Sunday, 17 April 2011


Under a couple of hours from Nairobi, on the shore of Lake Naivasha, can be found this charming little place, with campsites and little cottages. The view is directly onto the lake, with mountains all around. It is very pretty, and very chill.

We arrived in time for a picnic lunch - what we could steal back from the bees - under a set of trees in which monkeys were playing. In the evening we went on a boat ride, which was a very pretty way to see the lake, and also, for those with poor social skills, a good chance to see and argue about bird species. There was also a sizeable pod of hippos.

We had dinner in Carnelly’s charming little restaurant, which is quaint and Kenyan without inducing nausea, quite a feat. There may have been some boozing, and some pingpong. Before bed, a double miracle: showers open to the sky that were both hot and clean.

We had a lovely jasmine scented sleep, as there was a hedge outside our door, and woke up to breakfast at the still quaint and Kenyan restaurant.

I saw a woman I presume to be the owner, who was tall and blond, wearing shorts, a T-shirt and slick of red on her lips. Now, I regard this as hardly generous. It is not kind to others to look this good at 8am on campsite. It almost undid all the good of my holiday, really, but somehow I soldiered on, forcing down my delicious banana pancakes like a champ, and seeking consolation in the view.

Their website is here. Camping 600KSh/person, Dorms 800 KSh/person, cottages vary.

Friday, 8 April 2011


I got amazingly lost trying to find this museum. This is no exaggeration, because when I asked a passerby, she literally said, “You are so lost, it is amazing!”

So, having amazed at least some portion of the Nairobi populace, I eventually arrived at this rather charming colonial house. It is the former home of the writer Isak Dinesen, or Karen Blixen, who wrote OUT OF AFRICA, and is retained as a museum of her life and work by the Kenyan government.

It has high roofs and mahogany paneling, and while some of the contents are props from the movie, much is original, and rather touching. So though you can indeed see Robert Redford’s trousers, you can also see the massive suitcase which she bought on the steamship, still with its original label; you can see a paniting her mum brought her, to encourage her to go back to her hobby; you can see her butter churn; you can see her really very sweet sock dryers, which are a pair of flat wooden cutouts of feet, for stretching wet socks.

In the garden, there is a flame tree more than a hundred years old, which was there when she arrived, and the palm trees she planted. You can see where she used to sit in her garden, with its gorgeous view of the Ngong Hills. She had set up her seat so as to be able to see her lover’s grave there.

I found visiting her house and learning about her life quite heartening. The reason that there is not much of her original stuff in the house is that she was bankrupt by the time she was forced to leave Africa. Her coffee plantation was a failure, she was divorced, her lover was dead, and she had syphilis.

And yet here we were at a museum to her life, being led around by a very knowledgable guide who obvoiusly considered her a remarkable Kenyan. Clearly you can screw your life up royally, professionally and personally, and still make it out the other end museum-worthy.

More really than this outward success, what I found touching was the ordinary details of the life of what had clearly been a very kind hearted lady. You can see in the house a picture of a little boy who worked in her kitchen, whose education she paid for, and who became a successful lawyer, and later the first judge of his native Somalia. He died in the civil war in that country in 1984. This is just one year, the guide told us most seriously, before the movie came out.

That this lady was a true original is amply testified to by the many pictures of her in the house in which she is to be found wearing two hats. She believed the African sun was too harsh for just the one.

(Karen Blixen Museum, Karen Road, Nairobi, Non Resident 800KSh, Residents 100KSh)

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

SAVANNAH COFFEE LOUNGE at the Nairobi National Museum

Where BLANKETS AND WINE, previously blogged about, is about seeing and being seen, this lovely little cafe is mostly about seeing.

I recommend it especially early in the morning - from 7.30 am or so. It is quiet, and empty. The outdoor seating is on the second floor, so you sit among the trees, looking out at the museum gardens. In the distance, you can see the Nairobi skyline, looking uncharacteristically still and peaceful.

The kites swoop all around you, and there are hammerkops building their nests. If you are lucky, you will even see a Sykes monkey swinging through the canopy.

Less exotic, but just as much a must-see are the museum cats, who are usually stretched out in the sun on a neighbouring roof. They generally lie so still I fear they are dead, but so far not: they are just very relaxed.

The Americanos are very nice, and come with a little biscuit. You might just end up as relaxed as the cats.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Blankets and Wine

This is a monthly live music event held in Nairobi.

It is an outdoor event, held in a field, where you sit on the aforementioned blankets, and drink a good deal of the aforementioned wine.

But don't become confused and feel that you should wear something apropriate to sitting on the ground, such as say, jeans and T-shirt. Oh no. Blankets and Wine is about more than Blankets and Wine: it's about seeing and being seen. You need to look good. I saw a lot of ladies showing us the way forward, in terms of strapless dresses and long skirts, and a couple of gentlemen also showing us the future of modern African chic.

I am afraid I am not entirely sure who all the musicians were. The clue is in the title: it is blankets and wine. This is the main point. And it is a very strong point indeed.

Lots of sun, lots of fun people, lots of happy children getting jiggy with it. Here's the website, which is excellent, though I suggest that maybe they shouldn't, on the about page, tell customers right to their faces that the event exists to "provide numbers for key lifestyle brands."

(Image courtesy Blankets and Wine website)

Sunday, 3 April 2011


The Ngong Forest Reserve does not have an especially topnotch reputation for safety. Thus, while it is open to the public, public with brains only go with a guide. On the first and third Saturday of every month there are guided walks (more here, and super hardcore version here)and we went on one on April 3.

We were early, so had to wait for our guide, and saw several strangely unafraid hardedars, a large Vervet monkey, and a troop of twenty racehorses, one of whom got away from his guide, greatly to the amusement of the other guides.

Boggling our minds by arriving early, our guide Nicholas proved to be in full uniform and impressively fully informed about the forest. We saw pied kingfishers, divebombing for fish repeatedly, black winged stilts, rednecked widowbirds, cinammon chested bee eaters, and a huge number of plants, harder to identify and harder to remember.

Nicholas was very interesting on the subject of the social uses of the trees. He pointed out a tree called mutanga, known for the medicinal uses of its bark, and told us that where the forest got down to the large slum Kibera the mutanga was dying out. Apparently this is because old men used to take the bark, and knew to use only a small amount, and cover the hole that was left with cow dung, but now young guys apparently just rip entire trees bare, and thus kill them.

Nicholas was accompanied by a man in civies, who carried a thick stick. I asked him if this was in case of theives, and he replied, No, just for walking. This was really very sweet of him, as it was evidently far too short to be a walking stick, and he never used it for walking; but I appreciate the attempt to put the new girl in Nairobi at ease.

Friday, 1 April 2011


Ngara is to the east of the city centre, and Junction, where I live, is to the far west. I was in Ngara, and decided to start walking it, figuring I would call a taxi when I got tired.

Ngara has no pavements, and lots of tiny shops. I suspect it may not have a wonderful reputation. I was heading to the great Globe roundabout, one of the biggest in Nairobi. I asked a safe looking man if I was going the right way, and he confirmed I was, and then called after me: "But take the long way! The shortcut is dangerous."

I passed the shortcut, and concluded that I must really look like I got off the plane yesterday. The shortcut was clearly dangerous. I took the very long way round the roundabout, and already hot was seriously tempted by some very ripe pineapple being served from a very dirty wheelbarrow. It looked juicy, but I recalled a similarly juicy experience in Mexico, that lasted for months afterwards, and decided I better just stay hot.

Cold Fanta downtown, at the Nairobi Safari Club, and onwards down University Way, turning onto Arboretum Drive. A couple of university students walking in front of me, with some very valiant flirting on the gentleman's part, that was frostily received by the lady.

Onto to State House Drive, past the Kilaleshwa Circle Road, then to Mandera Drive. Which never ends. I concluded that what had been a walk would now be more in the nature of a royal progress. Also, I thought I might be getting sun stroke. I sat in the shade by the side of the road. A big man went past wheeling a small girl's pink bicycle. I passed the Egyptian embassy, outside of which stood a portly young diplomat, and I practically wanted to embrace him weeping, I am so proud of all of North Africa. Clearly, I had had a lot of sun. Finally I passed a hairdressers with a pale purple front and jaunty paintings of happy customers, which seemed to do a sideline in food, so I stopped for a Coke. I read my Naipaul book and chatted to the owner, who was most satisfyingly horrified when he heard where I had walked from.

Onwards and sadly very much upwards to Nyeri Road, and then to Othayo Road, where I saw a sunbird so small he did not even bend the grass stalk he was perched on.

Finally, Githongo Road and thank god for Creamy Inn. Three little girls came up after me, and I said, Go ahead, and one said, Oh no, you first! And I said, I don't know what I want, then they all laughed and said Neither do we! And we spent a good five minutes pondering the not very huge variety of choices. Oh, I had forgotten about the generally good manners of children in Africa.

Korosho, Hendred, and Mbaazi Ave, and then at last: our flat.

I had a cold shower.