Thursday, May 28, 2009

Fresh, local and... organic!

And here we go again with another green post - this time about an interesting event taking place every month in Nairobi: the Organic Farmers Market at the River Garden Centre (off Limuru Rd, 500 m past Village Market on your way to Runda). This market provides consumers an opportunity to purchase and get more information regarding organic foods.

Organic agriculture is a production system that sustains the health of soils, ecosystems and yourself.

The organic sector in Kenya is still relatively small but growing fast. Small-scale organic agricultural activities in Kenya are represented by the Kenya Organic Agriculture Network (KOAN). The network aims at developing and promoting local and export markets, supporting development of affordable local certification capacity and creating awareness of market opportunities in the organic sector. You can get some relatively interesting things from their website, including a document on how to assure organic quality standards are met.

The next Organic Farmers Market is taking place this Saturday (May 30th, 2009). So please grab this opportunity to become a healthier human being, respectful of your immediate surroundings and global environment. And there's life jazz too! So you can count me in!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Eco Cabs: driving green in style, first ever in Kenya!

Another green post. As I was preparing my recent article on enjoying our "Green City in the Sun", I saw this very nice green animal:

I had never seen such a strange animal before. Apparently, it is one of the new Toyota Prius Eco Cabs. Eco Cabs is a new fleet of hybrid taxis in Nairobi that provide customers with high standard services and the option of driving green in style. Eco Cabs has been launched to showcase the concept of green transport and to inspire other businesses to make a meaningful transformation towards greener processes. Eco Cabs produce over 60% less emissions compared with other vehicles with the same engine size when driving within the city. The cabs are designed to symbolize the green concept: they are all painted green with a green leaf signifying how green the cabs are.

Ironically, the Eco-cab was parked at one of the petrol stations in Nairobi... what a nice contrast!

I think we should all promote such green businesses. Next time I need a taxi, I already know where to go. And you? What are you doing to combat climate change?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Free Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C screening

One in 12 people worldwide are living with either chronic hepatitis B or hepatitis C. While this is far higher than the prevalence of HIV or any cancer, awareness is inexplicably low and the majority of those infected are unaware. To commemorate the World Hepatitis Day, there is free Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C screening at the Nairobi Hospital labs from May 19th till May 26th. Discover your status and seek treatment if necessary.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Avoid Nairobbery, enjoy the Green City in the Sun

Over the years, Nairobi has been referred to by different nicknames. Once hailed as the '(Green) City in the Sun', our Kenyan capital has increasingly been depicted over the past decade or so as reeling under violent crime where crooks with weapons - some only toys but frighteningly realistic - roam with impunity. But I have the impression Nairobi may be regaining the lost image of the 'Green City in the Sun'. And there are a few simple things we can all do and a few tips and tricks we can follow to avoid Nairobbery, and to enjoy the Green City in the Sun. The first part of my post is focused on avoiding Nairobbery, the second part deals with taking full advantage of the Green City in the Sun.

Part I: Avoid Nairobbery

Nairobi is sometimes regarded as one of the most dangerous cities in Africa. Carjackings, snatchings, muggings and violent robberies seem to be happening on a daily basis. Based on several sources, your favorite blog Rafiki Kenya has now identified some of the most dangerous spots in Nairobi where organized crime (especially mugging and robbery) is rampant. Most criminals target unsuspecting pedestrians. Please fasten your wallets and enjoy your flight:
  • Haile Selassie Avenue - Moi Avenue roundabout: mostly from 6 pm.
  • Globe Cinema roundabout (especially near Kirinyaga Road junction): anytime of the day/night.
  • River Road junction with Accra and Ronald Ngala street: anytime of the day/night.
  • Area around Latema Road and River Road: mainly petty theft during the day, no-go area at night.
  • Tom Mboya Street at Ambassador Hotel and junction of Accra and Ronald Ngala Street: mostly from 4.30 pm.
  • Most parts of Mfangano Street: anytime of the day/night.
  • Area between Serena Hotel to Kenyatta Avenue roundabout: Mostly early in the morning and from 5 pm.
  • Uhuru park: to be avoided after 5 pm (on working days), tends to accumulate all kinds of dodgy characters.
  • Mbagathi Way footbridge: from 6 pm.
  • Museum Hill and Casino: don't walk there at night.
In general, the Central Business District (CBD) is trouble-free as long as you use a bit of common sense.

Part II: Enjoy the Green City in the Sun

Get out, catch the breeze or the sun, read a book, grab a coffee or a beer, or even a meal, at these nice places to eat and drink with outside terraces or gardens (in random order):

Nyama choma (roast meat)
  • There are several good places to have nyama choma including Kariakor Market, Dagoretti Corner, City Hawkers Market, and Olepolos Country Club on Magadi Rd with excellent views.
Coffee shops
Nairobi CBD (Central Business District)
  • Thorn Tree Cafe (Stanley): Great outdoor terrace; very pleasant place to sit; nice fruit juices; food not extraordinary. A complete review by Biche is available here
  • Pool Deck (Stanley): Varied buffets; rooftop restaurant.
  • Simmers: Lively open air bar; good meat; live music.
Gigiri, Muthaiga, Runda
  • Food court (Village Market): Outdoor food court; average food, but excellent ice-cream at Arlecchino.
  • Epic (Tribe, Village Market): Innovative continental cuisine with African fusion; paved outdoor area.
  • La Dolce Vita (Muthaiga Mini Market): Quiet terrace; good selection of Italian wines; excellent pizza oven.
  • Cafe des Arts (UN Avenue): Includes a green garden with three banda's and a few tables on the lawn for a sunny afternoon lunch or a romantic outside dinner.
  • Tamambo Tapas Bar (Village Market): Delicious and original cocktails and bitings; nice outdoor terrace; good live performances. 
Parklands / Westlands / Spring Valley / Loresho
  • Oasis Restaurant (Holiday Inn): By the pool; snacks and international and African buffet.
  • Gazebo Banda (Jacaranda): Always good for a bite or a drink; beautiful gardens around.
  • Pizza Garden (Jacaranda): Better-than-average pizzas; small playground.
  • Pool Bar (Jacaranda): Snacks and drinks in the open air.
  • Amani Garden Café: Lovely café offering light lunches and cakes, outside seating, play area for the kids. The garden offers customers a haven of peace where they can enjoy a calm and tranquil setting. Added advantage of supporting a good cause.
  • Le Rustique: Outdoor tables under large umbrellas; beautiful garden; open air creperie; mediterranean cuisine; playground.
  • Gypsy's: Bar with good burgers; always popular; paved terrace with streetview.
  • Zen Garden (Lower Kabete Rd): Asian restaurant with Chinese, Thai and Japanese food.
  • About Thyme: Excellent menu which changes weekly; plenty of tables outside.
Karen / Langata
  • Jolly Roger Theme Park and Restaurant: Adults can relax outside in the shady comfort of the Jolly Roger Restaurant while the kids have a great time in the playground.
  • Simba Saloon: Nice coffees; big playground for the kids; Carnivore food.
  • Rusty Nail: Beautiful terrace/garden; huge steaks; charming, romantic ambience according to some.
  • Karen Blixen Coffee Garden: Lovely setting; spacious outdoor garden full of birds; international menu.
  • Talisman: Lovely garden and patio to sit outside, with heaters when cold; varied menu; food is great. Full review by Biche here.
  • Rangers (Nairobi National Park main gate): Nice Twiga and Oryx terraces; wooden viewing deck; international cuisine.  
Lavington / Hurlingham
  • Mediterraneo (Junction): Italian cuisine; cozy ambience; nice terrace upstairs. Full review by Biche available here and a more recent review by pourkygourmand here.
  • For You: Excellent Chinese restaurant with nice Chinese lanterns on the outside; huge garden.
  • Osteria del Chianto: Excellent Italian food served in a lovely garden with bonfires and small lamps everywhere.
  • Hong's Bakery (next to Yaya): Outside terrace, grass; swing for kids; cake, bread and goodies for sale; nice snacks. The Chicken Teriyaki comes recommended by Peperuka.
  • Chez l'Ami: Odd combination of French and Japanese cuisine; good sushi; garden.
  • Sippers (Argwings Kodek Rd): Nice outdoor patio and tables; good music; nightlife venue; the roast goat comes highly recommended.
Milimani / Upper Hill
  • Flame Tree (Panafric): Has an outdoor section; decent coffee and juices.
  • Pool Garden (Panafric): Mainly barbeque and buffet lunches.
  • Mandhari (Serena): Al-fresco dining on the terrace; excellent international and fusion cuisine. 
  • Pool Bar (Serena): Good snacks; relaxed atmosphere.
  • Cafe Maghreb (Serena): Original moroccan cuisine; possibility of al-fresco dining.
  • Mukutan Garden Café (Fairview): good coffees and cakes as well as light meals such as gourmet sandwiches, pizzas and quesadillas; tranquil green setting; wireless Internet available. 
  • Pwani Pool Restaurant (Fairview): International cuisine in a casual environment by the pool.
A bit out of town
  • Cafe Kigwa (Safari Park): Mostly buffet-style; always busy on Sundays for brunch/lunch.
  • Olepolos Country Club (Magadi Rd): good nyama choma; excellent views.

The above list is by no means complete or exhaustive. But these places have all been checked out by your dear Rafiki and can be recommended (although some more than others). Most of them have websites nowadays, so please click through for more info. Please feel free to add you own and comment, and I'll update the list. Let's enjoy the Green City in the Sun!

Friday, May 15, 2009

For walkers, cyclists, joggers and picnicers: Nairobi gets its forest back

Source: (reproduced here without permission, I hope it is fine, since the announcement is a bit urgent)

A high-powered alliance of environmentalists, diplomats and parastatals will this week deliver Karura Forest back to Nairobi: safe, beautiful and ready for family rambling and picnics.

The Karura Forest, which spans from the Old Kiambu Road to Limuru Road on the western side of the city, is venue for a grand opening this Saturday 16th May at 10am, to unveil a 4km nature trail, now cleared, staffed, and ready for walkers, joggers and cyclists.

At the instigation of Kenya Forest Service, and with the support of the Friends of Karura, led by the British High Commissioner’s wife Alice Macaire and William Wambuga of the Nairobi Arboretum, the project to restore the forest to use has also drawn on the advice of Kenya’s Nobel prize-winning environmentalist Prof. Wangari Maathai.

Sited alongside the Kitathuru River, the trail had been closed for many years, with no-one going there, said Alice. But it has now been cleared and made safe, and permanently staffed by forest guards. “It’s incredibly beautiful and amazing.”

Transport and guides will also be available for people exploring the deeper forest - the 50 foot waterfall, the famous "Father of Trees", Mau-Mau caves, 50 kms of nature trails through a forest filled with wildlife, a marshland perfect for bird watching, a bamboo jungle, three rivers, a camp site, a historical church hidden deep in a clearing in the wood and many stunning places to picnic.

We want people to come, see the amazing scenery and fall in love with it so that we can work together to make it safe for all Nairobi kids,” said Alice.

After the grand opening, it is only the 4km trail that will be open to visit at any time. Exploring the caves, water falls, and other nature trails will require bookings to get Forest guards. The Friends of Karura are however working hard to get the forest to the point where it will be safe throughout. “This (the opening of the trail) is our first step,” said Alice.

We want to make it safe so that in the future kids can go to the camp site and stay there and learn about the forest.”

There are caves in the forest where people used to go and pray but the pastor of Karura says they have not been there for the last five years.

As the rehabilitation of the forest continues, “we are incredibly lucky to have professional people including the British High commission, UNEP, William of Arboretum, and people who have seen how it’s successfully done, and we shall also include the local community,” said Alice.

We want people to be able to wake up on a lovely Saturday morning, go up and have a picnic and let the kids run around safely.”

Those attending the grand opening will meet at the Old Kiambu Road Entrance to the Karura Forest, for short inauguration speeches from the Minister for Forestry and Wildlife, Dr. Noah Wekesa, The British High Commissioner, The Director of Kenya Forest Service and the Pastor of Karura.

"It will be wonderful because we shall also have kids of Karura Primary, a school that is inside the forest singing for the people,” said Alice.

Alice encourages all to come and discover the trail: “you will love it”.

Written by Rose Muragu for African Laughter

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Two excellent updated travel guidebooks on Kenya

I am a collector of travel guidebooks on Kenya. It allows me to know my country better and discover new and exciting places, including the Hippo Point Tower (on the shores of Lake Naivasha), one of the top retreats in the world, one of the most luxurious and less known of Kenyan hideaways, where I would like to book the master room for my dear e-friend Pink M one day: "Custom-built by Dodo Cunningham-Reid for seasoned romantics, guests are able to enjoy breath-taking views over Oloidien Bay and follow at eagle-eye the movements of the hippos grazing at the foot of the Tower. The rustling of the lake and the sounds of the bush create at all hours a magical symphony of peace and tranquillity, broken only by the splashing of water as the hippos venture out into the bush under the cover of darkness. From the first floor verandah nature lovers can enjoy safe and relaxing sunset viewing while the top meditation room is reserved to those who want to plunge silently into the essence of Africa. A romantic morning breakfast is served outside, under the towering acacias, while in the evening intimate candlelit dinners bring the guests back to bygone days of wild simplicity and unspoiled elegance."

Okay, enough on that particular place, and back to the travel guidebooks now. Amazingly, several of the best travel guides about Kenya have been written by foreigners. And interestingly, after spending only a couple of months here in Kenya, many of them seem to know our country better than most of us... So, it is time for Kenyans to catch up! Now is a good time, since two of the most respected travel guides have just been updated: Lonely Planet and Footprint.

The new Lonely Planet Kenya Country Guide (7th edition) contains a color wildlife chapter, interviews with locals and a green index with listings for an ecofriendly trip. Note that the book is not available in hardcopy until May 14 or even June, but you can already preview and download individual chapters or the whole book here with 'Pick and Mix'. And yes, Lonely Planet got it very right where it says: "Kenya may be a somewhat more intimidating destination than it once was, but it remains one of the undisputed highlights of Africa. Check your inhibitions, ignore the hype, bring your sense of adventure, and get ready for some truly inspiring and life-changing travel." And about our beloved Hippo Point: "We could try and tell you about the absolute lavishness of the main house and the tower, but you'd never believe us - we still can't believe it, and we saw it!"

The second edition of the Footprint Kenya Handbook has also been fully updated and revised. It includes a full-colour 32-page wildlife guide and accommodation listings for all, from luxury tented camps to blissful coastal hideaways. And yes, this book mentions thousands of interesting little things: the cuisine at Hippo Point is superb for example.

I don't really endorse one guide over another, but I am slightly more biased towards the Footprint because it brings me some more surprises, some things I hadn't heard or read about anywhere else. But both books are well-researched and will serve you well.