Tag Archives: Kenya

Vegan Meals: Part III: Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi

Left to right: UK sunscreen, German insect repellent, Turkish red pepper, Egyptian medicine for parasites, Kenyan herbs, Malawian gin, Zambian beer, South African beans, Swaziland jam
Left to right: UK sunscreen, German insect repellent, Turkish red pepper, Egyptian medicine for parasites, Kenyan herbs, Malawian gin, Zambian beer, South African beans, Swaziland jam

Today I realized, looking at our supplies, that everything we use every day in the car has become an interesting array of international products, some even from countries we haven’t visited! (yet)

Since we left Ethiopia, we haven’t had much luck finding local delicious vegan cuisine, unless you count Indian food. Especially in Kenya and Tanzania we found many Indian restaurants and fast-food places, some specifically listed as “vegetarian”. Starting with Kenya, the first disappointment for us came when we stayed in a hotel and for breakfast, without being asked, were served eggs, liver, and other non-vegan products. This was very upsetting, mostly because we were not even asked what we wanted: the hotel had a breakfast menu, but they just assumed we wanted the Kenyan-style full breakfast. In the end we settled for stale pieces of bread with tiny sprinkles of jam.

When we stayed in Nairobi for a week, we checked out one of the vegetarian restaurants in the city, which was an Indian place. The food really was remarkable, and because the hike to the restaurant was a long, hot and exhausting one, we stuffed ourselves silly. Unfortunately I can’t remember the name of the restaurant now, and I can’t seem to be too sure which of the vegetarian ones listed on HappyCow this one actually was.

Vegan Indian in Nairobi
Vegan Indian in Nairobi

We were in Nairobi for a long time, so we had to cook for ourselves for the majority of our stay at JJ’s. Luckily, there was a little market nearby, where we could count on the lovely ladies to sell us the best tomatoes, potatoes, oranges, bananas, and other various vegetables and fruits. One of the first days we were there, Jonathan made a soup out of squash, and a cucumber and tomato salad. It was delicious, considering I don’t even like squash.

Squash soup and salad in Nairobi
Squash soup and salad in Nairobi

No conversation about Kenya is complete without mentioning the banana chips. Dried crunchy banana strips with savory rather than sweet flavoring. We even got the other campers addicted to the stuff!

Matoke Banana Chips in Kenya
Matoke Banana Chips in Kenya

In Tanzania we had more Indian food – twice in Dar es Salaam, and a few times eating in the campsites’ restaurants. HappyCow has several listings for vegetarian restaurants in Dar, and as it turned out, we tried pretty much the main ones. We had lunch in a small lunch place Purnima Restaurant where the “no animal products” idea was understood correctly and immediately, and we were given a plate of various fried finger-foods, which we devoured mostly before I even remembered to take a picture!

Purnima Restaurant - the end of our meal!
Purnima Restaurant – the end of our meal!

For a pre-dinner snack we headed to yet another fast-food vegetarian Indian place, 56 Bhoq, where we had more fried finger-food, and for dinner we went next door to Retreat Royal, where foolishly I decided to order something that sounded completely alien and not ask in advance what it was – it came with a splash of cheese on top, so I had to swap it for our Rui’s (our dinner guest) meal, which was a basic vegetable curry.

Jonathan's meal at Retreat Royal in Dar es Salaam
Jonathan’s meal at Retreat Royal in Dar es Salaam

Jonathan’s meal was much more enticing, as it came in pancake-type wrappings. Again, very solid meals with interesting flavors, although sadly not as spicy as we would have liked. The only problem I had was with the starter, some fried vegetable balls which had a minty flavor, and I hate mint.

Minty fried balls at Retreat Royal in Dar es Salaam
Minty fried balls at Retreat Royal in Dar es Salaam

We had a mishap in Tanzania as well in terms of being vegan: while we were staying in Peponi, on the northern Tanzanian coast, and our vegan needs were clearly understood, one night they were not met. We ordered a couple of vegetable samosas, and one of them turned out to be a crab one. Understandably, it is impossible to tell the difference in pre-cooked samosas, but still it was a nasty shock for me to bite into one. Thankfully I don’t have an allergy to crab meat, but that does not in any way negate my disgust, my sadness, and the stomach cramps I got afterwards. However, we believe this sort of mistake will never happen again at Peponi, as the cook, the servers, and the manager, all took the time to get to the bottom of this situation and apologized many times over.

Giant okra on sale in Tanzania and yummy Indian snack in the background that we bought in Dar es Salaam
Giant okra on sale in Tanzania and yummy Indian snack in the background that we bought in Dar es Salaam

At another beach lodge, further south down the coast, at Kilwa Beach Resort, we were given a custom meal of carrot and coriander soup, vegetable stew and vegetable curry (which looked exactly the same and had exactly the same ingredients except the flavor and the spices were different), and a fried banana dessert. The food was filling, but not in any way was it spectacular cuisine. Still, we were happy to be catered for and understood exactly what we eat and don’t eat.

Nothing special can be said about our meal in Masasi, as we just had potato fries and beer. However, it was in Masasi that we bought our biggest, stalest, most bizarre bread loaf yet! It was filling bread, but it had to be toasted in order to be eaten, otherwise it was a strange combination of chewy, dense, dry and mostly inedible.

Giant loaf of bread, bought in Tanzania
Giant loaf of bread, bought in Tanzania

Driving to Malawi, we stayed one night near the Matema village, in the Blue Canoe Safari Lodge, which had few veggie options on the menu, but they made an amazing Indian vegetable curry there, and had authentic German sauerkraut to go with it. Strange combination, but delicious nonetheless.

What can be said for Malawi, other than the all-vegetarian meals provided in the Mushroom Farm, where we stayed two nights. Both nights we had the communal dinner (with special modifications made for us, and we didn’t even have to explain veganism, the word alone worked its magic) and also on our last morning there we ordered breakfast off the menu, again with small modifications (no fried eggs for Jonathan). I tried a typical Malawian porridge with mashed banana, potato, onion, groundnut and who knows what else! It was very filling and very tasty.

Other than that, any place I haven’t mentioned, we probably cooked in the car or had potato fries, which is the no-fail options for vegans traveling anywhere, at least in Africa. We had them in a market where the lady who fried them spoke no English at all, we had them in an empty campsite where the restaurant and bar area were shut most of the time, we had them in a busy campsite where the bartender did not understand what “vegetable samosa” meant so we ordered fries, again and again and again. My problem with it is the repetition: usually I eat them so rarely that they become a nice little treat, but having to succumb to the oily fried potatoes day-in and day-out, I am getting a little sick of the taste. The only thing that makes it bearable is the variety of hot sauces we have encountered in all the countries so far.

Corn puffs treat from Malawi
Corn puffs treat from Malawi

The other amazing thing we found in Malawi, a bit too late I am afraid, is the local corn-puff treat, salty and tasting slightly of instant noodles, we only bought one bag on our way to the Zambian border, and ate it within five minutes.

Another thing to be mentioned here is the lack of variety in most villages’ markets: apart from the usual tomato, onion and whatever local fruit, the markets provide little food even to us, so cooking for ourselves sometimes becomes redundant as well. We’ve encountered cabbage, potatoes, but most of the produce on sale is either over-ripe bananas, unripe or overripe papaya or mango, and buckets of tomatoes, sometimes nice and red, sometimes pale yellow and green. We started buying baked beans in tomato sauce and eating them on toast for breakfast. A little slice of home is sometimes the most welcome.

Me cooking in Troopy in the evening a few days ago
Me cooking in Troopy in the evening a few days ago

 

Nairobi to Dar es Salaam

This post was going to be a bit different, but the IT conspired to deposit my words in a black hole somewhere and leave me with a blank page again. Rather than try to recreate the masterpiece I had constructed from scratch, I have decided to do things a different way. So – here we are on the Indian Ocean coast of Tanzania waiting for a coconut to fall….not a particular one, just any one (I’m not picky). Wikipedia (I think) says that a coconut palm produces 50-200 coconuts per year, and that one takes a year to ripen. On that basis, I would expect each coconut palm to drop a nut very roughly every 2-7 days…but we have been amongst the palms for the best part of a week now and not seen a single coconut fall (despite signs warning us to be aware of dangerous falling coconuts!). There’s hundreds of palms loaded up with a whole gang of coconuts each, but not a single thud? Anyone care to enlighten me as to why?

But while I wait for that thud (preferably not on my head), I’ll bring you up to date with our travels since we left you in Nairobi. We had heard on the grapevine (or the internet maybe) that there was a place in Nairobi that overlanders headed to for accommodation and repairs. Jungle Junction turned out to be a really good place to relax, restore (and lose) our sanity in peace after some hard miles of rough roads, get some advice on Troopy repairs and meet a great bunch of other travellers. So we spent a few days swapping tips and tales and enjoying the peace and quiet. Not so much the cold, or the rain, but hanging out with the resident (and 1 travelling) dogs was therapeutic. JJs also has a fridge of cold beers which helps pass the time. However, we ended up staying longer than intended after Troopy’s visit to Toyota Kenya took 4 days rather than the 1-2 promised…but we got him back fully restored with a new set of wheel bearings and overhauled steering. In the meantime we ventured out of the compound and into Nairobi with a little trepidation, given the warnings we had heard about what a dangerous and unpleasant place it was. As it happened, we went for lunch at a Vegetarian Indian restaurant (good, tasty food), visited 2 consulates (got Tanzanian visas, didn’t get Mozambique), did some shopping and found the city and especially the university campus to be surprisingly pleasant…even if populated by giant storks that circle the city looking like pteradactyls and perching incongruously in the twigs of the streets’ treetops. We stocked up with fruit and veg from the friendly women at the fruit and veg stalls near JJs and were ready to continue our travels.

Next stop – the Red Elephant Safari Lodge on the border of the Tsavo East National Park, where Rea and Gunther (our new friends from JJs who are travelling around Africa by motorbike, hopefully having more luck with spares by now) had told us of a nice place to camp and seeing elephants close up. Since the lodge is outside the park, the expensive fees for entry are not a problem, and for $10 each we were given a quiet camping spot and access to one of the lodge rooms for shower and toilet facilities. Another place where we were pretty much the only guests, we found ourselves on the evening of the day we left Nairobi spending 2 hours in whispering silence as the sun set, watching about 50 elephants come by for a drink in groups of 5-10. These gentle giants (or not-so-giants as about half were young ones), in varying degrees of red, their skins coated in the red African soil, were drawn to a watering hole about 20m from where we sat on the veranda of one of the lodge’s huts. I have to apologise for the lack of photographs but there was no way I was going to go fetch my camera and miss a moment of this experience, so we sat and watched and sipped our beer. Maybe next time?

After that, we just cooked ourselves a meal in Troopy and went to sleep. In the morning we went back to see if there were any more elephants, to check it wasn’t a dream, but we hadn’t got up early enough to see anything but a rugged looking antelope hanging around after-hours at the watering hole.

Spot the Elephants
Spot the Elephants
What are you looking at?
What are you looking at?

Time to head for Tanzania! We tracked West through Tsavo NP towards Mount Kilimanjaro, stopping for lunch by a dry river in the park and startling a bushbuck that had thought it was a good spot too. Crossing the border was hassle, or not too bad, depending on your point of view as it only took 2 hours – and we were in sight of Kilimanjaro! Well, that is to say we could see the bottom half and a huge mass of cloud above which refused to dissipate and give us a show of the iconic mountain. Maybe next time?

This 2 hours did put us on a bit of a tight schedule if we were to make it to our aim of seeing the Indian Ocean that evening, but the Tanzanian roads were good and we covered the miles well through changing scenery, skirting the Usambar mountains and heading into lush, green banana and palm plantations. Not a lot of wildlife, but not as many people or domesticated animals as Ethiopia either. As we turned off the tarmac onto a dirt road with 42km to Pangani it got dark – pretty much instantly as it does in these parts – and I was a little worried we were in for a rough, tense ride as we tried to avoid holes, lumps, motorbikes and people. In fact, this minor ‘road’ turned out to be fine and after a quick dash to the coast, some debate over maps and guidebooks in Pangani, and a last 20km of potholed dirt we found ourselves in paradise. Well, Peponi Beach Resort to be exact – peponi meaning paradise in Swahili and not the Italian name of a character from the Don Camillo books I read as a teenager – where we were greeted by friendly faces and good food and drink, which at that moment had the place living up to its name.

Camping at Peponi
Camping at Peponi

Come the morning, it didn’t get worse. We were camped right on the beach under the coconut palms, with clear waters and coral reefs to look out to. This is a typical African scene – just not the one you would probably imagine.

A typical African scene
A typical African scene

We were intending to head South to Dar es Salaam the next day and visit Zanzibar, but either our host (Carys) or the place itself convinced us otherwise. That a trip to the outer reef here, lunch on a sand island only visible at low tide, some snorkelling amongst the coral and a couple of days soaking in the sun and sea – that would be better than the tourist trap of Zanzibar. Who knows?

Snorkelling Spot
Snorkelling Spot
Lunch
Lunch

But we stayed, it was beautiful and very relaxing and not for a moment regretted. Even if we did switch to self-catering after a veg samosa turned out to have been accidentally switched with a crab one and Katana spent a night with a bad stomach ache after swallowing a mouthful. These are sadly the hazards of vegan travels where food choices or allergies have not yet become ingrained into the local catering culture. It was a genuine mistake in any case and dealt with with care and proper concern and I’m sure it won’t happen there again. Anyway – my cooking is better than anything else on the planet so I was happy for the excuse to take over! 😉

In the end though we had to leave and make the long trek through slow traffic to Dar es Salaam, though we picked up an extra passenger as we did – Leo, the Peponi lion mascot has now joined us for some adventures…we promise to send him back safe and well! At the end  of another long day in the driving seat my butt was seriously complaining as we negotiated the southern sprawl of Dar – though not as Katana would have some people believe in need of surgical implants!  Again it was dark as we turned onto the final stretch to our target camp site, but this time at least it was a proper road. And again we found ourselves camping on the beach under coconut palms – still no thuds though!

Leo and Katana getting aquainted...
Leo and Katana getting aquainted…

I’m going to leave Katana to catch you up with the next episode as we experience Dar es Salaam and meet up with a friend from the Danakil Depression. Me, I’m going to go look at some coconut palms…

Addis to Nairobi

We are sitting in the swanky customer lounge of the Toyota dealers in Nairobi, with superb internet and such clean toilets. What is it with Kenya and spotless toilets? Maybe we just got so used to disgusting squats with no running water… with various insects and amphibians jumping out of the hole… but really, these are probably the cleanest toilets since we left our homes in June!

After Jonathan got better from his giardia and typhoid infection, we made our way down south slowly to Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia. Mainly we were excited to meet Mesfin, our vegan friend in Addis (to find out more, check out the interview we did with him which will be posted shortly).

The drive to Addis was somewhat ruined by a horrible night stay in Weldiya (some maps have it as Woldia), in a place that doubled up as a brothel, surrounded by pimps, where weirdness, violence, shouting, and other unpleasantness could be heard all night. To top it off, we were promised hot water, but our room simply didn’t have running water at all – there was a gross bucket with some stale liquid in it.

Addis was a difficult city to like, sporadic, with busy streets and mud roads intertwined between tall buildings, slums, and new construction all going on in literally every block. We didn’t get to see all the delights of the city, because we needed to press on south, but one day we dedicated to just walking around and seeing most things in the center. The last two nights we stayed in the famed Wim’s Holland House, and really enjoyed the service and the food.

Beautiful stoic birds on the lakes of Southern Ethiopia
Beautiful stoic birds on the lakes of Southern Ethiopia

After leaving Addis the first stop for the night was Dilla, and after driving around the town a few times, stopping to look at the various similar looking “hotels” which mostly consisted of gross mosquito-covered rooms with no running water in toilets but a lovely mouldy container with stale water for showering. We promised ourselves we were not ever going to stay in such a place again, so instead we headed to the nicest looking hotel in town, called Hotel Delight. It was actually quite miraculous! Considering this was the night before New Year celebrations, the town was full of drinking, eating and the general celebrating noise.  I was not feeling too good, so we had an early night instead.

Termite houses in the south of Ethiopia, there were so many!
Termite houses in the south of Ethiopia, there were so many!

The next day we really wanted to cross the border into Kenya, so we sped up towards Moyale. Unfortunately, seeing as how this was the New Year, the customs guy just decided not to show up for work. We were really annoyed by this, because the immigration officer was at work and stamped our passports, all we needed was five minutes in customs, and we could have pressed on. Sometimes things don’t work out as we like them to, so we were forced to stay yet another night in yet another hotel, this time a big open beer garden and restaurant with rooms in the building. The room was alright, the food was edible, the beer was plentiful, but the mosquitoes were hungry and fat and would not die even through three forms of protection! We woke up covered in bites, even though we used the mosquito net for the first time on this trip.

Desperately annoyed with customs on the Ethiopian side, we managed to get through early in the morning, did all the paperwork on the Kenyan side, and we were off! New country!

There is something to be said about the horrible rough road between Moyale and Archer’s Post. I think only the seasoned travelers and their steel stomachs and bones can survive the insane amount of shaking, jumping, vibrating, dust clouds, potholes, rock avoidance, invisible speed humps, and every imaginable nightmare. The good thing is that there was barely any other traffic at all. This side of Kenya is quite deserted and wild. The dry red earth seeps into every crevice in the car, in your clothes, and sits on your skin for days to come. There are trees and bushes, but most are thorny, dry, or dead. The few people we met were either walking their flocks of goats and cows, or working on the new road. The tiny towns and villages we passed were mostly steel square boxes or hut covered in skins and blankets. I bought a bottle of water from a woman who didn’t speak a word of English, not even the word “water”, which is very rare in Kenya, seeing as how both Swahili and English are the main languages here.

Olive Baboon with baby
Olive Baboon with baby

On our first night we stopped at Marsabit National Park, and camped just outside the gates in a public campsite. Those things are expensive! As a reward, I guess, we got a bunch of olive baboons hanging around the campsite, climbing on the toilet blocks and the water tanks, and providing a lot of entertainment for a few hours. In the morning we headed into the dense forest of the park, and were amazed by some of the oldest trees, covered in hanging branches and shrubbery. Tarzan would have loved it here! We saw a little bit of wildlife, but we mostly saw signs of wildlife: big cat paws in the sand and massive piles of elephant dung.

Katana watching wildlife
Katana watching wildlife

Next we drove to the Samburu National Park, and entered it an hour before sundown. We managed to catch zebras, many kinds of deer, gazelle, other wild horned mammals, and we saw our first elephant! I spotted a large grey-brown “rock” which suddenly started moving, then I saw the ears, and as he turned, I saw the white tusks. The elephant was not too far from the road, but seemed very shy and slowly walked off into the bushes. It was  one of those moments that actually made me tear up!

Shy elephant - our first elephant!
Shy elephant – our first elephant!

We camped in one of the park’s public campsites, but we were completely alone there, except the security guards. Jonathan was sick again… we weren’t sure if giardia was coming back, or if he caught something new, or whether it was dehydration. The evening and night was mostly spent rushing outside and me being on edge and having to sleep in the front of the car… with the handbrake sticking into my back.

Zebras watching us mere humans
Zebras watching us mere humans

The first thing that woke me up in the morning was a very curious baboon going through our things outside the car. He got a hold of the orange juice carton, and in a millisecond managed to tear it apart! Then he realized the juice was very tasty, and tried to scoop it up from the sandy floor. Next he got a hold of our big water bottle, by which point Jonathan shooed him away and the baboon reluctantly left.

Puke bucket.. cleaned by Katana. So proud to be helpful!
Puke bucket.. cleaned by Katana. So proud to be helpful!

After a small breakfast of coffee and peanut butter, Jonathan puked on the ground again. In a few minutes we were surrounded by another type of monkey, little mischievous ones up to no good! They weren’t scared of us, instead they started eating the orange-soaked sand, and then… yes, it’s true… they started eating the puke-soaked sand as well. They were particularly interested in the tiny pieces of peanut. One of the monkeys got so territorial over the puke that he became aggressive towards me! Sort of shouted and jumped around me for a few seconds until I moved out of the way. They tried climbing all over the car as well, but we soon packed up and got ready to go.

Monkey eating sand...
Monkey eating sand…

Jonathan was a brave soldier – still feeling ill, he managed to drive us around the park for a few hours, where we spotted warthogs, more types of deer and horned-hoofed mammals, and our first giraffes! Reticulated giraffes to be specific, which are extremely rare and are declining in numbers at an astonishing rate; we ran into the Reticulated Giraffe Project guys right there on the spot, even pointed them in the direction of the animals. The giraffes are astonishing animals, and seeing them in the wild eating the tops of trees, moving gracefully between bushes, staring at the human intruders – there is a huge amount of awe that comes from seeing these amazing animals in their own surroundings. Sadly we didn’t see any more elephants, but I am sure we will soon enough!

Num-num, these leaves are so yum
Num-num, these leaves are so yum

After Samburu we drove to Isiolo to give ourselves a rest and regroup. We spotted a nice enough hotel, with alright food, except in the morning, without even asking us, they served us lots of dairy, meat and other disgusting food. It was a total blow to us, because this food was already cooked, so not eating it at this point is basically the same as eating it – the meat, the eggs and the dairy were used. Still, we picked up our spirits and drove to Nairobi – or rather to Thika. We decided that Troopy needs a real service, as he has been leaking and sounding strange after all the rough roads. The drive to Nairobi is so different to anything we have seen in many many weeks! Real highways, big Western-style farms, signposts, malls, supermarkets and many many cars. We stayed in Thika in a strange place that was only half-built, but the service was still impeccable and their toilets! So clean!

I have very conflicted opinions about Ethiopia. I didn’t really have an image of the country before we came to visit, but in the end it turned out to be nothing like I could have ever imagined. It is extremely diverse, loud and busy, full of human and domestic animal life, the people are curious about strangers, most of them very friendly and interested (too interested when it comes to kids herding cows!), but we encountered a few crooks as well. The meat traditions are very off-putting to us vegans, but on the other hand veganism is slowly on the rise. The landscapes are so diverse, from freezing cold mountains to dry deserts. And most importantly, it is the birthplace of coffee!

Noodles for Lunch
Jonathan making lunch on a mountain in the picturesque scenery of Ethiopia