A November 2002 trip
to Nairobi by chloe_day
Quote: Don't let this city's problems with crime put you off from visiting it. Nairobi has a lot to offer, and what trip to Kenya is complete without spending some time in its capital?
As it turned out, I really enjoyed the time I spent there during my three short stays. Nairobi is a bustling city that's full of life and makes a refreshing change from rustic life in the beautiful Kenyan countryside. It's nice to be in a big city when you've been away from them for so long, and the difference between Nairobi and all other big towns in Kenya is really marked. It has high-rise buildings with plate glass and fast-food restaurants for a start.
There are some excellent craft shopping opportunities, great restaurants, and accommodation to suit any budget. You may also enjoy visiting some of the interesting museums, such as the Karen Blixen Museum, the National Museum and the National Archives, the Railway Museum, Parliament House (you need a permit for this), and the Mzizi Arts Centre--not forgetting nearby Nairobi National Park if you don't have the time to visit larger ones.
Don't get me wrong, Nairobi has a lot of problems, but not many capital cities are without them. It definitely has more than its fair share of poverty and the street kids that inevitably come with it, but if you're careful and sensible about where you go and how you get there, then I'm sure you'll enjoy it as much as my friends and I did.
1. Generally keep anything valuable hidden.
2. Don't wear watches or jewellery. Necklaces and earrings are very easily snatched.
3. Keep your money, etc., in a money belt beneath your trousers or shorts. Although thieves are now aware of this tactic, it's still the safest option.
4. When in taxis, lock the doors and keep the windows wound up. This not only safeguards against would-be thieves, but if you stop at traffic lights and a street kid comes up to your window begging for money to eat, it's really embarrassing to have to wind it up in front of them.
5. Don't whip your camera out on the streets (apologies for the lack of photos in this journal).
6. Try not to walk around alone, and avoid walking completely when it's dark.
The Princess Hotel has clean, fairly quiet double rooms for KSh800 (£7.50/$11) per night. Our room had the best shower I used during the whole of my four-month stay in Kenya (but I stayed in really cheap hotels). I'd recommend this place if you're on a tight budget, as they don't mind you sleeping more than two in a double room, although they contain two single beds and it's not very comfy.
Tom Mboya Street is very busy, central, and within easy walking distance of most places you might want to go, including banks and exchange bureaux, museums, shops, restaurants, and a couple of cinemas.
There is a bar and restaurant which are popular with the locals, and it gets very full when Premiership Football or Rugby matches are being shown on the TVs. I found the people using the bar to be very friendly, wanting to make conversation and generously offering out their stashes of miraa. Miraa is the shoot of a plant that when chewed is supposed to have a mild stimulant effect. It's legal (I think!), and they import it from Somalia. Try it, but you'll probably wish you hadn't--it tastes pretty horrid.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on September 16, 2003
Tom Mboya Street
The main food on offer, as the name would suggest, is nyama choma or barbecued meat. This usually includes pork, beef, chicken, etc and about four types of game meat, all of which you can see being spit roasted as you enter the restaurant. There are also other foreign foods on offer, and there's a good vegetarian buffet--if vegetarians can stomach being there to start with.
One of the main attractions is the all-you-can-eat option. This costs KSh1600 (£15/$22) and for that you get the waiters to slice as much meat as you want straight onto your plate at the table whenever you want. If you want to try some game meat but don't really fancy paying £15 for it, then there's a platter available which has your choice of meat (plenty of it) and costs KSh350 (£3.20/$4.60). I tried hartebeest, warthog, zebra, and crocodile. All were nice except the crocodile, which was really meaty but tasted strongly of fish. I'm told that impala is very good.
Matatus and buses #15 and #24 (aswell as others) go past here on the main road but this leaves you with a 1km walk and a taxi is a better option. All in all this place is a bit different, definitely worth a visit and doesn't have to be expensive.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on September 16, 2003
As you would expect, stall owners at the markets tend to be more willing to haggle with you over prices, but there are a couple of good craft shops too. We stumbled across one near the Dove Cage Restaurant on Moktar Daddah Street. I think it's on the corner of Muindi Mbingu Street. This place sells all sorts of wooden carvings, the usual Maasai knives and spears, some jewellery, and also a lot of very beautiful batiks. The walls of the shop are covered entirely with these batik pictures and they are also piled on a long table on the right as you walk in. The men who work here will haggle, but you have to work hard at it and it's easier if there's a group of you wanting to buy a few things.
The City Market is held in a big market hall and I think it's open every day. You'll find it on the corner of Muindi Mbingu Street and Market Street. Inside there are two levels. The ground floor holds some permanent craft shops and also quite a lot of flower, fruit and vegetable stalls. There is also a butcher's in a corner somewhere. Upstairs there is a balcony that runs all the way around, and there are permanent shops up here. You can find almost any type of craft at this market that you might want, like wooden and soapstone carvings, kangas and kikois (types of wrap-around skirts), jewellery, spears, knives, shields, and masks. There are also some nice batiks here, as well as pictures made from banana leaves. As you enter the market, a load of guys will probably start following you round trying to get you to visit their shops. Sometimes this can be fun and you can have very pleasant conversations with people. At other times it's very annoying, especially if there are a lot of them, but just be firm and go where you want to go. Outside, at the Koinange Street end (which runs parallel to Muindi Mbingu), there is an area with some covered and some uncovered stalls. I wouldn't linger at the Market Street side as there tend to be a lot of street kids hanging around.
The Maasai Market takes place on a Tuesday on the grassy piece of land by the roundabout that Muranga'a Road and Slip Road feed into. A taxi here won't cost you very much at all. There are a lot of wares on offer and much of it is different to what you might find at the City Market. I would visit both, but if you go straight from one to the other, you might get really sick of the hassle that goes with market shopping here. Give yourself a break in between. There are quite a lot of street kids that hang around by the roadside here, including girls with babies. I gave some excess clothes and things I didn't want to take home to them. If you give them money, they tend to spend it on glue.
Eldoret Express buses are probably the next best and these run all the way from Kitale to Nairobi (via the same stops). Unlike the Akamba buses, which have their own office in each town, these can be found in the local bus park and set off whenever they're full. There are also matatus and share taxis that run from all large towns which are faster but not really as comfortable because you never get a full seat to yourself.
There is only one passenger train service running in the whole of Kenya. This is the overnight train (leaving at around 2000hrs) between Nairobi and Mombasa. The price of a second class bunk in a four bed cabin is KSh2100 (about £19/$29) and the only difference between first and second class is that first class cabins only sleep two.
In a lot of areas it's perfectly safe to walk around in Central Nairobi during the day. Perhaps walking on your own isn't a great idea, but in a pair or a small group it's fine.
After dark you tend not to feel so safe and taking a taxi is advisable. There are always plenty of taxis around, just make sure you agree on a price before setting off. I think there is a KSh200 minimum fare in Nairobi (£2/$3).
There are city buses and matatus that run routes, but I found these a bit more intimidating than in the rural areas I used them, mainly because they use a numbering system rather than just having a piece of plywood in the window with the destination painted on and I didn't want to get on the wrong one (I'm a wimp). There are also quite a lot of motorised rickshaws, especially outside Pizza Inn on the corner of Moi Avenue and Mama Ngina Street (there are plenty of taxis here too). You can fit about three people in these, although they're no cheaper than taxis and probably not as safe.
I definitely wouldn't want to drive in central Nairobi as it's very congested, people tend to walk out in front of cars all the time and matatus are driven by madmen.
Wakefield, United Kingdom