After two years, I was back at the Lukenya Getaway – a place that has become a popular venue for conferences of different kinds.
I am not surprised about that. For one thing, it is just the right distance from Nairobi. Well, it will be again – once the road through Mlolongo and by-passing Athi River is finished. Then it will be a smooth about-an-hour away. Now, trapped in a queue of impatient traffic, you can easily (in only one sense of the word) take double that time. And it is a rough ride – through a wasteland of seemingly unplanned development.
Isn’t it a thing of shame that Nairobi Gamepark – an asset of the sort that no other capital in the world can claim – is so shoddily fringed? So close to the city and to the airport – shouldn’t someone be thinking of creating hotels looking into the park, and other sympathetic buildings, rather than the unsightly shambles that are now hemming in the park?
But the Lukenya Getaway is worth the journey. As it claims in its brochure, it is a quiet and peaceful place – and an ‘environment for intellectual work, rest and recreation’. It advertises itself as an ideal venue for conferences, team building, retreats, workshops, meetings and holidays.
Well, I was there for the ‘intellectual work’ item of the list, working alongside Robert Chambers, a man best known to the world as the guru of participatory development methodologies – but also known here as one of the two Europeans who accompanied Kisoi Munyao when he planted the new Kenya flag on the summit of Mount Kenya at Independence.
There were 150 participants in this participatory workshop organised by Plan International. To cope with such a number, the Getaway has had to extend itself in the two years since I was last there. It has a new ring of bandas and tents, surrounding a garden of domesticated shrubs and looking out to the wild bush.
Mind you, these tents are not for roughing it. They have comfortable twin beds with electric lights, and a brick-built bathroom at the back with hot water showers. And the bandas are quite luxurious too; two of them, especially, with Jacuzzis and steam baths, scented candles, bouquets of flowers, and non-alcohol wine.
I was told that these two luxury suites are very suitable for honeymooners or top executives…. What then, I wonder, would be even more suitable for honeymooning top executives?
But I was telling you about the extensions…. The centrepiece is a new dining room, fully enclosed and with generous fireplaces – very necessary, we discovered, at this cold time of the year.
For those intrepid team-building workshoppers, there is an array of apparatus with dubious names such as ‘challenging wall’, ‘trust fall’, ‘balancing pole’ and ‘spider’s web’. For the family on a gentler weekend, there is the swimming pool and lots of less intimidating apparatus for the children. And across the large compound there are pitches and courts for basket ball, squash, volley ball, badminton, football and tennis.
You can, of course, go for guided walks in the surrounding countryside. Just the other side of the ridge, you can sign up for organised climbing on the Lukenya rock face. Or you can drive back the four kilometres to the bar at the Small World Country Club on the Mombasa Road. Because yes, as you will have picked up from the reference to the non-alcoholic wine, the Getaway still doesn’t have its own bar.
‘We find that most conference organisers prefer it that way,’ said Anne Mahinda, the Managing Director. ‘They like their participants to turn up sober and alert in the mornings.’
It was good to have another chat with Anne. She runs a smart and friendly place. The rooms are scrupulously clean; the food is varied and plentiful; the activities are many; the staff are around and attentive.
‘This is a very competitive business,’ she said. ‘But I am confident that we will continue to do well.’
I reckon they will. Because Anne has an eye for making things look nice – and an ear for hearing how they could be improved.