Was I going to Keenya or Kenya. When I announced to my son that I was going to Keenya he fell around the place laughing. We have an ongoing thing about pronunciation. It was Keenya in my day I assured him. And it was until they got independence in 1963 and changed the emphasis. Regardless of the pronunciation, it's a beautiful country with wonderfully warm and friendly people.
We started our journey from Nairobi to Lake Naivasha through the Great Rift Valley in the safe hands of Fred from Hemingways Expeditions. Driving through towns with their colourful shop names and herds of goats and cows roaming the streets is a great experience in itself. At one stage, baboons ran across the road in front of us and a herd of zebras strolled by. Shop signs like White Bulls Butchery and Hotel, Grandma Arcade, Climax Beauty Salon and Shepherd Cafe are typical. Jackaranda and Willow trees provide a backdrop for roadside traders selling anything from flowers to fruit to bricks and animal feed.
We arrived at Kiboko Luxury Camp in Naivasha to a warm welcome, both from the lovely staff and the little monkeys who rushed to our balconies to see what goodies they could procure. In my case, two apples disappeared from my bedside table very quickly. A boat took us out to nearby Crescent Island where scenes from Out of Africa were shot. We strolled at our leisure and came up extremely close and personal with giraffes, zebra and water bucks. Flamingos and pelicans were also the order of the day. After a beautiful dinner, as we made our way to our houses on stilts (the houses, not us), two hippos came up next to our balconies to say hello, but were quickly moved on by the security guards. Too much excitement for one day.
The following morning we set out for Nawamu Village, a sustainable village project for 200 families, pioneered by local man, Joseph Muya, after post-election violence displaced many people in 2007. We were proudly welcomed into homes as little kids steadfastly held our hands every inch of the way. And then it was onto our Safari adventure at Samburu National Reserve and Elephant Bedroom Camp. The sign at the entrance to the park states "Samburu, where nature defies itself". And they never said a truer word.
Elephant Bedroom Camp comprises 12 luxury dwellings on the shores of the Ewaso Nyiro river and is run by Nagib and Nima Popat, a very warm and interesting couple who have the same gorgeous staff with them for many years. Nothing is too much trouble. The food is amazing and Nima, with her Indian heritage, does a really mean chicken curry. Lunch is served in front of the compound on the banks of the river and a full hot breakfast is served in a clearing after the morning safari. The atmosphere is second to none.
Bright-eyed and bushy- tailed we put ourselves in the capable and highly entertaining hands of Julius, our safari guide, and between our three outings -- two early-morning and one evening -- we managed to see just about everything there was to see. Loads, and I mean loads, of elephants (there are 2,000 in the reserve) and their babies, ostrich and their babies, oryx, zebra, Grant gazelles, impalas, secretary birds and so much more. But the two most wondrous spectacles were the leopard up the tree right next to us with a dead impala and the cheetah who had just killed a Grant gazelle and was standing guard over it. The circle of life.
And then it was on to the coast and time to indulge in some hedonism. We headed for the coast south of Mombasa and the white sandy beaches near Diani Beach. Our choice of accommodation was Pinewood Beach Resort and Spa, and we couldn't have made a better choice. Pamela, one of the managers, welcomed us with open arms and made us feel part of the place very quickly.
Before my luggage arrived at my suite, I opened the door to my veranda and wandered over to open the second door. I saw movement behind me and swung around to see a monkey about to climb onto my bed. "Get out!" I screamed and when he did, I went to shut the door only to see him coming back in the other door. And then I started to lose the plot. Trying to rationalise with a monkey is not admirable.
"You're not coming in that door either, You're in the same house. This is me again." Maybe if I spoke Swahili. When I had taken in my bag, I decided to check where he was and discovered he wasn't pleased with my attitude and had left a large poo on my veranda. It was of course cleaned very quickly by a smiling staff member.
Pinewood Beach is a piece of heaven, with tiny yellow weaver birds residing in the courtyard. It's directly on the beach, where a gentle breeze makes the heat bearable before a dip in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean. It's a place of many return visitors, and one English couple told me they normally never go back to the same place but this was their third trip in a row to this idyllic retreat. Testament indeed.
We had our last meal in Carnivore in Nairobi before our flight home, a restaurant that clearly by its name specialises in meat. The modus operandi is to eat as much beef, lamb, crocodile, ostrich, turkey etc as you like and when you really feel you've had enough you wave a flag of surrender. Just as well I don't live there. They'd be broke.
Throughout Kenya there's a feeling of bonhomie. "Jambo" meaning hello is the word on everyone's lips. Nobody passes you without a jambo and sometimes two-Jambo jambo.
There's a wonderful simplicity to life in Kenya. People are so proud of their tribes. The kids play with tyres and sticks and giggle all the time. No X box stuff and temper tantrums here.
Our lovely driver Fred told me his plan is to make everyone addicted to Kenya. He has one victim here.
Hemingways Expeditions (hemingways-expeditions.com) offers an eight-night package with two nights at Kiboko Luxury Camp (sunafricahotels.com), two nights at Elephant Bedroom Camp (atua-enkop.com) and four nights at Pinewood Beach Resort (pinewood-beach.com) from £2,779 per person including most meals, 4x4 ground transfers and SafariLink (flysafarilink.com) air transfers from Samburu to Diani and Diani to Nairobi.
Kenya Airways (kenya-airways.com / 020 8283 1818) operates daily overnight flights from London Heathrow to Nairobi from £726.55 including tax.
Aer Lingus operates four daily flights from Cork to London Heathrow starting from £39.99 one-way. Aer Lingus and British Airways operate up to 16 daily flights from Dublin to London Heathrow from £39.99 one-way.
For more information on visiting Kenya, contact the Kenya Tourism Board on 0207 367 0931 or visit www.magicalkenya.com