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Keen on Kenya!

A VERY odd, happy, coincidence happened.

Having booked a year ago, I finally got a berth on MSC Melody’s yearly (next week) re-positioning cruise from Durban to Genoa, Italy, but was sad to learn ports-of-call were Reunion, Mauritius, Seychelles, two Egyptian harbours I’d not heard of and Aqaba, Jordan.

After sailing through Suez, with camel treks to the Pyramids, etc, we make 17 knots across the Med, calling at Naples (see Naples and die!), Pompeii and Vesuvius, before docking at a rather grubby Genoa, 22 days after leaving Natal.

So what’s wrong with that? You ask.

Nothing, but I much preferred the traditional voyage: Durbs-Maputo-Dar-Zanzibar-Mombasa, then the Middle East, rather than via Indian Ocean islands.  (Blame the Somali Pirates?)

In particular, I had a craving to try what I feel sure is a splendid curry yet at the Colonial Mombasa Club.
So I  was stunned when Kenya Airways rang asking a) could I make a jolly comprising travel writers, agents, other so-called opinion-formers and decision- makers to Kenya?; b) if so when could I go? and c) what would I like to see?

Answers were 1) Yes, 2) It will take 10 minutes to pack and get my passport and 3) EVERYTHING but I’d love lunch in Mombasa!

I was wary hearing departure was April Fool’s Day. Was this a wicked wind up?

Clearly not, as exactly on schedule the smart red and white Kenya Airways (those in the know say “KQ”)  Boeing 737 left HRE (Ha-ha-ha-rare: Africa’s fun capital) landing in NBO (Nairobi: aka “Nairobbery”) 149 minutes later: one of the nicest hops I’ve experienced in half a century’s flying.

We flew Business Class (some of us: the pink paper stayed steerage, appropriate!)

Staff smiled constantly; food was first rate. Disappointed chicken breasts were flattened on the southbound trip and not into steak or veg curry, Flight attendant Agnes, with film-star good looks, found a fish dish, earmarked for the crew.

Kenya tilapia, parsley potatoes, al dente veg, rich chocolate cake and cream was far better a meal than I’ve tasted on any airline recently. Food on US flights was rubbish and Yankee companies now CHARGE heavily for a beer: US$6 a can of watery American brew sometimes.

On most African airlines they treat you like a raving dipso if asking for a third lager on a 12-hour 10 000 km haul, often delayed hours! Flight attendant Mary served us four chilled cans of Kenya’s splendid Tusker Lager (albeit from Phoenix Brewery, Mauritius) between Caborra Bassa and the Tanzania-Kenya frontier, then —— having run out of beer —— was heavy handed with  gin and tonics for those taking spirits!

Having sorted out visa problems for some in our Zim group at bright, buzzing Jomo Kenyatta Airport (is there any reason Harare International so strongly resembles a morgue?) we were too late to check into the 5-star Inter-Continental, downtown Nairobi, going straight to a ministerial welcome cocktail at the National Museum.

I couldn’t in a millennium envisage throwing any sort of party in Zimbabwe’s tired dull museums, but this glittering venue was A1.No one frowned when I arrived in shorts, comfortable for a two-and-a-half hour flip, plus two hour check-in, after an hour’s graft!

Speeches were short. Various Kenya “stakeholders”, using a hackneyed buzzword, came together bringing 150 travel-hacks, agents and other travel pros from 20 African states, hoping they may help Kenya redress the 35% slump in arrivals from USA, Europe and the Orient since the recession.

Good idea! I always say see your own land first, then neighbouring states, then as much of Africa as possible before hitting London or New York.

Other good news was a tightening of schedules so pan-African travellers needn’t spend hours in Nairobi awaiting connexions (especially to Europe); visa fees were slashed; payable in any convertible currency as opposed to US dollars only; transit travellers would be urged to explore Kenya’s capital, rather than face endless bureaucratic objections.

The Inter-Continental was as swish as its eponymous sister hotels, pumping with glamorous arrivals and departures even late at night.

Thinking one of my favourite breakfast items: smoked salmon was on the buffet I soon realised the dish tucked into, with scrambled eggs and toast, was really a fine local delicacy: smoked sailfish!

Breakfast was abuzz with the London G20 riots, but we’ve probably said goodbye to international politics for now as we’re off to luxurious Sarova Mara Lodge in the Maasai Mara National Park, next phase in a week’s trip which includes, you’ve guessed it, time for lunch in Mombasa! plus farewell dinner at the celebrated Carnivore Restaurant.

Read more in Sunday’s issue of The Standard!



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