Nairobi - Our bags are packed, we’re ready to go, just getting a few hours sleep before catching a dawn flight from Durban to Johannesburg and on to Nairobi in Kenya for the start of a three-week East African adventure.
Then an SMS alert breaks the still of the night. To look or not to? A quick peek reveals an alert from Kulula that its early morning plane out of Durban is delayed by two hours.
My slumber-filled brain takes several seconds to register the significance – we’re going to miss the Nairobi flight. Aghhh!
My wife and I spring out of bed. There’s zero response from Kulula’s contact phone number on the SMS. After a frantic check on airline websites we manage to get a British Airways booking at a fat premium price.
Up the next day before the newspaper delivery guys arrive, really miffed by events but trying to be cool about it, we get to King Shaka in time to hear our BA connection has also been delayed. The coolness evaporates instantly, replaced by a nasty, sweaty realisation that some of the best laid plans can go wrong. However, swift calculations show we can still make it but it’ll be tight.
So we rough and tumble out of the packed aircraft after landing at Oliver Tambo, scramble to collect our suitcases, do an Olympics-style trolley dash to the international check in, luckily enjoy a quick clearance through passport control and we’re on board – just!
During the four-hour flight I gaze out the window, my mind flits back to last year when we did a 12 000km car trip through Mozambique, Malawi and Tanzania. I will miss some of those on-the-ground experiences but the road to Kenya and then Uganda is many miles too far in the time allowed by “annual leave”.
In Nairobi great expectations about the hired vehicle booked months previously are soon dashed by the well-dinged skadonk dished up.
Close inspection uncovers an object sticking out of the wall of a back tyre.
Hire company man Jackson assures us that it’s merely a rubber plug – or gutter as he calls it – and it has worked a treat for many weeks. We have absolutely nothing to worry about.
But I’m not happy – where’s the Mitsubishi mentioned in the e-mail correspondence? Those are older and more dinged than our Toyota, says Jackson.
Tired by events and keen to unwind, we accept our skadonk. Hoping for the best we name her Suzi!
After that our fortunes improve significantly. The new sub-Saharan maps in our GPS work a treat and despite heavy traffic we arrive at our hotel, the Nairobi Serena, more upbeat. Then we get upgraded to a suite which boasts its own patio garden with mini pergola.
Things are looking up and we have two full days to explore Nairobi’s attractions with the centrally situated Serena as our launch pad.
The hotel has a Pan African image with its furnishing and sittings displaying a variety of themes including Moroccan, Ethiopian and Malian.
Among the offerings are a pleasant pool area, a fine dining restaurant and a health centre with a fully equipped gym which attracts large numbers of lean-looking locals.
All 183 well-appointed rooms have free internet access. The food and service were good and the hotel has a great atmosphere thanks to its staff.
Our first sortie was to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in the Nairobi National Park on the outskirts of the city. It’s a centre for the rehabilitation of orphaned elephants and rhinos which are eventually released back into the bush.
The trust was established in 1977 after the death of Sheldrick and continues to be run by his wife, Daphne, who received an MBE in the British Queen’s 2006 New Year’s honours list for her wildlife rehabilitation work.
Orphaned rhino and elephant hand-reared at the centre are shown to visitors between 11 and noon daily. During the viewings, handlers bottle feed the animals and relate stories about their sad backgrounds.
Just down the road is the Langata Giraffe Breeding Centre run by the African Fund for Endangered Wildlife. Visitors get to feed the Rothschild giraffes with a variety of greenery and food pellets.
The animals are remarkably gentle and quite happy to take pellets offered from the mouths of guests. Probably one of the only places where you can kiss a giraffe!
Also in the area is the Karen Blixen Museum which is the farmhouse where the Out of Africa author lived between 1914 and 1931 and which was used during the filming of the popular movie based on the book.
Another worthwhile outing is to the Nairobi National Museum which has been extensively upgraded and expanded. It has a stunning Birds of East Africa exhibition and a Hall of Mammals which delighted the hordes of young schoolchildren who were also visiting. There is also an interesting section on the Mau Mau uprising and Uhuru era which resulted in Kenya eventually receiving its independence from Britain in the 1960s.
Nairobi welcomed us warmly with its general friendliness. We were often objects of curiosity – especially for schoolchildren – seemingly because of our white faces which are relatively rare in the city.
The next leg of our East African Odyssey was “on safari” in the west of Kenya. Little Suzi would have to get us there without a hitch… or us having to hitch!