I met Charles on my second day in Nairobi, at first I was suspicious of him and his motivations. Being Western, and given all the research I had done before I came here, I am taught to be wary of any local offering things. I am delighted to say my day with Charles was one of the best days of my entire journey.
Welcome to part two of my day in Nairobi, if you missed part one about arriving in Nairobi, organising a Kenyan visa at the airport and getting a taxi from Nairobi airport to the city please follow this link, Arriving in Nairobi, crazy taxis and culture shock, if you have already read that, then welcome to part two!
A grand walking tour of Nairobi
Having completely ignored Charles on my way into the tourist office I had just been guided back to him so rather sheepishly I exited and introduced myself to him and explained that I just wanted a map of Nairobi.
We wandered off together to go to the office that the lady mentioned as a place to get a map whilst engaging in small talk. Once there I was offered various safaris and day trips but after saying I just wanted a map so I could get to the train station and book my ticket to Mombasa they duly obliged.
At this point, I was still sceptical of Charles but I was told he would be happy to walk me down to the station so I agreed. I appreciated the guidance and the company as we walked and talked about Kenya, living in Kenya and growing up here. The walk took about 20 minutes but I scarcely noticed the time passing as he walked with me all the way to the ticket office.
Walking to Nairobi train station
Most of the route was simple enough but about 200m away from the train station you have to pass through the bus station. I have never seen anything like it. There must have been about 100 buses all in a space, probably about the size of a football pitch, competing for passengers, screaming and calling out their best deals, it was pandemonium. Every bus has a man outside just shouting noise. I can only assume he is telling you where the bus is going, it must make some sense to the locals but it appeared to be insanity to me. The buses themselves are tiny, they are like VW camper vans, no bigger, it astonished me how many people could get inside, it must be like Dr Who’s Tardis inside, but I had no real need to find out!
Buying a train ticket to Mombassa
Inside the train station, I managed to buy my ticket, and we strolled together back to the hotel. There are three different possibilities in buying a train ticket in Nairobi, first, second or third class. The third class is simply a seat, second class gets you a bed in a sleeper cabin shared with 5 other people and first get you a sleeper shared with just one other, bedding and meals. The variation in price between second and first is only about £5 and as it means you share your cabin with one other person as opposed to five, I reckoned it was £5 well spent (third was never really an option for my first overnight train trip).
After booking the train ticket to Mombasa, Charles walked me back and then asked what else I had planned for the day to which I honestly replied nothing. He offered me the same trips as the other man in the tourist office, including the city tour where you drive around seeing stuff.
Having been in a taxi yesterday and experiencing the Nairobi traffic first hand, I did not fancy this so I asked if we could do a Nairobi city tour on foot, to which Charles agreed and become my personal tour guide. We walked . . . a lot . . . and talked, it was fascinating.
Nairobi National Museum
We started off by visiting the Nairobi National Museum where I learnt a lot about Kenyan history, how they obtained independence from the British in 1963, the Mau Mau’s and about the fierce fighting in 1992 for open, two party elections. I also learnt a lot about the evolution of humanity, so many of the most significant fossils in human history were found in this area of Africa and are displayed here.
The museum also has an art gallery, when I visited, it hosted a temporary exhibition of children’s art from around the world and some of it is wonderful. The majority of the paintings were all about peace for Kenya and the world. I found myself hoping that the kids who produced these paintings will be able to grow up holding on to that faith and follow their dreams.
I highly recommend the museum as a place to visit, it has no frills or fancy bits but offers a wonderful learning environment and is a great way to escape the sun for a few hours.
Just across from the museum is a snake pit; a mini snake zoo. I came face to face with vipers, spitting cobras and black mambas, well, face to face with a sheet of glass in between.
While I was in the museum Charles waited for me outside, just chilling. When I was finished we left and walked back towards the city centre again. We passed a spot that was known locally as Devil’s Corner, the site of a lot of killings during the fight for independence in the 60s. Once independence was awarded, the new government donated that area of land to religion and Devil’s Corner is now the site of three large churches and a synagogue, nothing like building on the Devil’s own land, I love the idea.
From there we headed to Uhuru (freedom) park. Here is where you get a great view of Nairobi and is where all the Prime Ministers and Presidents must be sworn in and take an oath in a very public way. It used to be that they would take an oath in private so no-one really knew what they were promising to do! It is also the site of Pope John Paul the 12th’s mass back in 1980 when he visited the country. As a Christian, Charles was very proud to have been there. This got us talking about religion, which as you can imagine took quite a bit of time and got us through to lunch.
A traditional Kenyan lunch
I asked to go someplace very traditional for lunch and I wasn’t disappointed. It was a large, open plan room where you order and pick up your food before taking a seat at the large, shared table. In the corner were basins for you to wash your hands before eating as one thing was missing, cutlery. I had chicken soup and Charles had the fish, both served with ugali, it is a local maize dough-like product. This stuff you could say was A-maize-ing (sorry) – no cutlery or napkins and I was having soup, bound to be messy but great fun.
Being polite I waited for Charles to start, really I just wanted to know how the hell I was meant to eat this stuff. The ugali is essentially a lump, kind of like edible play dough (tastes a bit like play dough too), but this meant it was easily mouldable. So, the way to do it is rip off some ugali, mould it into a rough spoon shape, dip it in your soup and stick the whole thing in your mouth, fascinating and awesome, I would be happy to eat every meal like that. The only drawback was I think I had a very skinny chicken so I fought to eat most of the meat off the bone.
After lunch, we went our separate ways but I did ask him if he would mind helping me with my stuff to the train station, to which he agreed, a great help.
True to his word, he met me later at my hotel at 5 pm and walked with me to the train station, even helping with my bags. Once there we said our goodbyes and on I got the train to Mombasa.
The train will be late
There was a little confusion at the station as in the UK when you buy your ticket that’s your ticket. Here it is a little unusual, I seemed to have bought a ticket for a ticket. When I got to the station I had to go back to the ticket office and exchange what I had purchased earlier for a boarding pass which has seat numbers and stuff on it. But, don’t worry too much about that kind of thing, this is Africa and as everything is always late, you’ll have plenty of time to work stuff out.
My guide in Nairobi
I can’t speak highly enough of Charles and his skill as both a tour guide and a human. He was the perfect companion for a tour of Nairobi so I feel it’s only right to leave his details. If you are thinking of going to Kenya please get in touch with him, he is a qualified guide and offers trips all over the country and even into Uganda. The most popular ones include tours to the Masai Mara, meeting tribes and watching the great migration. He can also arrange trekking trips to climb Mount Kenya. If you would like to find out more, head to his website www.trekkingkenya.com or find him on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/trailfinders.safaris.
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