Kenya Travel

Kenyan Dreaming: Traffic-stopping Nairobi

Three movies, a couple of TV shows, half a novel and a mountain of food later, and I’m in Kenya.

It has taken twenty-four hours exactly from when I departed Brisbane to the moment the plane touched down in Nairobi. I knew I was in Africa within seconds of disembarking – the colour and heat of Nairobi’s airport is a world away from the glitz and glamour of the enormous Terminal 3 of Dubai International. Advertisements are blazoned with images of the wildebeest migration, Masai villagers and the flamingos of Lake Nakuru, while company signs are branded with African-ised names such as Safarico, Tusker Beer and Rhino Tiles. Within three minutes along the road from the airport, I had my first animal sighting – a herd of elephants! They’re fake but who cares, talk about letting you know you’re in Africa!

First impressions of Nairobi? Security is everywhere – electric fences, metal detectors, gated compounds and armed security guards wherever you look. Even the entrances to apartment blocks have four metre high fences and are flanked by guard houses. Crime is an issue, but they go to serious lengths to make you feel secure.

Traffic – I have never experienced anything like it. How can it take two hours to travel ten kilometres???? At one point, we were stopped still for forty minutes. The lights didn’t change and nobody was going anywhere. Even when there are working traffic lights, they appear to be optional and police are often at intersections directing traffic… or not directing it as the case may be! There is a new road being built that runs from downtown Nairobi out past Nairobi National Park, however the old road has been completely destroyed while they build the new one which means that two “lanes” of traffic continue to bash and honk their way along the dirt tracks. We asked our driver if this is normal, and he just shrugged his shoulders and said “sure, yes, always like this!” No wonder so many Nairobians choose to walk. You would never get anywhere on time!

Nairobi itself is quite green and lush, with large public parks and open spaces within the city limits. Home to 3.8 million people, it has a low-rise city skyline and a central downtown area. Market stalls, impromptu nurseries and food stalls line the sides of the roads. The city council is in the process of trying to relocate the slum residents into new apartment blocks but the residents are resisting the move, so many of these new buildings currently sit empty.

About 15km outside of Nairobi and near Nairobi National Park is the Daphne Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage. The shelter rehabilitates orphaned baby elephants and other rescued wildlife from various national parks within Kenya, such as Tsavo, Amboseli and Nairobi. The babies have lost their mothers to poaching, death, injuries or other tragedies. The team raise the babies and release them back into the wild when they are ready. The orphanage opens to the public for an hour each day so that visitors can hear about the rehabilitation work and watch the feeding of baby elephants. It was so amazing watching them guzzling their milk bottles and playing with each other. There’s also a blind black Rhino called Maxwell who was rescued from Nairobi National Park. You have the opportunity to sponsor an orphaned animal and then have private feedings with them as well which would be a great experience.

Other sites to see in Nairobi include the Karen Blixen’s House & Museum (she was the author of Out of Africa), the Langata Giraffe Centre (refuge for Rothchild’s Giraffes – you can get close to them and even feed them) and Nairobi National Park.

So tomorrow we battle the traffic again and head from Nairobi to Aberdare National Park – theoretically it should be a three hour drive, but given our experience on day one, who knows how long it will take…

The photos below are of elephants at the orphange and a street view of Nairobi.

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