April 16, 2015

Often times when you are en expat in another country, you need to leave and r-enter the country every couple of months to renew your visa.

So during a slow week at my work in an international nonprofit organization in Tanzania, a coworker and I decided to take a spontaneous trip to Kenya (which allowed us to renew my Tanzanian tourist visa).

Much like my trips in the past I quickly researched and prioritized a list of things to do, and before sunrise the next morning we boarded a bus from Mwanza to Sirari on the border of Tanzania and Kenya. The bus company we rode with was called Best Line and for only 10,000 TSH ($4USD) they dropped us off at a town near the border where we transferred into a Matatua (taxi van) and hopped off at immigration. With no instruction from the many official-looking people standing around, and after shelling out $50USD for the single-entry visa, we proceeded to walk across the border into Kenya.

After a lot of haggling with the many competing modes of transportation on the Kenyan side of the border, we chose a persistent salesman in a Transline van for 800KSH ($9 USD). Following a minor hit and run with a guy on a motorcycle, we arrived in Nairobi just in time to experience some of the worst traffic I’ve ever witnessed. One 30-minute, 1500KSH ($17) taxi ride later and a surreal glimpse at the bustling Nairobi nightlife, we made it to our humble accomodation at the Wildebeest Eco Camp. The camp/hostel/safari lodge was a much needed pleasant surprise after sitting in cramped vehicles all day! For only 2500 KSH ($27 USD) a night we stayed in a luxury safari-style tent with two beds, a safe, hot solar showers, WiFi, and breakfast.

All that was left was choosing something to do.

Touring a slum is not your typical tourist activity (and there is quite a bit of moral controversy around it, which I attempt to address in this post), but I felt like I needed to know for myself as an international aid worker what it was about. So we found a local Kenyan organization doing admirable work, and booked a tour with them.

Walking through the slums for four hours, guided by Joshua the extremely knowledgeable co-founder of the Kibera Community Empowerment Organization (KCEO) was beyond enlightening and emotionally difficult.

At one point I literally had to put on sunglasses to cover tears that can only be explained by the emotionally overwhelming experience that is a slum tour. I’m still not certain I can find the words to describe the level of extreme poverty in this monumentally dense urban slum. Nor do I know if I can paint an accurate picture of what 1 million people on 2.5 square kilometers looks like in the middle of a city of 4 million. But I certainly tried in my post about my day in the Kibera Slums.

After our slum tour, we figured a more lighthearted safari-esque day was in order. So we headed to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Orphan Trust to watch baby elephants bathe in mud and feed out of bottles.

For 5000KSH ($7USD) we got to experience the 30 baby elephants up close and personal playing in the rain, and a few even came up to greet us with their muddy trunks!

Then we decided that we hadn’t quite reached our cute animal quota for the day, so we swung by the giraffe center to hang out with a few endangered Rothschild giraffes. There we got to kiss (literally a giraffe tried to French me) and feed the giraffes as they poked their heads over the viewpoint railing.

Luckily our driver recommended visiting the Kazuri Bead Factory for a free tour, because it was definitely a highlight of the trip. The factory employs over 340 women (mostly single mothers) and aims to provide sustainable employment opportunities for disadvantaged members of Kenyan society. We got to walk through the step by step process of bead making, which is longer than it seems.

It was refreshing to see a factory with clean and healthy conditions, where all the workers appeared to be passionate and happy about their jobs. I was so impressed that I bought a couple of things from the gift shop.

All and all, my 2 day and 3 night introduction into Kenya and Nairobi was relaxing and insightful. It was also really inexpensive!

For 3 nights accommodation, food, excursions, transport, a $50 visa, and $100 worth of souvenirs- I only spent $330 USD! Goes to show that you don’t need a lot of money to travel… but it helps if you live next door to the place you want to visit.

David Sheldrick Wildlife Orphan Trust:
(Elephant Orphanage)

Kazuri Bead Factory:

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About Author

Anna is an optimist with pessimistic tendencies who enjoys making a short story long, her coffee black, and watching Friends re-runs. These days you can catch her in her natural habitats wandering through forest roads in her van, hiking to a waterfall or glacial lake, and learning about off-grid living the hard way. You can also find her on YouTube as Anna French.

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