First Day Backpacking in Nairobi, Kenya

Monday, October 10, 2011  at 6:58 AM
Stepping out of our plane in Kenya yielded a pleasantly cool, overcast day, instead of the muggy, oppressive heat we had been expecting.  After getting picked up by David, our CS host, we enjoyed several hours of relaxing and trading travel stories with the three other Couchsurfers staying at David’s place.  Much to our chagrin, we found that our fellow travelers were much more hardcore than us, shattering our belief that we were extreme and adventurous backpackers!

downtown africa nairobi kenya by Danalynn C
Downtown Nairobi...on a non-crowded morning

By mid-morning, everyone was ready to head into downtown Nairobi.  We caught a mutatu, a type of re-vamped van that functions as a bus.  However, instead of having set departure times, the mutatus simply start their route whenever they are full.  All of the different mutatu lines compete against each other for who can complete the most routes each day (by mid-afternoon, many tallies were already in the upper twenties).
Despite downtown Nairobi lying only fifteen kilometers away from our host, our journey there took over an hour because of the intense traffic.  In his efforts towards having the most completed routes for the day (and making the most revenue, I suspect), the driver ignored road lines, used the shoulder as a lane and passed other vehicles in the narrow margins between trucks and pedestrians.

main road in nairobi kenya africa by Danalynn C
Entering the unceasing stop-and-go traffic while driving to downtown Nairobi

Our group (Chris, David, the three other backpackpackers and I) was deposited in a crowded square in the heart of downtown and we were immediately impressed with the sheer number of people.  Christ described it perfectly as a “busy ant hill,” with the small interlocking streets combining with the never-ending flow of people, all headed somewhere with a purpose.  A quick lunch of Ugale (a maize-based dish similar to polenta), meat and veggies restored our energy as we headed to the Masaai market.

maasai art nairobi kenya africa by Danalynn C
Maasai art for sale in Nairobi

This market, which occurs several times a week at different locations around Nairobe, is home to a vast array of handmade African arts and crafts, featuring the work of the Masaai tribe.  As we entered, Chris and I became the eye at the center of a whirlwind of attention, every shop owner vying for our Kenyan shillings.  We loved taking in the different intricate crafts for sale, repeating over and over again “We’re not buying anything today, we’re just looking.”  After we had had our fill of ogling for the day, we escaped, a bit flustered but still in one piece.  We were still running on energy fumes with cloudy (and easily excitable) minds and wanted to wait to decide what souvenirs to buy.  Of course, our wishlist did not escape unscathed!

Our first day in Africa?  Exhausting, exciting, new and unexpected.  Bring on day two!
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