Kidnapped and Enjoyably Confused in Karen

A few years ago we were driving for our first office retreat at the Coast.

‘What team building exercises will we be doing?’ one of my colleagues asked.

‘None,’ I replied. ‘We are just going to enjoy ourselves.’

We did swimming and sunbathing, sailing and snorkeling, sitting and sightseeing, cruising and clubbing, lounging and laughing – we had a great time. It was an excellent team building experience.

I have my doubts about the kinds of team building events that seem to be so popular these days: disentangling yourselves from ropes; being led blindfolded across busy streets; building bridges across pretend rivers – you know the sort of thing.

Some team building exercises can be a bit risky, too – especially for the top dogs. I remember once running a workshop at the Aberdare Country Club for a company I will not name. The managing director was a compulsive kind of guy. He put himself forward for taking the managing director in a role play that involved sorting out a very tricky employee relationship issue. I tried to dissuade him. But he was adamant that he wanted the challenge. And he made a complete mess of it – in front of all his staff.

But the other evening I took part in a team building activity with a few of my colleagues that was – whether it was team building or not – intriguing, exciting, and enjoyably confusing.

It was called ‘Kidnapped in Karen’. It was put on by a group called Active Team Solutions. It was held in the historic and rather gaunt Grogan House at the delightful Tamambo Karen Blixen Coffee Garden along Karen Road.

This group offers the kinds of team building that I have just talked about: manipulating strings, leading the blind, crossing a river, building and racing rafts. I reckon they must stage these very well. But their Kidnapped in Karen is different. It involves being kidnapped, handcuffed and locked in a darkened room. The objective is to make your escape. I can’t tell you more because it would give too much away. You have to use your common sense and your collective ingenuity – aided by a number of clues along the route to an escape.

My colleagues and I got a long way along the route. But we didn’t make the final escape. Only two groups have succeeded so far. One of the two included both my sons – so I now have to put up with their smugness.

Anyway, it really is not only challenging but also great fun. It costs Ksh.1,850 per person. Or you can splash out and, for Ksh.2995, you can add a meal and a drink at the very nice Tamambo Restaurant.

The ideal group size is between four and seven. Putting aside the team building tag, it is something you can do with friends – or even with your family. If you want to know more about it, have a chat with our jailor, informative and friendly host, Krush. You can get him on 0792-470859 or 0719-346349. They are on Facebook and webpage:

As I said, the Kidnapped in Karen event is in the grounds of the very attractive Tamambo Karen Blixen Coffee Garden. So it was no hardship for me to have to go back to get a photo of the Grogan House in daylight. I thought I would treat myself to a brunch there last Sunday. The website said the place was open for breakfast from 06.00am, with a menu a fusion of Tamarind and Tamambo dishes.

I was after something quite simple – an English breakfast of fried eggs and crispy bacon. I was there at 09.30am – only to be told that the breakfasts had stopped being served two years ago, and lunch would start at 11.30am. But the waiters setting up the tables were very sympathetic, and they offered me a coffee in the garden.

The sun was out, too. So, after the coffee, I took my photo of Grogan House. It was once the home in Chiromo of Colonel Grogan, one of the settler pioneers, who was known as ‘Bwana Chui’. He had made himself famous by walking from the Cape to Cairo to impress his girlfriend’s father – the girlfriend, Gertrude, who then became his wife. She was the founder of the Gertrude Garden Children’s Hospital. The house was moved, brick by brick, from Chiromo in order to preserve it.

There’s another, and much prettier, house on the Coffee Garden that was once Karen Blixen’s coffee farm. This is Swedo House, which was the original farm house built between 1906 and 1908. It is now mainly lounges for residents of the cottages that are dotted around the garden. Then there is the very elegantly furnished bar of the Tamambo Restaurant.

But it had no breakfast for me. So I bought some eggs and bacon on my way home and cooked my own.

Published in Kenya’s Sunday Nation