Mombasa and Nairobi, Kenya
Having had some amount of rain and clouds every day so far in Kenya, I made an unplanned detour east to get some sun on the coast. After two days doing nothing on the beaches south of Mombasa, I felt a bit antsy and returned to the city, Kenya’s second-largest. It’s the antithesis to Nairobi: laconic and laid-back, a great deal safer in terms of street crime, and hardly congested in the city center. But it’s also the biggest port city in East Africa, playing host to freighters and cruise ships, as well as a significant Kenyan Indian and Arab population. Most people are Muslim rather than Christian, and outwardly dressed as such. And forget nyama choma (barbecued meat) and fried chicken: the most common dishes around are biryani and pilau — sound familiar? — and coconut-based curries. In other words, it’s Kenya but it’s a world away from the rest of Kenya.
Maasai Mara NR and Hell’s Gate NP, Kenya
There’s one pretty obvious thing people come to Kenya for.
Nairobi’s not the safest place out there, which made wandering around difficult especially come evening time, and its suburban sprawl makes it even more difficult to get to know. Despite the sea of brightly-painted matatus (minivans plying a few hundred routes around Nairobi and beyond), the city feels like America in some ways. Outward religiosity (in the form of garish matatus and buses covered in Christian slogans) flying right in the face of an in-your-face sexualised pop culture (in the form of urban music with explicit lyrics being blared by those same buses, plus restaurants playing some pretty racy music videos) is one thing, along with big western shopping malls far from the city center, fast food restaurants (they love their fried chicken and fries), skyscrapers, businessmen in suits everywhere, and heavy traffic, but the biggest similarity I see is how everyone seems busy and has somewhere to go. Several Kenyans I talked to outside Nairobi mentioned that last sticking point, and some compared it to America as well. Few if any people paid any mind to me, which was a jarring but somewhat nice change from the constant attention in Ethiopia and Somaliland, but at the same time, it made them hard to get to know. While still developing and doing so quite rapidly, Nairobi is getting up there with the likes of other cosmopolitan multicultural world cities, for better or for worse.
So instead, I spent most of my time in Nairobi looking at animals, and prepping a trip to look at more animals. Naturally.