Stepping off the airplane into Nairobi’s international airport felt surreal. Normally, I think of airports as these familiar, unchanging structures — which is ironic since they are buildings built for the purpose of transience and travel — that I can confidently navigate worldwide, no matter if I’ve never been there before or I have been there a dozen times. However, because of construction and the recent fire at Nairobi’s airport, it seemed more like I was strolling through an outdoor expo than an airport. They had erected large white tents to act as an arrivals terminal. The bathrooms were port-o-potties. Customs agents sat behind a folding table in folding chairs, then sent us outside to walk to another tent where our bags waited, lined up next to a paper sign with our flight number, rather than rotating on a large carousal. The airport felt temporary and transient, which I suppose matches its purpose better than colossal airports like Charles du Galle and Dulles.
But the airport may have been misleading. However small it felt, we were without a doubt back on a more beaten path, set to wander around a country with an abundance of travelers and a healthy tourist industry — an excellent situation for us, since we had done little research about our first stop on our round-the-world trip and would need other travelers and resources made for travelers to help us along the way.
Finding Things to Do in Nairobi
At first glance, we found Nairobi fancy and developed, and since we were coming from somewhere less developed, we had no qualms about spending a day or two pretending to be fancy as well. I was excited enough just seeing asparagus and red peppers on a cafe menu (sad, I know). So, after looking at 101 Things to Do in Nairobi, we decided to forget about the normal touristy stuff, and instead watch a cheesy movie on a big screen at Junction Cinema, drink our first I.P.A. beer in two years at Brew Bistro and Lounge, and have a bagel and coffee at a Nairobi coffee chain, Java. While others at our cozy hostel — Upper Hill Campsite — set out on day trips to Nairobi Giraffe Farm or to shop in local markets, we shyly slunk away to the mall, telling our new friends that we had “errands to run” when actually we were oggling new clothes and going to the cinema like a pair of bored teenagers.
Getting Out of Nairobi
For some reason, I suddenly remembered photos of a flamingo filled lake in Kenya, and decided that’s what I’d want to see here (having already done a safari, and reserving a trek to see gorillas in Uganda as our one big splurge). A quick Google search told me Lake Nakuru, on the road to Uganda (perfect!) was the place I was thinking off. Chats with other hostelers, however, told us that camping alongside the hippos of Lake Naivasha would be more worth our time. Not only does Lake Naivasha have flamingos, but it’s close to the entrance of Hell’s Gate Park, which allows visitors to bike and walk through game filled valleys, rather than drive. We both loved the idea of being outside with the animals (no predators though — phew!), and the possibility of rock climbing as mentioned in an old and battered Lonely Planet, so we immediately made plans to hop a matatu (bus) to the lake the next day. We’d end up staying at Fisherman’s Camp, a classically backpacker spot and one of the cheapest in the area, but would later discover a few quieter budget options elsewhere by the lake.
Maybe Next Time?
Of course, attractions like going on safari in Maasi Mara, hiking Mount Kenya, and lounging on the beaches near Mombasa were all tempting as well, but would have taken us out of the way from getting to Uganda. We heard nothing but positive reviews from people recently returning from then. Naturally, we didn’t want to actually say no to visiting them so in the spirit of travelers who want to see it all, we kept (and keep) telling ourselves “next time… Maybe after Uganda?” We’re traveling without much of any plans right now, so who knows?