TRAVEL&lEISURE: Exploring Nairobi

By: JOAN THATIAH

Whoever coined the phrase ‘hidden in plain sight’ could easily have had Nairobi’s beauty spots on his mind.

I had never really thought about all the amazing things there are to do within and around Nairobi – until Google got a group of journalists together to sample their newly launched Google Tools that make exploring this beautiful city easier.

The journalists came from Nigeria, France, South Africa and the UK, and seeing this town through their eyes was, well an eye-opener.

GEOLOGICAL WONDER

Our adventure began at The Great Rift Valley view point off the Maai Mahiu – Narok Road. The humid, mid-morning air blew in our faces as we observed one of nature’s ancient wonders.

When you look at the Rift Valley, you’re literally looking at a tear in the earth’s crust – much like you would a tear in your stocking – except that it is a 6,400-km-long tear.

We’d have stared at this geological wonder a lot longer except that on this particular day, we had the good fortune to bump into a Kamba music band shooting a video for one of their releases, using the Valley as an artistic backdrop.

Two ladies and one gentleman danced extremely energetically – possibly spurred on by the unexpected presence of their multi-national audience.

We didn’t tarry there long – we had to move on to the little Catholic church further down the road, popularly known as the travelers’ chapel. Seating 12 people – at which point one would confidently describe it as ‘packed to the rafters’ – this tiny church was built in 1942 by Italian prisoners of war, put to labour building the Maai Mahiu Road by their British captors.

The British government gave them this small parcel of land to build their church on – and the result is this quaint, beautifully crafted building that is steeped in tragic history.

TEA FARM TOUR

No visit to any part of Kenya is complete without a cup of tea, and we stopped off at the Kiambethu Tea Farm in Tigoni, Limuru where our host Fiona Mitchell welcomed us with glasses of ginger iced tea.

This tea farm is one of Kenya’s oldest tea farms, and is open for tours. We stayed for lunch, served under umbrella tents outside the farmhouse, and watched Colobus monkeys from the surrounding indigenous forest attempt to steal fruit off the buffet table.

Our drive back to Nairobi after lunch was through the rural landscape of Tigoni, and into Ruaka, and on to Karura Forest.

The South African journalists were very surprised to note that there were no delinquent children running around, leading me to think that this is quite a big problem for our brothers and sisters down south.

We walked off the calories gained at lunch on the Karura Forest nature trail. Unfortunately, we did not get to see any of the forest’s wildlife.

However, we did spot at least five young couples walking. This has become quite the popular place for romantic walks, so if you and your significant other are looking for a place to bond and enjoy the therapeutic effects of nature on your relationship, this is it. We finished the walk with cocktails at the River Cafe, with its stunning waterfall and view of the Karura Forest.

The outdoor ambience makes this a really great place for observation and reflection.

Dinner, which was a three-course affair off an entirely traditional Kenyan menu, was at Amaica Restaurant on Peponi Road in Westlands. Driving there was a pleasant, traffic-free experience – again, something of wonder, considering how bad the traffic is in other parts of this town.

The non-Kenyans in the group finally had a chance to enjoy their Tuskers. Next week, I’ll tell you all about the most exciting aspect of our travel experience – made all the more so because it was right in the middle of Nairobi’s CBD!

ABOUT THE SPOTS WE VISITED

Located in the north of the Central business district, the 1,000 hectares of bush and trees that is Karura Forest is surrounded by Muthaiga and Gigiri some of the leafier suburbs of Nairobi. Entry is Sh200 for adults

Standing at 7,200 feet, Kiambethu Tea Farm is one of Kenya’s oldest tea farms. It was first farmed by AB McDonnel in 1901. His granddaughter Fiona Mitchell now runs the farm.

They are open to tours, which need to be preplanned. A visit here includes a tour through the farm and an educational talk on tea processing over a cup of tea. Cost is Sh3,000 per adult and Sh1,500 per child.

One seeking a view of the Great Rift Valley has many options. There are many stops along the Maai Mahiu Road where you can stop. Curio shops form a perimeter around the viewpoints.

The Nairobi-Nakuru highway is another scenic route. Amongst the relegated view points, the Lari View Point is the highest point of the Rift Valley. For someone with more time, there are lodges built off this highway that have amazing views of the Valley.

SOURCE: DAILY NATION