One of Kenya’s oldest colonial neighbourhoods, the leafy suburbs of Karen and Langata, just 15 kilometres from the hustle and bustle of Nairobi city centre, are shedding their old image of exclusivity to become new family outing joints. OGOVA ONDEGO reports.
Numerous leisure and entertainment spots are springing up in the area. Karen Blixen Coffee Garden & Cottages is the latest addition to attractions like the Giraffe Centre, Mamba Village, Karen Blixen Museum, Kenya Society for Prevention of Cruelty Against Animals (KSPCA), Matbronze Gallery, Karen Country Club, Wildlife Safari Walk at Nairobi National Park (formerly Animal Orphanage), Bomas of Kenya and the Carnivore.
Besides cottages, the Karen Blixen Coffee Garden & Cottages has a tastefully panelled mahogany bar and restaurant with a verandah set amidst tranquil gardens. The dining room has two log fires to keep guests warm while an ancient gramophone complete with old records provides entertainment with a romantic feel of colonial Africa.The menu varies but one is certainly not ready to miss out on French continental menu with a selection of fine house wines while enjoying the breathtaking and picturesque sunset.
The menu for Sunday rotates between barbecue and buffet and costs Sh950. One-off meals costs between Sh450 and Sh600 while the cost of drinks varies. A bottle of wine costs Sh1200, juices Sh70 per glass and soft drinks Sh50. A beer costs Sh100. The single cottage costs $175 for bed and breakfast. Florence Smythe, food and beverages manager, says among their core business is serving wedding receptions, birthday and group parties, and special functions.
With one honeymoon cottage (seven two-suite cottages are also coming up) and a gift shop, patrons can choose to lounge and have private meals in the 1912-built Swedo House which is also available for afternoon tea, dinner parties and after dinner candle-light cocktails. Weddings and fund-raisers can be held in the gardens.
There is even a salon for women’s manicure and pedicure At the Mamba Village, proprietor Harun Muturi appears to operate from the premise that ‘if Lake Victoria and River Nile cannot come to Nairobi, then Nairobi should go to them’. Consequently, he has created an artificial water mass complete with marine life. Any boat rider who catches fish in the lake is allowed to keep them. Visitors can see birds of all kind including ostrich and marine life. A botanical garden, complete with luxuriant indigenous and exotic trees, shrubs, herbs, all kinds of grasses and creepers, is likely to fascinate city dwellers who rarely come in contact with nature.
That Mamba Village is set on 30 acres is no limiting factor as it has a lounge and restaurant with a seating capacity of 500, explains general manager Robert Kormoczi. A ‘floating’ restaurant and bar is coming up on an island in Muturi’s lake. It is set amidst rapids with a river flowing underneath it! It will specialise in marine food, enabling guests to watch as fish is caught, prepared and served. Currently, there is no hotel or restaurant providing this experience to its guests. The Village has five huts or vibanda private party or dinner, each able to accommodate 10 guests.
Each kibanda has an open log fire place for the cold season. Families can also sail on the lake in boats or ride horses and camels while watching children’s faces being painted and ducks swimming near ostriches on the other side of the lake. “Besides ostriches,” says environmental and wildlife director Jerry Vaitulevich, “we also have a bird sanctuary with guinea fowl, ducks, geese, cormorants and a wide variety of other birds.” Its lawns and landscape are well manicured. Mamba Village plans to open a snake park during the first week of October and will then keep a 200-foot python weighing 200 kilogrammes to attract visitors.
To see crocodiles and ostriches, each child in a school party pays Sh20 for both activities while their guardians do not pay anything unless they are more than five. To ride a boat, a camel or a horse, a child pays Sh20 if in a group or Sh50 if not. An adult pays Sh100 for any of these activities. After feasting one’s eyes on nature, one may want to relax with a drink in the lounge or have a mouth-watering meal at the restaurant. A barbecue is prepared every Sunday and a plateful of food costs Sh300. Set menus of either beef or fish fillet or lamb steak goes for Sh850. Fresh juice, soft drinks and beer go for Sh80, Sh50 and Sh90, respectively.
The price of spirits ranges between Sh80 and Sh180. Lovers of pizza, chicken wings or gizzards, can have their fill at Sh350, and Sh250 with salad steak and soup at Sh400 and Sh50. So how safe is it for you being near 70 crocodiles? They are enclosed in well constructed barriers. The village has attracted interest from the European Union, United Nations, Kenya Wildlife Service and Kitengela Glass who are investing in it. It will soon be linked to these places on-line. Geared for multiple attractions, a Maasai cultural centre, a “Hunter’s Club” for men, a museum of African art, a curio shop and an education building are being set up. Lion and cheetah cubs, and zebras and antelopes will soon walk freely among guests in what Vaitulevich refers to as a model for ecological and educational institutions.
Gladys Ndolo, a guest we found having a meal with her family and friends at the restaurant, expressed her satisfaction with the village saying it provides the ideal family outing. She had come from Kiambu, a distance of about 60 kilometres.
Patricia Doppelfield, who was relaxing in the restaurant with her two children-Ruth and Tanya-and husband Michael, said they were among the very first patrons of the village even before it was officially opened. “We always come here to fish, have meals and relax. This is certainly a good family outing,” she said. “I am however appealing to the management to introduce more activities to occupy the children.”
Nine-year-old Ruth said she enjoys camel and horse rides “besides having my name engraved on a rice grain and then using it as a necklace.”
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We found four-year-old Adrian Kinyua having his face painted by Godfrey Ochieng as other children queued up for the same service as their parents looked on. A short distance away, twins Chirag and Nehal were enjoying horse rides as their mother kept an eye on them.
Mamba Village, arguably one of the wonders of Nairobi, is worth visiting. It has ample and secure parking although a patron complained that loud music from a neighbouring theme park was encroaching on the serene atmosphere required at Mamba Village. It opens seven days a week between nine in the morning and six in the evening.
Situated a short distance away from Mamba is the Giraffe Centre which opens daily between 9 am and 5.30 pm. It has plenty of fun for the whole family as visitors can feed their eyes on warthogs and rare giraffes (Rothschild giraffe), watch films on wildlife conservation, take a walk on the one-kilometre nature trail to discover biodiversity on their own, and also feed giraffes after which they can take snacks and tea or coffee at the centre’s cafeteria whose prices are nominal.
While school parties do not pay anything to visit the centre, gate fees are Sh500 (about $7 for non-resident adult), Sh100 ($2 per resident adult) and Sh250 ($4) and Sh20 ($0.3) for non resident child and their local counterpart, respectively.
Stephen Kimani, the manager at the centre, says they conduct free education for pupils and students from pre-school to college level.
“We conduct workshops on conservation for learners and their teachers. Although our main attraction are the giraffes which were almost becoming extinct in the 1970s and are now found here only, we also have parrots, tortoise, a bird of prey and a nature trail which is part of the tropical rain forest that covered Nairobi before it was opened up to settlement,” Kimani says.
Last year, Kimani says, the centre received 56000 visitors of whom 48000 non-paying school parties.
“We are planning to construct a hostel for school parties from outside Nairobi so we may accommodate them and train them in environmental conservation.
The centre also provides ecology trips for under-privileged children.
“As we work closely with other conservation groups and wildlife clubs, we take this children to places like David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage, Mamba Village and the Wildlife Safari Walk after which we bring them here and then return them home,” Kimani says.
Adjacent to the Giraffe Centre is a private guest house, Giraffe Manor. It formerly belonged to Betty Leslie, the founder of the Giraffe Centre. Between the Giraffe Centre and the Karen Blixen Museum lies Matbronze Gallery which stocks African wildlife art. It is the only fine art foundry in East and Central Africa. Open seven days a week, visitors are treated to the intrinsic processes of manufacturing bronze wildlife art. They can also buy some artefacts many of which are collector’s items.