Tribe’s good vibes

More and more South Africans are visiting Kenya for both business and pleasure. In the capital, Chris Harvie discovers the perfect hotel

I have never been against hobnobbing with big businessmen and ambassadors. Even minor royalty. And they all obviously feel quite at home here. After all, Tribe is a world-class establishment geared to top brass in suits – but it is equally comfortable for small change in shorts like me. That’s why it’s so good.

Getting through security at Tribe is like gaining access to Wonderland. You become part of a great illusion. The hotel has 137 rooms and yet you could be forgiven for thinking it had only 30. There’s never a queue at reception. The servers in the restaurant are so genial you feel they’d like nothing better than to shoot the breeze with you all day. The housekeepers are invisible, but your room is always immaculate. And so it goes on.

You are greeted by everyone you meet as if you are the only person staying and it’s your 100th visit. There are other guests around; you see them occasionally as they waft effortlessly through the seemingly endless numbers of lounges, bars and decks. They are always smiling. It’s not surprising.

They’ve probably just been back to their rooms and found that, during their brief absence, an invisible housekeeper has snuck in and left a bunch of lilies or a box of chocolates or a bottle of champagne.

Or they’ve just ordered a snack on an island among the interlinking pools and it turned out to be an exquisite piece of sushi. In Nairobi.

Or maybe, curious, they have wandered onto a different sofa-strewn storey, studded with off-beat chandeliers, and found yet another collection of rare and beautiful African, Persian and Indian artefacts.

In many hotels, the friendliness is artificial – and you know it immediately – but here it is obviously genuine. Every member of the staff is a dedicated expert. The bar manager, for example, is an old hand of Nairobi club society. What Mazaar Githegi doesn’t know about the social scene here is not worth knowing. I asked him where to dine. He sent me to a fabulous curry house, Open House in Westlands, and then recommended that I drop into the K1 Klubhouse nearby, where there would be a Smirnoff promotion that night. I did and he was right .

The “Party in the snow – the hottest party in chilling conditions” was a great bash. Free booze, loud music, dancing girls, hundreds of people and, yes, it snowed in Nairobi, albeit artificially.

A few days after my return home, I received an e-mail welcoming me to the Tribe family and hoping I’d be back again. Well, I hope so too.

I am left with so many abiding memories – a spectacular breakfast, an atrium with towering glass and billowing curtains, endless books, fascinating art and stunning style.

But more than anything, I remember a welcoming group of people. The hotel’s GM, Mark Somen, told me their slogan, “One Planet, One Tribe”, referred to a belief that we are all of the Human Tribe, an admirable sentiment.

In truth, though, staying there is like being on a totally different planet. One immeasurably superior to our own.

If you go

Where it is: Tribe: The Village Market, Limuru Road, Gigiri, a suburb north of Nairobi, not far from the famed Muthaiga Country Club, where Karen Blixen had her last dop in Kenya.

Why go there : Because Nairobi is accessible and different, but with a strong feel of home.

What it has: Laid-back class. Spacious rooms, magnificent suites, four boardrooms. A vast mall next door with excellent shops, banks, dozens of restaurants, a cinema and even a bowling alley and foefie-slide. The Maasai Market on Fridays is a massive curio extravaganza.

And the food: The Epic Restaurant: diverse, multi-themed, with visiting international chefs and cunning local twists.

Rates: From $320 (about R2400) per double per night, with breakfast; $280 (about R1870) for single occupancy.

Getting there: SAA and Kenya Airways both fly non-stop daily to Nairobi in just over four hours. Tribe will pick you up from the airport in a limo or you can take a taxi (about 40 minutes).

What there is to see on the way: From the plane, Lake Malawi and Mount Kilimanjaro. From the limo, the vibrant, flower-lined streets and constant traffic of East Africa’s biggest and most exciting city.

Contact: Phone +254207200000; e-mail stay@tribehotel-kenya.com; or visit www.tribe-hotel.com. Tribe is marketed in South Africa by African Pride Hotels (www.africanpridehotels.com).

Visa and Health requirements: No visa is required by SA citizens visiting Kenya. Proof of yellow fever vaccination (Yellow Card) is required by all passengers on re-entry into SA.

LOCAL ATTRACTION: Cool things to do around Nairobi

NAIROBI NATIONAL PARK Well worth a visit. 117sqkm of surprisingly wonderful game-viewing. Also affords some most unusual photo opportunities of animals in front of a line of skyscrapers. www.kws.org

THE KAREN BLIXEN MUSEUM In Karen Road, in the suburb of Karen. You can’t get away from her, of course, but did you really think you’d go to Nairobi and not do some Karen Blixen? This was her house, now preserved as a (very fine) museum. www.museums.or.ke

DAVID SHELDRICK WILDLIFE TRUST A non-profit organisation, reintroducing orphaned elephants and rhinos into the wild. On a plot within the Nairobi National Park. www.sheldrickwildlifetrust.org

GIRAFFE CENTRE Protecting rare Rothschild giraffes (if you are lucky, feed and even kiss them). The Gogo bird sanctuary is alongside and offers birding walks. www.giraffecenter.org

Plus walks in the Ngong Hills, a day trip to Lake Naivasha and other Rift Valley lakes or a visit to the Olorgasailie Prehistoric Site. Nairobi also offers numerous museums, galleries and fine restaurants.

Nobody nose the trouble I’ve seen

Karoo camping’s a treat – if you can ignore the things blowin’ in the wind.

We are camped outside the hospital in Carnarvon. We are not unwell and this is not the Welsh Caernarvon. Carnarvon is in the middle of the Karoo.

It’s an appealing place. Broad, double-laned streets are centred with lines of palms, cut like giant pineapples and perched in dusty, brick-lined beds, with street lights sprouting sporadically among them.

The town, once a Rhenish mission, was settled in 1850 with 110 African refugees from “tribal disturbances”. Far more than 110 smiling faces now fill the streets, casting curious looks after the car as it passes through, laden with camping kit.

I suppose it must be a Voortrekker legacy that almost every old South African town has a municipal campsite. Carnarvon is no exception.

The route zig-zags through streets named, like the town itself, after long-dead colonial administrators, past flaking Victorian homes interspersed with the odd art-deco shop and 1970s concrete monstrosities.

To the hospital. Just past it, in fact. A metal gate lies open. Next to this stands a small house. Pasop vir die hond. Beware of the dog. Below the sign, a floppy puppy jumps up and down delightedly.

Paid to an amiable relic of the old administration, a paltry R20 gives access to a huge expanse of leaf-strewn sand, shaded by tall, peeling bluegums, which almost screen off the darkened windows of the hospital and, across the way in the near distance, what would undoubtedly be known locally as die lokasie – the “location”, where a bright pink school provides a rewarding dash of colour among hundreds of homogeneous houses.

We ask if we can drink the tap water.

“We won a prize for our water,” grins the relic. And they’d win a prize for their ablution block too, were there a competition. Freshly painted. Spotless. Washbasin with un-cracked mirror. Showers. Even a bath. When did you last go to a campsite that offered a bath? And, outside, three swings and a slide. Gawd bless the Voortrekkers.

The sun sets, purple and gold, over the location, the sky threaded with long, pink shreds of cotton-wool cloud. The temperature drops suddenly. Donkeys bray. Exhaust-pipeless cars scream and throb along the road. Someone blows a vuvuzela. A cockerel crows.

The cockerel is the camper’s most feared creature, for its inability to tell the time – for not, indeed, knowing dawn from dusk – although the Carnarvon cockerel’s crowing is less of a threat to sleep than the cars, the barking of canines, the crying of children and the cackling and cajoling of wives on the other side of the expanse.

Sitting round a fire with a potjie on the go is not peaceful but it is relaxing. A full moon rises. Leaves rustle in a breeze that picks up, bringing with it, from the direction of the hospital, a strong whiff of sewage while from the township wafts the unmistakable sound of Bob Dylan singing “The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind.”

Surely, that smell is not the answer? We wolf down the potjie, douse the fire and retreat into the tent to enjoy the night sounds of Carnarvon while avoiding its night smells.

In the morning, mercifully, the wind has dropped and there is nothing blowing in it. Thankful for fitful sleep and the lack of overnight ambulance sirens at the ghostly hospital, we wake, instead, to the buzzing of bees in the bluegums above.

The water in the showers is piping hot. It is no wonder they win prizes for it. But they might want to work on Carnarvon’s sewage treatment, or the whole town will be camped outside the hospital – in a queue for a stomach remedy.

Probably quite a noisy queue, would be my guess.