Sometimes, the universe conspires to get you somewhere. Tiny exploding atoms align perfectly and they point you in the right direction. And that is exactly what happened to me last month. In this case, it involved a partner’s conference, a birthday, more than a few friends who had great things to say about the place, and a curiosity that I’ve been wanting to scratch since a first sojourn to East Africa. And that is how I got to Nairobi.
It’s a city that gets a bad rap. I can’t even tell you the number of times I’ve heard “Nairobbery.” And in recent years, more serious threats have made themselves felt. I wasn’t going to let that prevent me from visiting a city who’s multilayered tapestry (but literal and figurative) has stimulated so many great writers, artists and rich history. With a little bit of local intel (thank you Nidhee, Nomusa, Koheun and Mike!), a pinch of risk-taking, a ton of patience (TRAFFIC) and a desire to uncover what the cool kids are up to in Nairobi, I dove straight in. And the fact that Uber is operating in Nairobi helped to speed things long. Nairobi is a big city, with infinite neighbourhoods, people and the wonderful. I already wrote about how much I loved Nairobi from afar. This time, it’s IRL.
We arrived at 645am on a Saturday morning, and by noon, my bestie and Nairobi pal Nid, had already whisked us off to the weekend Masai Market at the High Courts in downtown Nairobi. Masai Markets, which are actually a collection of vendors from all over Kenya selling curios and knick knacks, happen all over the city nearly every day, but this one is particularly large, diverse and lively. And there is no better way and no worse way to start a trip to Kenya. I nearly spent all of my money here.
And with what I had left, I made sure that I went to one of Nairobi’s famous mtumba (second hand) markets. This is where stylistas like 2manysiblings get their gear. I made my way to Toi Market, located on the perimeters of the Kibera slum, and went a little nuts on gorgeously embroidered cloth napkins from Europe (priorities past age 30). The best thing about Toi Market is the curation. Vendors have already gone to the much larger (and even more overwhelming) Gikomba Market for their wares and picked the best out. Everything from leather boots to pretty ceramics, the whole shebang. I wish I had given myself more than two hours here. Or perhaps I was better off that way.
The first thing you might see upon landing in Nairobi are giraffes. With Nairobi National Park right on the cusp of Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, your taxi will absolutely pass by and you will absolutely go “Holy crap, is that a giraffe?” Welcome to Kenya. The city itself is also home to the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust Elephant Orphanage (open every day for one hour only – 11am-12pm) and the Giraffe Centre, where you can get up close to these beauties. Or in my case, totally make out with a giraffe.
I know it’s such a tough thing when you’re trying to make a career out of traveling. Horrible. Thankfully, Nairobi is filled with the hippest co-working spaces. I plopped my bum down at Nairobi Garage for the speediest Internet this side of the Nile. But there’s also The Foundry and Pawa254 offering opportunities to meet the brightest and the techiest that Kenya has to offer. If you’re more a café worker, then head down to Tin Roof Cafe for a perfect workday on their terrace.
Nairobi’s many layers extend to every single part of its culture. And since I am an eater, I wanted to get as many bites in as possible.
On any ideal Nairobi day, you could start things off with a chapati with egg at Hashmi’s (which is more well known for its Indian BBQ) in Westlands, followed by a little bit of healthy stuff with the Ottolenghi-inspired salad bar (and don’t forget your tree tomato juice) at the Tin Roof Cafe in Karen. And when the sun sets, definitely grab a table by the bonfire, and nurse bottles of Tusker while chowing down on injera and kitfo (I like mine rare) at Hasheba.
After buying all of the kitenge, stuffing yourself silly, and getting splattered in mud by the most darling of baby elephants, you might need a rest. Get a proper sundowner. Nid brought me to her favourite local, Juniper Kitchen, located in the Westlands neighbourhood, to recuperate. With the crisp air, furniture crafted from re-claimed wood and the best Dark & Stoney. Go here and stay here until the traffic clears.
If you have to end your night, your last stop in Nairobi should be The Elephant. We were lucky enough to have tickets for the Cool Waters Jazz Festival, but you can find live music happening there every night. The best artists the city and the region has to offer, and sometimes artists from further lands. We’re a bit starved for a diversity of live acts in Phnom Penh, so I basically melted into a puddle of music nerd.
All Photos by Tiffany Tsang. Please request permission for use. We are not liable for any chargers incurred from last minute flight bookings to Nairobi.
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