My host, who was also a pastor running an orphanage in a low socio-economic suburb of Nairobi, was waiting at the airport for me. Unfortunately, I had walked straight past him without noticing and couldn’t connect to the WiFi to find out where he was. It wasn’t long before a helpful local gave me his phone to call my host, who actually happened to be standing right near me the whole time.
I realised rather quickly that I was a world away from West Africa. East Africa had it’s own kinda vibe going on! While walking to the car from the terminal, I was greeted many times with ‘Jambo’, the Swahili word for hello. As I was hungry, we went into the city to get some food. The roads on the way in all looked immaculate and I was interested to see that Kenyans drove on the left hand side of the road. My host told me it was because they were once a British colony, but the 2 ex British colonies I’d passed through in West Africa had switched to driving on the right hand side in the 1970s.
The city looked very vibrant and the faint buzz of distant music from unseen nightclubs could be heard. On the short walk from the car to the food place, I was accosted by at least 3 kids trying to get money from me. My host jumped into action and tried to shoo them away from me. Once safely inside the food place, I was delighted to find that it wasn’t much more expensive than similar places in West Africa. As a major tourist destination, I had expected Nairobi to be much more expensive.
With my hunger satisfied, I made my way to the orphanage, where all was quiet, as it was fairly late by the time I finally got there. When I woke up in the morning, the older orphans were going about their chores, while some of the younger orphans were equal amounts of curious about and cautious of me. One little girl was watching me from behind a door when I wasn’t looking. She would duck behind the frame when I looked her way, then peer out again when she thought I wasn’t looking. This became a little game that we played while I sat down for tea with the family.
Like many places in Africa, Kenya loves tea. It’s as much a drink as it is a ritual. It seems the family that runs the orphanage couldn’t start their day until they’d sat down together for their morning tea session. I was invited to join them and was surprised to find that they added milk to their tea. While Kenyan tea is nice, it’s a bit weaker than in other places, so I was happy with just one cup.
While waiting for a second pastor, Peter to arrive, I went outside to mingle with the kids. Perhaps they had been told it was how they should greet foreigners, but they seemed to love shaking hands, which was infinitely adorable. Even my little friend from earlier had offered her hand, when she saw other kids doing it. When Peter arrived, he guided me to the area where I could catch a Matatu, or local bus. I was told he would also accompany me to the Nairobi National Park, to make sure I got there safely.
As in many other places in Africa, there seems to be a kind of zone system in place, where buses can only travel a certain distance. This meant that I had to change buses 3 times to get to the vicinity of the national park. At the second change, Peter advised me that the church had only given him 200KES (€1.7) for transport. Each Matatu costs about 30-40KES, so taking me all the way to the park would’ve meant that he might not have been able to get home later. I didn’t want him to be stranded, so I indicated that he should continue on to his university and I could make my own way from there.
Kenyans love their music loud, no matter what time of day it is, even when taking public transport. Stepping into a Matatu is like stepping into a moving nightclub. Not only was the music pumping, but there were also disco lights flashing and videos playing. I was able to get a Matatu to drop me off within a 10 minute walk of the park entrance, where warthogs and children have right of way.
Earlier in the day, my host had tried to explain the meaning of Hakuna Matata, to which I had replied, “It means no worries, for the rest of your days”, in song, of course! He seemed genuinely shocked that I knew what it meant. See, movies can teach you stuff! Jokes aside, it definitely seems to be the Kenyan mantra. Not one person I encountered was worried or stressed about anything. Everyone was always available and eager for a chat. Even just buying an entry ticket could lead to an in-depth conversation.
After spending a fair amount of time chatting to the woman who had greeted me in front of the ticket booth, the staff graciously allowed me to leave my pack in their office so I could do the ‘Safari Walk’ unencumbered. I was also assigned my own personal guide, Martha who was very friendly and full of information. She took me around the circuit once, then said I was free to do the circuit again on my own time. In between the different animal zones, Martha was only too glad to provide insights into life in Nairobi.
The Safari Walk involved following a more or less circular path with smaller paths coming off it that lead to areas where you could view animals roaming around. Or in the case of the lions, you could barely catch a glimpse of them resting as far away from the viewing area as possible. Some animals were more curious than others, especially the rhino who pretty much walked from the other side of her zone, to the fence near where I was standing, just to see what was going on.
Although there were people around, the place was not at all crowded. That allowed me to spend a bit of time alone in each area, to give the hiding animals a chance to show themselves. In the Cheetah zone, the mother was hiding off in the far corner and the young ones were in another area only accessible to staff. I gave up on the mother coming closer and started moving on, when one of the staff stopped me and asked if I was scared of cats. I wondered why he’d asked, until he offered a special close up encounter, just for me, (of course!) which was supposed to be super secret. So shh!
The young cat seemed to not care that I was standing right near him, but I guess that’s what happens when a wild animal is raised with humans around. On my final walk around, the hippo that had been hiding when I first passed, was now comically trying to drink water from a pipe. The poor thing seemed to be struggling to get it’s head in the right place to allow the water running from the pipe to flow into his mouth.
Super Supportive Staff
When Martha had guided me through the walk on my first time around the circuit, I’d told her I planned to walk the 6 or so kilometres to the main road where I could get a Matatu to the airport. By the time I got back to the entry/exit area, Martha had relayed that information to another staff member, who knew the Matatu system much better than I did. She advised me that I could get a Matatu from the road just outside the park, which would take me to the main road. She then explained in detail, where the Mutatu ‘station’ was in relation to where I would get dropped off and wrote everything down for me when I said I wasn’t sure if I could remember it all. What a lovely lady!
With the hour that the kind lady had saved me, I decided to check out some more of the park. I was thinking about going to the animal orphanage, but I wanted to ask the gate attendant some questions first. The attendant happily answered my questions, then proceeded to spend the next hour talking to me about my trip, in between checking tickets, of course! The overall atmosphere of the place was amazingly relaxed and the ‘no worries’ attitude was definitely rubbing off on me, so much so that I lost track of time and almost left too late to make my flight.
Time to Go
Sadly, the time to depart had arrived, so I made my way to the disco bus, I mean Matatu stop. The bus was already at the stop and luckily the driver waited for me to cross the road so I could get on it. A short walk from where that Matatu dropped me off, I found the Matatu station, which was actually just a whole pile of Matatu’s parked on the side of the road.
Different buses seemed to have different prices, so I just hopped in the cheapest one, but as the driver was nowhere in sight, I had to wait a while. A group of young guys noticed I was in the bus by myself and decided to come over and talk to me. They then hilariously tried to convince me that I needed a strong African man in my life. It was even more amusing that they were super disappointed when I wouldn’t give any of them my number.
As I could see the airport area approaching, I realised the reason this Matatu was cheaper than the others; its drop off point was on the highway, about a 10 minute walk from the airport area. On the walk I passed through the airport toll plaza, where they had a special security checkpoint set up for pedestrian traffic. I guess a lot of people alight at the highway exit, as I did.
By the time I got to the airport, I still had an hour before my flight departed, but there was a huge line of people just trying to get into the airport to check in. As I’d already checked in and had a boarding pass, the kind security officer let me jump the queue, allowing me to get to the gate with plenty of time to watch the sunset on both Nairobi and my African adventure. I’ll be back Kenya!
In a few words – Hakuna Matata
Language – English and Swahili
Currency – Kenyan Shilling (KES)
WiFi availability – 📶📶📶
When I was looking for it, I was able to find WiFi quite easily, but sometimes had problems connecting.
Transport – 🚗🚗🚗🚗🚗
🚍 Mutatus, or disco buses, are available everywhere in the city area and run frequently. At 30-50 KES (€0.26-0.43) per ride, they are also very inexpensive.
Roads – 🛣🛣🛣🛣🛣
The roads in Nairobi were pretty amazing.
Scenery – 🌳⛰🏞🏖🌳
Nairobi has a variety of different landscapes, from grasslands to jungles.
Prices – 💰💰
Great for the budget conscious traveller.
I didn’t encounter any checkpoints in Nairobi.
Border efficiency – 🛃🛃🛃🛃
Despite not having a record of my pre-purchased evisa when I entered the country, immigration officers were polite and chased up my visa details with only a short delay. Exiting was a breeze.
Corruption level – No coruption was evident
Overall – 👍👍👍