Nairobi – The Green City in the Sun

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Nairobi from atop KICC

I’ve spent a little more than the last three weeks in Kenya. While we spend the majority of our time in the Western side of the country, our time here begins and ends in Nairobi. Nairobi is the capital city of Kenya and, like most international cities, is a microcosm of the world. The city is home to nationalities and races from all corners of the earth. Kenya is now on the more developed end of the developing countries spectrum, and Nairobi is leading the nation in that shift.

Our arrival brings us into Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. Named after the first president of Kenya, the airport has been both the victim of turmoil and the recipient modernization over recent years. The airport has seen renovations related to former president Mwai Kibaki’s Kenya Vision 2030, which dreamed of seeing the airport upgraded to World Class standards. A massive fire in 2013 severely damaged the airport and has shifted some of the upgrades and renovations to accommodate air traffic and passengers.

I’ve read several blogs over the past few weeks from travelers to and from Nairobi. Many of these posts have been negative in nature. People seem to find the worst in their excursions to the city. One blogger even wrote about being robbed within the town. A common thread I seem to notice in these posts involve travelers going it alone. Trekking out into the unknown to adventure and explore. While there is nothing wrong with that, it helps me to understand their frustration with their time here.

My first trip to Paris was much the same. my wife and I decided to go, and we went. We really didn’t have a plan, and we didn’t know anyone there. While I would not trade the adventure for much of anything, it was not quite the time I’ve had elsewhere. What I have learned over my years of international travel is that the trips are as much about the people as they are the places. Our arrivals into Nairobi are received by terrific friends who, honestly, spoil us while we are there. We have several groups of friends and family in Nairobi who go out of their way to make sure our time arriving or leaving is memorable. The few occasions we have arrived and had to fend for ourselves were much less eventful and memorable than those in which we spent time with friends and family. Travel is just as much, if not more, about people than it is places.

This trip our hosts made sure we returned to one of our kid’s favorite places. The Giraffe Centre in Nairobi is one of our favorite places to visit, especially since we have a three-year-old. It was founded as a rehabilitation endeavor to preserve the Rothschild Giraffe, which had dwindled to 120 in number in Western Kenya. Here you can watch Giraffe graze or ascend to an enclosed platform and look the giraffe eye-to-eye, feed them pellets, and pet them. The house of the center’s founders has been transformed into a boutique called the Giraffe Manor where one can pick up very overpriced giraffe, and Kenyan souvenirs, i.e., a Maasai blanket will cost you more than twice as much there as it will in the marketplace. A sucker mzungu is born every day, I suppose.

The Hub Karen touts itself as, “More Than a Mall.” The Hub Karen is shopping/entertainment center catering to shopping, dining, entertainment, office space, and outdoor park. The facility also contains a medical center and hotel with a conference center. Earlier in the day, the grown ups spent time zip-lining in the Ngong Hills. It was an incredible time zipping through the hills with a majestic view of downtown Nairobi. This trip to The Hub Karen was an opportunity to make it up to the three-year-old that he was not allowed to join the zip lining excursion.

The day was filled with toddler bungee jumping, toddler motorcycle riding, and toddler snacks. The Hub is as much a representation of Nairobi’s international flair as any world-class center. A day there will bring a visitor in contact with people from all over Africa, Europe, America, and other reaches of the world.

The evening was again spent the only way Nairobi should be spent, with friends. Dinner was served at Ole Sereni. Ole Sereni is a world-class resort, spa, restaurant, and business and conference center on the edge of Nairobi national park between Nairobi’s international and regional airports. One can sit on the five-star restaurant balcony and watch lions, giraffe, zebra, and other wildlife graze. Whether one is looking over the park from the infinity pool, or while enjoying seafood flown in from the coast, disappointment is not what one finds here.

We spent the evening dining on local fare while discussing “health and human services” in the form of our organization, UnFinished International. Our host for dinner were European trained medical doctors and lawyers from Kenya. The Ole Sereni staff were a cut above the rest and the darkened fourth-floor dining room overlooking the park was the perfect cap to an adventure-filled day in Nairobi.

We return to Nairobi Monday for a final day of adventure before flying out to another of my favorite cities, Dubai. It will be another great time enjoying international travel as one should, dining and laughing with the best of friends.

Doha

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Doha from above

Doha. Another of the more intriguing cities in the Middle East. Our typical layover to Kenya lands us in Dubai, but this trip we decided to add a new stamp to our passports. I’ve been somewhat excited about his stop for several months as the adventurer in me loves holding over in new places on our way to do the work we are called to do.

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My Qatar Visa

Doha is the capital and most populous city in the State of Qatar. Its located on the eastern coast of the country, perched on the Persian Gulf. Its location and oil development make the city an industrial and vacation hotspot. The city is considered one of the New 7 Wonder Cities of the world. The city has struggled a bit in the recent past due to sanctions leveled on Qatar by the international community. But that strain seems to be fading quickly. CNBC even recently reported that Qatar plans to buy New York’s Plaza Hotel, Donald Trump’s former hotel, for $600 million.

We arrived in Doha around 5:30PM local time, about 45 minutes late. Qatar Airlines was not a horrible way to travel but paled in comparison to Emirates Air. Once off the plane, it took about an hour to traverse the vast, state of the art airport, make it through customs, and find our transportation to our hotel.

Our hotel was a Best Western Plus located in the heart of Doha’s City Center. The City Center is the hub of Doha entertainment, filled with hotels, malls, cinemas, museums, arenas, and everything anyone would want to do for fun. I have to say, our hotel impressed me. Granted, my expectations were not high, being a Best Western, but this was not your local interstate version by any means.

The staff was about as friendly and courteous as one could hope. Our room was a bit of a mini-apartment, equipped with a living area and a bedroom. After settling in, we trekked out for some much-needed food. Anytime I travel, I want to eat as the locals eat. My favorite thing to do is scope out hole-in-the-wall places, find the one with the longest line, and pull up a seat.

This night, we dined at an all-you-can-eat buffet stocked with a full option of Indian/Arabic fare. From the oil-covered olives to the spiced rice and vegetables, to the baklava, it was a fantastic meal of local tastes and smells. The time was rather late at this point, so the place was a bit empty. Even so, the food was fresh and restocked as we ate. The meal was a pleasant break from Qatar Airlines’ less than superb in-flight offerings.

Doha, like other metropolitan cities in the Middle East such as Dubai, is a mixture of Islamic traditions and Western dalliances. For instance, some women wore burkas, and others wore the latest Western fashions. Walking out of the airport at 6:30PM, we were met with the evening prayers broadcasted over loudspeakers throughout the city. We were woken at 4AM to that same type of transmission. However, there were no less than four nightclubs or bars inside our hotel alone, including an Irish Pub. Conversely, we were also roused at 3AM to intoxicated groups of people trying their best to find the room they rented.

The next morning, early morning thanks to jet-lag, brought a little sight-seeing before heading off to the airport. While Doha was architecturally beautiful in its own way, I am still partial to the futuristic panorama that is Dubai. Doha seemed to be more sand-covered and under construction. Nevertheless, my short sixteen hours in the city was a fantastic time. I rode their streets, met with locals, ate the fare, and saw it all through the eyes of a three-(pert neer four)-year old. I have a world traveling bug and Doha served well in scratching my itch. Now, on to a few days in one of my favorite cities, Nairobi…