Starting the Adventure in Nairobi

My safari holiday started with a three night stay in Nairobi, the gateway to the Kenyan safari circuit.


Meat . . . it is what's for dinner!

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by MilwVon on September 23, 2011

With a name like Carnivore, I would imagine most would expect that they'll be dining on "meat" for dinner. What makes Carnivore unique is the variety of meats offered to those willing to be a bit adventurous with their dining selections.

We planned for our last dinner in Kenya to be here, en route to the airport for our redeye departures to the USA. Due to concerns for traffic, however, we moved our dinner plans up to a "late lunch" arrival. With the reservations made by our tour operator, we were immediately greeted and seated when we arrived at the very end of their lunchtime service. It was nice to be seated in the open air area overlooking a small garden.

Our server arrived for drink orders and an explanation of the dining process. While offered soup, we all took a pass in favor of saving room for the all-you-can-eat feast that would follow. We were each provided a very hot plate, still sizzling when placed on the slightly damp table. There was also a lazy Susan style tray of condiments to accompany the various meats that would be offered tableside.

As our meal began, there was a flurry of activity with carvers working through the restaurant with spits of meat including at one point a whole turkey! Because many exotic game animals are no long allowed to be hunted for commercial food production, the choices seemed a bit tame to me . . . pork ribs, chicken (liver, gizzards and wings), crocodile, beef sausages, leg of lamb and lamb chops, and ostrich meatballs. I was really hoping to see if Wildebeest tasted like beef!

Everything was good and it didn't take long to fill up on the assortment of meats offered. Some of the items were better than others, with the crocodile being probably my least favorite given the chewy nature of the meat. After everyone was done, we were told to put down our "flag" to signal our surrender. Next came dessert which was a pleasant surprise. Going back to our safari mantra that "everything is better with chocolate sauce" most of us had the brownie with ice cream and chocolate drizzle over them. It was a very good ending to a nice meal.

Because we booked through our tour company, the price was probably inflated by a few bucks especially since we had planning and paid for dinner but ended up having lunch. That said, we couldn't have eaten any more regardless of what it was called, so $25 for the buffet meal seemed reasonable. Beverages (soft drinks and alcohol) were additional.

Carnivore is located adjacent to the Wilson Airport which is the hub for safari flights to the bush. It is located about 30 minutes from the main Nairobi International Airport, but with the traffic and road construction, visitors should probably allow an hour, just in case.

Carnivore
Langata Road
Nairobi, Kenya
(02) 501-775

Doing Amazing Work!

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by MilwVon on September 23, 2011

As a donor and foster "parent" to three young elephant orphans, a visit to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (DSWT) was a must. I was fortunate to be able to work in two visits during my weekend in Nairobi.

David Sheldrick was the founder of the Nairobi National Park, a part of the Kenyan Park Service. His work was expanded, with the assistance of his wife and now widow, Dame Daphne Sheldrick, to include taking in elephants and rhinos that have become orphaned and left to die. Often these young babies are orphaned due to human issues including poaching, which remains a large problem in Kenya and much of Africa.

For those who provide financial assistance to the DSWT through fostering a young orphan, there is a special opportunity to visit the center at 5:00pm when the babies return from the bush for their evening feeding and bedtime. My first visit to the center was during this evening session, which to my surprise, was quite busy. I would estimate that there were at least 50 visitors making it difficult at times to have an intimate up close experience with the orphans. That said, I would do it again, in a heartbeat!

Of my three fosters, only one is still here at the Nairobi nursery. The other two have "graduated" to the DSWT's transitional facility at Ithumba in the Tsavo East National Park some five or six hours away. I was happy to be able to see Ishanga, however, at the nursery as she enjoyed her bottles.

The next day I returned for the "public viewing" of the orphans which is held daily at 11:00am. This is more of a tourist experience, with an educational component provided by head keeper Edwin. He speaks about the tragedy that occurs when consumer demand for ivory products leads to the illegal killing of elephants for their tusks. Because elephants are milk dependant for several years, the young will surely die if it were not for the intervention provided by the DSWT. Complicating the situation is the fact that bovine (cow) milk is not compatible with that of the elephants, it becomes critical that the young orphans are brought to the DSWT that has many years of perfecting the milk formula that the elephants will thrive on.

Also during the daily hour long public viewing time, the babies are fed and treated to a mud bath. Playing in the mud pool on the property allows for them to cool down from the hot midday sun.

The cost for the morning visit/tour is 500KSH or $7 cash. During the midday visit, guests are also encouraged to make purchases from the gift shop which also provides financial support to their work.

For more information on the work being done by the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and to adopt an orphan, check them out www.sheldrickwildlifetrust.org.
David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust
Mbagathi Road
Nairobi, Kenya, 00503
254 (0) 20 891 9

Doing Good Work Too

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by MilwVon on September 24, 2011

The Giraffe Centre in Nairobi is a charitable organization, established to protect the endangered Rothschild Giraffe, the rarest of the African giraffe sub-species. They provide an educational component as well as viewing opportunities from an overlook deck. Perhaps the most popular feature of the Centre is the feeding of those giraffes that wander up to the area where the visitors have access to them. Dozens of children and adults alike were feeding pellets that are provided as part of your admission fee.

During my Sunday morning visit, there was just one that was willing to make an appearance to greet the humans. Beyond the immediate area, there were four or five visible, including a youngster estimated to be around six months of age. While generally timid, it was clear that these animals were completely habituated to people and not shy in the least.

There is a nature trail that winds back into the forest some 1.5 KM. Unfortunately during my visit, it was closed for some reason . . . not sure why. On their website they mention some of the wildlife that lives in this area, including leopards so perhaps it was closed for safety reasons.

Adjacent to the grounds of the Giraffe Centre is the Giraffe Manor, a high end luxury boutique type hotel where guests have an even more intimate interaction with the giraffes. Built to allow the animals limited entry through large windows, guests in the hotel may find themselves sharing their breakfast time with these beautiful creatures. Giraffe Manor has recently completed an expansion to add more sleeping quarters.

Giraffe Centre is open seven days a week, 9:00a to 5:30p. Admission is 700KSH or $9.00 for non-residents.
They also have a very nice gift shop with lots of things that would be nice to take home as a souvenir or gift. For more information, you can check them out at www.giraffecenter.org.

NOTE: Many local Nairobi tour operators package a visit to the Giraffe Centre with the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and either the Karen Blixen Museum or Kazuri Bead Factory. From what I've seen in pricing, however, you would be better off hiring a private car and taking in each of these sites on your own.




Giraffe Centre
Langata Rd
Nairobi, Kenya, 00509
254 2 890952

"Out of Africa" Homestead Open for Tours

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by MilwVon on September 23, 2011

The real life home of Karen Blixen is a national treasure located in the Nairobi suburb of Karen. The house that she lived in back in the early 20th century had fallen into significant disrepair but was renovated by the movie production company for the Oscar award winning film "Out of Africa" starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford. Today, the house sits at the foot of the Ngong Hills as it did nearly 100 years ago, open to the public on a guided basis (no photography inside, however).

Many of the original furnishings are back in the home, while others were created for the movie as reproductions. The guided tour lasts about 20 minutes and covers each of the rooms of the single level dwelling. Some aspects of the tour related to the movie production to include the clothing worn by Streep and Redford, but it is mostly a chronicling of Blixen's life as a baroness in a loveless marriage, her attempt to grow coffee in a climate not suited for such, and her love affair with Englishman Denis Finch Hatton.

Some of the original photos and portraits throughout are a bit on the startling side when you consider the timeless beauty of Streep and the real-life tragedy that Blixen endured that included contracting and being treated for syphilis given her by her cheating spouse. A chronic chain smoker who had to use arsenic for the syphilis, Blixen was clearly aged beyond her years. She died back "home" in Denmark at the age of 77.

On the day of my visit, there was heavy cloud cover, so I could not see the Ngong Hills that Blixen immortalized with the words "I had a farm in Africa at the foot of the Ngong Hills." That said, there was a peaceful tranquility throughout the grounds, which are significantly reduced from the scope of the original property lines encompassing over 6,000 acres.

The museum/house is open daily 9:30a to 6:00p and admission fee is 800KSH or $10 cash. More information may be found on their website: http://www.museums.or.ke/content/blogcategory/13/19/ .
Karen Blixen Museum
Museum Hill
Nairobi, Kenya
254-20-3742131

Small & Beautiful - Kazuri Beads

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by MilwVon on September 15, 2011

Kazuri Bead Factory is located in the Nairobi suburb of Karen, on land that was previously part of the 6,000 acre estate of Karen Blixen of "Out of Africa" fame. It is one of the more popular tourist destinations in the area and is often packaged with tours of the Karen Blixen House and the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and/or Giraffe Manor. Because I had done those locations on Sunday when the bead factory was closed, I had to work it into my itinerary for Monday afternoon before heading downtown for the accommodations that would be the start of my safari schedule.

"Kazuri" translates from Swahili as "small and beautiful". Their history here, however, is somewhat recent as today it serves as an economic development effort of sorts as most of the employees here are single mothers earning a living to support their families. Upon arrival, I was greeted by a young man who offered a tour of their factory which was comprised of three or four buildings.

As we walked through the grounds, he explained each step of the process used to create the beautiful bead jewelry that has become popular around the world. The raw material is clay brought from Mt. Kenya, which must be prepared by removing air pockets and impurities from the soil. Small bricks of roughly six inches cubed are formed and used by the ladies to create the various shaped beads. Many are round or oval, but some are also in the shape of Africa’s most famous wildlife including giraffes and elephants. The clay is also used to form their line of pottery that includes coffee mugs, plates, bowls and animal shaped figurines.

After the clay is molded into whatever is being made, they are allowed to air dry before being taken to the kiln for their first firing. After that step in the process, they are taken to the building where the painting takes place. Each lady has a specific design that she is working on for the day based on the orders that have been received by the factory. Some of the products are made for sale in the gift shop on the premises, while others are sent to distributors around the world.

Once a tray or rack is filled, they are again fired in the kiln. The colorful beads and other pieces come to life with the firing process. The racks of beads are then removed and placed in large tubs which are taken to another production area for use in creating bracelets, chokers and necklaces. They also make earrings to match many of their more popular items.

It was interesting to me that the ladies working throughout the factory were very social as they worked at whatever they were doing in the process to make this beautiful jewelry. They were free with a smile and greeting of "Jambo" (hello) as visitors stopped to admire their work.

After the guided tour, visitors are led to the gift shop which is adjacent to the main parking lot where the tour began. The area was quite large, more than what I had expected. To the left side of the single room building was the pottery and large items while the jewelry and some leather goods were in the area where you entered. There were racks and racks of beautiful and brightly colored items. I had come hoping to buy a specific design based on what I had seen on their website, but alas, they did not have the "Antique Ndovu" (Old Elephant), so I opted for "Twiga" (giraffe) instead.

Given all that goes into creating these lovely works of art, I was shocked at the reasonable prices for Kazuri Bead jewelry. American outlets are charging $79 for the very necklace I purchased for 19KSH or roughly $21. Even merchants on Ebay are fetching a "buy it now" price of $59! I could not think of a more personal souvenir or gift than something from Kazuri Bead Factory and was happy to make a couple of purchases for friends and family back home.
Kazuri Bead Factory
Mbagathi Ridge
Karen, Nairobi

Amazingly Close to the City Centre

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by MilwVon on September 24, 2011

The Nairobi National Park is part of the Kenyan Park Service (KPS) and is just 7 KM (less than 5 miles) from the center of the capital city of Nairobi. During my stay in Nairobi, I wanted to experience this park first as a means of preparing for the photo opportunities I was anticipating for the safari that would begin the next day. I was surprised at how easy it was to forget that I was literally just minutes from the urban presence of the city.

I arranged for my morning game drive through my host at the Ngong House. Charging me $150 for the morning drive seemed reasonable given that was the going rate from most of the local safari and tour operators. We left the Ngong House after breakfast at 6:15am with plans of ending the game drive at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (also located at Nairobi Nat'l Park) at 11:00am. Timing worked out just about perfectly!

Arriving at the park entrance just about at sunrise presented some photographic challenges especially since within the first few minutes we had come upon a black rhino in some very thick brush. It was exciting to see something this early in our drive, especially given the endangered status of the rhinoceros.

From that point, we drove deeper into the park, my driver seemingly knowing where to go to find the various animals I had mentioned hoping to see . . . lions, giraffes and hippos. Unfortunately there were no hippos to be seen at "the dam" but lions and giraffes cooperated.

We were about 45 minutes into the drive, when we came upon a pair of lionesses with a couple of cubs. Unable to discern if there were two or three cubs, we enjoyed watching them hide in the tall grass while their mom(s) slept nearby. A few minutes later, we came upon to young male lions, also lounging in the grass, but much closer to the road. They didn't seem to have much to worry about us, and simply stayed put watching us as we watched them.

Throughout our drive in Nairobi National Park there were opportunities to see the skyline of the city off in the distance. The outlines of the acacia trees provided what is often considered the "photo op" of the savannah. We did see giraffes (a lot of them!) as well as water buffalo, wildebeest, zebra and gazelles. Because my driver was not an actual safari driver, she was not very well versed on the various species of animals we saw, but she was very good (and patient) at looking for them.

Near the end of our time in the park, we came upon the lionesses and cubs from earlier in the morning. We sat parked for a good long while hoping that they adults would bring their cubs across the road to the hillside where they were overlooking the opposite valley. After about 30 minutes, we gave up, however since I didn't want to miss the 11:00a public viewing at the DSWT.

The park is very nice and provides visitors to the city an opportunity to do a limited game drive with decent viewing and photo ops. I would not suggest it, however, as a "nice" picnic destination as the two spots where we stopped were terribly littered and the bathrooms very nasty. This was my only disappointment in the park.

For those entering the park on a "self-drive" the admission price is roughly $50. More information on hours and pricing may be found on the KPS website: http://www.kws.org/parks/parks_reserves/NANP.html .
Nairobi National Park
Langata Road
Nairobi, Kenya
254 020 602121

Amazing Doesn't Do It Justice

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by MilwVon on September 15, 2011

One of the anticipated highlights of my trip to Kenya was my two night stay at Ngong House. They surely did not disappoint on any level!

Upon my arrival at Nairobi International Airport, I cleared immigration and exited the arrival hall emptied handed as British Airways was unable to deliver my two checked bags with me. One of Ngong House’s friendly drivers Lucy met me at the exit area. She was a friendly young woman, who I enjoyed not only on my ride from the airport, but later during my stay as my driver to Nairobi National Park on Monday.

The drive from the airport, even at 10:30 on a Saturday evening, was a bit harrowing. It would become the standard by which all further driving in and around Nairobi would be measured. Lucy navigated the zany round-abouts without hesitation. All I could think about was our UK vacation a few years back and how my husband David did with driving on the opposite side of the road right out of the Glasgow airport. While something one can get used to in time, it is not something you want to experience for the first time while still working to get the whole "stay to the left" thing figured out.

Upon arrival at Ngong House, I was immediately greeted by the evening’s host Paul who offered me a glass of whipped pineapple juice. While it seemed too late for dinner, I was hungry so I did accept his offer of a light supper in lieu of the four course meal being enjoyed by other late arriving Americans. It seemed several of us arrived on the same flight from London although I arrived much later due to the hassle of filing a claim for my delayed bags.

My late evening sandwich was a delight – freshly grilled chicken breast on the most tasteful multi-grain bread. This bread would quickly become my favorite throughout my stay, especially as morning toast. But I’m getting ahead of myself here.

After my sandwich, I was shown my accommodations. As much as I was hoping for one of their infamously unique "tree house" rooms, I was happy to learn they had me in the suite adjacent to the main lodge. This was perfect for me for a couple of reasons, not the least of which was not having to navigate up the narrow stairs to the sleeping area.

Entering my room from the front porch, I realized that I probably had twice as much space as necessary to be comfortable. There was a sitting area with a wood burning fireplace and a small dinette table with a couple of chairs. The king sized bed had already been turned down for the night, with the mosquito netting protecting the area from the little nasties. Later when I climbed into bed, I was pleasantly surprised that a nice hot water bottle had been placed in the bed to take the night chill from the bedding.

To the left of the main living area was another sitting area, with a built-in best and a fully stocked refrigerator complete with complimentary soft drinks, beer and wine. First class all the way, the Ngong House! There was also a large wardrobe type dresser where there was also a safe for personal use while out and about during the day. Adjacent was the bathroom, again very spacious and well stocked with beautiful apothecary style bottles with shampoo and body wash.

I made good use of the free in-room WiFi to send David and email letting him know that I had arrived safely. And with that task completed, I was off to bed! Amazingly, I slept until around 7:30 and was set for local time for the balance of my two weeks in Kenya.

I had arranged for breakfast at 9:00am which was served out on the lawn under the acacia trees. It was a lovely setting with table throughout the yard set for the guests. I was a bit disappointed to be seated at a table for one, as I would have enjoyed the opportunity to mingle and dine with others, but it turned out alright as another guest was set up at a table for six, but her other travel companions decided to sleep in practically missing breakfast altogether. We enjoyed a chat across the way over tea and fruit.

Breakfast as with all other meals at the Ngong House was very good. It would seem that nothing is done with exquisite attention to detail in terms of preparation and presentation. Cooked to order eggs were offered along with choice of breakfast meat and a basket of that multi-grain bread toasted to perfection.

With plans to go out and explore some of the better known tourist sites in the surrounding area of Karen, I returned back for lunch midafternoon before heading back out at 4:30p for the evening feeding of the nursery elephants at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. Upon my return for supper, I was treated to another fabulous ding experience. Each meal service provided was of gourmet quality, with personal service to match.

About getting around, Ngong House has a small fleet of vehicles and several drivers on stand-by to take guests wherever they would like to go during their stay. Because of the type of payment plan I was on for my accommodations, I paid a daily rate for use of a vehicle and driver during my two day stay. This included the sightseeing I did on Sunday, the four hour game drive at Nairobi National Park on Monday as well as transportation downtown to my hotel that evening. Lucy was even kind enough to get me to the local Nakumatt store to buy some clothes and toiletries on Sunday evening when it became clear I would not have my bags that evening.

Located remotely on 10 acres of privately held land, guests could rest assured knowing they were also protected not only within a gated limited access area, but that the property itself also had its own security access restricted to guests and staff. Additionally, there were the three large watch dogs that enjoyed mingling with guests around the main lodge building when they weren’t out gallivanting in the bush.

Regarding service, the staff throughout Ngong House was first class all the way. Everyone from those serving meals to the drivers, were courteous and anxious to help in any way possible. During my first morning, the owner Paul stopped by my breakfast table to introduce himself and thank me for staying with them. He was a very friendly man, obviously concerned about the comfort and satisfaction of all of his guests. He also made it a point to introduce me to his "deputy in charge" an Aussie named Charlotte.

She was a most interesting person; having joined Paul’s staff a few years ago having made the connection through another hospitality related business. She proved to be perhaps the greatest assistance to me personally during my entire time in Kenya as she was the one who tracked down my delayed baggage situation with British Airways and personally went to pick up the first bag which had arrived late on Sunday evening. She also made arrangements to get me to the airport Tuesday morning to pick up my second bag, as it had been located and was on the Monday evening arrival into Nairobi. I cannot imagine having to deal with the airline without her assistance! To be sure, Charlotte was the MVP of my entire vacation.

While staying at the Ngong House is pricey, given the all-inclusive meals and beverages (to include beer and wine) and impeccable service, I think there is no better way to start or end a safari holiday in Nairobi than a stay here. I was very happy that I was able to make arrangements for my two night stay prior as it afforded me the opportunity to relax and unwind before what would be a very hectic coming 12 days of "on the go" travel on safari.
Ngong House
Ngong Road
Nairobi, Kenya, 24963
20-884135

http://www.igougo.com/journal-j76135-Nairobi-Starting_the_Adventure_in_Nairobi.html

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