Kibera and the Nairobi Arboretum

A slum and a forest
- 16 March 2013 -

After lunch in "Karen" we headed in the direction of a forest. I had been inspecting the map in search of a forest for the whole day and eventually found one on our route, Ngong Forest. This forest had a main road running right next to it with smaller branching roads splitting off into it. When we arrived at the junction turning into Ngong Forest Road it was closed. They were working on the road which appeared to be a road upgrade... Regardless we turned into the road and was stopped by a man at a boom gate, denying us entry. Luckily our driver knew how to negotiate and eventually for a small bribe we were allowed to enter. We were disappointed though, beside what is actually a pine plantation the road was filled with machinery and scraps from the road work... 

Eventually nearing the end of the road on the edge of Kibera, a natural forest emerged, much more unique and beautiful than the planation. We could see a valley in the forest  which looked promising, but there was no way of getting there from where we were. So after a brief stop we decided its best to move on.

So I inspected the map for another "green spot" and noticed a place called "Arboretum". In short this means "a botanical garden for trees". I asked our driver if he knew of the place and he said he only knew this as a neighbourhood. However I insisted we go because I saw a road leading to an establishment on the edge of the "green spot" named the "The Tree Center". 

We first passed Kibera, the largest slum (informal settlement) in Kenya, and apparently the largest in Africa. However I know this isn't true, there are informal settlements in South Africa bigger than this.

I just snapped some photos while we were driving.

We arrived at the arboretum and the board outside the entrance indicated that entrance to the park was free.... FREE.... this was proving my point that there are things to see and do in Nairobi that doesn't cost you a fortune and where it's free regardless if you are a visitor in Kenya or a local national. The board did however indicate that if I wanted to take photos I would have to pay KES 1000... seeing that this place is owned by the government, specifically the forestry department, initially intended for scientific research... this was acceptable to me...

We first walked around in search of the tree center I saw on the map but when the  establishment we approached looked deserted we just headed to the arboretum gate, besides it was already 4:30pm and they would probably close the gates soon. Before we left though we were at least treated to some vervet monkeys... nothing special... we have plenty of them back home.

As we walked into the arboretum it became clear that this was a special place, packed with dense vegetation and old tall green trees in all directions, complimented by little paths we could use to explore. 

All the routes are named, so we picked the first one and headed down it. It was peaceful, birds chirping and the smell of trees and grass. A moment later we were introduced to a new sound, the sound of a someone playing a saxophone, we looked around and found a man standing in the dense bush trumpetting away, as if there was nobody else... it was something different to see. Call it jazz in the bush.

We continued on further, we picked a route called the "State House Route".

I was intrigued by the variety of trees, but it being a botanical garden I could expect that. I'm not normally a person to pay attention to tree names, but there was one tree that looked almost out of place... Cupressus Cashmeriana... so I noted the name to research when I got back home.

I was happily snapping away when my camera "gave in"... I was NOT impressed. This was not a flat battery or a full memory card... something more serious. I was pissed! Would I have to spend the rest of my visit between the trees without the ability to take photos which I had just paid KES 1000 to do? All photos were coming out pitch black but everything else on the camera was working just fine. I tried swapping out the lenses and switching it on and off which didn't help. Eventually I removed the battery and put it back in, magically I was getting colour again. I was relieved.

While I was fiddling with the camera, Zima had moved on, so I had the task of finding her again. The arboretum being a large place it took a while but I eventually found her and we continued. 

There were all sorts of people wondering around, kids playing, couples taking leisurely strolls, people jogging... this was truly a lucky find, a jewel in the city, a place to take a break from the chaos of the city. 

And then I heard that sound again, the sound of jazz in the bush... I was a little puzzled. Was there 2 people practising their music here? Turns out it was the same guy as before, he just moved from his original location.

I snapped a photo or two, then decided this time I was going to have a conversation with him. He has been playing saxophone for 5 years and comes here often to practise. He says the acoustics are good here and he doesn't bug the people at home this way, plus he just enjoys it, says its relaxing.

We chatted a while longer about the music industry and then got onto photography, when eventually I could see Zima getting impatient, so I took a couple more photos and moved on.

By this time we had already made a u-turn heading back towards the main gate, we needed to get out the gate by 6pm, else we would be spending the night here. 

It was a relaxing end to our busy day, and it also proved my point that when travelling you don't need to spend a fortune to see the destination you visiting. There was not one tourist here and it gave me a good idea of what the locals do on Saturday afternoons and it didn't cost anything (besides the photo fee, but that is isolated to people like me).

No comments:

Post a Comment