Given that we leave on safari tomorrow, a sensible plan for today was to take it a bit easy, get some laundry & packing done, perhaps have a nap, and just wander around the streets of Nairobi close to the hotel. Well … that would have been the sensible plan. But since when did sensible stand in the way of having a good time? We inquired at the hotel about the best way to get to the Nairobi Museum, and next thing we knew, we were meeting with David, a charming and very persuasive tour guide, who somehow talked us into hiring a car & a driver for the day. It turned out to be a great choice. We had a terrific day, saw heaps more than we expected to, all in the safe hands of Sammy who negotiated Nairobi traffic with consummate skill and a sense of humour, and showed us everything we wanted to see and a few more to boot.
This is where we went:
- Giraffe Centre – Getting covered in giraffe slobber was not on my to do list. And despite the fact that giraffe saliva allegedly has antiseptic properties, you can be assured we washed our hands very well. But hand feeding giraffes was very fun. The Giraffe Centre is a conservation & education centre for the Rothschild Giraffe which was facing extinction.
- Karen Blixen Museum – Karen Blixen (aka Meryl Streep in ‘Out of Africa’) is quite the local hero. Her house is a museum combining original furniture and props from the movie. It is in an upmarket leafy suburb of Nairobi (called Karen) at the foot of the Ngong Hills. We had a personal guided tour which was very helpful, but sadly were not allowed to take photos inside.
- Utamaduni Craft Centre – a cross between a gallery and a shop, this was an absolute treasure trove of local handicrafts of all kinds. Oh for an empty suitcase & a full bank account! There was a labyrinth of rooms, each one like a small shop with everything from beads to fabrics to wood carvings to bags to shoes to paintings to cards to books to … I did succumb to temptation but everything was very reasonable and we were quite restrained!
- Bird of Paradise “factory” – allegedly the best prices of souvenirs & gifts, but this is only day 1 in Africa and we need to pace ourselves! However I did take lots of photos there, so you can see why we were tempted.
- Kibera – a huge shanty town which is home to one quarter of Nairobi’s population. We only drove past it – corrugated iron shacks as far as you can see (it is said the be the same size as New York’s Central Park), it reminded me of the opening scenes of Slum Dog Millionaire.
- Nairobi Lookout – just a hill overlooking the centre of Nairobi. There are quite a few high-rise buildings but it is certainly not a modern city yet. We were very glad Sammy was with us as there were some rather dodgy characters hanging around that he was able to protect us from.
- Nairobi Museum – another guide took us through the whole museum, and gave us a bit of an overview. There were exhibits about the local natural history, but we were most interested in the displays of palaeontology, as the earliest human remains were found nearby in the Rift Valley. I have to say it was a bit disappointing, as the skulls on display were all copies and the overall displays were rather old-fashioned. We probably would have been happier without the guide, although he was very nice, but we like to read the plaques and take our time in museums.
- Nairobi Snake park – Snakes, turtles, crocodiles & lizards. I think in Australia we have been spoiled by the excellent standard of our zoos and animal parks. But we did see some upside-down catfish which were pretty amazing.
Sammy dropped us back to the hotel to unload our purchases. In the park next to the hotel is a weekly Maasai Craft Market, and today was the day. We were very keen to go, not because we wanted to spend any more money, but because markets provide such good photo ops. We were warned that the pressure selling could make things unpleasant, but having survived the old souks in Dubai we though we were prepared. We actually took no money, and nothing but my small pocket camera, but let me tell you, those hawkers in Dubai have a lot to learn from these guys!! Two very pleasant but incredibly persistent young men escorted us all around the market, trying to encourage us to purchase, and refusing to take no for an answer. Eventually we just had to leave – they were not the least bit put off by our empty pockets! However it was kind of fun, and I did get my photos.
This evening we met up with some of the people in our group. Chris & Jess, who are running the show, and 3 other participants, Alan & Maggie from Adelaide & Pat from rural Victoria. Jan & Rex are on their way & we are picking up Maxine tomorrow. And that is our little group. We will have 2 extended jeeps that will be home for the next 2 weeks. We compared notes with Alan & Maggie about the Maasai market (their experience was exactly like ours) and with Chris & Jess about Dubai. I think this is going to be a very compatible little group. I am so excited.
This may be the last you hear from me for the next 2 weeks. I have no idea if we will have any internet connection, but I will post when I can! I am sure I’ll be having way too much fun to worry about the rest of the world! See you when I see you.