Nairobi By Motorbike

A  few weeks back we suggested to Mr Finland that we visit him in Kenya for the Eid break because we discovered, via his Instagram, that he is now living in Nairobi.  Naturally he was so excited to hear from us that he said, ‘Of course, come.  Would love to have you here’.  (He’s very polite). So tickets were booked and a week out from our arrival I did a perusal of Things to To in Kenya via Google (as you do).

A number of activities I had to take off the list immediately because The Husbands idea of an Eid break is to do as little as possible and not travel far.  So Masai Mara will have to wait for our Kenyan return.  However, I did find a couple of ideas he liked the sound of, and  a few others he was doubtful about but I knew he’d come around.  He always does.

Mr Finland, bless his heart, decided that riding of motorbikes was a must, so he arranged a rental bike for us.  It was a 180cc bike (the best Mr Finland could find for motorcycle renting in Nairobi) and I have to say, we probably looked like a couple of elephants on a pimple riding the thing, and it did struggle a bit on the hills, but we loved it!

Our first day we walked to a local place for breakfast.  The walk required crossing a brown colored stream while balancing on a sewage pipe (granted, it was a short pipe but at my age still rather challenging!).   I was thankful that gymnastics was a sport I did in my youth and with arms outstretched imagined walking along a balancing beam (minus somersault at the end).  The action was also helped by the thought that landing in that water would be ikky!

Breakfast was pancakes and coffee while Mr Finland and his lovely lady, Miss Milly, filled us in on life in Kenya.  It sounded both interesting and frightening.  The idea that white people do not go to the city center because it was unsafe, that nobody walked anywhere after sunset for the same reason and that car doors should be locked and windows kept up to prevent thieving while you are traveling in the vehicle were the frightening parts.  Everything else was interesting.

That afternoon our motorbike was dropped off, so we donned bright reflective gear (regulation riding gear in Kenya apparently) and followed Mr Finland and Miss Milly through the busy outer city streets for our first experience of Nairobi sight seeing.  The roads are rough as but the driving is much more orderly than that in Saudi. The scenery cannot be described as picturesque.  Some areas are extremely poor with shacks housing either people or businesses.  Roadside stalls are massed along the main roads atop the red Nairobi dirt selling furniture, clothes, plants, food, car washes and doctor services.

You could be disheartened by the ramshackle look of the place.  Or you can be amazed at the beehive of activity, the skills on display in the open air – wood being hammered into beautiful furniture, sparks flying from grinders on metal creating everything from gates to lamp shades.  The entrepreneurial spirit of Kenyans, doing what needs to be done to care for themselves and their families, is everywhere.  We noted, with interest, that though obviously life was a struggle, in most areas of Nairobi there wasn’t the same level of rubbish and garbage that can be found around many areas of Saudi.  Kenyans, we decided, were a proud bunch.  Kenya struck me as a place just waiting to take off….all it needs is a government interested in helping the people, not themselves.

Mr Finland rode us through some of the richer areas of Nairobi with their razor wire atop compound walls.  The complexes seemed rather lonely looking relatives trying to be posh while surrounded by whanau (Maori word for family) from the back blocks who aren’t the least bit interested in poshness because they are too busy getting through life.  New construction development towers over the local housing and everywhere are tracks, worn into the dirt and through the broken concrete by locals whose main mode of travel is walking.  And security is everywhere.

After a bite to eat we headed back to the apartment.  Being out on bikes is not a good plan as the setting sun makes way for the mysterious activities of a Kenyan night where unsavory types, who tend to run around the streets, would relish the chance to hit up a couple of white people who’ve fallen off their bikes because they ran into one of the huge pot holes that are plentiful on the road.

The next morning it was raining so we waited till the afternoon to head out for more sight seeing – this time to a couple of tourist spots, namely the Giraffe Center and Karen Blixem House.  We enjoyed both.  It was cool seeing Giraffes up close and personal,  And the tour of Karen Blixem’s house was more interesting than we originally thought it would be.  Hubster must have liked the tour because now he wants to watch the movie “Out Of Africa”.

The following day Anthony, Mr Finlands trusted driver, picked us up early to take us to Naivasha, a couple of hours drive away.  His car is one that melds nicely into the local surrounds. It’s a rough, rattly old Toyata but manages to get from A to B every day.  And the inside is very clean and rather comfy with it’s maroon colored velvet covered seats.

We went to Naivasha to visit a school.  Kitendo Children’s Charity school to be exact.  Marcus, a fellow Kiwi, helped to set up the place and I am teeing up the whanau to travel there one day to help out in this project.  Given we were going to be in Kenya anyway, I decided to go up for some recon.  Hubster, who was initially skeptical, (he gets lots of those “…I’m a millionaire living in Nairobi…” scam emails), was only coming along for the ride to humor me.  After our visit, seeing the school, meeting the kids and talking with Marcus, he’s decided my idea isn’t such a crack pot one after all. (I told you he’d come around.)  If you’d like to know more about this project visit their website

The next item on our Kenyan agenda was a Safari at the Nairobi National Park, just outside the city limits.  It is possible to self-drive through the park and Anthony was keen to do just that but, after a spot of discussion with Hubster, it was decided to spend a few extra Kenyan shillings and hire one of the parks four wheel drive vehicles complete with driver/guide.  It was, we decided part way through our three hour drive, the best way to see the park.  The vehicle is high off the ground so you get a better view past the long Kenyan grass to the animals grazing.

The driver is also a guide and can answer any questions but, best of all, he is in radio contact with the other rangers so has a better chance of finding Four of the Big Five that the park houses. (The Big Five being Lions, Buffalo, Leopards, Rhino’s and Elephants).   On this trip we saw three of the big five – rhino’s, buffalo and a lions, not to mention all the other animals that call the park home.

As an added bonus our guy was driving over the rugged terrain at pace, which made the rough and bouncy ride all the more exciting.  The vehicle is open sided, and I did wonder initially how the heck we’d get away from wild things on the prowl, but brushed that thought aside to enjoy the ride and views of the wildlife seeming quite content against a city backdrop.

After our wildlife spotting ride and a dish of local lunch we decided to do the Safari Walk which is basically a walk round a Zoo like setting looking at animals that, after recovery from the orphanage (also housed in the park) cannot be put back into the wild, and met a very friendly security man, complete with automatic rifle, who told us to slow down our walk because we were missing so much.  To drive home his point, he asked if we’d seen the lions in the tree.
“The what?’ we said.
“In the tree.  Look in the tree”
And sure enough, in the trees, near the male lying tanning himself, were two rather large females balancing on a not so large branch.

Friendly security man then took us back so he could call out the hyena’s we had also missed and then he showed us the leopard and cheetahs.  It’s probably just as well Mr Security had been watching us and decided these tourists needed a sight seeing hand, else we would have thought there wasn’t much interesting to see on this walk.

That night we headed out to dinner to a restaurant similar to Terrazzo’s back home in Saudi.  On the skewers making the rounds were delicious lamb, various cuts of tasty beef, crocodile, pork (Hubster was hoping it was warthog…but no) and chicken.   We went to bed that night rather full and happy with our day.

After a bit of sleep-in the following morning, Anthony picked us up and took us to Bomas of Kenya, a place with replica’s of tribal villages from all over Kenya.  On arrival we met Alice, a young lady studying tourism who was on placement at the village.  She was our guide.  If you ever go to this place, get a guide.  Wandering aimlessly through villages can get a little ho-hum without someone there to tell you the differences between building structures, village set ups and tribal customs.  Each village also smelt like smoke because the staff go around and light the fires in the homes to give the villages a realistic, smoky, lived in feel.

After our tour we bought a few things from the market and then headed in for the afternoon show.  The auditorium was filling with school children and their excitement and real enjoyment of the music and dance, not to mention their excellent behavior, was a pleasure to see.

Mid-morning the next day we headed off to Karura Forest.  I was determined to get some cycling in.  Hubster and Mr Finland were a little nervous about that idea but I’d given the Friends of Karura a call and they confirmed cycling was possible, so cycling we were a-going.  Anthony came too.  He decided he may as well get n some extra training for his future as a Nairobi tour guide, a career path he decided would be quite lucrative after spending time driving us around.

We discovered there are two fees to pay for cycling, one at the entrance to the forest for the pleasure of entering and another at the bike hire stand, for the bikes.  There was a little confusion initially because this hadn’t been explained during the phone call or at the gate, and Jackson, the bike guy, got the brunt of our ‘What? Why do we have to pay twice?’, indignation.  But soon enough things were explained, apologies made (and accepted), cash handed over and soon we were off on a leisurely two hour cycle through the forest.  The track was very easy and there were stops to see a waterfall and  Mau Mau caves as well as the odd bit of wild life.

After our ride, we headed to the National Museum for a rather late lunch .  I was looking forward to trying another Kenyan dish and after opening the menu exclaimed, rather loudly apparently, ‘O shit, it’s all white food’.  Yes, the cafe at the museum caters to the tourist palate. Not a Kenyan dish in sight.  Anthony had a bit of difficulty finding something he was used to.  We managed to wolf down our food with a spot of Kenyan beer (that was local), and then, as time was ticking, decided to give Museum and the nearby snake pit a miss in favour of perusing the nearby curio shop.   That afternoon we took home our purchases, borrowed an extra suitcase from Mr Finland (yes, that’s how much shopping we did), and spent the evening quietly at home talking about how much we like this place.

Friday was our last day.  It was also the day Obama was due to arrive in Kenya.  We weren’t quite sure how his visit was going to affect our travel time to the airport.  Over the week we had noticed roadside curbs being freshly painted and roadside stalls being removed on his travel route.  Notices of roadside lock down’s were being reported all over the TV.  Emirates was called and informed us, to their knowledge, our departure flight would be on time.

We walked to the Mall that morning, for breakfast at Nairobi Java House (we liked their Kenyan coffee) and to spend some last minute time with Miss Milly.  Mr Finland had gone to work on his bike, though I reckon he was really in search of Obama’s Beast.  He came back to report that the main roads were empty because most people had decided to give themselves a day off.   Anthony had arranged to pick us up early and so, after packing our bags and waving our goodbyes to our wonderful hosts,  our final view of Nairobi was being driven through the town center and the main streets of Eastlands, a hectic, heaving mass of humans living and working in poverty conditions held together mostly by old, rusting, corrugated iron.  Even on this dry day, the smell of sewage from the stream running through Eastlands was putrid through the open car window.  This, we said to each other, is what Obama should be seeing.  I doubt he ever will.

As we neared the airport people were beginning to line the streets for a glimpse of The Man in his Beast.  His visit is a beacon of hope for them.  I hope they got to see him.

Hubster really enjoyed this trip.  I know, because he bought a heap of stuff from the little stalls.  Usually he doesn’t buy stuff on our holidays.  We bought so much I’m going to have to start an African corner at home.  It should look good with my Saudi salon.  Kenya is also one of the few places he has said, ‘I’m going back there’.

Ka Kite,

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