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Nairobi – an off-duty guide for bankers

Well, then, what are you going to do for the rest of the time?

By David Wynne-Morgan

Nairobi is the capital of the country that I have regarded for the past 25 years as the most exciting and satisfying country in the world to visit. From the moment my plane touches down at Nairobi Airport the rest of the world ceases to exist.

The great excitement of Africa is that, only 10 minutes' drive from the superficial sophistication and comfort of what we choose to call the civilized world, is miles and miles of a continent that has changed only imperceptibly in the last 100 years. There are few places left in the world where there is the same sense of freedom and space only a few miles away from the well-trod routes of the mini-bus and the safari coach.


Nairobi itself is, on the surface, a highly civilized community. It is a genuinely multi-racial community and this year, as the country celebrates its tenth year of independence, the Government can congratulate itself on the lack of tension between the different races.

The night life of Nairobi is varied and comparatively inexpensive by European or American standards. The Grill Room at the New Stanley serves first-class food and usually has cabaret imported from overseas together with its own resident dance band. The Nairobi International Casino caters for the tourist determined to gamble and once inside you could be almost anywhere in the world. The floor show in the restaurant varies little from that in top-class casinos in any other capital.

For the person who wants to try something different that he will not see in. Europe or the United States, visit the Sombrero in Gulzar Street. Here is a real kaleidoscope of Nairobi life. Here striptease artistes, both European and African, are greeted not with the bored or embarrassed stares that greet them in Soho, but with an excitement and rapturous applause more associated with a football match. Africans predominate but there is always a large number of Europeans, mostly locals, at the tables and the bar. There is a friendly atmosphere and an unsophisticated determination to enjoy oneself that is infectious. It is also inexpensive.

Nairobi Museum

If you are planning to go outside Nairobi at the end of the conference to see either the game parks or have a few days at the coast, you will enjoy it a great deal more if you have visited the unique Nairobi Museum.

This museum, only just out of town, gives a fascinating insight into the history of the country and all the different kinds of wildlife and their habits are shown here, together with paintings by Joy Adamson of representatives of all the tribes in the country. Two hours here will enable the visitor to know what to look for when he goes on safari and to appreciate everything to a much greater degree. Just outside the museum you will find the snake park, which, for the not so squeamish, is a fascinating experience.

Pay a visit to the Nairobi Game Park. This will be your first opportunity to see African game in its natural setting. You will not see leopards or elephants and will be very lucky to see a rhinoceros, but you will be certain to see lions, whose roars you can often hear in your hotel bedroom at night. You will also see large numbers of plains game. Don't go in the middle of the day. Get up early and go at dawn or leave it until about 5 o'clock. You will see a lot more.

Nairobi is a wonderful shopping centre. Down in what was once known as the Asian quarter, but which is rapidly becoming Africanized, you will be able to buy wood carvings, game curios and those typically African cotton materials which they transform into garments of great elegance. Known as kikois or kitenges, they are probably made in Manchester, but they have been made specially for the Kenya market. For those who want something special, go and see Major Raw at Rowland Ward. Their glassware, their household objects made from skins and their many gift items of African design are the finest to be found. Interesting and original jewellery in semi-precious stones from East Africa are at Eltons in Standard Street or Beth in Kenyatta Avenue.

The finest antique shop for African objects of the very highest class that I have found in the whole continent is the African Heritage Pan-African Gallery in Kenyatta Avenue. It is not cheap, but, even if you are not going to buy, a visit is a must. You will see more beautiful objects from the real Africa here than anywhere else.

Before going on a major safari, here are two small outings that can be made in a morning or an afternoon. Go to Muthaiga, a suburb of Nairobi, which used to be the very centre of colonial life before independence.

Colonial life

Here, in a lush and beautifully cultivated setting, you will see some of the finest examples of colonial architecture. If you can find a Kenyan who is a member, get him to take you to the Muthaiga Club. Sitting at the bar, and looking across the chintz-covered lounge, independence might never have happened. The faces and the dress are exactly the same as they were 10 or 15 years ago. Don't laugh, although it might seem strange. These are the men and women who have stayed in Kenya because they loved it more than any other country in the world and they have played their part in ensuring that independence would succeed. They are people who have not only been tolerated, but encouraged by the African Government they support.

Going further out in the same direction, you will come to Limuru, another 2,000 ft higher than Nairobi itself. At night, although less than 100 miles from the Equator, blazing log fires burn in all the rooms of the houses. It is more like England than Africa in its freshness.

If you do decide to stay for a few more days to take a holiday and see more of the country, you can, of course, visit the game lodges, or 'Treetops', where you will be well looked after and have a unique experience. If, however, you would like to live in almost luxurious comfort in a tented camp where it is much easier to capture the real atmosphere and feeling of the 'bush', then visit Governor's Camp on the Mara Reserve, one of the few places in Kenya where you will still see the vast herds of game that once roamed over the entire country.

If, at the end of your visit, you find yourself looking forward to returning to your banker's desks, then one of us is mad. I hope it is not me.