Nairobi in a Day?

Saturday was my only full day in Nairobi and I was determined to take advantage…so of course I woke up late. Not surprising, I guess, after not getting too much sleep on the flight to Addis the night before. I made it down to the breakfast room at 10:15, only to find them clearing out the buffet, as breakfast had ended at ten. Despite this, the kitchen produced a fresh pot of coffee, an omelet, and some hot toast for me, which was kind.

My first stop – a short taxi ride away – was the Nairobi National Museum, a sprawling place with good exhibits on Kenyan social, political, and natural history, including what is apparently a world-renowned collection of early hominid skulls. The museum is on a hill and surrounded by a park, through which I walked to reach the (somewhat incongruous) snake house. I’ll refrain from posting pictures as a favor to the squeamish, but I saw some of the world’s most poisonous snakes, as well as a feeding frenzy among non-venomous grass snakes in a huge open display.

From the museum I took a taxi to the southern edge of the CBD and the Kenyatta International Conference Centre, a circa 1970 concrete monolith of a tower, where I took the elevator to the top and climbed up to the helipad on the roof for a commanding view of all of Nairobi. It is immediately apparent that a lot of construction has taken place just in the last few years, especially modern glass-and-steel high rises, but there are a lot of big shanty towns on the outskirts, too. It is a complex place, this de facto capital of East Africa.

From the top I could also see into the nearby Maasai Market, a huge collection of market stalls with traditional handicrafts and art. I descended and walked through the market, where I had to constantly fend off friendly but frustratingly persistent vendors who followed me around and insisted that I come to their stalls. They were harmless and just hustling business, but could not take “I’ll just browse on my own” for an answer. Still, it was fun to experience, and while some of the “handicrafts” were surely mass produced, several true artisans had beautiful metalwork on display.

From the market I walked to Uhuru Park, a big greenspace on the edge of downtown. I’m told it gets seedy at night, but on a sunny, warm Saturday afternoon it was packed with local families enjoying the paddle boats, bounce houses, ice cream vendors, and fresh air. Not quite the size of Central Park or Green Park, but still very welcome. I walked back through the CBD – which again is supposed to be rough at night but which was fine in the daytime – stopping along the way for a coffee and them a beer at Simmers, an open sir bar where I had my first taste of Tusker Beer, the Kenyan lager found across Africa. It’s basically Budweiser. I watched a Premier League match between Arsenal and Sunderland (3-1 Arsenal), told a very friendly and very insistent prostitute (who told me that my teeth are beautiful, so um…thanks, Dr. Hoyt!) that I was just interested in the soccer, and then caught a taxi north to the Lord Delamere Terrace at the old colonial Newport Hotel (now a Fairmont property). The terrace is famous as a launching point for safaris of old. I didn’t see any Stanleys or Livingstones, but I had a very pleasant meal on the open air terrace.

After dinner I hailed one last taxi for the short ride back to the Kahama, where I watched the tail end of another soccer match before finally calling it a day. I’ll see a little more of Nairobi on Sunday and will pass through again briefly before my safari in a week or so, but if I only had one real day, I think I took full advantage!

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