The overcrowded streets filled with pedestrians and the almost constant blaring of horns as cars weave tightly in and out of spaces so small it’s amazing they narrowly escape hitting each other. It almost feels like I’m standing in NYC’s Times Square, but the shouts of swahili, the dark black exhaust and the thick, smoggy air bring me back to the city I’m currently in- Nairobi.
Kenya’s capital is a bustling city filled with highrise buildings, shopping centres and people heading off to work in their business suits- a far cry from the vision many people have of Africa. As one of the largest cities in East Africa, Nairobi has lots to offer, but wandering around it’s crowded streets can be an overwhelming and sometimes dangerous experience. However, braving the city sometimes nicknamed ‘Nairobbery’ and fighting through the throngs of people from the matatu station (a matatu is a van like public transportation system that’s cheap and always an adventure-just make sure you have no personal space issues!!) Nairobi leaves you with lots to explore.
After a stop at Java House for a cup of the most amazing coffee in the world, we head out to do some shopping. Markets can be found all over the city, ranging in size from small corner stands to the huge Masaai Market where the city’s souvenir business is concentrated. Here, you can find everything from beaded jewellery, wood carvings and soapstone animals to leather products and African drums. It’s an interesting place to wander around, but be prepared for constant hassling and go in ready to barter for everything if you want to actually pay a reasonable price for your souvenirs.
While bartering can be fun, unless you are an expert like my friend Jenny and get a rush from arguing over prices and people hovering over you, hoping you’ll buy from them, it’s likely going to become overwhelming pretty quickly.
On this particular shopping day, we decided to avoid the huge market scene and instead hit up a few shops downtown that have great prices and hassle-free shopping! After a slightly terrifying taxi-ride where I’m still amazed that we narrowly escaped being hit numerous times and where we ran out of gas and our driver went running off with a water bottle to get more, we made it downtown to begin our shopping spree!
Zanzibar is a huge, 2-storey curio shop downtown, that has everything from soapstone animals to ornately carved wooden masks to beautiful batik paintings and jewellery. There are also two shops located in the Hilton Arcade next to the Hilton Hotel that offer a good selection at great prices. I spent a few hours, wandering around the shops, trying to decide what would actually fit in my backpack without breaking on the flight home, before making my purchases.
As we headed back across the city, lugging our treasures with us I began to think maybe Nairobi isn’t so bad. It’s definitely never dull and after surviving another day in the city, you are guaranteed to leave with great stories of your adventures!