Write down the names of five random African countries, and the chance is almost non-existent Kenya is not on your paper – don’t argue, it’s true. Everyone has at least heard of it. And that includes full-blown simpletons who can’t even point out semi-neighbour Congo on a map when it has a picture of Mobutu waving his little leopard hat on it. Kenya isn’t just any country. It has some of the best safari parks on the planet, the annual great migration from the Serengeti to the Masai Mara is an overwhelming natural spectacle, and the actual Masai are still the most recognisable indigenous tribe on the entire continent. The country even served as inspiration for The Lion King. Simba – Swahili for ‘lion’ by the way: what a dumb name – was a Kenyan. Look it up.
“Kenya isn’t just any country. It has some of the best safari parks on the planet, the annual great migration from the Serengeti to the Masai Mara is an overwhelming natural spectacle, and the actual Masai are still the most recognisable indigenous tribe on the entire continent.”
Once the British called it the only real city between Cairo and Cape Town – sorry Timbuktu – but that doesn’t keep Nairobi from generally feeling a tad less appealing than the rest of the country. At first glance this seems somewhat justified. The Kenyan capital is a city of millions, and is expanding explosively, resulting in vast slums and relentless traffic jams. On top of that, you’re more likely to be shat on by some scabby marabou than by your regular pigeon – and those are pretty large birds. Look beyond these things however, and you’ll discover a lively, young metropolis with its eyes set on tomorrow. There’s an amazing amount of fun activities to experience in Nairobi. And since I stayed here for a few days in October, I decided to list some of the most surprising excursions. Might as well enjoy it, right?
1. Go on safari in the city centre
Nairobi is the only capital in the world where you can go on an extensive safari fifteen minutes from your doorstep. Nairobi National Park is almost 54 mi2 in size and was literally right across the street from my hotel room. It is so close to the city that local shopkeepers regularly have to chase escaped lions from their porches – how’s that for a Monday morning? Lions aplenty apparently, and the other members of the big five are present as well. The reserve is too small to support a herd of elephants, but in the Sheldrick Elephant & Rhino Orphanage – also part of the park – a lot of orphaned babies are sheltered and cared for before they are released back into the wild. You can come and watch them get their bottles, and if they waggle in your general direction you can even stroke their hairy little trunks – which is way more innocent than it sounds. A drive through the actual park quickly becomes quite otherworldly. In a lot of places you’ll see large herds of antelopes grazing with the city’s skyscrapers as a counterintuitive backdrop. You don’t even have to get yourself into a reserve to see big game in Kenya. Drive out of the city and you’ll see plenty of wildebeest and giraffes just standing by the side of the road. Free of charge, baby!
2. Support the only ice hockey team in East Africa
The Panari Hotel was my home away from home in Nairobi, and staying there was an extraordinary experience. On the first two floors, you will find no rooms but a whole bunch of other things, including a karaoke bar, a cinema, a nightclub, various restaurants, a supermarket, a bank, a playground, a hairdresser and – who comes up with these things – the only ice skating rink between Egypt and South Africa. The latter served as a practice area for the local ice hockey team: the only one in a 3,000 mile radius. If these poor guys want to play someone else, they’ll have to book a six hour flight or log into their Playstation account. The only ice hockey team in Kenya is by definition also the national team. That means that, if they realize their Olympic dream in ten years and a second Cool Runnings movie is shot about them, I can endlessly bug my non-existent children with these pictures. “Daddy used to be cool kids, really!”
3. Go kiss a giraffe
Always dreamed of having a taller girlfriend, but none of them wanted a stumpy little goblin like you? Why not just pop into the Nairobi Giraffe Centre instead? Such graceful creatures those giraffes, and they sport a pair of eyelashes that would put even a prime ‘happy birthday Mister President’ Marilyn Monroe to shame.
“Always dreamed of having a taller girlfriend, but none of them wanted a stumpy little goblin like you? Why not just pop into the Nairobi Giraffe Centre instead?”
This centre runs a very successful breeding programme, which basically saved the Rothschild giraffe from extinction. During your visit, you can feed them some pellets by hand. They’ll then come and pick them out from between your fingers with their gigantic blue tongues. More of a give a little, take a little guy? Put that shit between your teeth and watch the poor thing weigh up shame against appetite, before giving in meekly in the end. If only it was this easy in college. All the income brought in by visitors is reinvested in various wildlife projects by the way. If you’re going to pay $15 to French kiss a giraffe, you might as well do it for a good cause. www.giraffecentre.org
4. Pearls before swine
While we’re talking about good causes: make a detour to Kazuri Beads while in Nairobi. This studio works almost exclusively with single mothers, and provides them with a safe and honest income. Around 340 women of all ages work here, producing fantastic jewellery and pottery from clay. Book a tour here and have a chat with the ladies while they’re on the job – they’re pretty fly – and then enter the shop and make it rain. Anyone in love with African design will go absolutely nuts in here. Buy a zebra necklace with some matching earrings for your wife, or stock up on a whole pile of the stuff when you’re single. You’ll have enough laying around for at least five future girlfriends! See? Even in Kenya I remain your most faithful wingman. (PS: you can order things straight from the Dutch website: www.kazuri.nl).
“Buy a zebra necklace with some matching earrings for your wife, or stock up on a whole pile of the stuff when you’re single. You’ll have enough laying around for at least five future girlfriends!”
Here ends my Nairobi story. Would you love to go for a visit yourself? Are you already there and did I miss out on all the actual good spots? Would you like to read something about the rest of the country? Go bananas and leave a comment below!
I stayed in Kenya for a trip with Woni Safaris – a Belgian tour operator specialised in Southern and East Africa. They have an office in Nairobi. I was making a report for BBT Online, a Belgian magazine for the meeting and incentive industry. You can read the article here.