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May 20, 2010 2:30 PM   Subscribe

What should I do/buy in Kenya?

In less than I week, I'll be jetting off to Kenya. I'm going to be working in a hospital for anywhere from 2-12 hours a day during the week, but weekends are my own (and since I'm volunteering, the hours are reasonably flexible). I'm going to be in Nukuru in a district hospital, just for some reference.

So. What must I absolutely do/see in and around Nukuru? Safari is obviously high on my list, as is skydiving. Any suggestions of companies or places to do either of these?
Also, what kind of souvenirs should I be looking for? What prices should I expect to pay?

What should I be asking the hive mind that I haven't thought of?
Thanks a mili all!
posted by allymusiqua to Travel & Transportation around Kenya (7 answers total)
Be very careful with wooden masks of any sort. A friend brought some back and termites.
posted by griphus at 2:41 PM on May 20, 2010

Souvenirs really depend on what you're interested in. Paintings, woven baskets, a gazillion different sizes and styles of carved wooden objects/figurines/masks, furniture, photographs, rugs, etc. What you will spend will vary according to your budget. Really, the range is phenomenal.
posted by bardophile at 3:43 PM on May 20, 2010

Do you mean Nakuru?

Talk to the locals. Talk to the expats. You'll find a wealth of information about things to do and buy once you get there.
posted by clockzero at 4:30 PM on May 20, 2010

Green coffee. No, really. It keeps forever (unroasted) and it's fun and actually not that hard to roast yourself. Quality will vary wildly, so ask around to find out who has the good stuff. Take it home, roast in your oven, or in a popcorn popper, and you will have the freshest coffee you have ever had in your life (and if it doesn't come out perfect the first time, it will still only cost $2-$4 a pound, which is cheap enough to play around with).
posted by slow graffiti at 8:53 PM on May 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Be careful with buying carved wooden animals supposedly made of ebony...often times it's just some regular wood and then they anoint it with shoe polish. It's suprisingly difficult to spot the difference. On the other hand maybe you want to reward their ingenuity?

A cool and useful "souvenir" to buy would be sandals made of old truck tires. The locals wear those shoes often because of their sturdiness. A friend of mine (who is also the source for the information given above) brought me a pair of those sandals and they are pretty amazing.
posted by Vidamond at 2:51 AM on May 21, 2010

A few thoughts:

Vidamond is right. So called "ebony" which is usually called "mpingo" in Swahili, is commercially extinct in Kenya, and considered threatened in east Africa. Groups are trying to get it listed on CITES in Tanzania. I'm sure it can still be found though. Due to this, there is a line of thinking which is that purchasing a carving made with Podo or a similar light timber which is then artfully colored with shoe polish may be considered a good thing. I would buy it knowing it's not "ebony", but beautiful nonetheless.

Some carvings do have wood worm or other pests in them. My family has always put the gazillion Congolese masks I send home with them in a ziplock bag, and stuck them in the freezer for a time, thinking that would kill anything that was in there. So far no problems.

I also second truck-tire sandals- amazing in their durability and authenticity.

Now to be a wet blanket: As to skydiving in Nakuru- If you are bringing your own parachute, then I say fine. But in my opinion, the risk/reward of renting a parachute locally is probably not worth it. I have worked in and alongside the aviation industry in east Africa for many years, and the level of quality control one would hope for simply isn't there. Granted, the idea is to leave the plane (!), but I would be more concerned about the quality/packing/life cycle of the parachute, and would approach this with absolutely the with the highest degree of caution. Bring your own, or wait until you get home.
posted by MacChimpman at 7:18 AM on May 23, 2010

I live in Nairobi, and yes, I think you mean Nakuru. Its not far from Nairobi and frankly I'd highly recommend checking out some of the best that the city has to offer, if you can squeeze it in on top of safari - which should really be priority number one. You want to go to Masai Mara for that.

For Nairobi, there's lots to see and do, buy my favorite thing to show visitors is the David Sheldrick Animal Orphanage - where they have a few dozen orphaned baby elephants and (currently) one baby rhino. Wear clothes that you don't mind getting a little dirt on them and covered in cute. There's an 11am-12pm public showing every day for a few hundred shillings, but if you sign up to sponsor one for a year (4000 shillings), and there's availability while you are still in town, you can come for the private visit at 5pm-6pm when they are putting them to bed. Sleeping baby elephant = zomgcute.

For safari, the Mara offers all kinds of "levels" of accommodations and guides, from the high-end in-park resorts that will run anywhere from $1500-2000 per night, to tented camp options on the edge of the park - which run from $150-500ish per night, to ultra-low budget self-camping ($15 for campsite / firewood / askari night-guard) / self-driving (renting the vehicle, gas, 1000 shilling for a Masai guide, and $150 for a tow if you get stuck in the mud), also on the edge of the park. You can also camp at a few places inside the park. Do what you will on accommodations but do NOT skimp on the vehicle / guide, especially if this is your only time in the park. I have the luxury of living 4 hours from it, so when I go I self-drive and take a Masai guide in the car with us, but this means I'm not communicating with all of the other guides over CB radio yet (curse my limited Kiswahili) so I see less game than those with better comms.

No matter who you end up going on safari with - understand this: you WILL be quoted a price that is roughly 2-3 (two to three) times higher than what you should actually pay (unless you go with the uber-high-end, where they have no reason to overstate their costs, or you arrange the camping option yourself). Prepare to get your bargain on. It is a long, drawn-out, talk-talk-talk annoying as hell experience but it is part of the local culture and practically expected. They always delight in the one ignorant Mzungu (white person) with too much money and too little time on their hands that *doesn't* stop to haggle with them because hey - free money.

The same goes for practically everything - souvenirs, street food, basically anything not in a shop that takes credit card. Unless you are taking matatu (taxi mini-van) rides (don't - they're incredibly unsafe) and speaking semi-literate Kiswahili, you will either engage in the bargaining process constantly, or over-pay constantly. Its up to you.

Oh, and I've sky-dived - but not in Africa. I would not sky-dive here unless it was maybe in South Africa. I would definitely not sky-dive in Kenya. I hate even getting on a non-Kenya Airways aircraft here.

I've written more on food options and general safety tips here.

Safari njema na karibu Kenya!
posted by allkindsoftime at 2:26 AM on May 25, 2010

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