Kenya: Nairobi

Posted Posted in Kenya, Round The World Trip

OK so sleeping at the Terminal Hotel wasn’t quite as easy as I thought.  The Dove Cage Restaurant singer shut down at about 1:00am or so, but there does seem to be a dance club somewhere nearby.  We know this because the bass of the dance music was going until about 4:00.

We also has issues with our little double bed.  Jon and I have gotten used to sleeping in a king-sized bed, and are MISERABLE in double beds because neither of us are willing to give up the mattress real estate.  Compound this with the fact that the mattress was definitely sloping toward the middle, and the fact that the sheet was the size of a twin bed – and we have the makings of a bumpy night.  We spent half the night bumping into each other and the other half apologizing for it.  I can’t believe I’m actually going to say this, but from now on we’ll probably ask for two twin beds.  So much for the romantic trip!  A good night’s rest is much more important now.

More errands today – none of which are very exciting.  We went to the Post Office to mail home our clean Kili clothes and to look for a lost package that Shannon had sent us a few weeks ago.  We also went to get water and snacks and picked up some Diamox from a pharmacist for our trip to Tibet in August.  The funny thing about this pharmacy is that we basically walked in and said “We need 30 tablets of 250mg Diamox”, and the pharmacist gave it to us with no problem.  No prescription, no nothing.  Piece of cake!

We did do some sight-seeing today.  Nairobi has a Railway Museum that we’d heard about.  The railway system was a huge undertaking in the 1900s, and is also the subject of a mediocre movie called “The Ghost In the Darkness”.  The claws of the lion are on display in the museum, as are a bunch of pretty cool artifacts and pictures.  Outside the museum is a railway graveyard where we climbed on engines and cabooses and cars from different time periods.  It was pretty cool!

Gotta love that camera timer!

Nairobi

After the railway museum we had a long walk back through town.  Nairobi really isn’t as bad as we’ve heard – it’s just not that exciting.  The entire city seemed to pop up in the 1960s, and none of the buildings have changed much since then.  The beggars are a bit tiresome, but they can be avoided if you choose to.  And the guys that try to sell us on safaris are just doing their jobs.  Even though they’re persistent they do respond to logic such as “Sorry, we’ve already been”.

But even though I say Nairobi isn’t all that bad, I’m glad we’re leaving tomorrow and I don’t think I’ll ever care to come back.

Kenya: Nairobi

Posted Posted in Kenya, Round The World Trip

Since we had a phone in our room, we sent our parents the phone number yesterday.  So my ‘rents called this morning at 6:00AM (11:00PM their time) to chat.  It was so nice to hear their voices after almost a month and a half!  We had nothing exciting to talk about as we’re all in contact via email, but it was nice to chat anyway.

Today was another errand-running day.  First, we woke up and schlepped our dirty laundry to a cleaners on the other side of town.  Then we went to the Terminal Hotel to see if they had any vacancies.  While Thomas at the Terminal figured it out, Jon and I went to the “Dove Cage Restaurant” next door for breakfast.  We had coffee/tea, toast, and omelettes for about $1.50 and it was good!  After breakfast, we went back to Thomas who told us that he did have a room for us.  So we went back to the 680 Hotel to pack and check out.

The Terminal Hotel

The Terminal Hotel is a “mid-range” budget hotel that can best be described as very old dorm rooms.  The rooms are small and have thousands of layers of paint, no carpets, and the shower is in a closet-sized room.  But they’re clean and there’s hot water 24/7.  They’re also about $20/night.  So no complaints!

Search for Lord of the Rings

We dropped off our stuff and then went in search of JRR Tolkein’s “Lord of the Rings”.  I thought I had seen it at one of the bookshops we were in yesterday.  Unfortunately, this bookshop is at the far reaches of Nairobi.  But that’s cool because – on the way there yesterday – we passed a HUGE outdoor market that was set up on the side of a freeway-like road.  Random place for a market, I know.  So we walked over to the market and – lo and behold – not a soul was there.  It was as if we had imagined the whole thing!  So strange.  So we walked on to the bookshop, which is really a large textbook store.  I went to pick up the book and found that, instead of “Lord of the Rings”, it was “Lord of the Flies”.  Jon just stood there with a huge smirk on his face.  My bad.  We ended up finding two of the three volumes at a bookstore later in the day.

The Budget Travelers’ Guide to the Universe

The textbook store was in the same neighborhood as the famous Norfolk Hotel.  Jon’s Aunt Jeanne and Uncle Mike stayed here a few years ago when they were in Nairobi and recommended it to us.  Now we knew that it was way out of our price-range, but we thanked them for the suggestion and moved on.  But since we were in the neighborhood we thought we’d stop by – especially since I had to go the toilet.

The key to high-end hotel mooching is to walk in as if you know exactly where you’re going.  Since we’re relatively well-dressed and obviously tourists, it makes perfect sense that we might be staying there.  This is how we got a complimentary map from the Hilton the other day.  So we walked right in and through the lobby and found ourselves in the courtyard.  Jon says quietly, “See any restroom signs?”.  And I say quietly, “Nope”.  But there was a sign for the pool up ahead so we kept walking.  Each staff member greeted us cordially and we said “Jambo!” as if we hung out at the Norfolk every day.

On the way to the pool, we passed yet another restaurant/cafe.  (Geez – this place has like five of them!)  One of the waiters came out and said, “Hello!  Let me welcome you to our fine pool restaurant!”.  We said thank you but we were just going to check out the pool.  So he offered to take us there.  We happily situated ourselves in pool-side chairs, and each discreetly got up to use the toilets in the Health Club changing room.  Then we sat around for about 15 minutes longer and eventually got up to leave.  As we got up, our friendly guide was coming over to take our drink orders.  We told him that we were going, and he seemed so disappointed!  He said, “But you’ll be back?”  and we said “Of course!”.  On the way out, we had another staff member take a picture of us in one of the courtyards:

The day before we left the states, Aunt Jeanne called me and we chatted about the trip.  She was disappointed that we weren’t staying at the Norfolk, but suggested that I take Jon here for his birthday dinner.  Since we were in Moshi for his b-day it wasn’t possible, but now Jon and I thought it might be a nice treat for tonight.  So we decided to check out some of the restaurants.  “The Ibis” was much too pricey, but the “Lord Delamere Terrace” was a nice little splurge.  Having taken care of all our business at the Norfolk, we walked out and turned down the road toward town.

Fish ‘n Chips

By now, it was past lunchtime and Jon had been talking about Fish ‘n Chips all day.  There are plenty of places in Nairobi to get this, the trick is finding “the right place”.  Lonely Planet suggested that we find the most crowded, so this is what we did.  It was definitely a fast-food joint, but every local in town was there so we knew it would be good.  Both orders were served wrapped in paper and was piping hot and scrumptious!  Our meal total was 110 shillings – not even $2.00.  But while eating this cheap is great, the food is VERY FRIED and not good for those of us who can’t eat like we’re 18 years old anymore.  So we’ll probably stick to the mid-range eateries so that we don’t have heart attacks by the end of the trip.

Tusker T-Shirt

As part of our quest to get rid of the white t-shirts, Jon decided weeks ago that he would get a Tusker Beer t-shirt from Nairobi.  Now the search was on.  Practically every shop and market stall has Tusker tees, but Jon had to find the perfect color, perfect size, and perfect price.  So a seemingly easy errand turned into a two-hour task.  But is was fun because we went through the market a few times and got to see lots of cool stuff.  I mentioned to one vendor that I wanted a sarong with a tie on it, instead of the regular square sarongs.  A half-hour later we had moved much further down the market to look at more t-shirts.  But the sarong vendor had searched through his friends’ and families inventories and had found a selection of sarongs that I was looking for so he hunted me down and dragged me back to his stall.  It was quite funny!  Unfortunately, Jon wasn’t crazy about the sarongs so we decided to wait to see the selection in Cairo.  After the market, I was much too tired to continue on the Tusker t-shirt crusade, so I went back to the hotel and left Jon on his own.

Lord Delamere Terrace at the Norfolk Hotel

Dinner was very nice.  We each had soup and ordered the steak (of course!).  There was a piano player to serenade us and white tablecloths and wonderfully cold beer.  I definitely miss this way of traveling!  We splurged for a dessert of roasted bananas and praline ice cream.  Yummy!

The Norfolk Hotel has been in Nairobi since 1904 and boasts a long line of celebrities: Teddy Roosevelt, Elspeth Huxley, Baroness Karen Blixen, Lord Delamere himself, etc, etc.  I guess the Norfolk was quite the place to be in the early 1900s!  It’s interesting because Jon is almost finished with Blixen’s “Out of Africa” in which she mentions Lord Delamere and some other characters.  So it’s cool to be reading a book about the same places we’re visiting.

After dinner we hopped in a taxi, picked up our laundry and went back to the hotel.  Our taxi driver was a very old man driving a London-style taxi.  He was very sweet and wanted to know if we needed a ride anywhere tomorrow.  We said that no, we didn’t, but if he wanted to he could take us to the airport on Friday morning at 4:45am.  He was so happy that you would have thought he just won a million dollars.  I guess they don’t get many fares in Nairobi.

Terminal Hotel Nightlife

So we got back to the hotel to hear that the nightlife around here is quite happening.  Our window overlooks the courtyard of the Dove Cage Restaurant where we had breakfast this morning.  As mild-mannered as the restaurant seemed this morning, it is quite the local hangout in the evenings.  A singer is set up with an electric piano and is singing his heart out.  Most of the people in the bar area are singing along.  But at least it’s not techno music!   I can fall asleep to this, no problem.

Kenya: Nairobi

Posted Posted in Kenya, Round The World Trip

We happily slept in until 8:00 this morning.  We both have upset stomachs, and figure it’s from the burgers from lunch yesterday.  But this is to be expected and that’s why God made Immodium, right?

Today was full of errands.  We ran around the city for hours doing administrative stuff.  Here’s the boring list:

  • Look for hotels less expensive than the 680 Hotel
  • Grocery store for water and snacks
  • Find a place to do our laundry tomorrow
  • Search for Lonely Planet book for Egypt
  • Confirm our flight on the 13th with Egypt Air
  • Go to American Express to find a package from Shannon and get travelers cheques
  • Get tickets to a movie for the evening – Tuesday night specials!

We had to go to about 10 bookstores before we finally found an Egypt Lonely Plant book.  We would like to have one for Nairobi, but it’s not worth the $20 for 3 more days.  So we – the budget travelers – covertly read some Nairobi restaurant recommendations out of one of the Lonely Planets in a bookstore we were in.  Jon quietly read them to me and I scribbled them on the back of a map we got at the Hilton the other night.  We had to be very sneaky about it and it was quite funny!

A late lunch was at one of these recommendations: La Scala – a yummy Italian restaurant where we ate for $5 each.  Then we went to the Internet Cafe and uploaded our belated web pages.  That was a two-hour ordeal, but we were happy to have finally been able to do it.  By 5:00, we went back to the hotel to rest until dinner.

Dinner – Mayur Restaurant

At 6:00, we walked across town to the Muyur Restaurant – a vegetarian Indian place.  This was Nairobi during rush hour and it was absolute chaos!  New York City has nothing on these streets.  I hadn’t realized until now that NONE of the strategically-placed stoplights actually WORK.  There were cars, bikes, and people absolutely everywhere!

We finally found the restaurant in a sketchy but busy part of town, just off a traffic circle.  We snagged a seat at the window so we could watch the antics below us.  This traffic circle seems to be an informal bus depot.  I say “informal” because they just stop in the middle of the road to pick up fares.

This is where it’s important to describe these buses.  The are not generic city buses.  Each bus is painted and jacked up to reflect the personality of the driver and conductor.  If a low-rider were to be reincarnated in a 2nd life, this is what it would want to be.  These buses have graphics, labels, florescent lights, strobe lights, glow-in-the-dark paint jobs, and most have blacklights inside the bus.  They come in all sorts of colors: purple, green, orange, pink, yellow.  Each driver has clearly put a lot of time and effort into making his ride “the coolest”.  But the attitude doesn’t end just with the paint job.  Each bus is actually NAMED!  Just a few examples we noted: Phat, Dr. U-Neek, Straight Butta, Henchmen, Wutz?Next, Disaster, The Myth, East Sidaz, Ol’ Skool, Hunan Jr., Mr T.  And they drive with the same attitude that is shown on the paint job.  They drive up on curbs, over barricades, anywhere to get out of a traffic jam first.  It was quite a site!

Seriously, we sat and watched this traffic circle for a good 30 minutes without boredom.  But then our Indian Buffet was ready so we grabbed our plates and went to the table.  The food was delicious and very, very spicy!  There was one other table of Americans in the joint with us, and they seemed to enjoy it too.

The Mummy Returns

After dinner, we caught a cab back to the hotel (no walking in Nairobi in the dark!) and then went to go see “The Mummy Returns” at the cinema around the corner.  The theater has a special on Tuesdays – any film is 160 shillings (about $2.25) so we elected to see the Mummy over some silly Denise Richards movie called “Valentine” or something.  So the movie tickets said it would start at 8:30, but it turns out we were wrong.  First the Kenyan National Anthem played on the screen and we had to stand for it.  Then there was some bizarre commercial/propaganda film about President Moi, some annual festival, and a bunch of hotels.  This commercial lasted about 15 minutes and finally the movie began.

It’s a pretty bad movie.  I’m not sure why anyone casts Brendan Frasier in any film, but at least the special effects were good.  I wonder, actually, why they felt obliged to put dialogue in there at all.  I think it would have been better without the cheesy one-liners.  But I’m sure it will make the production studio a pretty penny.

The movie let out at 11:00, so we speed-walked back to the hotel past the working girls and into our room where we crashed.