Thursday, April 16, 2015

Slums and Safaris

Giraffe Center (African Fund for Endangered Wildlife)
During a slow week at work, a coworker and I decided to take a spontaneous trip to Kenya. 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 new humble abode 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 slums is not your typical tourist stop, but after "Kibera Slum Tours" popped up in lonely planet and Time magazine's suggested Nairobi activities, I was intrigued. 

Walking through the slums for four hours, guided by Joshua our extremely knowledgeable tour guide and co-founder of the Kibera Community Empowerment Organization (KCEO) was beyond enlightening. At one point I literally had to put on sunglasses to cover up 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 personal 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 recommend 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 on the way out.

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, $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 I guess it helps if you live next door.

Kibera Slums

 David Sheldrick Wildlife Orphan Trust:
(Elephant Orphanage)


Giraffe Center

Kazuri Bead Factory:

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