water. It was three times bigger than the largest one we have in our nearby town.
Across the street from the mall was the Nairobi Art Centre, which was in fact an art school. It looked cool though!
We walked up the street to the Chocolate Festival. As we peaked into the gate it didn’t look like much, but it had taken 20 minutes to walk there so we were committed to checking it out. That is until, as we shuffled through our bag for money, a woman came storming over to us.
“Have you bought your tickets?” she asked. We told her no and she continued: “Then don’t!” She gestured to the nearly empty grounds. “This is all there is.” She pulled out her phone and loaded Facebook. Scrolling through the event description she pointed out, “Look at that description. None of that is here. If you wanted to look at a chocolate bar you can save your money and go to a grocery store.”
We laughed, but not too loudly as security started to casually gather around. As she turned her attention to them we slipped back out of the gate.
Our next stop was the Toi Market. I’d read it was the largest second hand market in Nairobi, but otherwise didn’t know what to expect. In the end we were blown away! It sprawled across multiple blocks and we ended up buying clothes, books, and movies.
Some back story, a girl at Bibi’s had asked me if I had two movies just before we’d left: Alvin and the Chipmunks and Miracles from Heaven. I told her I could get Alvin, but had never heard of the other one. Imagine then how surprised I was when Bethany found a stack of Christian movies and as I half listened to her listing off titles I’d never heard of she said “Miracles from Heaven.”
As we walked to our final destination, we happened to pass the Brew Bistro. We’d been planning to go to their second location by our house, but since our feet were sore and we were making good time, we stopped in and couldn’t be happier. Microbreweries are huge in Halifax, but for the last four months we’ve only had a handful of options of East African beers. It was really nice having options on tap!
Our last stop was the Junction Mall. We went to Nairobi’s equivalent of Wal-Mart and spent a couple hours getting food, games, and underwear without holes! When the Irish Pub we were planning to get supper at was closed, we made do and got Subway and soft serve instead!
As a rule, we wake up between 7 and 8 with or without an alarm and even on vacation our bodies internal clock wakes us up bright and early. On Sunday morning, Bethany Joy took advantage of the pool for some early laps and I took advantage of the speedy WiFi!
We are taking turns picking a church and this week I’d found the International Christian Fellowship. The main selling point for me was that it was in English and near our next destination for the day, but it turned out being a refreshing taste of home. They meet in the intimate auditorium of a giant international school up the road from the UN. Bethany enjoyed the singing and the sermon was pretty good.
The Karura Forrest is just a 15 minute walk from the school so we made the trek to our lunch destination: The River Cafe. Chai tea, a veggie burger (with basil mayo and avocado), and more eggs benedict later and we were ready for our adventure.
For $5 we rented bikes and set off in search of a waterfall and caves. The terrain was well kept and felt like you were always traveling down hill. Despite never feeling entirely comfortable on a bike, it was a great ride. I personally did a virtual tour of the caves. We didn’t want to leave the bikes on the path without supervision so we decided to take turns walking the 100 steps down to the caves. After Bethany finished, she showed me a video of all she saw and we concluded I may not want to take the trek down. It was a great movie though!
Next we headed to the Village Mall. Uber is amazing here. Cars are always in the area, you don’t have to negotiate a price or have exact change, and they never cost more than $6. But we have been only able to use them from the house where we have WiFi! Not anymore! For $6.50 we were able to buy a Kenyan SIM card and a gig of data for Bethany’s phone. As much as I miss Canada, I dread having to deal with the ridiculous prices of phones and internet at home.
On the way to the mall, we took a tour of the world seeing Sweden, the USA, Morocco, Poland and a variety of other countries… their embassies anyway!
After the mall, we headed back to Brew Bistro and tried their Canadian poutine. It was good, but not even in the ballpark of poutine. Instead, it was a weird sour cream/cheese sauce on top of fries. Sacrilege!
On the bottom floor of the same building was a Cold Stone Creamery where Bethany got ice cream (if only it was attached to a Tim Hortons like at home!) and a Dominos where Bethany was amused by the couple dozen delivery motorcycles they had out front.
We tried to find a cheaper sushi place I’d researched, but after searching the Westgate mall for it, we gave up and went to the more expensive one. Too expensive, but at least we got a little taste!
After a suggestion from Victoria, Bethany and I spent Monday morning walking through the Arborteum, a dense forest with walking paths in the city. There were school groups playing in clearings, ice cream carts pushed by eager salespeople, and some of the largest trees we’ve seen since arriving in Africa.
We continued our walk to the PAWA254 project which turned out to be a dud and so took an uber to the National Museum and Snake Park instead. It may seem like an odd combination, but for a meer $15 we saw 100s of stuffed birds, the big 5 up close, ancient skulls, historical artifacts, and some of the most poisonous snakes in the world.
By this point it was getting late and a confused uber driver kept accepting and cancelling our pick up request, so we started the walk towards home. Along the way we stopped at the Urban Eatery for a very late lunch/first supper. Picture a super fancy food court. Effectively there’s 5 restaurants surrounding the perimeter of the eatery and tables set in the middle. Waiters come with a massive menu containing all of the restaurants options and you mix and match. We had greek chicken and sushi!
We went across the street to a grocery store to stock up on more of the things we can’t get at home and then got gyros delivered to our door for dinner!
Tuesday was supposed to be our downtown Nairobi day and it sort of was…
We started at the Alliance Francais to scope out some art shows happening later in the week and then went to Java House to finally get a bagel!
I’d added the City Market as a time filler, but it turned into the best part of the day. There was tons of art and souvenirs and we spent hours negotiating (painful) and browsing. The biggest success was finding what will eventually become my dad‘s Christmas present, though we also got a shirt and skirt, knick knacks, wooden kid’s toys and puzzles, and sand stone figurines.
We walked around downtown for a bit longer but couldn’t find many of the stores on my map and eventually went to our third Nakumatt (Kenya’s Walmart). This one was “Mega” and we were able to buy a fan AND Christmas lights, two things I’d been looking to buy since arriving.
We took an uber to another very late lunch at Burger Hut hoping for a Big Mac ripoff and got pretty decent burgers instead. We’d broken our rental’s broom handle combating flying bugs in the kitchen one night and had purchased a replacement, so I did my best Moses impression as we crossed the highway on our walk home.
We had a very chilly dip in the pool before going out for late night tapas and live music back at the Brew Bistro!
On Wednesday we played tourist and as a result we had an exceptionally good day.
On the edge of the Nairobi National Park, Bethany and I found ourselves at the David Sheldick Elephant Orphange. Only from 11 am to noon are visitors allowed. We arrived just in time!
During the hour, the visitors all stand behind a “fence” made of a couple of ropes which surrounds a large mud pit. Over 25 baby orphan elephants then come out in two groups and we watched as they were bottle fed formula, bathed in the mud, drank from a hose, wrestled, farted, and – at one point – made a break for it. They were so close you could touch then and we did, feeling their rough, dirty skin.
If that wasn’t special enough, our next stop was the Giraffe Centre. Here we saw lots of giraffes: two babies, two adult females, and a male. We hand fed them pellets, pet their head, and avoided getting head butted. Bethany even fed one with her mouth!
Finally on our tourist binge we went to Carnivore Restaurant. Here they walk around with skewers of meat and you can eat as much as you’d like. We had crocodile (surprisingly good), ostrich, rabbit, ox testicle (not-surprisingly gross), pork, lamb, beef, and turkey. Oh the indigestion!
Thursday was defined by shopping.
In the morning Bethany and I went to the Sarit Centre and found Monty’s, which sold a variety of unique candies. They used to sell root beer, but alas no longer. Then we headed to the Yaya Centre where we found a huge book store with a sizable used-section called Bookstop. We’ve been looking for a veggie spiraller since arriving and when I walked into one random kitchen store with only a handful of items, there one was at eye level!
After seeing many recommendations for Habeesh, we walked there for lunch. The menu was a bit intimidating, us having never had Ethiopian food before. We got a sampler and it was amazing. Effectively on a crepe the size of a pizza pan, they put five different sauces and you sort of ate your plate while dipping in these meat and vegetarian dishes. All were amazing!
In the afternoon we were back at the Toi Market. Last time we were there we walked through it and ended at what we thought was the last booth. This time we realized that last booth was actually the start of a hallway that led to the second half of the market. This place was HUGE! We bought a few more clothing items and I splurged on tv series and books.
After stopping in at Brew Bistro again, we went to Tokyo Restaurant for some over priced sushi that was totally worth it!
For Friday, we’d scheduled an early tour of the UN.
Bright and early we ubered to Wasp and Sprout. Hidden behind a small shopping complex, this hipster cafe appealed greatly to Bethany’s granola sensibilities. There was art and jewelry for sale on the walls, chairs covered in kitanga fabric, and -gasp- english muffins!
The UN tour was also great. We were shown around the grounds including Canada’s assigned seat in the conference room.
We did some birthday shopping at the Village Market before heading home for an afternoon nap (in a bed without a mosquito net!)
Our Air BnB host had invited us out to an outdoor bar and venue called The Alchemist, so that evening we risked the rain and checked it out. There was a cover band followed by a funk band in a venue that would fit right in in Halifax, if it wasn’t for our weather!
We didn’t have big plans for Saturday, which was kind of nice. We slept in. Bethany went for an ice swim in the pool and received a kamboocha starter kit, while I went for a walk in search of birthday presents (somewhat successfully). We had an awesome lunch at About Thyme and then we saw Guardians of the Galaxy 2 at the theatre. It was a relaxing day in preparation for our last one!
On Sunday we packed two huge duffle bags with the crazy variety of things we’d purchased. They ranged from big purchases like a fan, Christmas lights, a veggie spiraller, and a dozen+ books to smaller things like bagels, sauces, chocolate bars, and souvenirs. It was a hefty load!
We left our crammed packed bags at the apartment and went to church. The music and dancing was great in theory as it got people very involved, but made this non-dancer a little uncomfortable.
For lunch we went to a Japanese buffet for my last sushi in a while. I made Drew proud and ate a couple dozen pieces of sashimi.
Afterwards was a performance called “Peace and Love” that Bethany wanted to see. The music in it was great (including a guy who played a saxophone without having a saxophone) though the poetry bits dragged on a bit and I may or may not have had a nap.
Then it was one more stop at Brew Bistro, a burger at Mama Rocks and picking up our bags at the apartment.
The one final challenge was getting on the bus. We arrived at the bus stop we were told to meet at just in time only to find out our bus stop was three blocks away. We would have run for it if it weren’t for Bethany pointing out our bags weighed the same as a couple baby elephants (which we’re now experts in after seeing them bottle fed earlier in the week) and we got an uber instead. We made it with time to spare!
That’s the end of our Nairobi adventure. We’re a little heavier in body and lighter in wallet, but it was an exceptional vacation we hope to take home with us!