My sister and her family are in effect ‘snowed in’ to Nairobi, or rather, ‘snowed out’ of England since their flight to London-Heathrow got cancelled indefinitely on Sunday. Apart from a few rather tense phone calls to their workplaces this morning, we are now feeling pretty relaxed; happy to stay at home but last week because our visitors were only going to be here for a short time, we whizzed around all the attractions Karen/Langata had to offer at top speed. With a two and four year old in tow and because of the expense, we had all decided not to bother going away anywhere. My sister said,
‘Everyone in the supermarket is talking loudly about safaris and trips to the coast. Is it really not the done thing to stay at home for Christmas?’
I raised an eyebrow. In fact, Christmas in Nairobi is perfectly lovely, possibly the best holiday of all to spend here. Since it’s summer here, the sun is shining every day. It’s hard for expats to understand the impact a sudden change of temperature has on visitors from Europe who have left cold, icy, dark and grey to warm, sunny, bright, technicolour in a matter of only 9 hours.
What we got up to last week reads like a fairly good précis of kid friendly things you can do without long car journeys involved.
1. Nairobi National Park
We went to the park for the usual picnic. Finding a good site is hard these days since Kingfisher and Baboon cliffs are generally busy (especially on Jamhuri day when we decided to go!). We used to be lucky enough to get the ‘Lone Tree’ picnic site to ourselves for years, but now when you arrive you discover a there’s a more formal arrangement with building work going on (public loos?) and invariably other picnic-ers. Undeterred by company, we plonked down under the shade of a tree and the JKIA flight path and so when we missed the game – we amused ourselves by identifying aircraft.
All was not lost because as we left we spotted a lion and were able to follow her to the smelly carcass she was feasting on. Also saw a pair of rhino, lots of giraffe and the usual impala etc. Our UK visitors left satisfied by their game viewing, albeit with a backdrop of Nairobi’s skyscrapers on the horizon.
2. KWS Safari Walk
We went to the safari walk at about four-thirty in the afternoon. This turned out to be a great tactical move since we were still inside the grounds for feeding time. A keeper showed us the leopard close up by escorting us along the chain link fence and showing us where she was pacing up and down angrily (not sure he was allowed to do this). We later watched the pair of Safari Walk lion eating in their cage. We couldn’t have got any closer, it was actually terrifying for a wimp like me (see previous Mara post) – especially when one of the members of staff started kicking the cage right near the face of the male lion who roared, he was justifiably outraged. At these close quarters, the stench of the lion was very strong. I could imagine what the poor, ill-fated railway workers had to endure when the lions of Tsavo came preying on their tents.
3. Daphne Sheldricks – Elephant Orphanage
I must admit that, though always lovely to see the baby elephants, this as was less of a success. We arrived at a fast trot as we were a few minutes after eleven. An unprepossessing lady met us with the question;
‘how many of there are you?’ (rather than, ‘welcome!’) then proceeded to charge 500 shillings a head for all humans of over three years of age.
We funnelled through the narrow walkway to find around x150 other elephant watchers had already arrived, so we struggled for a position next to the roped off area while slathering on sun cream, taking desperate sips of water and straining to hear what the keeper was saying.
After my two year old niece understandably had a wobbly, I decided to take her with me to ask whether the lady at the entrance had a ‘comments book’.
‘No,’ she answered hesitantly, ‘Why?’
‘Well, I just feel that after paying 3,500 shillings, you could at least provide some shade, or some seating for your visitors? You must have collected a lot of money today and we’re all standing out there in the midday sun, expiring. I’ve been visiting now for eight years and it’s always been the same.’
She said something about the organisation having to pay KWS a monthly fee in order to be able to receive visitors and being prohibited to build structures within the park (although there are various houses and stables for the eles around) so I still feel that Sheldricks could perhaps sling up a temporary shade cloth at eleven o’clock each day and provide a few more benches, (there were two) in order to enhance the experience of their hoards of loyal visitors. It’s quite a hot dusty drive out there in the first place and most people were leaving in their droves before the end of the allocated hour, just because it was too hot to stand out there anymore.
4. The Giraffe Centre
We went to feed the giraffes. While crowded and generally a trip you can’t spin out for much longer than half an hour – we all enjoyed ourselves and looked on incredulous as some tourists were happy to have their faces licked by giraffe. I had hoped to book into the Giraffe Manor for tea for a more refined experience – the house always looks stunning from the distance - but at $35 per head it was prohibitively expensive for a group of nine – so we made do with a round of sodas at 25 bob each instead.
Eating out – Our visitors favourite was definitely Osteria, where we could bring the children but still eat in peace, spinning out a long meal, while the kids were able to run about in the lovely big garden, climb trees and also swim.
In my mind, we only have the Nairobi National Museum and Ice-skating left....