There was a holiday in the UAE recently, Eid Al Adha. I opted to reward myself for paying off a student loan with a short vacation. While I initially had plans to visit Thailand, all of that went out the window when a travel buddy, Mo, told me about the $400 (1600 AED) flight she found to Nairobi during that time. I swiftly invited myself on her vacation and we got to planning. Looking back, I’m so very glad I did this as it was an awesome experience. Here are a few highlights of my trip to Kenya:
1. Eating yummy food.
For the most part, the local food was filling and inexpensive. I did enjoy a few meals and drinks at more upscale places, but I think the best meals I had in Kenya were at roadside restaurants with communal seating. On our first full day in the country Mo and I ventured to a spot near the flat we rented. We ignored the menu, asked the older gentleman behind the counter what he recommended and took a chance. While we were waiting for our food, we noticed some plates go by that also looked delicious. Not knowing what anything was, we pointed to the plate and asked for “that one” too. I’m still thinking about that food to this day. And can you believe that all of this for 2 people – maybe even enough for 3 – was less than $4 USD (16 AED)?
It’s no secret that I went to Kenya to shop. Have you seen some of the beadwork that the Massai sport? Fancy! Most of my spending money went toward buying jewelry, sisel bags, shoes, and fabric. Thank goodness I packed light and stowed an empty duffle bag in my carry-on for my bounty. I. Regret. Nothing!
Many people go to Kenya to do safari. Given that we only had 4 short days – and I really had no genuine interest in doing a safari, we opted to stay local. Did you know that the city of Nairobi is built around a huge National Park that contains 3 of the Big 5? For someone who really wasn’t all that into seeing animals, I must say that I surprised even myself by how much I enjoyed a visit to the park. Mo was in 7th heaven and I was simply along for the ride… That is until I saw the giraffes up close. Whoa! The elegance and majesty of those beautiful animals cannot be underestimated.
From there we were able to see buffalo, antelopes, zebras, several species of birds, and lions. We stalked those lions for what felt like hours. Just when we were about to give up hope of seeing one, our driver spotted some movement in the bush and took off. It took me a second to figure out what was happening and then we saw not one but 2 lions on their way out to hunt. The last lion even paused momentarily for her photoshoot.
Mo, who loves lions, was ecstatic. I have to admit that her enthusiasm was a bit contagious. Hands down one of the coolest experiences I’ve had. After we left the park we visited the David Sheldrick Wildlife Centre to pet some baby elephants.
Soon after that I found myself happily feeding a greedy Rothschild giraffe at the Giraffe Manor.
4. Nyama Choma.
This dish, consisting of grilled meat (goat), is a Kenyan favorite. Even though I usually enjoy goat, I didn’t really enjoy the taste of the meat – I found it to be a bit bland. What I did love about this dish is how it brought people together. We traveled out of the city centre with an expat friend, Nakia, to a place called Kasarani for a party given by her coworker. Nakia explained to us that her co-worker needed help paying the dowry for his new bride, so he was having a “goat eating party.”
Family and friends came to a local pub to eat nyama choma, drink beers, and donate some money to his cause. Now that’s community. The next time I had nyama choma was at a local pub near town on our last full day. We commemorated the end of our long day by sharing grilled meat and beers with our driver, Henry, as a way to thank him for taking care of us during our stay.
5. Having a driver.
OK, so this one actually gives me mixed feelings. I hate not having the independence of being able to go anywhere as I please when I please, but it was quite nice having someone there to help me around a new city. There was the equivalent of the state fair happening near our flat during our stay so traffic was atrocious for the first 3 days. A drive that would normally take 30 minutes took almost 2 hours because of the traffic. It was a relief that I wasn’t the one navigating the car at those times. My road rage and strong dislike for traffic is legendary. We had 2 drivers during our short stay and they were both amazing. Those men had the patience of Job, I tell ya. Yes, I know it’s their job and that’s why we pay them, but still. Who in the world wants to sit in hours of traffic, wait for women to shop their lives away, and change their minds often and at the last minute? Not I. Shout out to Samuel and Henry for helping us to navigate the city.
Bonus #6. Connecting with Tribe loves.
If you’ve been reading my blog for a while you’ve probably heard me talk about the Nomadness Travel Tribe. Look it up. It’s a group of movers and shakers with wanderlust spirits. My kind of people. Whenever I visit a new place I try to connect with at least 1 member of the Tribe who lives there.
This trip was another chance for me to connect with some cool people. Myself and Mo, who is also a Tribe member, connected with 2 ladies from the Tribe who lived in Nairobi. It was interesting to see the city and country through their eyes. One lady is a young Kenyan while the other, Nakia, is an American expat working in Kenya. Talk about different worlds. We spent a few days and nights sipping adult beverages and chatting about our different experiences traveling and living abroad. One of us was even inspired to make a drastic life change during our trip because of those conversations. That’s how it is with Tribe folks. You start conversations, go home and digest them, then pretty soon you’ve come up with a plan of action and start getting things done (See, my solo trip to Colombia, my move to Korea, my move to UAE).
Overall, I’m glad I went to Kenya. It was the break I needed from the UAE. I returned to Abu Dhabi refreshed and more joyful. I was also very grateful for a return to AC, sunshine, and warm temperatures. 🙂 Have you been to Kenya? Share your experience in the comments below.