Friday, July 26, 2013

Kenya, Nairobi...

Nairobi… the capital and largest city in Kenya, welcomed us with fantastic weather during this trip.  Interestingly enough, the name "Nairobi" comes from the Maasai phrase Enkare Nyrobi, which translates to "cold water". The phrase is also the Maasai name of the Nairobi river, which in turn lent its name to the city. Home to the Maasai tribe, the city also boasts a diverse multicultural composition of people who settled in the city from British occupied regions such as India, Pakistan, Somalia and Sudan. 

Upon exploring Nairobi, one quickly learns that the Maasai tribal members do not take kindly to having their photograph taken as they believe that if somebody takes their photograph, he has already taken their energy from a cultural perspective.  Therefore when visiting Kenya, it is good to be aware of this custom and to respect it..  Being semi-nomadic, the Maasai people are famous for their fearsome reputations as warriors and cattle-rustlers.   

During this trip, we stayed at the Nairobi Intercontinental Hotel which was great.  Upon arriving at the hotel, the security guards scan each vehicle for possible bombs.  This was a first for us but we were told that the hotel was a popular choice for politicians to stay at, during conferences. 

Traffic is a nightmare in Nairobi as it appears to be a race to the bottleneck from all directions.  Its so crazy that you can virtually touch the car next to you from your window, without extending your arm to it's full length.  Of course besides traffic being bad to a backlog of vehicles, one has to be cautious for live stock which cross the roads too.

One of Kenya's biggest tourist attractions is the Great rift valley, a remarkable sight which is bordered by escarpments to the east and west. The floor is broken by volcanoes, some of which are still active and contains a series of lakes.  Known as a large trench that runs through Kenya from north to south. It is part of the Gregory Rift,  which starts in Tanzania to the south and continues northward into Ethiopia.  Picture perfect at sunrise, we were lucky to snap up a few stunning photographs of the valley before leaving.

The local markets in Nairobi is a buzzy place where one could shop for local souvenirs ranging from wooden wares to beautiful 100% Pashmina scarves.  Of course, with the bright variety of colors available… I was glad I brought a big bag :)  The market is filled with local entrepreneurs who display their handy work hoping to be supported by tourists such as ourselves.  There are rows and rows of tiny kiosks of wares selling hand crafted wooden statues, crockery, metal bracelets, bead jewellery, clothing, bedding, etc.  What we appreciated was that you were not hounded to purchase a product as with other markets we have been too.

Emanating on the street corners, you will also find the smell of “nyama choma’’ resonating…  Nyama choma literally means “roasted meat.” Majority of the time goat is the default genre, but beef (ng’ombe) and chicken (kuku) are also quite common amongst the locals and restaurants.  

Treated to some local food by our wonderful Kenyan friends, it was clear that Kenyan’s loved their food and loved to share.  We tried the local kuku (chicken) nyama choma served with a chapatti, potato bhaji (note the Indian culinary influence) and some braised pumpkin leaves.  It was truly a heart-warming experience to be able to sit amongst the locals as if we were locals and experience the wonderful Kenyan culture and vibe.

We also visited Carnivores, a local restaurant filled with ambience where you could eat unlimited amounts of roasted exotic meats and sides.  It was here that we got to taste crocodile and camel for the first time.  

Whilst seated, the Dawa Dr visits each table to conjure up a "Dawa" which means "medicine" in Swahili.  The drink is a mix of vodka, lime juice, honey, and a little sparkling water, often with sugar around the rim of the glass.  It comes with a stick so you can stir the honey from the bottom, called  a ‘dawa stick.’   Surprisingly, it was a great palate cleanser.  The overall experience here was great and thoroughly enjoyable.

Later on the trip, we visited the local Indian and Pakistani shopping called Diamond Plaza.  Otherwise known as little India, the Diamond Plaza shopping centre gives anyone who is interested, a taste of what India is like.  The smell of Indian spices is unmistakable as you arrive at the centre.  Situated in the heart of Nairobi, the centre is made up of a multitude of tiny stalls, from tailors and dressmakers, clothing & material retailers, to restaurants churning out the tastiest curries and kebabs.  It truly is a colourful place.

Of course we could not leave without visiting the beautiful Shree Swaminarayan Temple either.  This temple, built in 1945, was the first Swaminarayan temples to be built outside the Indian subcontinent as well as the first on the continent of Africa. We were lucky that upon visiting, the priest was on sight to bless us.  One of the highlights of our trip. 

Nairobi is a city rich in culture, vast open land and incredibly crazy traffic… if you’re up for the hussle and bustle of Africa… Nairobi should be on your list of African countries to visit.

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