‘I will pick you up at 6.30am; then Jan and Gabie at 7am. Breakfast at Barney’s’. That was our older son, Andreas. He has been giving orders since he could talk. I reckon if he had had the words he would have instructed the midwife as he was being born. He is a compulsive organiser. And he had organised a family trip for three nights at Loisaba Tented Camp in Laikipia. We were keenly anticipating the days ahead, because Andreas is also a fantastic safari guide.
For me, it was an important venture – the first drive out of Nairobi after a couple of weeks in hospital and another couple of weeks recovering at home.
Until Nyeri, we drove through showers and the skyscapes were amazing – shifting towers of bloated cumulus clouds of whites and greys, broken by occasional patches of blue sky. Beyond Nyeri, though the clouds stayed piled around Mount Kenya and the Aberdares, the sun warmed us as we drove along the broad plain in between.
Barney’s is a few kilometres short of Nanyuki. It has been our favourite stopping place on this route for many years. Maybe it’s because it lies between the road and a popular airstrip, where there are frequent light planes landing and taking off – signals that you are on the edge of Kenya’s safari lands. And, for me, the sound of the engines brings back memories of my own flying days back in the UK when I was much younger.
But Barney’s has its own attractions. It is a relaxed place and ideal for winding down after a few hours of driving. The food is good too. The menu is well varied: soups or salads, beef or beyond beef burgers, steaks or skinny fries, BLT or veggie club sandwiches. I was hungry after the early start and only a cup of tea, so I had no hesitation about ordering the full English breakfast that I had been thinking about for the previous hour. Three of the five of us are vegetarians, and they all declared themselves happy with their nicely decorated muesli dishes or fluffy pancakes.
We also gave our car a refuelling drink in Nanyuki, before pushing on to the more difficult route to Loisaba.
What is it about Nanyuki that it has become so popular with a significant number of Europeans who have moved there from Nairobi? It is certainly a different place since my first memory of it. It was back in 1968 and I was staying at the Sportsman’s Arms, where I couldn’t avoid hearing an amazing conversation in the bar between a white hunter and his young woman client. It seems the woman and her husband had paid a high price for a licence to shoot a rhino. But the husband was in bed with flu. The discussion was about whether it would be OK to go on their afternoon drive in the bush and leave the husband in his lonely sick-bed. I didn’t hear the conclusion, but I had a good idea what it would be.
Nanyuki was so much smaller then and the Sportsman’s Arms seemed its key institution. The town has grown considerably, of course. But it still has a frontier feel about it. Not far beyond and way to the north, there are a number of wildernesses; there are many ranches and conservancies, many lodges and tented camps – and an abundance of wildlife to wonder at and enjoy.
It has often been said that a number of the Europeans who came to settle and farm in Kenya during the last century came to escape the growing populations, the crowding and frenetic lifestyles of European cities. Perhaps those Nairobians who are relocating to Nanyuki are, similarly, escaping the growing population, the crowding and frenetic lifestyles of the city.
John Fox is Chairman of iDC Email: [email protected]