A Wild New Year in Nairobi

Last week I was telling you about the answers I got to the question: What do Kenyans do at Christmas? So the obvious sequel is: What do Kenyans do at New Year?

My friends gave me a similar set of answers – and most of them were to do with eating and drinking, especially drinking. Perhaps I have a wrong set of friends. Anyway, before taking up the drinking theme, let me tell you about a small recce I made of opportunities for a proper family day out in Nairobi – a recce I made before taking myself and family off to the Coast.

I went for lunch at the Rangers Restaurant – something I have been meaning to do for some time, since I heard it had opened again earlier this year. You will know where Rangers is? At the Nairobi National Park, just to the right of the main gate and overlooking the Safari Walk? Yes, a great site – so I have been puzzled why the place hasn’t been more successful and had actually gone out of business.

I reckoned that at New Year a family trip to the Safari Walk, followed by a late lunch at Rangers, would be a good move, with something for everyone, young or old: fresh air, gentle exercise, convenient wildlife watching – and then a nice family meal in a very attractive setting. And, with an entrance fee of only Ksh.100 for residents, the Safari Walk is no extravagance.

It’s as well to keep reminding ourselves how lucky we are to have the Nairobi National Park. As the official guidebook tells us: no other city in the world can boast a natural wilderness teeming with wildlife and home to 400 species of birds, 80 species of mammals, 40 species of reptiles and amphibians, and over 500 plant species – all within 20 minutes of the city centre.

(By the way, the guidebook claims 10 minutes from the city centre; perhaps the writer always did the trip at daybreak – before the daily and ponderous migration of vehicles gets underway. Otherwise, the guidebook is very informative, with a good map of the Park, and attractively laid out. It is available at the Kifaru Ark Shop.)

But, as its name implies, you don’t need a vehicle for the Safari Walk – and you can see a good variety of the Park’s residents in something very like their natural habitat. You look down on them from the raised timbered walkways. You can spend many trips inside the Park without seeing a leopard; but, at the Safari Walk, you are guaranteed to find one – most likely lounging on a high branch.

You get much closer to animals such as lions, hyenas and crocodiles than you would in a game drive. Also, the way the vegetation is varied is very clever – a construction of grassland, riverine woodland, highland forest, and wetlands.

On the viewing platforms you will find displays of information about what you are seeing – or, if you prefer hearing, you can engage one of the guides. There’s an Education Centre. And there’s Sebastian’s Safari Café for snacks and drinks.

But it was the Rangers Restaurant I wanted to talk about. Actually, I reckon it still has a problem – an identity problem. It can’t make up its mind whether it is a slightly up-market nyama choma place or a slightly down-market ‘international’ restaurant. If you want a basic steak and chips, followed by an ice cream or fruit salad – then fine, you can tuck into a substantial meal and enjoy the special view.

But when I asked for the river trout from the menu, I was told it was not available. The crème caramel was also off – and so was the sticky toffee pudding….

And what about the drinking that my friends tell me is the major occupation at New Year. Well, there was an event going on at Rangers that reminded me that the drinking might be even heavier this particular New Year. It was a big office party, at which the MD used his speech to campaign for PNU – and where the Chairman followed with a pitch for ODM.

So, by 31st December the Election results will be out, won’t they? Since it looks like it’s going to be a close call, the New Year will be an occasion for much drinking to celebrate or much drinking to drown sorrows. And I’m sure you don’t need me to advise you where best to do it.

Published in Kenya’s Sunday Nation