December 2016: Kenya, Africa - Part 1: On safari
Kenya Africa, home of‘Out of Africa’, ‘White Mischief’, ‘Happy Valley’ and some of the great safari destinations in that mysterious continent.
When our friends Jenny and Robert invited us for a New Year’s Eve safari we jumped at the chance. Australians we know from Penang, Robert is on assignment in Nairobi.
After only a day settling in at their gorgeous home in a VERY secure compound, we were off on our five-hour drive to our safari camp. Really more like a resort complete with faux-tented villas and a main lodge facing a water hole. All that separated us from the animals was a three-foot deep trench and one string of electric wire. The two-ton Rhino that kept staring at me seemed to know that.
Day 1 - we are up at the crack of dawn and out on the trails in our little truck with a pop up roof. This is not really wild Africa. It is an enormous game reserve: gated, fenced and guarded against poachers by steely guys with big guns. But, the animals (all of the big 5) roam free in relative safety.
We see herds of elephants, many rhinos, giraffes, zebra, hyenas and water buffalo. More kinds of antelope than I can name. But, our big moment came when we came across two skittish hyenas running around and sniffing the air. Following them for another few hundred yards we suddenly smelled it. Death. Not a rotten smell, more sweet and very strong. Then, at a turn in the path there they were, eight lions and one big, dead buffalo. Three of the eight lions were female; two were males and three gorgeous cubs. They had eaten and barely looked up at us.
The next morning we returned and everybody was up. The buffalo was just a rib cage now and a big male was gnawing on a leg. You could hear the bones crack. Even though we were in the open topped truck, one big male walked up and stared us down from about 5 feet. We all sank back into our seats.
There was much more, like a gorgeous hawk that had just taken down a baby Thompson gazelle. However, the lions were the highlight and that moment we first saw them, so close we could have reached out and touched them, will never be forgotten.
New Years Eve was fun, the local people lovely. More experienced people told us that the wilder it gets the less likely you will ever see as many animals. We would like to give it a try. As first timers, this was perfect
Africa - Part 2 Friendly Giraffe’s and an Old Murder Mystery
We returned to Nairobi from our safari and hit the road immediately. Part two of our Kenyan adventure.
Perhaps you have seen the YouTube video of Giraffe Manor, an animal sanctuary located about 45 minutes drive out of town in the district known as ‘Karen’. This is the place where gorgeous giraffe’s come to your breakfast table and eat out of your hand.
At the Manor endangered Rothschild Giraffe’s are protected and bred and returned to the wild. This breed lived up near the Somali border and was nearly wiped out in the ongoing civil war. When their last breeding farm was bought by the Kenyan government, they moved the remaining stock to the Manor and they have 8-10 animals in residence at any one time.
The Manor was built in 1932, went through several owners and fell into disrepair until bought in 1983, restored and turned into a six-room hotel in 1984. Four more rooms were added later. It is a hauntingly beautiful place with original period furnishings, including antiques owned by Karen Blixen of 'Out of Africa’ fame and the namesake of the district we are in.
Our first experience was a sunset feeding where the animals come out of their paddock into an area fronting the hotel’s terrace and you feed them special pellets from your hand or from your lips if you are bold enough. All around you warthogs scurry about gorging on dropped bits while the wardens push them away with sticks, as they can be a bloody nuisance. This goes on for over an hour with the setting sun behind you. Ice-cold white wine, canapés and liveried waiters make the experience unforgettable. We learn the ladies are bigger and more aggressive while the males are smaller and more than willing to accept a hug and mug for the camera.
After a wonderful dinner under the stars and a blissful sleep we are up early for the breakfast show. I open the door of the Finch-Hatton suite (named after Blixen’s lover) and a baby warthog runs in. Mom, the size of a fat Saint Bernard with tusks) is right outside so I very gently encourage the little guy to depart.
Breakfast is magical. The high ceilinged rooms with huge open windows allow the giraffe’s to stick their heads and necks in hovering over your shoulder as you enjoy your Eggs Benedict and Champagne. We loved the experience, and the gorgeous grounds. Beware, it is VERY expensive and one night is all anyone would need.
We spent the next few hours touring the ‘Karen’ district with our car and driver. This was the ‘Happy Valley’ area made famous by the book and movie ‘White Mischief'. Here, in the late 30’s, wealthy Brits bought huge tracts of farmland and partied like rock stars while avoiding the war in Europe. Drugs sex and yes; murder. Sir Jock Delves Broughton arrived with his much younger wife Diana and she immediately took up with Lord Errol, the local man in uniform who bedded most of the women in the Valley at some point.
One night in 1941, Lord Errol was found by the side of the road in his car with a bullet behind his ear. Every one knew Jock did it. He was charged, went to trial but never convicted. The spot where the body was found is just a few hundred yards from Karen Blixen’s house, now a lovely museum. You can’t make these stories up. The 1987 movie with Joss Ackland, Charles Dance, Greta Scaatchi is well worth watching. We asked who lived in these wonderful estates now and were surprised to learn it is the grandsons and granddaughters of the original Happy Valley residents. The lands were never sold off.
We had a spectacular time in Kenya and owe so much to Jenny and Robert for making it such an unforgettable experience.
Nairobi - What & Where
Sweetwater Serena Camp - Located within the sprawling Ol Pejeta Conservancy, one of Kenya’s most noteworthy conservancies and home to the ‘Big Five’ (elephant, rhino, lion, buffalo and leopard), this safari is ideal for beginners because you are guaranteed/easier to see the Big Five and it’s closer to Nairobi.
Giraffe Manor Set in a 1930s manor house with gardens and a resident herd of endangered Rothschild giraffes, this posh all-inclusive hotel is very close to Karen Blixen Museum and less than 30 minute drive from Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. You don’t need more than one night as it is expensive but I would arrive before sunset for the afternoon feeding of the giraffes. It is truly a bucket-list experience. There are only 10 rooms so book early to avoid disappointment. Highly recommended!
Karen Blixen - If you loved Out of Africa, you'll love this museum in the farmhouse where author Karen Blixen lived between 1914 and 1931. She left after a series of personal tragedies, but the lovely colonial house has been preserved as a museum.