Swimming in Kenya’s Nyayo National Stadium

I arrived back to Nairobi Monday mid-afternoon ready to get my workout in for the day. I had done some research prior to arrival and found my best option (of only two options in the country) was Nyayo National Stadium, in downtown Nairobi. I was a bit nervous about this for a few reasons.

First and most basic was actually just uncertainty about the pools advertised hours of operation. I wasn’t sure if they were accurate, or if the pool even still operated. But the hotel quickly confirmed all was good and it was a fairly popular location.

Which brought me to my second concern – how to deal with possible theft. I assumed they wouldn’t have lockers, which made me wonder what to do with my clothes and my little camera – plus taxi money to get back. Luckily, in this case, I was able to simply have my taxi driver wait. In Kenya it’s very common for your taxi driver to simply wait for you (and it’s only a few dollars). Interestingly, he actually came in and stand in the stands and watched me swim. Pretty funny.

Finally, my last concern was one of at least somewhat fitting in. I had no idea what to expect. Would it be like a giant wave pool at a theme park, or more like a fancy competition pool? Would I (likely the only white dude there) be sticking out like a sore thumb, attracting unwanted attention – or would it all be cool?

Well…with that, in I went and paid my 100 Kenyan Shillings…or roughly a dollar. From the outside the building (which I forgot to take a picture of), looks rather…sketchy. I like the bottom of the receipt where it says “Goods are not returnable”…hmm, what would I return? Perhaps all the pool water I drank…

IMGP4338 From there there was a list of ‘rules’ and assorted information off to the side.

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After that I headed up the steps a bit and into the main bowl of the stadium, where this sign was greeting me.

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I can say with good certainty that basically all the rules were ignored. But that’s OK, as it wasn’t too bad. From there, I was presented with this view:

IMGP4325 Not too bad of a pool actually. The first thing you’ll note is the lack of lane ropes, though lines are painted. The second item of slight concern was the large population of kids near the pool – particularly on the far end. It was a National Holiday here today (Monday) in Kenya, so that seemed to imply more kids were present. Luckily it appeared the hundred or so kids were mostly on their way out.

The next item on the checklist was getting changed. I quickly ducked into the ‘bathroom’ and got into my suit. I’m not sure why I didn’t take a picture of this little room as it was only a few feet big, I should have. Mostly because once you’ve seen this locker/dressing room you will never again complain about your local swimming pool’s locker room. The best way to describe it is 1960’s pure concrete, three tiny stalls, one sink, no changing area, and ‘water’ (or something) covering the floor. And had a solid campsite bathroom smell that likely had been aging for some time. I used all possible means to avoid touching anything, like playing a game of twister.

From there…it was time to jump into the pool and get to business. This was actually the first time I’ve ever swam in a 50m pool the 50m direction (long course). So the first few laps were a bit of a rush to get used to. Though, that might have been the damn-cold water causing the rush. I’m guessing perhaps 68*F or so, not really sure. But after a couple of laps it was all good.

And for the most part, people stayed out of my way. Which…may have had to do with the fact that I was definitely the only white dude there, and the only dude actually swimming. Everyone else was floating around, minus the two ladies closest in the picture above, who were doing a multi-lane drifting backstroke. The good news with them is I got really good at sighting and ducking around them when they meandered into my lane.

A lot of people were watching me swim though, in every breath I could see essentially everyone in the stadium focused on me. Not sure if it was because I didn’t fit, or because I could swim. Either way…

After some 1500 continuous meters of ‘warm-up’, I got into a main set of 2×600 @ 50 hard and then 50 easy. It’s amazing the difference between going 50m straight all out, versus 25m, with a flip and then 25m. A whole new experience. A good one though. After 300 more meters of cool down, I was good to go with 3000m essentially continuous. Which was probably good, as I was the only one left in the pool at that point. Well, except my Taxi driver, watching from the stands.

IMGP4327I quickly changed again in the little ‘locker room’ thing and got my show on the road. Though I did take one last picture from the stands, below.

PoolPano Afterwards my coworkers and I went to Carnivore (a usual stop when I go to Nairobi now), which is kinda like a Brazilian steakhouse in that they bring big skewers of meat out to the table and then carve it off for ya – all you can eat style. To be fair however, while the meat was really good – the vegetarian options were incredible, and actually a bit better I think.

IMGP4342 IMGP4350 Anyway, that’s it for today, onto tomorrow!

(Slightly delayed posting due to lack of Internet)

22 Comments

  1. Great post! So jealous of all your travels. I remember when the changed our pool from the short to the long course. Even though 50 meters is the same as 25 meters two times, there is something about the switch that shocks the body. Weird swimming psychology, I guess!

    Reply
  2. Brian

    I just have to ask again...how do you manage your camera during all these times?

    Did your taxi driver hold it for you? I would've been pretty worried about one of those kids running off with my camera...

    I've even seen in one of your previous Africa trips, you had pictures from the water (of camels on the beach)...so you actually carried your camera out into the water that time I'm assuming.

    Enjoy all the interesting posts...

    Reply
  3. Yup, the Taxi driver held all my clothes and camera in a bright yellow grocery - which actually made it super easy to spot from the pool.

    And yup, my camera is waterproof (Optio W60), it's just a small point and shoot type camera that happens to be waterproof down to 15 feet or so. It's awesome.

    Reply
  4. man nice pool swim and weather

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  5. Thats what the pool at Fort Myer is like, only the one in Kenya has a few more lanes. Its tough swimming in a 50m pool, let alone one without lane lines. It tends to get a bit more choppy when there are a lot of swimmers, which is good for training, but bad for keeping people from floating into your lane, thus causing head collisions. Glad to hear you survived the swim.

    Reply
  6. Thanks for taking us along on your travels! Great stuff!

    Probably not a good idea to take photos inside locker rooms in foreign places. Might end up in some tiny foreign cell for thirty-to-life for nefarious proclivities. I'm just sayin'....

    Reply
  7. I have to say you do a much better job of finding places to work out when you are travelling than I do.

    What does your swim book say about Baghdad?

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  8. That's actually a nice pool. Glad you were able to get a swim in.

    Reply
  9. Anonymous

    Ray, this is becoming one of my favorite blogs. Always something different, always something cool.

    I love the detail of the posts, too.

    Reply
  10. Brian

    Thanks for the answer about the camera, I'm assuming you carry the same one on your runs too?

    I'm not too crazy about carrying anything other than a towel when I'm running unfortunately.

    Agree with the above commenter that this is becoming one of my favorite blogs. Thanks!

    Reply
  11. What fun! I'm sure you were Michael Phelps to them ;p

    The locker room sounds just like the ones we had to use at the cabana pools around here!

    Reply
  12. Brian - Yup, same one I carry on my runs. That's the nice thing about the Optio W60 being waterproof. I don't have to worry about it getting wet with sweat (or a random rainshower). In fact, as my brother proved, you can even put it in a glass of beer.

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  13. Sounds like an interesting experience you had there! A dollar or two goes a long way!

    Reply
  14. Next time you want a 50 M pool experience just drive the 5 hours south to Camp Lejeune and I'll get you in for free. There are even lockers...the loafing around non swimming jar heads are no additional cost!

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  15. That pool looks a lot nicer than what I would have expected, too.

    No pics of the vegetarian dishes?!

    Reply
  16. Great pool find! I love the 50 M pool that I swim in. It gives me time to really focus and work on drill sets and I like the fact that I don't have to do as much counting and loose track of where I am in my workout. The curascaria looks yummy!

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  17. That pool is better than anything we have here in Tulsa. Love reading about your adventures.

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  18. Great piece just so you get more depdth of comparison you surely would have done Kasarani's pool.Its the second option and give your take...you welcome to visit again!

    Reply
  19. I'm looking into doing a semester abroad in Kenya and need to attempt to stay in shape for my swim team back home, so far this is the only bit of information that has help, thank you sooo much

    Reply
  20. Anonymous

    I can say for sure that there are more than 2 options in Nairobi alone let alone Kenya if you want to go swimming - there are several public pools and many, many private pools (i.e., in hotels and private clubs) that you can go swimming in - the private ones may be for a small fee.

    Having said that, I do like your blog, it is interesting.

    And as for the part about not touching anything, I get the same feeling when I go to my local Sport and Health Club - who knows what you can catch there.

    Reply
  21. I was in Kenya last week! Unfortunately, I didn't have time to swim. At least the hotel, the Fairmont Norfolk, had a fitness center and some treadmills. Only 2 out of the 5 hotels in which I stayed in Africa had fitness centers, despite the premium prices.

    I also had dinner at Carnivore. Interesting place. It was the only red meat I had the entire trip. Glad I tried it once; I'd pick the vegetarian option next time. I don't recommend the Ox...

    Reply
  22. gichora

    the steak is called nyama choma in swahili..... best in the world

    Reply

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