Saturday, September 1, 2012

Bye, Bye Nairobi

Struggling through CBD and speeding on Mombasa Road on my way to the airport, I was thinking about that things I would miss and the things I would not miss about Nairobi. And that perhaps I am not ready to leave yet; that perhaps three months is not enough time to get to know a city and to make your mind; that perhaps I want more time with the people here.

But such is life that we have to move on. And so I do too. Bye, bye Nairobi. Asanthe sana for all that I liked and that I hated. It’s been great.

I’ll catch you on the flip side.


One great adventure ends with another. Why, Fred asked? For the challenge!

The question remains how to pack a 9 day adventure into a readable, page-scrolling post. Impossible, I know. What follows is as good as it can get :) Yet, this is a story, I’ll love retelling.

Day –1:

IMG_1800 2
Target revealed en route from Mombasa to Nairobi. In 8 days, I will be on the top! 

Day 0

Board random Nairobi-Arusha shuttle. Argue extensively that I am a resident to get a cheaper price. Fail. Pay more.

Border crossing proves interesting as well: managed to overstay my visa and on top of that come across a rather unbribable official.. tia In usual Lily style, I get away with it.

Arrive in Arusha, beer and A Storm of Swords (nope, still not done with the Song of Fire and Ice). Fail to find anything interesting to do in Arusha for the remaining 3 hours of daylight, so just succumb to wondering what should be happening for the rest of the day.

Meet chief guide and chef for 5 mins in the evening. Yet again everyone finds my dietary, no-olives restriction weird.

Day 1:

Tanzanians apparently run on the same time as Kenyans. Leaving at 8 AM soon turned to leaving at 9 AM with an extra stop to KIA to pick up some luggage. More and more travel took us through Moshi and finally to Rongai Gate (turned out we actually skipped a step because the other group got our permit for us, how nice of them). The road to Rongai Gate took us through several villages. The striking difference with Kenya was a little unnerving. What was most interesting to me was that most people lived in houses made of bricks, not improvised materials. The road from Marangu Gate back to Moshi was even nicer.

Lunch – why not just give us each a simple sandwich and get going…. A 3 course meal is really not what I need before hiking/climbing, but in the end, after 7 days of this, you get used to it. It was weird this morning having only one course for breakfast….

Had to learn to use my gear. Thought I knew how to put gaiters on, but apparently some of the subtleties were lacking. P.S. Gaiters are now my favorite piece of climbing gear.

First glimpse from Rongai Route
3 hours and 4 km later we made it to the first camp: Simba Camp at 26262m.

Day 2

Breakfast starts with porridge (I had to ask what that was :) Coming from a non-breakfast-eating-family means I never tried this before. In the few times we ever ate breakfast it never consisted of something like that. As gross as it might look, porridge is actually great mountain fuel, especially when coupled with eggs, sausage, toast, honey, peanut butter, mangos and oranges). Side note: I really cannot understand how this company can have a bad review about food. Either people had extremely high expectations, or they really upped their game.

7 hours and 12 km later we made it to camp two: Kikelewa at 3679m.


An interesting aspect of Kili climate is the the drastic fall in temperature with sunset. Probably as much as 15-20 C. From a nice, warm sun to a cold, see-your-breath-in-the-tent in minutes. We all agreed we had never experienced such temperature difference anywhere else. Ohhh, and by all I mean our group of five: a Belgian, an Englishman, a Pakistani, a Scot and moi.

Daily highlights – chameleon, caves, clouds, mountain views, fish and chips (What kind of fish is this?, we asked. Fried, answered Patrick) Open-mouthed smileOpen-mouthed smile 

Day 3

Up, up, up we go to 4303m. Now, that was a first (most of this trekking trip was one personal record after another, since I’d never before made it above 3000m (and this is an approximation of two of the highest peaks in Bulgaria, neither one of which is actually 3000m, but I’ve lost enough bets on the actual height of both, so I’m not even gonna try now)). 4303 is uncomfortable. A slight headache turned worse with an afternoon excursion that took us a little over 4600m.

Again, the view makes the effort worth it.
The Mawenzi is the second highest peak in the Kilimanjaro National Park. Long time ago (Tanzanians are as bad with years as with time. P.S. They start reading the clock from a different angle, like 6 or something, so they are always off by at least 5-6 hours when telling the time), there were three mountains – Mawenzi, Kili and another one. The last one went down, Mawenzi stayed the same, around 5600m, and Kili first went up to over 6000m and then came back down to its current height of 5895m.
Paracetamol (and some other poisons) saved the day and let me sleep during a windy, cold night. Trust me, getting up during the night to pee was one of the most difficult things during the first 4 days of the trip. With the amount of water we drank and liquids we imbibed in various forms during the day, there was no way that was not happening. Also, sleeping for over 10 hours per night leads to toilet breaks every so often (sleeping or lying in your sleeping bag trying to get warm, you can look at it either way. I tried to focus on the sleeping part).

Day 4

Back to 3980m and all the altitude effects gone. Yay!

3 hours, 8 km, 1 break, fast pace…. this guide kept lying to me when I started whining about a much necessary pit stop. Just after that ridge. And just after the next ridge, the one after that and the one after that, we actually reached camp. Way too early for lunch. Now what?

Afternoon excursion to 4200 was nice, calm, windless and warm.

The setting sun revealed some magnificent views of the mountain.


Day 5

Again trekking direction is up! We have to make it to 4720m before lunch. On the way, we are taken on a side route for a surprise.

Dead buffalo! I know it doesn’t look that way, but it is actually dead. It’s been there for 7 months now. It’s just too cold for the body to rot. There was no smell. The poor stupid animal got stuck there trying to lick some salt and couldn’t get out.
The further we continue, the more I fall behind. With the altitude my place slows down and I’m the last to make it to camp. You lose appetite above 4000m and you can’t get any sleep, is what everyone said. Well, let me tell you… neither happened. Me losing appetite would be like the dinosaurs coming back to life. That’s right, damn f*cking impossible. As for sleep, different poisons bring different levels of serenity. An afternoon excursion to 5000m brought another headache to be cured with Paracetamol. Which also puts you to sleep at 6 PM in the evening which was the goal.

Day 6


We are woken up at 11PM on Day 5 to finish getting ready (I thought I’d change into clean clothes at this point. The idea was to keep all summit clothes dry, but it was so cold I had to change earlier and hope that they remain dry), have tea and biscuits and embark on the journey.

Around midnight, 3 groups head up the mountain from our camp. Summit attempt begins. Summit attempt will end 9 hours later for me.

It all went good for a while: taking quick breaks here and there (more than 2 mins of break means getting chilled to the bone. You have to keep moving), moving forward, guides singing and yelling, catching up with other groups. Soon, this was all to end. I think I made it to about 5200m and then the altitude really started taking its toll on me. First to go was my backpack. No questions asked, Give me that. Second, I was given trekking poles (I had borrowed those, but it was too difficult to use them. Too much coordination and attention to be paid and too bloody difficult to take out my camera to take pictures). Those helped for a while. But sooner rather than later, my breathing worsened, heartbeat quickened and I was taking a breathing break every 10m or so.

Well now, I was taking other breaks as well. As the dawn approached, the sky turned from a star-ridden black to a fiery burst of orange.

Not sure what time this was, but probably around 30 minutes later, we made it to the first point on the peak: Gillman’s point at 5685m.

First Kili goal achieved immediately: see the sunrise!
At Gillman’s point we were fed Pringles and forced to drink Red Bull. I couldn’t finish either one. With the altitude came some nausea, which was the first adverse effect to go almost immediately after we left Gillman’s.

From here, we continued around the crater to Stella Point at 5756m. More pictures with the group and more indifference from me. I think the main driver that got me to the top was that for me nothing else but Uhuru Peak with its 5895m existed. Not Gillman’s, not Stella Point. 

I’m not sure where my worst ordeal began, but I remember the last couple of km from Stella Point to Uhuru Peak as one of the most miserable during the entire trip. One foot in front of the other, deep breaths and yet I could only make about 5 steps without taking a break. One of the guides carried my stuff, supported me here and there, encouraged me every once in a while, and totally helped me reach the top!

There I collapsed and started chewing on anything I could get my hands on that hadn’t frozen during the night. Mostly chocolate. Water as well (this was the only day, that I did not drink the minimum 3l of water required by our guides. No wonder the altitude took me badly). I had an entire photo shoot with poses prepared in my mind. Yet, I could only stand up for 2 individual ones and a bunch of group photos.

Second Kili goal achieved: reach the top!
I probably spent 10 to 15 mins on top before we started heading down. I thought this would be easy, it wasn’t. I only made it back to Gillman’s point on my own. Again, significantly slower than the rest of the group. From Gillman’s to lunch camp at Kibo Hut (we went back via the Marangu Route) I was basically dragged by one of the other guides as I could not stand up on my own without wobbling. I couldn’t even sit without leaning against something. At this point, I’m not sure whether it was dizziness from the altitude or simple exhaustion and lack of sleep, but  again I needed help to make it down.

On our way, it started snowing. Which didn’t really help much. Moreover, it was icicles, not snow flakes. Anyway, it was hard to see ahead, but it was beautiful! It only snows above 4500m or so, so later that day we saw the snow go away completely.

We were met by porters going up the route to help us if necessary. Which in my case was. First, they took my guide’s backpack: It’s heavy enough to carry that lady. I like to think of it as supporting, but I’m not sure how much of my weight was actually left to the guide. Then, they brought me juice. Sitting for 2 mins to drink a cup of what was pretty awful juice, I was ready to just stay there and take a nap. Yet, I had be dragged further below 5000m to feel better which was taking forever. Here the problem was piercing bursts of headache every so often that they pulled me to a stop.

Long story short (mostly because I don’t remember very many details), with the help of the guide, I made it to the camp and collapsed in my tent. Completely passed out for just over an hour before a light lunch. Awful headache which went away with more Paracetamol and more loss of altitude.

NB: I feel it’s important to say that headache is very common with altitude gain in the mountain. But if it goes away with painkillers, then it is not altitude sickness and you have nothing to worry about. Which happily was the case with me. All the headaches, dizziness, shortness of breath and so on are just a natural part of going up to oxygen-poor environments. Yet, I must have not looked as bad as I thought, otherwise they would have taken me down earlier.

From Kibo Hut, Marangu Route took us to Horombo Camp at just under 4000m. The scenery was changing quickly,

from a snow blizzard
to the alpine dessert (with a different view of the Mawenzi)

to the moorlands (these trees called Senecio kilimanjari only grow in the water-rich areas of the moorlands of Kilimanjaro and also appear on the certificate. Yes, I did get a certificate for successfully reaching Uhuru Peak!!!)
And finally we made it to Horombo Camp, where popcorn was waiting in the dining tent! This day was so much longer than this post! It was as if Day 5 never ended. A rich dinner made us all happy. Some worrisome news from the other camp (we started in two groups going up at the same time) almost ruined everything, but then by next morning, it turned out that everything would be ok.

Total time 15 hours+, 20km+, 1100m+ up and nearly 2000m down

Day 7

Early rising, later leaving. 5 hours and 20+ km to go. At the end, burger lunch and after that shower! Goodness gracious! Honestly though, I felt less filthy than I should have after 7 days of camping and 7 days of hiking. Here finally we saw a glimpse of real wildlife! (We saw some lizards on Rongai, like a flat-back chameleon and something else, some birds and so on, but not real real wildlife).

Just before the last Marangu camp on the way down: blue monkeys and black-and-white monkeys.

This little guy is only 5 months old. Yes, I did ask how they know. One of the guides seemed a little taken aback by my question. Because we know about monkeys. And then something about size, color and so on.

Not rocket science to say which is which kind of monkey.

Finally, at Marangu Gate a celebratory picture. We all made it! All 2 groups, all 12 people, 100% success rate! But the other group was always 20-30 mins behind us, so never made any pictures.


Lunch was at Mosh in Moshi… how original! A burger place where all the Kili groups are taken. Imagine an American style burger, but with about 1/4 of the meat. Mosh had some more interesting items on the menu as well, i.e. 13 an 14:


Back to the hotel. Looong, looong, use-up-a-piece-of-soap shower despite the lukewarm water. More beer with dinner and we all said our goodbyes.

The next morning it was unfortunately time to get back to Nairobi.

Things I learnt

Whoever tells you that it’s easy, lies! People call it a walk, and if by that they mean it’s a non-technical climb, then bloody say it that way! It is nothing like a walk.

Mountain chefs can prepare amazing things in a tent! My personal favorite was the popcorn and orange colored pancakes/crepes with manga jam.

All of us were so fascinated by the orange color that we demanded several times to talk to the chef until he told us what his secret was :)
Shoes at least one size bigger make a huge difference. I got them bigger so I could fit with 2-3 pairs of socks and remain warm during the cold summit night. On top of that though, apparently the further up you go, your feet swell (as do your fingers), so you need the extra space. Bigger size is also key for the way down. Let me just say that while some were losing 2-4 toe nails, I didn’t even have a single blister. Thank you Toi market and whatever dog brand those shoes are.

Chocolate, not energy and cereal bars, is the best mountain fuel. Also, apparently my relationship with chocolate is so strong and obvious that people felt the need to make fun of me from the start. Little do I care. 

You haven’t seen me wolf down good chocolate. RSA-made Cadbury is not my primary choice.

Things I didn’t fully learn

None of us actually understood why the climbs start at midnight. With all the different reasons they gave us, it still made little sense.

Things I proved to others

The camelback didn’t freeze! Told ya!

You don’t lose appetite with altitude! Or at least our group didn’t.

The need to wear so many layers when all you do is shed (the layers I mean)

Things I proved to myself

Am true to my motto. Do.

Monday, August 20, 2012

The South Coast

As most of my stories, this one starts with beer too. BeerS if we have to be correct,  but we really don’t. 


And a Swiss and a Bulgarian waiting for a plane to Mombasa. Sounds like one of those jokes, no? Indian Ocean here we come! (First trip to the Kenyan coast was amazing, but it involved mangrove islands and a bay, which qualifies not as a dip in the Indian Ocean). Clearly a repeat was necessary.

Let’s skip the first night that we spent with one of our best friends Johnny and move on to full day numero uno.

Getting to the beach was an adventure in and of itself, and possibly deserves its own post, but I feel like including a brief summary here. We had two options: take 2 matatus or walk 30 minutes headed right. We chose the latter, which in retrospect might not have been the best decision, but whatever. After numerous questions, winding paths, corn fields, chicken farms, village huts, rain and Captain Lorenzo, we finally made it to a tarmac road and some drinks stands. Yes, exactly where the matatu would have dropped us off. This little enterprise took us about a full hour and another half. Needless to say, at this point, we were desperate for some beach time.

Side note: Best directions ever: “You go around that path and you will see a Muslim at the crossroad.” You will see a Muslim?! Seriously?!

Side note 2: After that much walking in the burning sun and a brief rain, with no view of the beach or the ocean, there is only one thing that can lift your spirits: baboon sex! Too quick to even take out my camera, this event will only remain imprinted on my mind, not yours.

White sand, blue water, crystal clear – left speechless in a beach orgasm. Exactly as I pictured it, but so much better!!! 
That little sandbar you see in the middle was thoroughly explored with the assistance of some devious local guides. What is it about us that screams “idiots”, I don’t know. But people took us for fools way too often that day.

Sea cucumber (looks like poop, I know!), some sort of snail/crab and a sea urchin. Not supposed to step on sea urchins, because they sting. Guess what I almost did? They hide in the caves under the sand, where there is still water during low tide. How am I supposed to see them? Also, how they are different from porcupines, I did not quite understand.
Two white kids were running around the sandbar exploring the wildlife. They knew pretty much everything. But if I lived at a beach like that, I’d probably be a mini-marine-biologist at the age of 8 as well. Damn fucking fantastic to grow up at a place like this one though.

Diverse entertainment obviously involves camel riding and glass bottom boats. And whatever that person on the left is doing with the tyre in the water.
Beach, beer, beer, kuku choma, beer, beer, matatu, grocery shopping, matatu, food, drink, drink, drink, drink … you’d think it would stop somewhere, but a rainy Sunday turned it into more of a marathon. Starting with Johnny, going through numerous Pilsners and Tuskers, switching to Bombay, we eventually made it to nothing else but Bulgarian wine. No joke! Here’s the proof:

Of all the places in the world, Diani Beach (or Kenya in general) was the last that I would have expected to find Bulgarian wine. On top of everything, cheaper than it’s offered back home. How did this happen…?!?!


Sunday, August 12, 2012

Masai shopping

Masai markets are quite popular in Nairobi. Basically, the same people rotate locations around the city between an open-air market downtown and parking lot markets in malls. Great place to buy some local souvenirs and presents and hope that they were made somewhere here and not in China. (I’m only saying this because I recently learnt that the beads the Masai people use to make jewellery are made in China and imported in Kenya. Then, the Masai just bead their necklaces, bracelets, bowls, belts and pretty much anything else you can think of. But making the beads here is now to expensive. Which is sad because Kenya also happens to be famous for its glass works.) 

Anyhow, the shopping started at Hilton’s Arcade. Why? To build le strategie, which was – go to an Indian, non-bargain place to check out how cheap things can get; write it down (thanks J for the idea and the little notebook); use as reference and bargain at the Masai market.

Successful, hellz yeah. I only got 1/4 of my things back at the Hilton Arcade.

While I’ve explored Masai markets before, I never indulged in any shopping. Now that I am down to my last weekend in Nairobi, it’s about time I bought myself some African stuff before I leave the continent. So, here are some observations on the Masai market.

1. Everyone is a craftsman, they make it, they give you the best price. They are not like the brokers. Oh, no, it’s fair here.

2. It would seem that I no longer look like a complete mzungu (Side note: apparently, mzungu means English, so I was never actually a mzungu, but that’s a completely separate story), because no one really offered me completely exorbitant prices. Only the three times higher than you should pay.

3. Some people refused to bargain. What up with that?

4. It’s hard to tell how much things are really worth. More importantly though, how much are they worth to you. Cost and benefit analysis: would I really pay that much and do I really want it that badly. In the end, you can buy none of these things, or similar ones, at these prices back home. So why not splurge and spend $10 for a Masai painting? (Yes, I did bring the price down, but only halfway of what the guy originally wanted. And no, I don’t wanna know if I paid too much.)

5. The more you buy, the better price you get. Great, but I’m not exactly sure what to do with 7 paintings now.

6. Easier to bargain with women… They seem to understand better my “take it or leave it” approach. Don’t know why that is. Maybe I’m hurting men’s feelings by outsmarting them? Maybe they think because I’m a woman I’ll bend? Someone elaborate, ‘coz I ain’t getting it. Women are so much more straightforward: this is how much I want, this is how much I’ll give you. Deal. No bickering over 50 Kshs as if that makes a difference. (For those guys it probably does….)

7. You could get better deals that from the Masai people in Masai Mara. Significantly better.

In the end, I walked out with yeah, those 7 paintings, 2 candlesticks, 4 bowls, a set of coasters and 10 pairs of earrings all for less than $40 (and if you trace back you’ll notice that just one of the paintings was $10). This is also how much my dinner at Carnivore cost a month earlier. What I’ll do with all this stuff? No clue.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Le food III

Clearly my favorite topic Smile 


Authentic Indian at the heart of Westlands. Statements like this one is why I find restaurant reviews useless. They don’t mean anything. Unless you can picture the food and almost taste it, there is no point writing about it (you might be able to make the point that I have no pictures, but that’s mostly because I was busy eating). They also don’t mean anything when made by people like me, who while we strongly appreciate and passionately love food, don’t really care where it comes from. This place was more Pakistani than Indian. Just fyi.

Authentic,  can’t tell. Never been to India or Pakistan. But was packed with Indians and that for me means legit Indian cooking. Indian friends confirmed. Heart of Westlands? Well who knows where the heart of Westlands is, if there really is one….

Now, to the point: (1) Masala chips (what they call here chips, a leftover of British colonial English I’m gonna guess, is more widely known as French fries. Then again this rises the question, why French, but I have no desire to dwell on this topic) is what Hashmi is known for. After several bites, the spiciness increased and soon my tongue was on fire. Burning... but I had to try. Da ne se minem, as they say. (2) Mixed platter with 4 types of meat – surprisingly edible, excluding the chicken which was way out of the spice safe zone. One bite was the end of me and chicken for the night. (3) Pilipili :), cute I know, but this basically means tilapia with yet another spicy sauce. Somewhat bearable, so I even helped myself to a second serving of the fish. (4) Again the naan and a large bottle of water save the day.

Ultimately, in conclusion, after all, in the end: great food. But Indian is not for me, way too spicy. Neither is Pakistani. I often wonder why I even try the food when my spice tolerance nothing but deteriorates with time.

Fogo Gaucho

Churrascaria in Nairobi: meat on a stick!! Yum!

Need say nothing else, but I have the charming quality of having an opinion about everything. And you might have noticed, reader, that it tends to be on the negative/complaining/whining side.

I will not diverge from that trend. Not because of the quality of the restaurant, which was high, but mostly because nothing will ever match my first churrascaria experience and my fascination with the types, quality and quantity of meat. Many people go for the experience, I found that fun only the first time. I’ve said this before, but nothing matches a cow on a cart! Now, I go for the food.

So what we got served: lamb, beef, chicken, prawns and I feel like I’m forgetting something. Somehow I don’t remember eating pork or seeing it on the brochure (that’s right, brochure, not menu). Which is sad, because pork rocks! They also offer crocodile, but they didn’t serve it this time. And we started with empanadas.

NB: If you are wonder, I did employ the same “Carnivore” strategy. It works. 83% of the time.

Why, yes, I do love taking pictures of my plate :)
I’m not gonna do another clock because this is clearly a mess.

Lamb leg = great (there was another lamb cut, but it wasn’t as good)

Cow ribs = awesome (Side note: in Kenya, apparently, they serve cow ribs to women, so they get full on them, while the men eat the better meat. Sexist and funny. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with ribs, especially with some crispy skin on).

Fried bananas = great

Beef (various cuts and types that I don’t remember) = amazing

Chicken = mediocre (drumsticks and wings)

Prawns = had been frozen, defrosted and grilled and in the processed had acquired a not so appealing metallic taste, characteristics of frozen and defrosted things. More importantly, where did they come from. Are there any prawns in the Indian Ocean? Ask yourself? Then go for the prawns. Also, apply the no-R rule and it’s pretty clear you have to avoid seafood. Not at all costs, but most of the time.

Salad bar = paid no attention, but good arugula salad and a wide variety of other salads. There was a large roll of cheese, but like large large that you had to carve into and sprinkle on your salad. Parmigiano taste, but not confirmed.

Four hot meals = no idea what those even were, paid so little attention to that side of the restaurant.

And finally a surprise! 


DESSERT ON A STICK!!!!! Pineapple Smile with bloody cinnamon Sad smile

Brew Bistro

I feel like I have to say something about Brew Bistro just to make my stay in Nairobi sound more legit. Great food! Never tried it, but so I hear. Meat on a stick (really nothing new for Kenya or this particular post, but somehow the variety always takes me a little off guard). Baby burgers – I honestly don’t get it. As with everything else in life, size matters for burgers too. In this case, just so it happens that the bigger is actually the better. 

Where was I going with this… good beer when you just order a beer. This time around they had some difficulty comprehending that. Heifeisen ?! (can’t be bothered with the spelling right now) had to do, after a painfully deceptive listing of Octoberfest. Sam Adams, I miss you! Can’t wait for a taste of the seasonal!
This part of the post is kinda useless and more about me trying to prove I’ve been there. Ha! But really nothing to talk about: it is fun, the music is good, the atmosphere chill, there’s hookah. Only thing they can work on is the dessert menu. Don’t dig the whole healthy thing they have going on.


To include this was someone’s suggestion. But I somehow did not feel inspired enough by this place. Others loved it, so read up elsewhere:

It’s probably ‘coz I didn’t eat meat there that I have nothing to say and was left unsatisfied.

Monday, August 6, 2012


A pick by the Kenyans, this restaurant had an amazing ethnic ambiance and gorgeous decor, while at the same time offered a variety of food from every corner of the country. Some chose to make the full “journey” (to be referred simply as journey from now on. It’s an acceptable change). Others decided to order a la carte and share. Although I fall in the second category, I will clearly talk about both (unless you are a completely oblivious reader, by now it should have dawned on you that I love talking about food whether it’s on my plate or someone else’s).

Really cool lamp!

After a very tiring journey that day, coffee was my first order. Kenyan style, great. Hadn’t actually tried it before. With a Tusker on the side, life was as beautiful as it could possibly be. But just to make sure we were fully comfortable, four clay furnace-type things filled with glowing embers (I know I should have taken a picture, but I didn’t) were brought to all four sides of the table to keep us warm. 

As the journey for some began, others stared drooling at their food and picked at their appetizers. And some appetizers those were: fried white flying ants. No joke! You could see the tentacles and the wings. Crunchy, awful aftertaste and generally disgusting.

IMG_1649 2
Not my best picture, but you can almost see that those are ants the size of a sunflower seed. 
Then, we ordered moratina. Fermented honey wine that tasted just like mead (although I’ve like never tried mead in my conscious life, I’m pretty sure this is what it’s supposed to taste like). To check my spelling I just came across a blog claiming moratina is Kikuyu. That has yet to be confirmed. Was confirmed. My cabby cracked up when I told him that I moratina and kinda liked it. Apparently, it's a very traditional drink made on certain occasions like weddings: families sit with moratina when negotiating dowry.

The little bottle on the side is filled with moratina. Very cool. The candle is just for composition. And to make a dinner of 11 romantic. 

The journey proceeded with fermented millet porridge. Not a standing ovation, but overall positive feedback from those that tried it. And then they just started bringing different pots of cooked meat and side dishes and the journey guys, and girl, were wolfing down through various types of deliciousness, while we were still waiting for our food. Now I’m not going to focus on their food, but on ours. They got the same stuff, cooked in different ways and a lot more of it. But that’s just details.

Oh before I continue, we actually did order an appetizer, but that was served somewhere mid way through the journey. Anyway, chicken gizzards. Yet again I learn a new word in English. And yet again I am amazing at how close Kenyan cuisine is to Bulgarian. To save the trouble of some of my readers: pileshki vodenichki po selski. Hadn’t had those in a very long time.

My plate Smile
Starting @ 12:00 o’clock – Quail in a somewhat creamy sauce. Didn’t remember what was in it. A little boney with softer bones than a chicken. A little heavy. Not to be used for engorgement.

@ 3 o’clock – matoke – banana cooked in tomato sauce. I honestly found this a little strange. Couldn’t quite reconcile the sweet/banana and sour/tomato mixture. Needless to say that it got eaten.

@4-5 o’clock – brown ugali, a lot stickier than regular ugali. To read more about ugali, check previous food post. This one I think is better than regular white ugali.

@ 6 o’clock and crossing over to 7 and 8 – rabbit. Not sure what style, a little between grilled or barbequed I’d say. Truly fantastic. Again everyone surprised I’ve tried it before. But you have to understand, there is nothing a Bulgarian appreciates more than a versatile animal: it can serve as both a pet and a meal. What’s better than that? (The answer is pork, but that a little unrelated)

@ 9 o’clock – chicken biriani. Again not sure exactly what was in the sauce, but it was too delicious to bother my small brain with so many unimportant details.

Filling up the rest of my clock – chapati.

In comparison to the journey: their quail was on skewers as was their rabbit. They also got fish and beef and all types of side dishes.

After this meal, there was no way we were doing dessert. And we didn’t.

A cheers to global friendship with five continents represented at our table closed the night of the glass perspective and the weekend of simba choma. 

Monday, July 30, 2012

Le food numero dos

The saga continue with what was a legitimate attempt of a shorter post, but was delayed too much and turned into another I-love-talking-about-food-at-any-time-of-the-day epic.

Art Café

Art Café is possibly my favorite places in Nairobi. Nicely set overlooking the Village Market, this little jewel gets high expat and local traffic. Whether it’s the freshly baked pastries, the variety of cocktails or the amazing food, I don’t know and little do I care as far as I can get seated on the terrace. Art Café must have the best cappuccino I’ve tried, served with a little flower inscribed into the foam. 

Me, myself and I, together with my Kindle spend a lot of time there going through A Song of Fire and Ice (yeah, Game of Thrones in its entirety). As my obsession with the book grows, so does my frequenting Art Café. Few things are as relaxing as a Campari One and a high quality book.


Me and “Game of Thrones”        Myself and “A Clash of Kings”

Me, my colleague and I also like eating desserts there. Ranking what I’ve tried so far: Tricolad Cake, Tiramisu, Carrot Cake, Cherry Vanilla Danish, Cheesecake. Been eyeing the lava cakes for quite some time. I gotta make a move on them in the next week or two.

Café Habibi

“White people love this place” – my cabby’s words when he dropped me off. Well, I’m white I said. And love it I did. Disregarded the fact that the only customers there at the time were white women, as I was too excited that the place actually exited directly into the street. Whoohoo, we are not in a compound! You could see people walking by, cars pulling over; you could hear traffic noise and people yelling – nothing too much, it’s not a main road. But still more than you can hope for in Nairobi.

Hostess was a woman in a hijab, hard to tell which country she was from. Someone at our table betted on Oman, but seriously, out of all the Middle Eastern countries you had to pick Oman? Seems random to me. And unverifiable.


Moroccan tea with a mint leaf. Hoped for pine nuts, but oh well, mint leaves had to do. Large mezze platter to share and try as many things as possible. I give them the hummus, tabouli and babaganoush: all well made. The rest of the mezzes were a little too out of my range of Middle Eastern food. Or maybe I’m just not used to African style Lebanese and Moroccan cuisine . Who knows. But samosas don’t qualify as Mediterranean, as far as I am concerned.

Tamambo Tapas

So far from real tapas, I don’t even know where to begin. Could have easily been the dish I ordered. Yet, even so, tapas is really not the word for what I had. Two types of bruschetta (one regular, one with haloumi), amazing cheese samosa and a collection of steamed vegetables wrapped in doughy thing is what made up the veggie sampler.

My choice of drink was a little out of the ordinary too as I went for Savannah, a South African cider. Honestly, the alcoholic content is not even worth a critique. It was non-existent. I expected a little more from RSA.

However, the extremely friendly staff and their weekend jazz gigs make up for the inappropriate name and somewhat strange food. Ohhh but they serve the dressing on the side in a muscle shell. So cool.


Afro-Mex Fusion? This as positive as my feedback can get. If you want good Mexican, this is not the place to be. But, if you want the African version of Mexican food, you came to the right place.

Dinner started with a taco appetizer, unfortunately packed with potatoes.

Zapata 1

Mmm let me backtrack a little bit to the chips. Real good. With decent salsa, which shouldn’t be surprising since kachumbari is basically the same thing. Not too hot, so I ventured a couple of bites. Got a chips refill, which must have been included in one price or another, but not alone on the bill. Now, back to the tacos: hard shell, pretty looking, but definitely not filled with the correct ingredients.

Moving on to the main dish, empanadas and gorditas. Neither one seemed right. What’s funny about it, is that half the time I was thinking that the filling is all wrong, but I couldn’t quite place what should be in those. I am too much of a quesadilla person to pay attention to what else goes into Mexican food.

Also hoping for pitchers of margaritas meant placing my expectations a little to high and unreachable for Kenya. The Zapata margarita could have worked out had it been at a more affordable price.


Superb. As usual, it always helps to have a Korean in the group when eating at a Japanese-Korean place. My one previous experience with Korean food left me with lots of delicious memories, some pictures and no food names. While my ultimate Japanese food experience at Nobu in NYC left me with a lingering taste of cod and lobster years after I went. Point is: with only good Japanese/Korean food tried, the bar was set high.

Small salad with my all-time favorite peanut sauce. Dumplings. Dumplings. Yep, correct, two kinds. Don’t remember the fills: veggie and pork enough of a description? Then, bulgogi to share, which was real good. Others ordered bi bim bap – this is more about me trying to remember what all the Korean food is called, than actually elaborating on the taste or quality.

I went for the oyako udon? Or did I? Of all the food that night, it’s the one I ate that I cannot remember the name of. Seriously, brain? But think fat udon noodles with mainly pork in them and some sautéed spinach style green stuff. With miso soup on the side. Soup was mediocre and totally did not deserve my attention as there was too much meat on the table.

Only problem: … ran out of kimchi….

Note to self: the really good Asian ice-cream wrapped in doughy stuff is Mochi.

Acacia Cafeteria

It’s a little strange having anything in Kenya called acacia. Doubt they even have acacias here…. Google proves me wrong as usual. First described in Africa by a Swedish botanist. Who would have thought? (I know some people probably did, but I thought of acacias as indigenous to home) The whole Wiki article is novel to me and kinda blowing my mind right now. They have fruit? Whaaatt?? White? I could swear I’ve seen purple acacia, no? Luckily for this post, the article takes us back to food – acacia honey… yummmm Now that’s something worth trying!

Oh right, Acacia Cafeteria is the cafeteria at work. Why it’s worth mentioning? It really isn’t. I’ve just tried some African food there that may be interesting to share. Someone else can be the judge of how African this food is.

- Ugali – the white mixture (also comes in yellow and brown depending on the flour) made of water and flower. Great side substitute of rice for a little bit. And then you are like: oh noo, not ugali, again.

- Ethiopian kidneys in some sauce – okay, so this was really bothering me for a while. What was so strange about these kidneys? Probably the fact that I thought I was eating liver. Which makes a lot more sense, because back home, fried liver or the sautéed liver with onions, aka drobcheta po selski, are amazing. If it wasn’t for the high cholesterol content in liver, I’d be downing those weekly. Maybe even daily. Meateater for life!

- The green pumpkin leaves, corn, potato thing… help Google help! Irio? Not very helpful, Google.

Observation on Kenyan food: spicewise  – bland. But why ruin meat with anything but salt and pepper? Level of cookedness :) – what most Americans will find overdone (let’s not even start with the French) I call well done (notice words spelled separately, indicating adverb and verb, not adjective :P). That’s how meat is supposed to be cooked. Yay for nyama choma!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Toi shopping

No, it’s not misspelled. I got up obscenely early on a Saturday morning to visit a place called Toi Market. After a double espresso to clear my head and meeting up with a friend, we proceeded.

I just wonder why? Why would you hang a bunch of trash bags on a tree? 
Early in the day, the “streets” were still quite empty, some shop holders still setting up, which allowed us to roam freely for a little bit. Not that roaming is restricted in any way at Toi, but there are fewer people dragging you to their stalls this early.  

Did I get what I wanted? Yes.

Did I pay too much? No.

Did I want to pay less? Of course.

Do I feel weird that I thought $1.20 was too much for a pair of socks and I kept haggling? Mayyybe

Either my negotiation/bargaining skills are lacking, which in no way am I saying they are not, or this was really as low as they’d go, which I doubt. With a point of reference on price and checking other “stalls” beforehand, I should feel like I got a deal. Somehow the fact that it was me who bended in the end for another $1.20 makes me less happy with this whole trade. Bottom line: they dropped their price more than I raised mine. 

Did I buy bananas for $0.08 cent one (seriously this is not 8 cents, but 0.08 of a cent!!!!!)? Nope. Should I have done it? Probably. I just don’t like buying fresh produce that is laid out by the side of the particularly dusty developing country roads. Yet, the ones that my friend bought and ended up in her banana bread were yum-yum-yummyyyy.

After completing my short Toi Market adventure (you can spend hours there digging through the massive amounts of stuff they have and bargaining with people), I moved over to Westgate Mall.

I hid behind a column to sneak a picture. As any other high white profile place, security here is pretty tight. Unlike the Village Market, there were no guards with machine guns. Beat that Westgate!

Back in civilization and this island of Western-ness, I had a chocolate milkshake that cost me more than the two pairs of socks I got. In moments like these, I really do question how developing countries work and why life is so unfair sometimes. Then, I get distracted by this or that flashy crap that I can afford, but I don’t really need and we are back to square one.

Once again, I could not help myself in the Kazuri store. Walked out with a pair of amazing black-orange-yellow-green earrings to top off the successful shopping day.

Thursday, July 19, 2012


Hello, and welcome to Carnivore.

Is this what heaven looks like?
The waiting – over! Finally crowned by the a night of meat-eating. 

I know it looks amazing, but for a short time I was hesitant about going. Don’t go there, it’s not what it used to be, said some of the reviews I read. This is an experience, you must do it, said others. The contraditctory reviews are one of the main reasons i find Trip Advisor of little use. What really got me to go in the end were two things: (1) my roommate and her boyfriend were in town and we had talked about going there for quite some time, (2) my brother considered flying to Nairobi from Tanzania just to go to this  place.

Oh and fyi, people writing bad reviews, it’s not the same because in October 2004, Kenya banned the sale of game meat. And while I would have loved me to try some wildbeest or antelope, I’m totally fine eating what we can bread. Next time before bitching about it read the little explanation cards on the tables.

Enough background, let’s move on to the substance. If you’ve ever been to a Brazilian stakehouse, which are quite similar to Carnivore, you’d understand why I’m about to speak about strategy. Going to such places requires planning along three dimensions: mental preparation, strategy and pacing. Mental preparation is necessary because of the number of dishes and some of the things you might see. My first Brazilian stakehouse experience brought me face-to-face with an entire cow wheeled to our table on a cart. It was so startling, I couldn't even answer the simple question of "Would you like some?". A strategy is necessary to consume as much meat as possible and consume it safely. [NB: I recommend you apply your strategy during the entire day. For instance, I ate no meat during the entire day. Rare, I know.] And a strategy is also necessary so you get to try the best meats which are brought last. This is the more typical fashion, which wasn’t completely followed in Carnivore, making it easier to focus on the good stuff. Finally, pacing is important so you can keep filling your belly with yummy kinds of meat for over 2 hours and still have space for dessert. You don’t have to eat everything they put in your plate, even though you asked for it. And I also strongly discourage you from drinking beer. However strong your dedication to the drink, remember that  you are just filling yourself with empty air and carbon dioxide instead of pork ribs and beef steak.

Now that we are clear what my approach to Carnivore was, we can start with the foooooodddddd. Until they brought the first meat, nothing else mattered. Sitting down and ordering drinks was automatic. Then, you start switching gear. First, a small potato appetizer with spicy masala sauce. Smartly, waited for feedback on the spice level of the sauce, was not recommended for the hot-food weakling that I am, and so I only tried 1 piece of potato. Second, cream of something soup. Rather refreshing. Definitely had celery in it. Can't really comment on the other ingredients. Tried 3 spoonfulls and set it aside. Tasty, but not the point of this restaurant visit. With this second, bread and butter -tried a small chuck and held my peace. Third:


A rotating plate with some boring salads on the bottom (coleslaw, some corn thing, kachumbari, and greens with red onions and tomatoes). On the top, six different sauces for each type of meat we were about to try. I don’t remember all of them, but I will mention the ones that I did try and remember what meat they go with. Honestly, very surprised that they complemented the meat. I generally dislike ruining meat with sauces. On the very top, the flag. "No flag, no country. Can't have one." This was our country. As far as the flag remains, the meat keeps coming. Life rules and everything is awesome. Take the flag down and the meat flow ceases.

So as far as our flag remained flying, this is what happened. First - ox balls. Chewy, with a strange aftertaste. Overall, not worth eating more than one. I also got one with skin on it, yuch. Mmm, and surprisingly small for the big animal that the ox is. No wonder they have to be cut off. I’d be embarrassed with a set of those, were I an ox.

Second - pork ribs!! Simply the best. Sticky, probably made with honey. No fat, no skin. Just a little crispy. Can eat all the meat off the bone. A small reminder of that pork rib place in Vienna. Although I don't think that was as good as this one. But it's been a long time since I was last there. 


At some point side dishes of roasted potatoes and sauteed spinach appeared. Nope, never got eaten. Not the best sides either, but they were technically well cooked. Here, my plate includes them. If it looks empty to you, think twice. You don't want too much meat at any one point in time because it gets cold. Top left is the pork sausage. Pretty good, but I have similar ones everyday for breakfast (except for the morning of the Carnivore experience), so I didn’t focus much on it. The meatball – ostrich! With wild berry sauce! This ended up on the top 3 meats of the night list! Simply amazing! Pure meat. Doesn’t smell. For a bird that can’t fly and instead of running hides its head underground, the ostrich was surprisingly tender. Almost like fowl. The guy serving them quickly became our bff and kept returning again and again. 


Thanksgiving coming early! Asked for the crispy skin. Well made turkey. Juicy and moist. Reminder of the Yearwoods deep fried Thanksgiving turkeys. And yes, I do have a point of reference for almost any type of meat, except for the ox balls, ostrich and crocodile. Speaking of the latter two, in addition to the ostrich meatballs, we also had plain ostrich leg, which was also amazing. I'm quite satisfied with the stupid bird. Si, I tried crocodile. Didn't like it. It's chewy like a scallop. Has the consistency of sea food. Also smells like dirt and the water it just lies around in without moving. Smells lazy, like the common carp does (had to look that up and still not sure it's the correct type of fish, but i mean "sharan").

Also, there was mediocre pork leg. A little too heavy, but with nice crispy skin. Ohhhh I almost forgot the lamb!!! Small lamb chops with the bone. They only had 2 for our table of 3 the first time they came around. So I had to beckon them again. And when they finally returned with smoking hot lamb chops I took two and told the guy to come back. It's nowhere near close the Bulgarian lamb, but it was good. For those of you that hate the smell of lamb, this one you could stomach. Trust me. Finally, there was chicken too, but we didn't even bother with it. Might have been good, but it's just chicken. 

The Dawa maker knew exactly when to smile 

Tried Dawa too. As far as I'm concerned, this is just a mojito made with vodka instead of white rum. It was okay, but definitely not something that mixes well with meat. Actually, it is a little more like caipirinas - sugar, limes and strong liquor. 


The flag is down, we are defeated. And besides it's dessert time!!! We decided to share three different ones.  Top left, choco-chip something. It was ok, the ice-cream was good. Top right, chocolate cake richly soaked in espresso. Not richly enough because I couldn't taste the coffee. But it was a nice, moist cake. In the front, brandy something - basically caramel (a little burnt and somewhat bitter, which made this a lot more interesting) cones filled with cream.

In a somewhat comatose state, we got back in our van and drove away. In nights like this one, I am so happy my family didn’t raise me to be vegetarian or that the wrong switch did not cut the meat-eating circuit. 

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Worst office retreat ever?!

Oh, god. Literally, figuratively and in any other way possible. Jesus, Allah, Buddah, Vishnu or whatnot. As the old anti-piracy commercial used to say: what did I get myself into????

Two nights ago, I was sitting in my church hotel room (I'll get there) pondering how cruel and ironic fate can be. All I wanted of this evening was a glass of red, no preference, and time alone with my Kindle and A Clash of Kings. Instead, I was listening to what sounded like an evening prayer or a group singing exercise with piano accompaniment and trying to figure out how I would get through the next two days without slashing my wrists.

When I was told that this place is owned by the church and I won't be finding any wine, my heart skipped a beat, or two. Had I known earlier I would have packed accordingly. As to why a church would own a hotel, and by the way it's a chain of them, this remains a mystery. I got no answer to the question “Why?”. No one here even bothers to question the church. God forbid, hehe, I'd suggested it was to make $$$ for itself, the bashing would have been inevitable. With the possibility of the latter being physical. Or maybe it was my terror-of-being-locked-in-a-building-with-religious-fanatics-driven imagination that was getting a little out of control.

What followed was two full days of incessant complaining about the weather and how cold it was, how we should have picked another place, how awful the food was (and it truly was on the verge of disgusting; they must have bought the cheapest crap out there, and it wasn’t me who said that) and how … I don’t even remember the rest. Without my buddies Jack or Jim on my side this was unbearable.

The work we were supposed to be doing was at time moving, at times going no where. With little understanding of what we achieved, given the constant going back and forth about minute details, we finally departed for Nairobi.

The 22 minute bus ride seemed like eons. I walked into my room, threw my backpack on the bed and darted off for the nearest bar. By the power vested in a glass of nicely chilled white wine, my sanity was finally returning to me. Or so I hope.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Lake Elemntaita

Another hike, another burn and no sore muscles. If anything is going to hurt this week, it will be my tank-top-burned back. Sunblock is overrated. Or I just wasn’t built for Equatorial sun. 

Where to begin? I know where it all ends - broken radiator, steam and matatus. The start: ready, steady, go on the so-called 4 hour hike. Lies! Even in the insane, in my opinion, pace at which we were going, we still finished in 6.5 hours. Why can’t Kenyans be honest about time? 

IMG_0660No shade, no shadows – you know it’s bad. Smartly, I brought my Singaporean 30 sunblock with the hope that if it can help keep Asians white, then maybe it will help me too. Would that it could.

IMG_0663See the little mount on the left? That’s how far we made it, AND THEN around on the ridge behind it and back down to the main lodge. 4 hours, my *ss!


Stunning, no? From here we went down to walk by the water passing various types of cattle – cows, cows with horns, little yummy looking kids (those are baby goats) and little yummier looking lambs (all pretty silent when I come to think about it, no mooing and baaing). One of our organizers kept coming back to the end of the group (yep, that’s were I was trailing, enjoying myself and taking pictures) to make sure we don’t get attacked by buffalos. She was way too worried about the buffalos.

The lake was the highlight only until we made it to the skirts of the first hill and enthusiasm was overshadowed by misery. My 3-4 kg backpack was only part of the problem. Despite the fact that I kept eating everything in it and chugging water to make the load lighter, the two zip-ups (apparently the Brits call them jumpers, but that’s just a little too ridiculous) I was carrying were doing precisely the opposite. Exacerbating my gloomy condition was the scorching sun, beating down on us. We broke for lunch around 1 PM on top of a hill with no shade! With my water at boiling point there was little hope of cooling down any time soon.

On we go again soon enough on an even worse trail (after a deceptive stretch going down, the hill was even steeper). Again no shade, no cloud, no wind, no relief from the heat. Running around us up and down the hill collecting people at the back was our guide Benson, a local Masai looking person who must have climbed this a million times since he had nothing on him, only a small bottle of water (ohh and his mobile phone). No wonder Kenyans always win the Olympic marathon gold. Impressive endurance.


Benson restlessly waiting for the last to conquer the second hill. Around 3 PM this was mission impossible for those out of water and the 7-month pregnant lady. This time I wasn’t in that last part of the group and got a longer rest. As soon as they made it to our temporary camp we were up and running on the final stretch to the summit.


Breathtaking! Worth the exhaustion! To the left, the hill where we had lunch is dwarfed by our current location. See how far from the lake we are?  P.S. It only looks dark because it’s taken against the sun. What may seem as lack of heat is a mere illusion produced by an equally overheated camera.

From here on it was all downhill. Less complaining! With the sun heading west, it was losing strength as we were losing altitude. Quickly we reached the bottom of the hill and from then on it was another 45 mins of walking without any incline at a brisk pace. We passed a little village, more cattle, donkeys, dancing African children.

Like most of my stories, this one finished with a Tusker in hand. Or so I thought before we got back on the road.


A distress call made us turn around to help our fellow hikers. Luckily for me, I switched buses and found myself on the working one. With unknown problems at their hands, drivers and organizers could do nothing else but attempt to cram all of us sardines in one bus and get to the closest gas station. This physical impossibility remained untested as the broken bus started and managed to get some of the people to a gas station 500m away.

It took some time to realize that the bus wasn’t going anywhere. I still wonder why anyone thought that was an option. With the pitch dark roads in rural Kenya you want to be any other place but there if your vehicle breaks. As the revelation occurred (together with the steam from the bus’s radiator), a call was made and 20 mins later 2 matatus appeared to take people back to town. The phlegmatic speed at which Kenya operates normally made the matatu appearance seem astoundingly quick.

14 hours later I was back home with barely enough strength left in me to shower and craw into bed. Challenge accepted, challenge fulfilled. Lily out.