Category Archives: Travel

Mobile technology innovation rock stars, East Africa

I’m in Nakuru, Kenya and I just committed to extend my stay in the country for another two weeks. Destination, Lamu Island on the Kenyan coast. Flight change to The States, check. Flight from Nairobi to Lamu, check. Booking my overnight accommodations for a mere $35/night (including breakfast…and a bonus lobster dinner, but that’s another story…). But wait, they can’t take a credit card. What to do? I worked it out to have the establishment I was staying at in Nakuru, run my card, and then they M-Pesa’d the money to the owner of the little beachside bed and breakfast I was staying at. No credit card, no checks. All through mobile technology. (“M” is for mobile, “Pesa” means money in Swahili). I didn’t really think much on it at the time. Convenient for me, now a nice leisurely re-visit to Lamu.

On returning to The States, I wanted to learn more about the place I had spent the last month in. I set up my google alerts generally to “Kenya.” I get a weekly email digest of the news and happenings… online. What is catching my attention is all of the tech focus and I learn more about the M-Pesa technology. It’s quite amazing to say the least.

M-Pesa was launched in 2007 by Safaricom, a mobile service there similar to our Verizon Wireless. As of 2012, more than 17 million Kenyan’s (roughly 70 percent of the adult population) were using M-Pesa to pay for things from groceries to the little B&B on the coast. About 25% of the countries gross national product is running through mobile phones. Kenya leads the world in mobile money. And with that a bigger technology and innovation hub has emerged out of Nairobi.

Kenyan developers are designing straight to the hand-held mobile device. I can only imagine how their innovators and designers are processing information with mobile in mind, not getting distracted by designing for the computer.  Hopefully, Indianapolis-based ExactTarget has Nairobi on their radar. I think we have a lot we could learn from one another.

PBS Newshour

In Love with Louisville

I visit Louisville at least 2 times a year. It’s a fun not so distant getaway from my home city of Indianapolis. When you make it here, check out:

Downtown Market Street 
Okay. You have to visit 21C even if you decide not to stay there (And tell them how badly you’d love for Indianapolis to have one!). They have a museum on the first floor that is open to the public. There is a restaurant there called Proof that would be a great place for a meal, source local. And/or a cocktail. Great bourbon flights! The first time I popped into this spot, they were hosting MadMen viewing parties on Sundays, dress up to participate.
Market Street East / NuLu
Pop into The Louisville Beer Store. You can drink beer at the liquor store and open any of their over 500 of unique craft bottle offerings to enjoy and share in the store. They will have a mean selection to enjoy and to bring home. On this visit enjoyed the Baciami Lipsia (Kiss My Lips) from Birrificio Del Ducato (Italy) on draught. My first time enjoying a brew that had been salted. Official description: Italian Sour Ale aged in wine barrels and brewed with pink salt.
Also, Dine at The Garage Bar. Check out The Green Building. Have to work while you are here? Check out Please and Thank You for a variety of coffees, teas and pastries and a vinyl listening box.
Stayed at the NuLu Pearl property this round a wonderful airbnb find. 
Bardstown Road
The BEST beers on Tap in Louisville will be at The Holy Grale. And it’s an old converted church. (Good Dining Option as well.) The space and vibe is wonderful. There are some great Local Louisville Shops up and down Bardstown if you wanted to browse for locally made products or Love The Ville type products.
Oh and you’ve got to pop into O’Shea’s . And well, it’s like 5-10 degrees warmer in The Ville. If you happen to get a beautiful afternoon…There’s a cigar shop along Bardstown, J Shepherd Cigars, in the area of O’Shea’s worth checking out…and a nice hill to just perch and enjoy…
Cumberland Brewery for your Beer Flight.
Quill’s Coffee – Local coffee roaster; Great yogurt parfait’s for breakfast!
Other Areas
Not connected to an area for browsing…but everything is within driving range…maybe 15 minutes away from one another or from downtown.
Sergio’s is an experience as well. Will probably have the greatest variety of rare beers…Sergio’s has been bringing good beer to The Ville for a long time. The Louisville Beer store is the new kid with great offerings as well, maybe 4-5 year’s old. (They also own The Holy Grale and are opening a new bed and breakfast near that property and the new Gralehaus.)
Oh My…and The Monkey Wrench — Think young, hip, biker bar esq…like Indianapolis-based The Melody Inn…
And The Nachbar Dive Bar…Great beers on tap!
If you are in the mood for old school games and live music: Zanzabar. (Food’s Good Here Too.)
Fourth Street Live
There are only 3 places worth visiting on or just off 4th Street. Louisville caters to convention traffic so you will see familiar chains. Now, I would definitely say to visit this block during Derby weekend! The Three Places worth visiting: Marker’s Mark Lounge (to try rare small batch bourbon) and the Bluegrass Brewing Company (This is a restaurant/not the brewing facility – Food’s Good!). There’s also a coffee shop/cafe that is interesting there with a grocery store where you can buy locally made food products…like the basement of Goose The Market…Marketplace Restaurant. Near The Brown Hotel.
Oh and on the way out of Louisville by car, pop into the Liquor Barn in Springhurst. They will have 20 Taps, you can fill growlers to bring home if that suites your fancy. AND stock up on rare Bourbons : )
And stop off at a Heine Brothers to bring home some coffee to brew at home! (Many Locations)
Here’s the link to the Holiday Inn I usually stay at there. It’s right next to The Louisville Cardinals Football stadium.

Welcome Home. Shela, Lamu Island

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We arrive to Jaha House, our home for the week, in Shela. Greeted with fresh juice as gentleman carry in our bags. To the right of the entry way is our pool, much-needed and often used to cool off in the 90 degree heat. Let’s do that. Get in the pool and enjoyed a couple of bottles of white wine to settle in.  There are small shelves/windows with the intention of storing treasures from your journey. These shelves are filled with sea shells. The house is completely open. Some windows with no covering. This is strategic in design to catch the wind and keep certain areas cool throughout the house.  Dinner is served, a wonderful welcoming meal somewhat familiar served around coconut rice, similar to a meal I prepare at home with shrimp, mango, papaya, garlic and ginger…kitamu (tasty)! Our meal tonight included fresh grilled tuna, a tomato based ratatouille, carrot salad, mango and roasted pumpkin. Absolutely wonderful. After dinner we head to one of the few places that serves alcohol on this side of the island, Peponi (paradise).  A full bar though. We get introduced to some of the locals, we spend time with throughout the week. Everyone is extremely welcoming.

We wake in the mornings to eggs prepared how we individually request them, toast and the most delicious butter spread, tea and a fruit plate usually including mango, papaya, banana and passion fruit. And always a freshly squeezed juice to drink. Our chef for the week, Evance, did a tremendous job.

Take in several sunset sails. One evening we were preparing to head to the dhow and a gentleman approaches our home selling oysters. At $6 for a dozen, I oblige. He breaks the shell in front of the house and our chefs prepare a plate of salt, lime and tabasco. An additional treat on the dhow in addition to samosas and wine.

Enjoyed shopping at Ali Lamu. An artist collective that formed in 2008 around making art out of old dhow sails. Items range from bags to pillows, wall art, notebooks and more. Local women contribute with the sewing and local fisherman paint on this canvas. The sale of these goods provides supplemental income for the fisherman during the low tourist season.

On a days adventure alone, I talk with locals at Peponi talking about the days catch and another one talking about the institution of marriage. Then I sit  to read The Alchemist and enjoy a cocoa dusted cappuccino served at Peponi. I take in a swim in the ocean. When I am laying out to dry off a family of vacationers from Mombasa, Kenya’s second largest city, make conversation with me. They comment on my red, curly hair. One of the teenage daughter’s asked to take a photo with me. I’m in for a couple of photos and have a Facebook friend request awaiting me on my return home. I had been asking around to find anyone who may make beer at home. I didn’t find beer but I did have someone take me on a hike into the dunes to try palm wine. Fermented sap from palm trees. I was served in a traditional pint glass. The locals were served in reused jelly jars with a wooden straw with a tiny wrapped filter on the bottom to keep from getting sediment. We visit a local in his home on our return back to Shela. The center of his home is a tree, the walls made of palm leaves. The center tree seems to be housing all of the home owners most prized possessions. The view from his home is spectacular. I finish my day alone by sitting on the top of Jaha house at a beautiful desk overlooking through palm trees, the dhows sailing during sunset. And the sound of the call to prayer sounds beautiful and historic.  When the girls get back, there is a beach party to attend.

Lamu is a magical place. I never would have imagined a beach vacation as something I desired. I am a pretty fast-paced person. The people of Lamu are incredibly open-hearted and welcoming. On my second visit I was greeted with, “Welcome home.” From what I hear, when anyone visits this place, we leave a little bit of ourselves behind. To be revisited again and again. This is a very happy place and you’d be surprised at how fast the day fills itself with local activities: dhow trips, fresh seafood, wedding celebrations, birthdays, backgammon or simply reading under happy tree.

“Tonight, we eat calamari for sure” Manda Island, Kenya

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We visit Manda Island a couple of times during our time in Lamu. New homes have been built on the island within the past 10 years. Although, no water system. Water is transported from Lamu to Manda in huge barrels. Quite expensive. On our first visit we check out Lamu House Beach Club for lunch and a swim in the ocean. It’s amazing. The mirror replica of Robert Indiana‘s LOVE sculpture catches my attention as I affirm that this is exactly where I am supposed to be. Based on what is behind the bar, it seems that Gin is their specialty. I order a Negroni prepared by our bartender for the afternoon, Chai. I enjoyed watching him prepare the drink. Taking a bar towel full of ice, wrapped with his fist and beating it with something like a stick used to muddle lime, sugar and mint for a mojito. We went for a swim in the ocean while our meal was being prepared. We meet a fisherman on the beach who caught some octopus that day. How appropriate as we planned to enjoy grilled calamari for lunch. It was delicious and fresh served with a lovely salad and buttered potato. Simple and wonderfully delicious.

On another lunch trip we visit The Majlis Restaurant for rum cocktails (The Jack Sparrow, Caipirinha and Zombie, yes, Zombie) and grilled pizza and a swim. The place is absolutely beautiful with its tribute to Lamu’s traditional architecture and design. The interior was full of massive sized sculptures, artwork and photographs. Amazing rugs and plenty of low sitting seating areas. No junk, No knickknacks. This place is THE spot for New Year’s Eve, and weddings of course. I made a little joke to the girls that the birds were chirping, “rafiki, rafiki, rafiki.” Three syllables to each chirp. We manage to see the Governor, again! This time with a different group of people including a woman dressed in her traditional abaya and a white baseball cap to protect her from the sun. She seemed to be a politician so I asked the gentleman down the way on the beach and they confirmed. I didn’t catch her name. One of the woman I was with had commented that she didn’t get any assistance down the steps or into the boat. I like that she was treated as more of an equal to the men.

There’s a gentleman in town who own’s a home on the island that is celebrating his 40th birthday. He has about 20-30 of his friends fly in and of course everyone on the island is invited to lunch at his home. Traditional Swahili beef pilau (rice with potato, tomato, cabbage and a great spread of spices) is being served with Tusker brews and a taarab band from Nairobi is providing entertainment. The dish is delicious and can’t wait to try to make it.

The next evening is another part of the celebratory weekend, moving down to Diamond Beach Village. Another beach bar with a cement dance floor. Discover that they make really great oven fired pizza’s as well, but I already ate. Simply relax and dance the night away.

Lamu Cultural Festival

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The 13th Annual Lamu Cultural Festival took place November 21-24, 2013. We checked out events in Mkunguni Square. Cheered for one of our travel companions as she joined the Casa dhow crew, one of 3 dhows from Shela, for the sailing competition. And cheered for our guides donkey, Bruce, in the donkey race. I enjoyed observing spectators getting creative in how to observe the races. In trees, on rooftops. Not like here in Indianapolis where we rent grand stands for traditional seating. It was more fun.

We manage to run into the Governor Issa Timamy. We have brief introductions and when he learns we are from The States, he asks us to “tweet” about Lamu and the great time we are having. Would have never expected to hear that as so far, no one we had met on the island was on twitter or had regular access to Wi-Fi. But to tweet, we shall.

Welcome to Paradise; Lamu, Kenya

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We take a 16-24 passenger plane to the coast of Kenya, Lamu Island. It’s about a 2-hour flight (13 hours by car). Get picked up by boat from the Manda Island airstrip to go to Lamu Island. Our guide had sent some of the locals to us at baggage pickup to help us with our bags. Didn’t carry a thing during our entire time on the coast. “Welcome to Paradise” many of the locals would say and of course “Karibu” and “Jambo” from the children.

Our second day we take to Lamu Town. A real treat to watch everyone celebrating with drumming, singing and dancing. They are celebrating Issa Timamy’s reinstatement as Lamu Governor.

Check out Whispers Cafe for coffee and juice as it’s in all the travel books. Take in some shopping to gear up on more beach attire and gifts. Sought after a few unique jewelry pieces and bags at Magik Grace. Take a walk through the Farmer’s Market and take a peek into the fish market as well.

Spend a morning with the kids at New Life Home Trust. It’s the last day of the school year so we are joining them for the graduation ceremony. Mothers joined and sat on the floor. The program included several performances from the children. Welcome songs, poems, traditional Lamu and Kenyan celebratory songs. One song was of a political nature encouraging their parents to send them to school putting great emphasis on their education. The children went around the room stating what they wanted to be when they grow up. Then there were some fun, light-hearted skits, like “The Nairobian’s.” Some of the girls dressed up as models working the runway like women would in a Nairobi Fashion Show. They girls had such confidence as they worked that runway.

Enjoy a meal at a locally owned place. I ordered a whole grilled snapper with coconut rice for 500 Shillings or about $6 USD. Our dishes were served with a side of this amazing red garlic sauce. This restaurant was a great people watching spot. There were drummers drumming nearby, singing and dancing and locals joined as they were walking by.

On another trip to Lamu Town one evening, we check out Petley’s Rooftop Bar and enjoy Shisha (hookah) with a Dawa cocktail, Kenya’s national drink. I was also pleasantly surprised to find Four Roses Bourbon and excited to buy a round for my new local friends as it was a little bit of my home I could share with them. Everyone here had been so generous in sharing their home with me.

Make a pit stop in Lamu Town before heading out to stock up on alcohol, one of the few places to purchase alcohol. We walk through a Muslim cemetery to get there. The gravestones in arabic. Afterwards, visit the Floating Bar before heading back to our place. Enjoy a couple of scotch pours and plug-in our phones, taking turns at being DJ. Enjoy the sun with our feet dipped into the ocean. Afya (Cheers)!

On one of our trips to Shela Beach from Lamu Town, we join a dhow full of the bridal party for a wedding later that day. And of course, everyone is invited.

A night out in Nairobi

A night out in Nairobi is exactly what I need before heading back to the Kenyan coast. Kelly with The Village Experience had made friends with one of the co-founders of the Africa Yoga Project and we decide to take her up on her offer for a night out and a bed and hot water bottle at her place. We meet Paige at her place. She is from New York City and had been living in Nairobi now for six years. Paige happened to score some tickets to a wine tasting we are excited to check out. Really grateful to have the opportunity to taste some African wines (and beers) and talk to the wine makers, brewers and distributors. This style of event is quite familiar to me. I felt at home.

My favorite wine of the night was the Meerlust Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 from South Africa, that went for 3700 Shillings or $43 USD. It was as good as fine wine with age with the complexities of tobacco and earth. Heaven in a glass.

Managed to try a few craft brews from The Big 5 Breweries: Kifabock, a lightly hopped Dubbel Bock.  Nyatipa pale ale, which satisfied my bitter hop cravings. And ended with a Temstout which had nice notes of coffee and chocolate flavor.

The ladies loved the Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand. It was their repeat tasting while we enjoyed a variety of delicious cheeses and flavored chocolates.

Then off to visit the casino. My first time. Of course my first time to visit a casino is in Kenya of all places. We play roulette. I bet maybe the equivalent of $10 USD and enjoy two double Johnny Black Label on the rocks. I win some and lose most.

Next stop? Tree House where Kelly had heard a DJ friend of hers was going to be. I found Caol Ila 12…neat please. We dance the night away. I danced with an older gentleman that completely took the lead to some music of spanish influence. I felt relaxed and simply enjoyed the night.