Category Archives: About Kenya

Nairobi; Green city in the sun

A place of cool waters, they called this place; Ewaso Nai’beri  is the name the local Maasai gave to what we now call Nairobi. It started out as Mile 327, a basic camp for construction workers back in the railway days slowly upgrading to a rustic village, a shanty town capital of all British East Africa and now a big city, one of Africa’s largest as a matter of fact. Nairobi, Kenya’s Capital, is a hive of activities; Here is where people of all tribes, race and origin assemble in search of the good life where hustle and bustle is the order of the day. It is in fact the economical hub for the East and Central African regions. Contrary to Nairobi being a big economical hub, it is also home to the largest slum in Africa and poverty is a major problem here due to unemployment. Population here therefore comes from both ends of the spectrum.

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Nairobi is however not all business, Visitors here can get treated to a variety of interesting places to explore being home to museums, historical sites, monuments and a booming night life for those who fancy a little partying. Wildlife lovers can also get to sample a taste of what awaits them in the Kenyan wild before setting off on safari as Nairobi goes in the books as the only city in the world that boasts a natural national park teaming with wildlife right on its doorstep. Here travel enthusiasts can explore the various ecosystems that await them in the wild as well as different species of wildlife including, herds of Zebra, Wildebeest, Buffalo, Giraffe,  Rhino, Cheetah,  a large number of Lions and many more.

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Nairobi being the capital, is the arrival point for many visitors. There are two airports in the city; Jomo Kenyatta International (handles international and domestic flights) and Wilson airport ( handles chartered domestic flights). The main mode of transport around the city is by matatu (mini-bus) and buses. Taxis are also widely accessible and are parked at convenient locations around hotels and tourist areas. Public transport is marked with a yellow line on each side.

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Must do in Nairobi

  • Nairobi National Museum

The country’s National Museum and largest in the city, it houses a large collection of artifacts portraying Kenya’s rich heritage through history, nature, culture, and contemporary art. It also includes the full remains of a homo – erectus popularly known as the Turkana boy. Other prominent museums include the Nairobi Gallery, Nairobi Railway Museum, and the Karen Blixen Museum located in the affluent Karen suburb.

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  • Nairobi National Park

The city boasts of it’s very own national game park where lions and buffalo’s roam free! It is located just moments away from the city center and is one of the best Nairobi attractions.

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  • Uhuru Gardens

Uhuru Gardens, a national monument and the largest memorial park in Kenya, is also the place where the first Kenyan flag was raised at independence. It is located along Lang’ata road near the Wilson Airport.

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  • Ice skating

Nairobi is home to the largest ice rink in Africa: the Solar Ice Rink at the Panari Hotel’s Sky Centre. The rink, opened in 2005, covers 15,000 square feet (1,400 m2) and can accommodate 200 people. You are bound to have loads of fun here with a group of friends.

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  • Shopping

Shopping malls in Nairobi include; The Yaya Centre (Hurlingham), Sarit Centre (Westlands), Westgate Shopping Mall (Westlands), ABC Place (Westlands), The Village Market (Gigiri), Junction Shopping Centre (Ngong Road), Prestige Plaza (Ngong Road), Galleria Shopping Mall (Bomas) Crossroads Shopping Centre (Karen), and T-Mall (Langata). Nakumatt, Uchumi, and Tuskys are the largest supermarket chains with modern stores throughout the city.

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  • Eateries and nightlife

From a collection of gourmet restaurants offering local and international cuisine, Nairobi has something to offer to every age and pocket. Most common known food establishments include The Carnivore and The Tamarind Restaurants which have outlets in Langata, City Centre, and the Village Market. For those more discerning travellers, one can choose from a wide array of local cuisine, Mediterranean, fast food, Ethiopian, and Arabian. The city’s nightlife is mostly centred along friends and colleagues meeting after work especially on Fridays – commonly known as “Furahiday” (Happy Day), theme nights, events and concerts, and of late a new trend – “herbal bubble” or “Shiisha”. The most popular clubbing spots are centred in upmarket Westlands which has come to be known as “Electric Avenue”, Karen, Langata, Hurlingham, and “uptown” venues in the city centre. Nairobians generally go out every day of the week and most establishments are open till late.

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  • The Giraffe Centre;

Run by the African Fund for Endangered Wildlife, this is a sanctuary for the rare Rothschild’s giraffe. Spend some time observing, hand-feeding (and if lucky, get a big wet kiss) as well as capturing close-up photos of the giraffes in case you did not catch sight of them while on safari. One can also enjoy a quiet nature trail through thick bushes and forest. Other animals you are bound to encounter include warthogs, hyenas and sometimes leopard.There is a variety of flora and fauna.

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  • Maasai Markets;

Meet craftsmen of authentic Kenyan artifacts and enjoy the sight of ladies beading and making jewellery at the markets. Held around the city at different venues on different days, bag yourself a set of souvenirs for your friends and families back home including wooden carvings and bead-work; beaded necklaces, batik wall hangings, shoes, soap stone carvings, sisal bags, kikois, textiles and much more.  All Maasai Markets items are Kenyan and the range of goods on offer is impressive .You can’t go wrong at the Nairobi Masai Market.

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  • David Sheldrick Animal Trust – Elephant orphanage

For the conservationists, and those who love elephants, this is a place you don’t want to miss. The elephant orphanage is inside the Nairobi National Park and to see the orphan elephants you must go between 11-12 (daily). Get to sponsor the orphans if you would like and also buy yourselves souvenirs including T-Shirts, Bags, Soap stone carvings and other memorabilia in support of the elephants.

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  • Bomas of Kenya

The Bomas of Kenya is a cultural centre at Langata, near the main gate to Nairobi National Park. The talented resident artistes perform traditional dances and songs taken from the country’s various tribal groups, including Arab-influenced Swahili taarab music, Kalenjin warrior dances, Embu drumming and Kikuyu circumcision ceremonies. Each boma (homestead) in this cultural village was built using traditional specifications of myriad Kenyan tribes; through architecture, crafts, music and dance this village serves to preserve Kenyan culture.

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  • Safari walk

Nairobi Safari Walk, funded by the Kenya Wildlife Service is a great way to learn about the animals of Kenya and to view the various natural environments Kenya has to offer. It is located at the headquarters of Nairobi National Park.

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This and many more other activities await you in Nairobi.

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Five star hotels in Nairobi include the Nairobi Serena, Laico Regency (formerly Grand Regency Hotel), Windsor (Karen), Holiday Inn, Nairobi Safari Club (Lilian Towers), The Stanley Hotel, Safari Park & Casino, InterContinental, Panari Hotel, Hilton, and the Norfolk Hotel. Other newer ones include the Crowne Plaza Hotel Nairobi in Upper Hill area, the Sankara Nairobi in Westlands, Tribe Hotel-Village Market, House of Wayne, The Eastland Hotel, Ole Sereni, and The Boma located along Mombasa Highway. International chains apart from the Hilton, the Intercontinental group, and Serena Hotels are also setting up prime properties in Nairobi city.

Photo credits;Lucas steuber, Mutua Matheka, Click

Lamu

Lamu Island, Kenya’s oldest inhabited town, tells a wonderful story of unspoilt culture and heritage, of unforgettable history and magnificent architecture and most of all, a story of a people with heart and love for others. Lamu portrays an influence of a myriad of cultures ranging from the Oman, Yemeni, Indian, Chinese, Portuguese, as well as the  Victorian British featuring in its architecture, museums, as well as the language of the people here. Founded in the 14th century, the town is regarded as the oldest and best preserved Swahili settlement in the whole of East Africa.

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The small town is populated by a majority of Muslims seeing as the early settlers were of Arab origin. Each year the people of Lamu partake in the Maulidi Festival which takes place in the month of June, Rabi-al-Awal month according to the Muslim calendar. The event is a fun-packed affair with activities like dhow races, swimming competition, donkey races, Bao competition, henna painting, cross country, Koranac recitals, Swahili poetry, football and much more taking place.

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Lamu’s unspoilt culture is also reflected in its mode of transportation whereby very few vehicles can be spotted in the town hence no air pollution from exhaust pipes, the people either walk or ride on donkeys another alternative is the use of dhows and speed boats for transport. Due to its respect of heritage and preservation of culture,  Lamu town had the honor of being designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site back in 2001. It has managed to stay unspoilt and untouched by the mass tourism and development that has hit much of Kenya’s coastline. Lamu has retained all the charm and character built up over centuries. Most houses here have a rooftop which is used as a patio – indicative of a society where ‘hanging back’ and ‘catching the breeze’ is important. Visitors to the island can stay in one of these Swahili style Lamu villas where sandy-toed days stretch out into tropical rooftop evenings.

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Flying is the best way to reach this region of Kenya and there are daily flights to Lamu. The airport is located on the neighbouring Manda Island from where one will be collected by their hotel or lodge and transferred by boat across the channel to Lamu town (10 minutes), Shela Village (20 minutes) or further afield (up to 45 minutes).

Must do in Lamu

  • Dhow Safari
    A day spent at sea on a Dhow is a wonderful experience and a fantastic way to explore the area. The calm waters around Lamu are perfect for sailing, and the neighbouring islands are well worth visiting for their small fishing villages, ancient ruins and deserted beaches.

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  • Dhow Racing 
    Dhow racing is the most important event in Lamu annually taking place to usher in the new year. Lamu Dhow builders are considered some of the best on the coast, and this is a culture born of the sea and sailors. Winning the race is a great honour among Dhow captains, and the race attracts the best of the best. This event brings the Island to life, and the shorelines throng with supporters. Individual Dhows are brightly decorated, and festivities on race day last well into the night.

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  • SCUBA Diving and Snorkelling
    Private Dhow trips from Lamu often visit good snorkeling sites, and provide equipment. There are a few good dive sites to be found around Lamu and the surrounding archipelago.

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  • Big Game Fishing
    Big game fishing can be arranged from Manda Island or by some hotels in Lamu in season (December – March). Kenya’s main coastal game fish include Sailfish and Marlin, Kingfish, Wahoo, Horse Mackerel and others.  A tag and release program ensures eco-friendly fishing.

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  • Bird Watching
    The Kiunga Marine Reserve near Lamu is an important sanctuary for shorebirds and pelagics, including the Sooty Gull, White Cheeked Tern, Bridled Tern, Brown Noddy, and many Crab Plovers and Roseate Terns.

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  • Islamic Festival of Maulidi
    Held each year around the month of June, several special sporting events are held during Maulidi. The main event is a donkey race along the waterfront, running the entire length of the old town. Lamu residents are accomplished Donkey jockeys, and victory in this annual race is a much coveted title. The race attracts most of the townspeople, who gather along the waterfront or anchor offshore in dhows to watch the action. Both riders and donkeys are well prepared for the event and the competition is always fierce, with each competitor attracting their own loyal local supporters.The race day is a major event in the Lamu calendar, and there are plenty of festivities and celebrations both before and after the big event. Often dhow races are held around the island during the same period.

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  • walking tour of Lamu old town and a visit to the Museum as well as the Old Fort  which have been nicely restored and enjoy some fascinating displays.
  •  Shopping for beautiful clothes, kanga’s and kikoys, leather work, carved wooden furniture, silver jewellery and many more souvenirs.

Photo credits; Eric Lafforgue , Flowerbeetle,the fort, Joe Makeni, Jaime Windon, Urooj Qureshi

Out of Africa

If I know a song of Africa, of the giraffe and the African new moon lying on her back, of the ploughs in the fields and the sweaty faces of the coffee pickers, does Africa know a song of me? Will the air over the plain quiver with a colour that I have had on, or the children invent a game in which my name is, or the full moon throw a shadow over the gravel of the drive that was like me, or will the eagles of the Ngong Hills look out for me?

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I had a farm in Africa at the foot of the Ngong Hills. The Equator runs across these highlands, a hundred miles to the north, and the farm lay at an altitude of over six thousand feet. In the day-time you felt that you had got high up; near to the sun, but the early mornings and evenings were limpid and restful, and the nights were cold.

The geographical position and the height Of the land combined to create a landscape that had not its like in all the world. There was no fat on it and no luxuriance anywhere; it was Africa distilled up through six thousand feet. like the strong and refined essence of a continent. The colours were dry and burnt. like the colours in pottery. The trees had a light delicate foliage, the structure of which was different from that of the trees in Europe; it did not grow in bows or cupolas, but in horizontal layers, and the formation gave to the tall solitary trees a likeness to the palms, or a heroic and romantic air like full-rigged ships with their sails furled, and to the edge of a wood a strange appearance as if the whole wood were faintly vibrating. Upon the grass of the great plains the crooked bare old thorn trees were scattered, and the grass was spiced like thyme and bog-myrtles; in some places the scent was so strong that it smarted in the nostrils. All the flowers that you found or plains, or upon the creepers and liana in the native forest, were diminutive like flowers of the downs – only just in the beginning of the long rains a number of big, massive heavy-scented lilies sprang out on the plains. The views were immensely wide. Everything that you saw made for greatness and freedom, and unequaled nobility.

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The chief feature of the landscape, and of your life in it, was the air. Looking back on a sojourn in the African highlands, you are struck by your feeling of having lived for a time up in the air. The sky was rarely more than pale blue or violet, with a profusion of mighty, weightless, ever-changing clouds towering up and sailing on it, but it has a blue vigour in it, and at a short distance it painted the ranges of hills and the woods a fresh deep blue. In the middle of the day the air was alive over the land, like a flame burning; it scintillated, waved and shone like running water, mirrored and doubled all objects, and created great Fata Morgana. Up in this high air you breathed easily, drawing in a vital assurance and lightness of heart. In the highlands you woke up in the morning and thought: Here I am, where I ought to be.

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There is something about safari life that makes you forget all your sorrows and feel as if you had drunk half a bottle of champagne — bubbling over with heartfelt gratitude for being alive. One only feels really free when one can go in whatever direction one pleases over the plains, to get to the river at sundown and pitch one’s camp, with the knowledge that one can fall asleep beneath other trees, with another view before one, the next night. I had not sat by a camp fire for three years, and so sitting there again listening to the lions far out in the darkness was like returning to the really true world again, where I probably once lived 10,000 years ago…

Out on the Safaris, I had seen a herd of buffalo, one hundred and twenty nine of them, come out of the morning mist under a copper sky, one by one, as if the dark and massive, iron like animals with the mighty horizontally swung horns were not approaching, but were being created before my eyes and sent out as they were finished. I had seen a herd of elephant travelling through dense native forest, where the sunlight is strewn down between the thick creepers in small spots and patches, pacing along as if they had an appointment at the end of the world.

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It was, in giant size, the border of a very old, infinitely precious Persian carpet, in the dyes of green, yellow and black brown. I had time after time watched the progression across the plain of the giraffe, in their queer, inimitable, vegetative gracefulness, as if it were not a herd of animals but a family of rare, long stemmed, speckled gigantic flowers slowly advancing. I had followed two rhinos on their morning promenade, when they were sniffing and snorting in the air of the dawn, which is so cold that it hurts in the nose, and looked like two very big angular stones rollicking in the long valley and enjoying life together. I had seen the royal lion, before sunrise, below a waning moon, crossing the grey plain on his way home from the kill, drawing a dark wake in the silvery grass, his face still red up to the ears, or during the midday siesta, when he reposed contentedly in the midst of his family on the short grass and in the delicate, spring like shade of the broad acacia trees of his park of Africa.

The natives have, far less than the white people, the sense of risks in life. Sometimes on a Safari, or on the farm, in a moment of extreme tension, I have met the eyes of my native companions, and have felt that we were at a great distance from one another, and that they were wondering at my apprehension of our risk. It made me reflect that perhaps they were, in life itself, within their own element, such as we can never be, like fishes in deep water which for the life of them cannot understand our fear of drowning. This assurance, this art of swimming, they had, I thought, because they had preserved a knowledge that was lost to us by our first parents; Africa, amongst the continents, will teach it to you: that God and the Devil are one, the majesty co-eternal, not two uncreated but one uncreated, and the natives neither confounded the persons nor divided the substance.

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The natives were Africa in flesh and blood. The tall extinct volcano of Longonot that rises above the Rift Valley, the broad mimosa trees along the rivers, the elephant and the giraffe, were not more truly Africa than the natives were, small figures in an immense scenery. All were different expressions of one idea, variations upon the same theme. It was not a congenial up-heaping of heterogeneous atoms, but a heterogeneous up-heaping of congenial atoms, as in the case of the oak leaf and the acorn and the object made from oak. We ourselves, in boots, and in our constant great hurry, often jar with the landscape. The natives are in accordance with it, and when the tall, slim, dark, and dark eyed people travel, always one by one, so that even the great native veins of traffic are narrow footpaths, or work the soil, or herd their cattle, or hold their big dances, or tell you a tale, it is Africa wandering, dancing and entertaining you. In the highlands you remember the Poet’s words: Noble found I ever the native, and insipid the immigrant.

There was a place in the hills, on the first ridge in the game reserve, that I myself at the time when I thought that I was to live and die in Africa, had pointed out to Denys as my future burial-place. In the evening, while we sat and looked at the hills, from my house, he remarked that then he would like to be buried there himself as well. Since then, sometimes when we drove out in the hills, Denys had said: “Let us drive as far as our graves.” Once when we were camped in the hills to look for buffalo, we had in the afternoon walked over to the slope to have a closer look at it. There was an infinitely great view from there; in the light of the sunset we saw both Mount Kenya and Kilimanjaro.

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Perhaps he knew, as I did not, that the Earth was made round so that we would not see too far down the road.

Here in the early afternoon they brought out Denys from Nairobi, following his old Safari-track to Tanganyika, and driving slowly on the wet road. When they came to the last steep slope, they lifted out, and carried the narrow coffin, that was covered with the flag. As it was placed in the grave, the country changed and became the setting for it, as still as itself, the hills stood up gravely, they knew and understood what we were doing in them; after a little while they themselves took charge of the ceremony, it was an action between them and him, and the people present became a party of very small lookers-on in the landscape.

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Denys had watched and followed all the ways of the African Highlands, and better than any other white man, he had known their soil and seasons, the vegetation and the wild animals, the winds and smells. He had observed the changes of weather in them, their people, clouds, the stars at night. Here in the hills, I had seen him only a short time ago, standing bare-headed in the afternoon sun, gazing out over the land, and lifting his field-glasses to find out everything about it. He had taken in the country, and in his eyes and his mind it had been changed, marked by his own individuality, and made part of him. Now Africa received him, and would change him, and make him one with herself.

After I had left Africa, Gustav Mohr wrote to me of a strange thing that had happened by Denys’ grave, the like of which I have never heard. “The Masai,” he wrote, “have reported to the District Commissioner at Ngong, that many times, at sunrise and sunset, they have seen lions on Finch-Hatton’s grave in the Hills. A lion and a lioness have come there, and stood, or lain, on the grave for a long time. Some of the Indians who have passed the place in their lorries on the way to Kajiado have also seen them. After you went away, the ground round the grave was levelled out, into a sort of big terrace, I suppose that the level place makes a good site for the lions, from there they can have a view over the plain, and the cattle and game on it.”

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It was fit and decorous that the lions should come to Denys’s grave and make him an African monument. Lord Nelson himself, I have reflected, in Trafalgar Square, has his lions made only out of stone.

Exerpts

(by Karen Blixen)

Borana Tribe

The Borana tribe originally hails from Southern Ethiopia with their language “borana” falling under a broader Oromo grouping; originally of an Eastern Cushite family of the Afro-Asiatic language.The Borana people shifted from Ethiopia into the South and Northern areas of Kenya in the early years of the 16th century and are currently residents of  Isiolo, Tana River, Garissa, Moyale, and Marsabit Districts.

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The Borana are nomadic people who deal with harsh weather conditions; dry and hot with irregular torrential rain, and are often forced to migrate in search of greener pasture for their animals. These people depend on milk and its products e.g yoghurt for survival and will seldom slaughter their animals for meat as livestock is extremely valuable to them. Milk supplemented by corn bread is their staple food.

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Not only do the Borana keep their herds for food, but also as major resource of wealth, and are applied to payment of bride price as well as legal fines. The animals are also believed to have strong linkage to their belief systems and are vital for sacrifices and rituals to guarantee fertility, health, and assistance from spirits. Animals  reared include; Cows,  goats, sheep and at times camels.

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Polygamy is rife among the Borana and therefore a majority of the men have at least two wives; or even more. Family relations are closely knit; and children are very important, therefore fathers are caring to their small children. The Borana strictly practice segregation of duties between the men and women. Men take care of herds whereas the women stay home taking care of the children and partaking in day-to-day chores.

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In essence, the Borana women play a major role in the community having to; build houses, usually portable traditional round grass huts called the dasse, do tea ceremonies during the opening ceremony of the new houses and they also have the responsibility of  relocating the villages from place to place by camel or sometimes donkey.

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The Borana cultural dress code is made up of a shawl or light blanket type over-wrap. Women wear scarf head coverings while men often wear a “prayer beanie” cap or a turban.

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The Borana people are very artistic and produce beautiful cultural things that can be gotten as souvenirs; from beaded leather jackets to prettily designed jewelry. 

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KENYA

Kenya is world-famous for its diversity in cultures, wildlife and stunning landscapes which lend the countries placement as a top tourist destination not only in Africa but worldwide. The country has a range of famed national parks; Tsavo National Park, Amboseli National Park, Masai Mara, Samburu National Park, Lake Nakuru National Park, Aberdares National Park amongst others, making it the premier of  wildlife safari.

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Kenya has lots to offer under one roof and guests will not fall short of things to do here from bird-watching, trekking, ballooning over the Masai Mara, snorkelling at the Marine National Park in Malindi, Cultural safaris; getting to know the amazing people of Kenya to dining in the bush, staring at the African night sky in the wilderness, and lots…lots more.