A Safari in Kenya

Monday, October 31, 2011  at 6:58 AM
When Chris and I were in Nairobi, Kenya, we wanted to check out the safaris at the National Park.  Nairobi is well-known for the Nairobi National Park, which is situated on the edge of the city—you can literally take a city bus to the start of your safari.  In my research beforehand, I only found that all safaris had to go through an outside company and that the park did not offer any safari options.  

zebra safari kenya africa nairobi
The zebras were definitely my favorite animal in the park

 However, when Chris and I accidentally got off our bus at the safari gate (due to a miscommunication with the bus driver we were dropped off at the animal orphanage at the park gate, instead of the elephant orphanage a few stops down where we wanted to go), we decided to check it out and see if we could be recommended to one safari company over the others.  

 giraffe safari kenya africa nairobi
Giraffes running along the side of the road inside the national park

After being rerouted through several different officials, we found ourselves in the presence of Madame Patricia, a stern older woman who was in charge of the safaris.  She was happy to inform us about the safari options given by the park itself.  Since the park was able to go around many of the fees charged to safari companies (taxes, vehicle entry fees, etc), the prices were considerably cheaper.   

 safari guide kenya africa
With Madame Patricia at the end of our safari

Chris and I decided to do a short half-day safari through the park—enough to get a good taste of a safari, but not a break-the-bank extravagance.  The price ended up being $50 USD per person, the lowest price we had been quoted in our search for a half-day safari (park entrance alone is $40 USD per person).

impala safari kenya africa 
Within thirty seconds of starting our safari we saw a herd of impala
The safari itself was great—no pre-booking needed, just show up, pay your money, and wait for the safari vehicle to be loaded up with six to ten other people!  Our driver took us on a loop of the entire park and was more than willing to stop when we wanted to take photos, to drive down a different road so we could get close up photos of giraffes, and point out animals we may have missed.   

in car safari kenya africa nairobi
We were pretty excited in our safari vehicle

Madame Patricia came along as a tour guide, although her bawdy comments about the animals were more entertaining than instructive.  We were able to see many of the big animals (zebras were my favorite!) and even though I couldn’t quite shake the feeling of driving around within a zoo, it was definitely a memorable experience.

lion safari kenya africa nairobi
We saw lions! 

The most interesting part?  Even though we were in a huge national park, the edges of the park were so close to downtown Nairobi that the skyscrapers were clearly visible behind the herds of zebras and impalas.  Awesome!

zebra safari kenya africa nairobi
A herd of zebras grazing as the day drew to a close
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Life on Rusinga Island

Friday, October 28, 2011  at 6:58 AM
Written By: Chris Coulon.

Our Humble Abode
Our Humble Abode on Rusinga.

Rusinga Island is a relatively small place, located just off the shore from Lake Victoria.  The closest town is called Mbita and is made up of a collection of brick and tin buildings that resembles more of a fish market than a town.  Rusinga finds itself on the disadvantaged side of development; it is suffering from deforestation—largely resultant from the local’s reliance on wood for fuel and boat-building—that is progressing toward the later stages of serious erosion and desertification.  These issues have only become more pronounced by a population growth that continues unmanaged.  An increasingly arid environment and recent droughts have forced agriculture on the island to a grinding halt.  In response, the growing population has turned to the lake for its food and livelihood, leading to overfishing.  However, amidst all these challenges, the people greet the world every morning with smiles and exuberance.  The children don their brightly colored school uniforms and the women set off for the day’s routine laden with the usual assortments of odds and ends balanced precariously upon their heads.

Our Living Room
Our Living Room.

Our stay here has provided us a glimpse into the Kenyan village life.  We were equally surprised and excited to learn that we would have our own two bedroom hut to ourselves for the duration of our stay.  Our house, like the majority of those found on the island, is made up of packed mud around a wooden lattice (their rebar) upon a concrete foundation and boasting a tin roof (providing a relaxing ambiance of acoustics during rainy evenings).  The building also, like most others on the island, does not have electricity and depends upon water carried up from the lake or, if you are lucky, a large tank to capture runoff from your roof during the rains.  Domesticated animals are commonplace here, goats, chickens, donkeys and cows seem to roam free yet somehow the locals always know whose is whose.  Bird watchers would be in their element on the island, as birds of prey are prolific; always circling the skies above ready to dive upon unsuspecting chicks that abound around the buildings and between the bushes. 

Our Bedroom
Our bedroom (and laundry)

Many of the daily routines here for the locals are similar to those in the United States; however, they are often done in a different manner.  Cooking for example is most often done here outside over a wood burning fire (or if you are lucky Charcoal).  Kenyan traditional dishes are made most often here, we eat ugali at nearly every meal (a thick paste of maize meal similar to polenta) and Sakuma-Wali (shredded Kale) alongside some type of meat (most often fish here on the island), boiled potatoes, or boiled green bananas. All meals are eaten with our hands by breaking off some ugali, mashing it into a spoon like form and scooping up the other foods.  This actually seems to promote good sanitary practices as Kenyans are oft to wash their hands both before and after every meal.  Water for hand washing is heated over the fire and brought in a pitcher where we take turns pouring it over each other’s hands.  After eating, dishes are piled up into a plastic basin and carried African style on top of the head down to the lake for washing.

Local Children
Some of the local kids playing around our hut.

Sweeping is done with a hand broom, which is little more than a collection of reeds, usually about two feet long, lashed together on one end to form the handle.  Most don’t have dustpans but just sweep out the front door.  It is not uncommon to see people sweeping the dirt around their houses, at first this seemed odd to us but we soon realized, if not done the goat poop builds up in large quantities. 

Cooking Lunch
Preparing lunch for the students.

Toilets here are reminiscent of the 19th century American West, built in outhouses set a distance away from homes, walled and roofed with tin on top of a concrete foundation that covers a deep hole in the ground.  Decent ones have the cement built up to resemble a Turkish toilet and are actually pretty nice, not to mention exciting if you are in one during a thunderstorm. 

Serving Lunch
Serving lunch to Rusinga Students, Today's menu: Corn and Beans!

Showers take place in a similar tin structure some distance away from the house.  A three walled tin alcove has been raised behind our host’s home and we sponge bath from a plastic basin of water.  In Nairobi, we heated this water up, but here in the blazing heat of the day cold water is a refreshing welcome.*

Rusinga Students
Students eating their lunch.

Much of our time here has been spent hiking around the island, or making the several mile trek overland to Mbita to get some power for the computer and use the internet.  We also help out in cooking a large meal everyday for some of Rusinga’s students.  But the majority of our time is given over to reading and writing as we relax under shade during the heat of the day or sitting inside listening to the rains on the roof in the evenings.

Danalynn's New Friends
 Some of Danalynn's new friends.

* Danalynn says that these paragraphs are disjointed and too many random thoughts in one place.  I on the other hand think it flows quite nicely, let me elaborate on the method to my madness. Cooking leads to cleaning, which in turn leads to sweeping, sweeping obviously elicits thoughts of goat poop (the majority of what needed to be swept), and that serves as a nice flow into toilets and after toilet comes shower!  QED  ;)

Hiking around Rusinga
Me, hiking around Rusinga Island.
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Sketching in Kenya

Thursday, October 27, 2011  at 6:58 AM
drawing maasai market nairobi kenya by Danalynn C

I'm having fun drawing a variety of items here in Kenya--here are some souvenirs I bought at a Maasai Market, the curtains and stuffed animals at our hosts' in Nairobi, and a popular sweet and spicy sauce that I really enjoy.

sketch nairobi kenya
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Getting Internet in Rural Kenya

Wednesday, October 26, 2011  at 6:58 AM
Getting internet in rural Kenya is practically a full day event here on Rusinga island (in Kenya on Lake Victoria.  Today, I needed internet for two and a half hours for my tutoring job, so right after lunch Chris and I set off.  It was about a 90 minute walk to Mbita, the closest town with internet.  Since we had left after lunch, the sun was high and the road was very hot.  Due to deforestation, the island is very dry and the rainfall is much lower than what it used to be.  

walking to mbita kenya
The road to Mbita, Kenya
On the walk, children were constantly popping up; “Mzungu!  How are you?”  Our reply scarcely mattered for most kids, they just wanted a chance to gawk at the Mzungus.  

Once we arrived at the internet café (after the requisite stop to grab a thirty cent fresh mango juice), I pulled out our netbook, plugged everything in and away we went….for thirty minutes, at which point the entire town lost electricity.

woman carrying dishes on head Mbita kenya by Danalynn C
A woman walking near Mbita, carrying her cooking dishes on her head--almost all items are carried atop the head here, whether a sky-high pile of dishes, a bag of maize, or even jugs of water!

Chris and I hung out at the power-less internet café for the next hour—no one had any idea when the electricity would come back on.  We decided to concede defeat for the day and started on the walk back to our host’s house.  On our way out of town, we stopped for an avocado juice—yum!  As we were finishing, the shop lights flickered to life—guess the electricity decided to return!  Back to the internet café to finish my scheduled tutoring work.

Between the electricity being out and the excruciatingly slow internet connection (watching my work being uploaded bit by bit, only to time out again and again, was a painful process), it wasn’t until 7:30 that evening that Chris and I finished everything for the day.  The sun had already gone down (since we were practically on the equator, the sun set around 6:00 every day all year round), so we grabbed a boda boda motorcycle to head back to our mud hut.  A rather successful internet day!

donkey kenya by Danalynn C
One of the many donkeys used as work animals in Kenya--this one was enjoying a much-deserved break.
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Featured Artist: Poppy and Pinecone

Tuesday, October 25, 2011  at 6:58 AM
Elisabeth from Poppy and Pinecone makes adorable watercolor paintings of states, countries, and inspirational phrases.  I love the idea of having such a simple and artistic representation of some of my favorite places.  Here are a few of my favorite paintings, plus an interview!

What is the first piece of artwork you remember making as a child?

I don't remember the very first piece, but I have notebooks dating back to when I was four years old, and they're filled with drawings of my family and believe it or not, many shaky outlines of the 50 states.

What was your first state/country you painted in your ___Love series?


Washington Love by Poppy and Pinecone

What is your favorite snack to eat while sketching?

Popcorn with a little basil and grated parmesan, a bowl of blackberries or Trader Joe's Peach Pops.

Make Voyages by Poppy and Pinecone

Do you travel at all? If you do, is there a particular subject that you tend to paint while traveling?

I travel often! I've spent time in 43 of the 50 states, and am preparing for another road trip next month (and planning a European adventure in the next year or so!). I always bring my sketchbook with me but don't tend to use it until the end of each day. I'll sketch what I can remember seeing  – cityscapes, landscapes, something in a museum. Whatever stands out in my mind from that day.

France Love by Poppy and Pinecone

I know several young aspiring artists. Do you have any advice for a beginning artist?

Don't give up! Try anything and everything. Make a point to sketch every day, but be kind to yourself and let yourself take a step back from your work if you need to. Never work uninspired. 

Thanks Elisabeth for the lovely interview!

Nomadic Vignette is a blog about a traveling girl nomad and her travel sketchbook as she and her husband explore the world.
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Daily Food in Kenya

Monday, October 24, 2011  at 6:58 AM
The food in Kenya has been very different than what I'm used to--I'm having fun trying the many new dishes!

A standard Kenyan breakfast always includes tea.  This is one of the many lasting impacts Great Britain has left on this former colony.  Whether with milk or ginger (but always sweetened), tea is a staple of breakfast.  With the tea you will find either a pile of warm mandazis (a type of fried dough, rather like an unsweetened doughnut), or a loaf of white bread to be eaten with jam or butter.

Lunch and dinner feature similar items and almost always include ugali (a maize-based dough) and beans.  Ugali is often eaten with sumuka, which is shredded kale which has been cooked, sometimes with slivers of other vegetables.  After having ugali for two meals a day, for countless days, rice can be a real treat!  

My favorite activity, however, is eating the many new fruits; the smooth and mellow papaya, the sweet and crunchy passionfruit and the tasty sugarcane are all new favorites!

cooking ugali nairobi kenya by Danalynn C
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Across Kenya

Friday, October 21, 2011  at 6:58 AM
Written by: Chris Coulon.

Today we left Nairobi and struck out West, using a fairly new bus service (bus services in Kenya come and go annually) by the name of Trans-line.  Our destination: Rusinga Island!  Located on Lake Victoria, it can be found nestled in the Southwest corner of Kenya straddling the borders of both Tanzania and Uganda. 

sunset mbita kenya
The sun setting over Lake Victoria.

As usual for Nairobi, our journey began in a gridlocked traffic jam.  However, as we slowly made our way, we were pleasantly surprised to find buildings being replaced by banana trees, the stockpile of cars petering out and the dust/exhaust haze lifting to reveal a long and narrow road snaking its way across the savannah; caked on either side was the the red dirt that has come to be so definitively African.  The flow of pedestrians along the both sides of the road never stemmed during our entire cross-country trip.

Outside of Nairobi, we found ourselves traversing the savannah and watching Maasai tribesmen herding their cattle.  Even today, they often remain in their traditional garb of reds, blues and black tartan blankets draped around them to shield themselves from the piercing rays of the sun.  Many of their necks are adorned with necklaces and hoops comprised of thousands of brightly colored beads.  Their presence here, juxtaposed against the early succession of modernity, serves as a perfect metaphor for the current state of development Africa, as Africans attempt to hold onto their traditional heritages while also advancing into the modern world.  Many of the villages along the way comprise of huts made from mud with straw roofs standing next to larger, not necessarily more recent, concrete complexes

sunset mud hut mbita kenya
Evening outside our compound.

As we continue along our journey the environment begins to become increasingly arid.  The ground here is cracked and broken—the only evidence of previous rains.  Dust devils pick up here and there, some little more than wisps and others stretching more than fifty feet into the air spitting out dust and pebbles as they grind their way across the flat expanse.  Residents here have constructed fences to retain their livestock and define their land by growing and trimming cacti to form straight, rather prickly barriers.  Continuing westward, the land begins to rise as we enter into the Kenyan highlands.  Kenya is a predominantly dry country and its major forests are located in the East where the land is much higher and as a result so is the precipitation closely followed by the vegetation. 

All along the highway we cannot help but notice the plethora of schools, one thing is for certain: the major highways of Kenya at least, do not lack for educational structures.  Students are easily identified as they run and play along the edges of the road in their brightly colored school uniforms ranging from loud purples, sky blues, forest greens, and shocking reds.  The children are lost in their own little worlds up until their realization that there are two mzungus on the passing bus; at which point they chase after us, all yells and waves. 

inside mud hut mbita kenya
Danalynn Groggy in the morning.

At 16:30 we finally reach the end of our journey’s first leg, we get off in Homa Bay.  It is a small town, which on most maps looks to be the second largest town in the region and lives up to its reputation with a collection of small buildings interspersed by dirt roads on the coast of Lake Victoria.  Danalynn still has two and a half hours of work to do at an internet café, but we decide to push our luck and search for a vehicle to take us to our next stop an even smaller town thirty kilometers to the Southwest; we hope there is internet.  Transportation between these small towns is similar to that in rural Morocco; in other words you find a guy who owns and has parked his car in a designated area (I use the term designated VERY loosely) and you tell the owner your destination then you proceed to wait until the car is “full” at which point you all split the cost of the ride.  Simply put the more people, the cheaper the ride.  In our little car, build for five, we managed eleven people: four in the front (the driver was courteous enough to share his own seat), five in the backseat (one of these was a toddler and very packable) and finally, two more crammed into the back with the luggage that didn’t make it onto the roof. 

All in all we got our price down to $2.50 a person and our driver literally put the pedal to the metal.  We flew past 30km/h signs at 90.  Cows, chickens, goats, their shepherds, women laden with large bundles balanced upon their heads and even children all dove off the road before our mad-cab.  Their only warning is our driver’s incessant honking as we careen down the pothole-riddled windey road. 

Sorting Beans with Mary
Me helping Madam Mary separate beans for the children's lunch.

Night is quickly approaching as our crazy train pulls into the small town of Mbita.  This is predominantly a fishing village and made up mostly of one room shacks with the occasional building.  We find a nice chap who speaks English and as it turns out knows our host (most people here we come to realize know most other people).  He directs us to the town’s internet café where we shoot of a quick email to get Danalynn’s work for the day covered so that we can continue on our way.  Once the professional part of our day is concluded, we each hop on the back of an exhaust spewing, puttering motorcycle, aptly named Boda Bodas, and take off on our moonlight ride around the island of Rusinga and the last leg of our journey.

Our path finds us travelling on a dirt track/road under the light of the stars and a full moon.  Due to our new proximity to the equator, the evening is warm and mildly humid as we make our way along the coast of lake Victoria.  The only clouds to be found comprise a distant thunderhead off in the distance creeping over the lake from Uganda, lit up every ten seconds from the bolts of an electrical storm.  It is a great end to a long day’s journey and I cannot help but think to myself: Central Africa, we have arrived.     
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Destination: San Pedro La Laguna

Thursday, October 20, 2011  at 6:58 AM
For this Destination: Home article, we join Mike and Ashley from Traveled Earth.  Mike and Ashley are a Canadian couple who started their long-term travel with a one-way ticket to Cancun, Mexico, and are currently traveling in Guatemala!

Where is home for you?

When people ask where we're from, we say Canada, because it's easier than trying to explain where Saskatchewan is (it's a province in Canada, if you didn't know). But recently we've left our home there and everything we knew to travel the world. So we decided to write this post about our home away from home (for the past six weeks, anyways), San Pedro La Laguna, Lago Atitlan, Guatemala.

San Pedro La Laguna, Lago Atitlan,

What is this place known for?

San Pedro La Laguna is known for its Spanish Schools, international restaurants and cheap accommodations. It is situated on Lago Atitlan, with its stunning lake views and mountain/volcanic panaromas.

Which popular tourist destinations should I visit? 

San Pedro and its neighbouring communities have many great activities to offer. If you like hiking, like we do, we highly recommend climbing the Volcan San Pedro (3020 m, approx. 5 hours) and the Indian Nose (1800 m, approx. 2 1/2 hours). If you're visiting in the rainy season, it will be worth your while to get up with the sun and finish your hikes by noon.

Kayak rentals are cheap (10-15 Q per hour) and are the best way to get to the nearby beaches or swimming rocks.

Other activities include: a ziplining canopy tour, paragliding, scuba diving (in the lake), museums, coffee plantations, Mayan weaving tours and classes, and thermal pools.

San Pedro La Laguna, Lago Atitlan,

What should I do for the best non-traditional tourist experience?

Get out of Gringoland!!! Leave the North American style restaurants and bars behind, and stay outside of the tourist zone. Buy fresh fruit and veggies (don't miss out on the pina, aka pineapple) at the local market, which runs from 8:00-12:00. During the short walk, you will see Mayan women wearing traditional dresses, chickens and turkeys wandering from roof to roof, men carrying bundles of firewood on their head, and you will hear the sounds of tortilla making everywhere. Follow the distinctive clap, clap, clap of the tortilla making, and you may find a woman that will sell you some from her house (these ones always taste the best). Stop for a tostada or tamale on the street if you're hungry... you won't regret it!

San Pedro La Laguna, Lago Atitlan,

Is there one event that I shouldn’t miss?

While San Pedro has a big local festival in June (complete with roscas, a delicious cookie you can only buy during festivals), we can't speak to it because we didn't experience it. We've heard that the mango season is in full swing in June as well, with mangoes so sweet that the pits fall out and you can practically drink the flesh.

We did experience the lead-up to the Guatemalan election, however, and this was definitely another event you don't want to miss (or maybe you do, depending on your noise level tolerance). For six weeks, we were blasted with the noise of nightly political rallies, frequent explosions and fireworks, parades, and marching bands. Election day itself got started at 5:00 a.m. with yet another marching band and went into the wee hours of the morning, with explosions and fireworks at 3 a.m. when the official results were known. Note: If you plan to experience a Guatemalan election, be careful... drinking, fights, and other violence are common.

What kitschy souvenirs should I walk away with?

If you're like us, none. But, if you have room in your backpack and you just can't leave without buying something, we recommend some of the local honey, coffee, or beautiful hand-woven Mayan cloth. 

San Pedro La Laguna, Lago Atitlan,

Thank you Mike and Ashley for such a great interview!  If you want to hear more about their travels, check out their Twitter account or their Facebook page.
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Visiting an Elephant Orphanage

Wednesday, October 19, 2011  at 6:58 AM
baby elephant drinking milk nairobi kenya by Danalynn C

Visiting the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (an elephant and rhino orphanage) was a unique experience in Nairobi, Kenya.  While the entrance fee cost more than most of our other activities here in Nairobi, at $5 USD per person, we were happy to support the efforts of the organization.  Here, orphaned elephants and rhinos are raised and re-released back into the wild when they are ready.  Many of the youngsters are orphaned as a result of poaching.

baby elephant nairobi kenya by Danalynn C

While at the orphanage, we saw the elephant calves being fed.  They each downed multiple gallons of milk in only a few minutes!  Then, we were able to hang out while the elephants played with each other (and proceeded to get very muddy).

nairobi kenya by Danalynn C

Another new experience in Kenya!
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ANZAC Biscuits and Two Backpacks, One World

Tuesday, October 18, 2011  at 6:58 AM
I love keeping up with the adventures of Kaitlin and Brian, a fellow nomadic couple who are on their own world adventure!  They have been traveling through Europe so far and will be heading to Asia soon.  I really enjoy how they have a great mix of budget-friendly travel (they have been doing many Help Exchanges) plus some fun splurges (fondue in Paris?  Sign me up!).  I also bookmarked their recipe for ANZAC (Australia New Zealand Army Corps) biscuits, which are great for travel and apparently very tasty.  Check them out!

French Fields by Danalynn C
Looking across the farmlands by our Helpx in France

Nomadic Vignette is a blog about a traveling girl nomad and her travel sketchbook as she and her husband explore the world.
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Transportation in Nairobi: the Matatus

Monday, October 17, 2011  at 6:57 AM
Getting around in Nairobi is like a long adventure—while it seems exciting to talk about, when it’s happening it’s really just a lot of waiting (Lord of the Rings, I’m looking at you and all your walking!).  

The main form of transportation in Nairobi is the matatu, a form of converted van that functions as a bus.  If you are boarding a matatu at the end of a line, you’re in luck—find the one going to the correct destination, scramble inside, and wait for it to fill up so it can leave (the matatus leave once they are full, instead of following a time-table).  Make sure to verify that it is going to your intended location; for example, there are three bus #33’s, all of which go to the same part of town but take different routes and have different stops.  If you are boarding a matatu in the middle of a line, be prepared to wave down all matatus that pass you by until the correct number, with empty seats, stops.  Often, if you look like a foreigner, matatus will honk, slow down or stop entirely if they see you standing by or walking on the side of the road.

side of road stall nairobi kenya by Danalynn C
One of many roadside stands in Nairobi, seen from my matatu.

Once your journey is underway, the matatu assistant will tap you on the shoulder—this is your signal to pay.  You pay a fare (ranging in price from $0.40USD to $0.80USD, depending on the time of day, the business and the weather), which buys you a full or partial trip on the matatu.  The assistant deals with money and signaling to the driver to stop or go, while the driver only drives (which makes sense, with how perilous the driving can be!).  

If you are only traveling part of the route, let the matatu assistant know where you want to get off.  This works best for me, since I’m never quite sure where my stop is!  If you are traveling the entire route, relax and relish this opportunity to people watch out the window.  Many of my street photos have been taken from the open window of a matatu, as holding a camera on the main street can attract attention (cameras are not something most regular locals have).

A matatu ride can be very long if traffic is terrible, which it usually is in Nairobi.  The longest we’ve sat in traffic so far has been for two and a half hours, to travel fifteen kilometers (about seven miles).  Going in and out of the city center is always very crowded, but there are sweet times when the traffic is not as bad.  From our experience, traffic is bearable before 8:00AM, between 1:00PM-3:00PM, and after 9:00PM.  Weekend traffic is not as bad, because people are not commuting to work.  

Thinking that walking might be a viable alternative?  So did we, until one day we spent two and a half hours walking two-thirds of the way into town.  Not only is the way very long and very hot, but dust is everywhere due to constant construction and the dirt roads.  Of course, keep in mind that the Couchsurfing host we were staying with lived a ways out of downtown proper—if you are staying in downtown itself, you will probably have a much easier time getting around than we did!  

driving road sign nairobi kenya africa by Danalynn C 
Road signs in Nairobi

In the center of downtown Nairobi, there are a few main places that the matatus congregate.  The matatus going to Langata road, where many of the tourist destinations are (such as the Giraffe Center, the Elephant Orphanage, and the National Park), all park in front of the train station.  To go to the Giraffe Center, matatu #24 is the one for you, while matatus #125 and #126 go past the National Park and the Elephant Orphanage.  Side note: If you are going to the Elephant Orphanage, ask to be dropped off at the Central Workshop, which is where the Elephant Orphanage is located.  If you ask to be dropped off at the Elephant Orphanage, chances are you will be dropped off at the National Park Main gate, where the general Animal Orphanage is at—five kilometers too soon (yes, we did this).  

The government is starting to standardize the matatus, only allowing fourteen seats inside and cleaner appearances.  However, if you’re lucky then you will find one still decked out with colorful seats, painted insides, and amped up speakers blasting music way too loud.  Either way, it’s a way to get around that will be unforgettable!

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Quick Sketch of a Horse

Thursday, October 13, 2011  at 6:58 AM
french horse france european sketch by Danalynn C

The horses next door to our Helpx looked like little toy horses magnified--they were rotund, with thick legs, and fluffy manes.  This one stood still only long enough for me to do a quick sketch, then he continued running around the field (my guess was that he was excited about the sunny weather, a change from the frequent rainy days).

Nomadic Vignette is a blog about a traveling girl nomad and her travel sketchbook as she and her husband explore the world.
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Photo-Essay: The Giraffe Center, Nairobi, Kenya

Wednesday, October 12, 2011  at 6:58 AM
feeding giraffe nairobi kenya africa by Danalynn C
The Giraffe Center in Nairobi is a fantastic place where you can hand-feed giraffes!  The giraffes knew that this was where their food came from and weren’t shy in trying to get at the treats in my hand.

inside mutatu africa nairobi kenya by Danalynn C
Inside a large mutatu, excited about going to the Giraffe Center.  Traffic was so bad that we spent over six hours just getting to and from the giraffe center (it is less than a 25 km, about 15 miles, from where we were staying).  However, this gave us ample time to watch the locals from the anonymity of the mataku, without people noticing the out-of-place mzungus (foreigners with light skin).

kissing giraffe africa  nairobi kenya by Danalyn C
One of the popular activities is letting a giraffe kiss you!  I thought it was hilarious, but Chris veered more towards the grossed-our end of the spectrum...(yes, I did thoroughly wash my face after this!)

giraffe nairobi kenya africa by Danalynn C
Besides getting close and personal with the giraffe's head, you can stand right by their legs and see how tall they really are


All in all, not a bad way to spend a day—hanging out with giraffes!
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Journey into Africa

Tuesday, October 11, 2011  at 6:58 AM
Written by: Chris Coulon.

As the summer comes to an end and Europe begins to cool before the oncoming chills of fall, we’ve decided to chance our fortunes in warmer climes.  And what better place than the equator?  On a chilly Friday morning, we rose from our warm couch cushions and set off to catch a 4:15AM train to Frankfurt Germany and our plane to Kenya.  

Pan African Highway
The Pan African Highway outside of Nairobi.

The change was incredible, aside from the equatorial climate, we found ourselves in a world apart.  My first impression of the city was that of an ant hill; people, and lots of them, everywhere, moving with a purpose.  There seem to be people everywhere we look, in the streets of the city center, all along the surrounding roads both major and minor; even the outskirts of town where we are staying appears to be a bustlin’ hotspot for locals hawking their wares, walking or simply sitting and chatting the daily news.  Exotic fruits of all colors are available wherever we turn.  Street vendors are happy to help out in teaching us the names of all the new fruits and how to tell when they are ripe.  After a while we begin to wander away, arms laden with piles of new fruits; only to come back a short while later to find out how exactly to go about eating each particular piece.

Maasai Market
Maasai Market just outside Nairobi city limits.

As we wander through the always of shacks and shops, we are greeted often by children calling out “Mzungu! How are you?” and waving enthusiastically.  People on the street, enjoy stopping us to chat, find out where we are from and to say “Hujambo!” the Swahili greeting and welcome.  On a street corner in the city center a small girl of no more than two grasps Danalynn’s wrist staring up wide-eyed.  An elderly woman shuffles up from behind and picks the girl up, laughing and telling Danalynn, the little girl likes her color. 

Zebras and Skyline
Zebras outside Kenya's Capital.

During one of our wanderings through the city center we found ourselves inside a kind of permanent bazaar, a labyrinth of alleys and small shops selling clothing, suites, purses, plastic buckets, and other assortments for Kenyan daily life.  Rounding a corner we are greeted by the wafting scent of grilled Goat and chicken and soon find ourselves bombarded from all sides by food vendors trying to entice us into their corner of the alley with promises of great food and samples.  Since it was nearly lunchtime anyway we simply shrugged and allowed ourselves to be tugged into one of the side buildings to enjoy a lunch of Ugali (a dense paste made from corn meal), Sumuka (fried kale with onions and sometimes tomatoes) and barbequed goat.

Maasai Figures
Maasai figures.

Traditional Kenyan cuisine often entails eating sans cutlery.  Small bits of Ugali are broken off from the main portion and compressed in one hand to roughly the size of a foosball.  Then using your thumb you press in to flatten the ball and create a divot in the center.  This is then used to spoon up the main courses.  Needless to say, eating is a slightly messier affair here.  To compensate, each of the stalls has a large metal basin in front heated from below by coals and a tap to wash hands before and after each meal and on the plus side, many less dishes.

Cooking at David's
Cooking Ugali with our host in Nairobi.

It is good to be back in Africa!  We are looking forward to spending more time with our hosts and a few other couchsurfers here in Nairobi for the next week or so; who knows, we might even go on a safari.  We have left behind our roles as vagabonding Yankees in Europe and have officially become Wzungu!   
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