Tag Archives: Nairobi

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.

On the road to Nairobi

The long journey means a sampling of every form of transport there is

A faltering breeze makes no impact on the weighty tropical air. Gazing out over the sand and sipping drinks, it all seems quite simple: we are going to Nairobi. We will take a taxi, then a matatu (minibus taxi), go on foot for a while, followed by a ferry, then a tuk-tuk and finally a train.

We have five hours to travel the 42km from Diani to Mombasa, aiming to arrive, as instructed, two hours before the train’s scheduled departure time. In case it leaves early, we suppose, as is so often the way with African trains.

The taxi is late – a disconcerting start. We set off on foot. Our taxi hurtles past us. Screams to a halt. Showers us with dust. The driver’s name is Davies.

He laughs like a gurgling sink as we try to explain why our president has so many wives and children. We scrunch our suspension-free way to Ukunda, where Davies deposits us in a matatu.

Matatus are unlike our taxis in that the passengers smile and Bob Marley plays loudly in place of kwaito. In every other respect, they are similar. Stinking hot, a whiff of dope, 32 passengers on 16 seats, a conductor hanging out of a door that won’t close, breakneck speeds, roadblock bribes.

We sit buried, rucksacks mercifully blocking our view of the driver’s maniacal swervings, and move only to allow passengers to disembark. One of them showers us with sugar from a punctured bag he is passing out of the window.

The R5 matatu route to the ferry is 454 times cheaper per kilometre than Davies’s road-scraping taxi. And much quicker. The ferry is still free but, from the desperate rush to get aboard, people are obviously worried that the proposed 10c fee might be imposed at any moment.

The throng sweeps us forward, forces the gate open and propels us onto an already-moving ferry. Everyone laughs at this victory over security.

On Mombasa Island, we leap into a tuk-tuk for a rapid ride to the Castle Royal Hotel and a sandwich. A Swahili Louis Armstrong belts out an admirable Hello Dolly, complete with hanky.

Revived, packs on backs and lives in hands, we stride through Mombasa’s dusty side-streets to a fenced compound, dominated by a rusting sign. MOMBASA. We pay $65 for the train. An hour and three quarters sharing the platform with a growing gaggle of passengers, a few dozen chickens, a strolling minstrel who plays Hakuna Matata ad nauseam and seeping sewerage as it drools from the over-full long-drop lavatory pits.

Our compartment has a jammed-shut window, a dysfunctional fan and faulty lights. It is 38C and night is falling as the train pulls out. Evans, the train manager, can’t help with any of our problems but agrees to swap his room for ours.

Dinner is silver-service. No, really. A pallid mushroom soup ladled from a vast tureen; rolls with butter from a silver dish; chicken or beef; the shocking Kenyan equivalent of Spoornet coffee.

Squashed on a narrow bench next to a Somali woman, I sip from a brought-in bottle of wine harboured between my legs. The line of 20 ceiling fans is a motionless monument to a former, grander time. The lights fluctuate with the train speed. A kung-fu movie plays on a plasma screen, for this is Africa.

Linen sheets await – and an unparalleled sleep, rocked by the swaying of the train to awake to an unspeakably disgusting silver-service breakfast, passing through golden-light beautiful rolling grasslands and lovely placid villages. Children wave. Old men in blankets raise their sticks in greeting.

Rarely has faded splendour been so splendid.