Gnus ‘N Roses

Sarah and I returned from an amazing holiday, visiting her parents in Kenya at the start of July.  Somehow we managed to get all safari’d out, all shopped-out, and still arrived home well rested!  Here are some writings from our time there.  I hope you’ll excuse the inconsistent tenses, as I wrote some then, and some now.  I re-read the last line and am so happy that my hope did indeed become reality!

Lunch at Talisman

The wildness of this land impresses itself even upon the city, as storks and kites fly around between the buildings which tower above busy, chaotic streets. Civilisation is closely surrounded by the original landscape of dense forests bordering the main roads, and tree orchids diversifying the cleared gardens.  The city has worked its way in, space has been made in the wild, but creation seems to have maintained its healthy presence here.  I am currently sitting on a balcony in the treetops, where the air is still.  There are still the sounds of activity around, from birds of a few types, and some hammering and sanding indicating a workshop hidden behind a few walls of green.  The meeting of urban and rural is a clear straight line on the southern side of the city, where the boundary of the national park meets warehouses and factories.  We haven’t witnessed the expanding city in the Eastlands, but have seen the slow transition through Ngong road and the rural lands to the West.

We have travelled along quite a number of different routes in the city, and have been happy with the cleanliness of the place – aside from the red dust which coats the leaves and buildings near the roads.  To pass through unmarked intersections is a thrill, thankfully one that we can enjoy as passengers as our driver calmly negotiates his way.  The chaos starts to take on a familiar appearance after a few days and panic gives way to wonder that the lack of a system actually works!  The homes and infrastructure are old and often not maintained, which creates an odd combination of beautiful antiqueness and sad delapidatedness, depending on the area.  There’s an odd flavouring of familiar African aspects alongside the unique East African history and culture.


Our drive out to Naivasha was a real treat.  We stopped for a brief look over the Great Rift Valley, all green on the closer side with subsistence farming and natural forest.  At the Lake Naivasha Country Club I sipped my first Tuskers as we sat on the lawn, with a wildebees grazing nearby.  For winter, the weather is really fine and we took a stroll after our buffet lunch, on a short boardwalk which yielded amazing sights in all of its fifty meters – fish eagles, hippos, storks, herons, cormorants, and a little pied kingfisher.

View to the North from KICC tower
The craft section of the city market, where we bought
some Maasai blankets from a friendly lady.

We took a walk through the central business district on Tuesday, and made our way to Nairobi’s second-tallest building.  The view from the helipad of the Kenyatta International Conference Centre is spectacular, and our visit was made all the more enjoyable by the enthusiastic Peter, who might just know Nairobi better than any taxi driver down below.  While exporing markets and shops down below and around the rest of the city, we were glad to see our very basic vocabulary gladden a few faces, and at times these words seemed to be a tiny arsenal to defend against an onslaught of welcomes.  At the city market in Muindi Mbingu Street we at least managed to negotiate a price for some Maasai blankets, equal to the price we had seen in a more established shop in the Junction mall.  My wife keeps me in check so I don’t drive a hard bargain, as even the tourists’ price is usually a very good deal. Around the corner, in Tubman Street we enjoyed some traditional food away from the tourist traps, thanks to the wise and sensitive Charles (Sarah’s parent’s driver), before heading onto Baishara for some more fabric shopping.


Old storage containers for coffee
samples at Dorman’s
Newly grafted roses at Sian Rose farm

With my in-laws as our local guides, we’ve thoroughly enjoyed the hidden gems, shops which specialise in a particular Kenyan product.  The Flip Flop Recycling Company in Karen gave both Sarah and I a real feeling of appreciation for the excellent work they do – the usefulness and ingenuity of their efforts to turn waste into actual value.  Our tour of Sian Rose farm was another amazing experience, to appreciate the steps and the people that are involved in producing something that brings such an unassuming beauty into the world, into our homes.  Roses and other cut flowers are a huge portion of Kenya’s exports, and when we got home we even saw some in Woolies!  While we were in Nairobi, we of course popped around to various shops that sell Kikoys, curios and leather products.  Our landmarks were the Galleria Mall, Karen Crossroads, and the Junction, and we’ve stocked a fair armful of treasures – jewellery, clothing, a pair of kiondo baskets, and enough Masala tea to spice up many winter evenings.

The ladies buying some beautiful kiondo baskets
near Karen Crossroads
A big baby Ndovu at David
Sheldrick orphanage

This holiday has afforded my wife and I the blessed opportunity to enjoy some things new and savour things familiar.  We have been introduced to the unique styles of craft in this country, and have had opportunity to spend time with some animals which we’ve seen before, though never so close.  While not an entirely novel experience, it is so wonderful to be able to calmly enjoy the time to marvel at creatures that we rarely get to see.  The tiny Ajuba, our three-month-old adopted elephant grasped my finger tips with her tiny trunk – such a special experience.  Likewise, feeding a giraffe is not an everyday occurence and it was a privilege to be so close to a great beast and feel the cat-like roughness of its tongue.  Perhaps this is one of the joys of travelling as we grow up, that things aren’t as frantic as they were when we were younger, and we can take the time to savour these really amazing experiences, rather than having the holiday blast past us and leave us bewildered at the end.  I hope that when it is time to go home, we will be rested and happy, and grateful to have been to this amazing land.

Coming soon:

Kenya Part 2: Encountering Mara



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