A Travellerspoint blog

23. Karen, suburb of Nairobi

Keys, Giraffe and Elephant Centres and ‘Out of Africa’ Homestead

I have a problem – a set of lost land rover keys. When we start the trip in March each couple is issued with two sets of keys for their vehicle, so Martin and I decide he will have one set and I the other, a good insurance against loss. I should explain the idiosyncrasies of our keys. Each set for our particular land rover has four different keys, one for the ignition and three for the doors: one for the driver’s door, another for the passenger door and the third for the back door; they are not interchangeable. Jan explains that at some stage the locks were tampered with, and he replaced them with locks from dismantled land rovers kept for spare parts; the advantage was the inexpensive nature of the repairs, but the disadvantage was that no one key served all locks. To help the clients differentiate the keys, Jan has notched the door keys: one notch for the driver’s door, two for the passenger door and three for the back one.

We manage the system well. I keep my keys in my omnipresent Kathmandu shoulder bag which also holds my ever-present camera, and for nearly all the trip I do not lose them. Early on in the trip Eddie emphasizes the need not to lose any set, on pain of . . . I’m not quite sure what, but we get the message: don’t lose them. The only thing we think we lose on our travels is Martin’s wallet; that was back at the sand dunes of Sossusvlei in Namibia. I respond with anxiety and panic and Martin with his usual calm level headed organization.

“In the morning we will get up at 6.00am and go back to the place where we stopped in the dunes and have a look. I must have dropped it when I got out of the vehicle.” I suggest we have one more search of the land rover and there is the recalcitrant wallet, on the floor behind Martin’s seat under a water container.

After the visit to Elsamere, I cannot find my keys. I remember locking the back door before we go into the museum, so I know I had them then. Perhaps I dropped them on the lawn at afternoon tea. It is too late to return that evening and in the morning Eddie and Jan offer to go back and ask if they have been found. But to no avail.

“I am sure they will turn up,” Eddie says. I search all the obvious places again, but no keys. Later in the day, as we drive into Nairobi, I stare down absentmindedly at the narrow crack between the old frig box and my seat, and my eyes focus on a slither of something silver. Yes, the missing key set! I retrieve them with much difficulty from their constricted hiding space and declare to everyone that the lost is found.

Along the road, we call in at a group of craft shops where someone has recommended the pottery. But the Masai blankets are the things that take my eye. A red and blue checked wrap would make a great picnic table cloth or rug. Later at home Martin finds another use; he makes a garden tableau centred on the back end of a land rover made from plywood, with a truck-side photo of elephants in the Serengeti and a Masai warrior, made from a log, whom he outfits in a red checked cloak. Most handsome.

Our final accommodation at the Wildebeest Eco Camp in the suburb of Karen, Nairobi, provides a palatial ‘safari tent’ with polished wooden floor, its own ensuite and a king sized bed, surrounded by pleasant lawns and gardens. We empty out our land rover, take everything into our bedroom and begin the task of sorting, throwing out and packing eight weeks of camping gear and newly acquired paraphernalia. Soon we are shocked to hear news of events in the centre of the city, not much more than five kilometres away, where a group of terrorists have shot and killed ten people that same day. Eddie declares that the centre of town is very definitely out of bounds for us and our land rovers.

Nevertheless, we do not feel any threat in Karen, where life continues as normal. We hear that a number of tourists are being evacuated from the coastal areas around Mombasa, but there are still plenty of travellers going to the same places of interest as us. We begin at the Giraffe Centre, a tourist and education centre to promote wildlife conservation, especially that of the Rothschild giraffe. One of four main species of giraffe (others are Southern, Masai and Reticulated), the Rothschild is categorized as endangered, though numbers are rising with successful captive breeding programmes. The two giraffes on display entertain us by very elegantly taking pellets from our hands and even from our lips.

From there we go to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust centre which raises orphaned baby elephants with the aim of returning them to the wild. For an hour, keepers bring in the elephants in several groups before the admiring audience, bottle feed them with formula and allow them to parade around the rink and play in the pool. Like a group of young children, they delight in splashing in the water, rolling in the wet mud and showering each other with dust.

These are babies whose mothers have died, often in poaching incidents, and have been rescued and fostered at the centre. They range in age from two months to three years, after which they are returned to a national park where it is hoped they will bond with a wild herd. As we watch the feeding and the playful antics of the young animals, we are told their stories, the success the programme has achieved and the opportunity to sponsor a baby elephant. I’m sure it’s their hope that few can resist the emotional appeal of these adorable babies.

Martin and I decide to go to lunch at the Karen Blixen Restaurant and to follow that with a visit to the nearby museum. We have both read the book ’Out of Africa’ while on the tour and have enjoyed Karen Blixen’s atmospheric presentation of British East Africa, now Kenya, in the 1920s and ‘30s, its African people and the colonial lifestyle. The Danish connection has increased our interest. Lunch of salmon and chicken salad in the sunshine on the elegant lawn, amid umbrellas and white table clothes is perfect.

The Karen Blixen Museum is located in her former home; for 15 years she ran a coffee plantation there until she was forced to sell it with the fall of coffee prices and resulting bad debts, and return to Denmark. A well-spoken young guide sits us in the garden and explains the history of the house and the life Karen Blixen, before taking us inside and walking us through the rooms and the exhibits. She is a delightful hostess and it is a most absorbing hour delving into past colonial life. It is most likely that the suburb Karen was named after its famous resident, for the suburb centres on the former plantation and home. Today it is an affluent district with large homes, leafy streets and a large European population.

Before I finish this, the penultimate blog installment, I must comment on a common marketing tool of the safari and tourist trade, the use of the expression the Big Five. It is derived from the days of big game hunting and refers to the five most difficult and dangerous animals in Africa to hunt on foot. The Big Five are the lion, the leopard, the rhino, the buffalo and the elephant. I sometime wonder why the hippo was not included, for they can be very dangerous, but there you are, that’s them. We were privileged to see all five. Another similar coinage is the Small Five which comprise the ant lion (insect), the leopard tortoise, the rhino beetle, the buffalo weaver (bird), and the elephant shrew. Of these, I can claim to have seen only one or two. Perhaps a bit of useless information, but you never know. It may come in handy!

Posted by rhinospin 13:47 Archived in Kenya

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