Wednesday, August 5

Go On a Kenyan Safari Even In Nairobi

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The Nairobi Tented Camp (NTC) is the first campsite to be allowed in the Nairobi National Park. The camp is uniquely nestled in the Western part of the only national park in the world that is located within a city. Guests at the site enjoy a stay of game drives, camping in the wild and fine dining to go with it, right at the doorstep of Nairobi downtown area and a few minutes from the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and from Wilson Airport, the home of AirKenya.

I arrived at the Nairobi National Park a few minutes before 7 a.m. as directed by the reservations office, excited at the prospect of a day safari and spending a night at NTC. Getting away from Nairobi while still in Nairobi, what a treat! I parked my tiny Toyota, paid my park fees and joined a tourist couple, Ben and Nora in the large and more suited Toyota Land Cruiser for the early morning game drive.
As we drove into the park, the air crisp and clean, the last traces of mist slowly lifted and the wildlife dutifully started appearing from behind acacia trees and through the long red oat grass. The view was made even more extraordinary by the orange backdrop of early morning sunshine and the silhouette of Nairobi’s downtown multi-storey buildings.

Tim, our driver and guide for the day, is truly a treasure for the camp and a well of information for nature enthusiasts, overflowing with biological and common names of both fauna and flora. He quickly and easily spotted buffalo and eland in the distance, and handed us his pair of binoculars to see for ourselves, as he briefed us about the animals’ habits.

As I was paying my park fees, I overheard a driver from another safari tour company enquire after a lioness (Kichwa in the tour guides’ coded language) and her three cubs. He wanted to know where he could spot her. Sure enough, Tim’s constant darting left and right paid off and he soon spotted the lioness camouflaged in the long grass under a yellow fever tree. She was alert and probably protecting her cubs, who were completely out of sight by the time I got hold of the binoculars.

For about another hour and a half we listened to a tropical boubou bird in a duet with its mate, watched a herd of Zebra at the Lawn Tree area as well as learnt about the white bellied go-away bird and the butcher bird. We also saw a herd of giraffe browse and a pair of young male white rhinos before we arrived at the campsite for breakfast.

This exclusive and secluded campsite sits in the Kisembe valley, with the seasonal Kisembe River running beside it. Guy Lawrence, proprietor of the campsite worked to have it strategically and comfortably located in the park. It has a considerably lower number of small aircrafts flying from the nearby Wilson Airport compared to the rest of the park.

As we walk into the NTC site, camp manager Kimberly ushered us in and we were immediately served a much needed glass of lime juice. After introductions and a brief chat at the mess, I was given a tour of the eco-friendly campsite-kitchen, dining area and camp office, before I was shown to my tent. There are eight tents in total, all en suite, with either two single beds or one double bed. The tent lighting and power outlets are all solar-powered as is the torch beside the bed.

After a breakfast of cereal, fruit, or eggs, bacon, sausage and toast, and freshly brewed coffee, we prepare to leave for a visit to the David Sheldrick elephant orphanage but opted out of going to the Giraffe centre. But we could have done both as part of the package offered by NTC. By the time we got back it was time for a lunch of couscous, lamb and salad, and a treat of pineapple mint for dessert.

I scanned the rich reading material in the public area- books on African history and culture, magazines on wildlife and conservation and many more. But took off shortly after lunch to the comfort of my tent, tired but hoping to read a novel and do a little writing, but the double bed seemed much more inviting.

I weighed the option of the evening game drive but zipped up my tent and let the sounds of birds, hyraxes and other wildlife lull me to sleep. When I got up from my two-hour nap, hot water was brought to fill the shower bucket which hangs over the tent to give a delicious spray. I emerged from my tent to find Ibrahim Ali lighting a fire. Ibrahim, a Boran elder, worked with Guy’s father in the 1980s and has a wealth of knowledge and experience of safaris and camp life. Kimberly, the camp manager, joined me for drinks by the evening fire and filled me in on her training in South Africa and earlier life in Jersey in the UK.

She also told me of the variety of guests who have visited the campsite, be it businessmen in town for a conference, tourists stopping over in Nairobi for a night or two or those here for a few days specifically for the NTC experience. A group of Hollywood writers and directors were here a few weeks ago for nearly a week.

The following morning, the first thing Tim asked me is if I heard the roaring lion a short distance away at night and at 6am. I pretended I did, but was fast asleep minutes after listening to the symphony of crickets, tree hyraxes and the African scops owl, glad not to have heard the lion, which would definitely have kept me up with my irrational fear of most things wild.

After two cups of a coffee pick-me-up, it’s time to head out of the camp site and the park. I am the only passenger now, and listen to Tim’s early morning wisdom of crocodiles, impala and the crown plovers flying noisily above us. I made a note to myself to come back for a whole weekend, not just one night, as I drove through the gates of the National Park.


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