Kyle in Lake Assal, Djbouti

Saturday, March 12, 2011

My Time in Nairobi

Day 49: Kiambu to Nairobi

I rode from Kiambu town where I was staying with James into the city of Nairobi. I took a roundabout, meandering route to avoid the heavy traffic that Nairobi is known for. The recent trend of suburban-style neighborhoods being built around the city has led to severe congestion. At least on this crooked route I could avoid the major highways.

I first rode into the business district. I got off and pushed my bike down the crowded city sidewalks past bank headquarters, TV stations, and large hotels. Men in sharp looking suits were walking with authority, speaking in perfect English into their smartphones. I was in torn clothing, pushing a bicycle with a tent bungeed to the handlebars. I enjoyed the contrast and the funny looks I received from these Nairobi big shots.

The western feel of downtown Nairobi caught me off guard. Compared to Addis Ababa (Ethiopia), Nairobi is much more modernized. I really felt like I could have been in any major city in the US.

After I’d had my fun turning heads on the Kenyan Wall street, I went across the main road to Uhuru Park. It’s a big green space with ponds and paved foot trails. Venders sell their sugary drinks and samosas, children run and play, and adults rest in the shade. The incredible view of the cityscape reminded me of Central Park in NYC. See photos from previous blog post.

I still had some time to kill, so I found a coffee shop. All the restaurants I’ve been serve Nescafe instant coffee. BARF! Especially after coming from the land of coffee, I can’t drink that swamp water. I searched high and low and finally found a small cafĂ© that serves proper cups of coffee. The amused staff was very helpful and even let me bring my filthy bike into their decorative dining room.

After 2 cups of coffee and bowl of chocolate ice cream while rocking some Victor Wooten on the iPod, I cycled to the house of Sebastian, Alicia, and Philippa. They are three journalists and filmmakers shooting a documentary about camel milk. They are currently in Kenya editing before they head off to Somaliland and Sudan. The topic of camel milk would have had very little interest to me before meeting them. After they explained some facts with enthusiasm, I couldn’t wait to see the final film. It was a good sales pitch.

I got in touch with them through which is a website that links travelers with hosts to stay with all over the world. I hosted many people in Ethiopia, and have utilized it a few times on this trip. We chatted a bit, but they were busy and I was tired, so I soon went to sleep.

Day 50: Nairobi

For the 50th day of Low2high: Africa, I had a restful day of tuning up the bicycle, drinking coffee, and listening to music. Most of the house’s occupants were gone for the day. I took full advantage of having a large workspace and tore the bicycle apart. It was good to make some much needed adjustments.

Everyone (the 3 plus 5 other CS guests) all came back around 4pm for a prescheduled yoga session. Two young Kenyan men are yoga instructors and came to lead an hour long workout. We all went upstairs to a large, empty room. I’ve done yoga before, but it’s been years, literally. I rocked the downward dog, but anything requiring flexibility was near impossible. My body strained to get into position. My legs felt tighter than an E String. One of the instructors would come around and ‘assist’ us, which consisted of him pushing my back into place. The loud popping sounds that that interrogation move created were reminiscent of an old creaking door. The pain of a thousand knives shot up my nervous system. This must be what women in labor feel when they get an epidural.

After the cruel and unusual punishment had ended, I said goodbye to our captors in athletic clothes. I checked myself briefly for Stockholm Syndrome. None to be found. Goodbye, you new-age violators of the Geneva Convention.

People stayed around for dinner. It was fascinating to see what people were doing in Nairobi. The filmmakers had started their own organization while living in China called the ‘What Took You So Long Foundation’. Another girl had filmed aid projects all over the world to try and measure the effectiveness of the industry as a whole. She had interviewed aid workers and even Peace Corps Volunteers. The videos are posted at

I enjoyed the evening.

Day 51: Nairobi and back to Kiambu

Leaving the bike behind, I wandered on foot through Nairobi with 2 other American couchsurfers. My first order of business was a proper burger. At a place in Yaya Center, I had a double cheeseburger with bacon and guacamole. I love Nairobi.

The rest of the afternoon brought me ice cream, a walk through the Arboretum showcasing indigenous and invasive trees in Kenya, and then to yet another restaurant for some cold Guinness.

After the day of indulgences, I went back to the house, hopped on my bike, and cycled back to Kiambu. I was running a bit late, so I ended up breaking my cardinal rule and cycling in the dark. The lack of light wasn’t so bad, but the fact that my front brakes failed was a bit terrifying on the down hills. When my back gear cable snapped, stranding my bike into a single, high gear, the up hills turned into epic battles. Little by little, I made it back to Kiambu and crashed at James’ house again. I was glad that ride was over.

Day 52: Rest day in Kiambu. Internet, food, and coffee!

Day 53: Kiambu

Today was my birthday! I celebrated in proper fashion by sleeping in, doing as little as possible all day long, and then going out for dinner and beer. I met James, his coworkers, and his brother after they had finished work for the day. His coworkers were a fun bunch, and they all seemed in agreement that I was crazy for attempting this expedition. I never tire of seeing the faces of people when they first hear that I bicycled from Djibouti.

After 7 Guinnesses (Guinni? Um, after consuming 7 beers with ‘Guinness’on the label), it was time to get trashy. We walked around the corner to an OilLibya gas station, bought a case of beer, ordered pizza from the attached Pizza Inn, and sat out front indulging in our cheap vices. Bellies full, we proceeded to a dance club to experience the finer side of life in Nairobi.

The club had a dress code, I believe. No one cared as I entered, but once inside I saw guys in dress shirts and nice shoes. Girls were in sexy dresses that I rather enjoyed. I was rocking an REI fleece jacket that covered my stained t-shirt. My hiking boots were clearly the meant for dancing. I was incognito. Or drunk. Perception is reality.

Dance clubs being very low on my list of fun activities for a Friday night, I was relieved when my phone rang with a call from America. I snuck out to take it, but stayed longer to make various drunk dials to old college friends in America.

All in all it was a good night. I finally crawled into bed at 4am, room spinning. I’m too old for this.

Day 54: Rest day in Kiambu. Heading out of Nairobi tomorrow on the final push to Tanzania.

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