How it all started
For my 50th birthday I had driven one of the original steam locomotives on the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway in Mid-Wales. So when, two years later we were approaching my wife’s 50th and I asked her what she wanted, the response I got was, “I want to be a zoo keeper for the day!” On researching this I found that while it cost about the same as my amazing day, it all seemed a bit tame mucking out the Meerkats, or feeding the Lemurs at our local zoo – we can do better than that I thought. A visit to the travel agent during my lunch break and I returned to my office armed with brochures. Over my sandwiches I marked some likely itineraries and that evening handed my wife the brochures with the words, “have a look through those to see where you want to go for your birthday”.
Thus was born our first Kenyan safari adventure!
Nairobi – 31st August 2008
After flying overnight by Kenya Airways from London Heathrow Airport, we landed in Nairobi at 7.20 in the morning (local time), were collected by our driver and driven to the Holiday Inn in Parklands Road, Westlands (this hotel has now become the Southern Sun Mayfair). At this point when thinking “Holiday Inn” forget the UK image of a budget hotel – this one was on a far grander scale. Beyond reception the grounds opened up, with two swimming pools and acres of lawn and mature tropical plants, creating an oasis in which the sound of traffic on Parklands Road was removed. After attending the welcome briefing and being shown to our room, we sat by one of the pools just drinking in the magical atmosphere and watching the numerous birds that inhabited the trees and bushes.
On the far side of the pool was one of the hotel’s restaurants backed by a stand of tall trees. In the tops of these trees some Black Kites watched and waited… …until one of them seized the opportunity, glided down from its perch, and silently swooped, grabbing the bread roll of an unsuspecting guest as it cast a fleeting shadow over his table, accompanied by the rush of its slipstream. It was over in a glimpse and he looked up from his morning newspaper and then looked around for his bread roll!
We had a number of excursions planned for this day, so mid-morning we were collected from the hotel and driven to the Daphne Sheldrick Wildlife Trust on the edge of the Nairobi National Park. The Trust was set up by the late Dr. Dame Daphne Sheldrick and was born from her family’s passion for Kenya and its wilderness. Today it is the most successful orphan-elephant rescue and rehabilitation programmes in the world, and one of the pioneering and conservation organisations for wildlife and habitat protection in East Africa.
At the trust we had the opportunity to meet some of the orphan-elephants, warthogs, and a rhino which had been born blind with a congenital degenerating condition and despite surgery to try to correct this, sadly he will never regain his sight.
From here we travelled to the Nairobi suburb of Karen, to visit the Giraffe Centre. This is home to a herd of Rothschild Giraffe, a sub-species of giraffe found only in the grasslands of East Africa. The centre is the only one in the world which enables the public to come into close contact with these beautiful creatures, the world’s tallest yet most endangered animal. We were amazed at how close we could get to the giraffes – a giraffe head height platform brings humans to eye-level with the giraffes, but more was to come! One of the staff offered us a bucket of food pellets and showed us how to place one of the pellets between our lips. The giraffe then approached and very gently removed the pellet from our mouths – imagine that happening in health & safety averse Britain! The giraffe’s breath smelt of Eucalyptus from the trees that they browse on. The giraffes were also just as happy to take pellets from the hand.
Since being founded in 1979, the African Fund for Endangered Wildlife (A.F.E.W.) Kenya has been able to introduce over 300 Rothschild Giraffes to various Kenyan national parks.
Our final call on this tour of some of Nairobi’s sights was the Karen Blixen Museum. Some 10 kilometres outside Nairobi city centre, at the foot of the Ngong Hills, the museum buildings were once the home of Danish author Karen, and her Swedish husband Baron Bror von Blixen Fincke. The museum takes the visitor back to another era in the history of Kenya, to colonial East Africa. The house gained international fame with the release of the film ‘Out of Africa’ based on Karen’s autobiography of the same name.
The house was built-in 1912 and was purchased by Karen and her husband in 1917, becoming the farm-house for their 4500 acre farm, of which 600 acres was used for growing coffee. Divorced in 1921, Karen remained living in the house until she returned to Denmark ten years later. In 1985 the house passed into the ownership of the National Museums of Kenya.
Following our guided tour of the house, which is furnished in the style of the period when Karen resided there, we returned to our hotel with a tour of Nairobi en-route. The day ended with the sound of frogs in the grounds of the hotel as we walked down to dinner.
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