Should the Mt. Kenya Safari Club be on your safari?
We are spending tonight at the Mt. Kenya Safari Club, having just completed a fantastic short Kenyan safari in the Aberdare Mountains (Aberdare Country Club & The Ark) and in Samburu (at Larsen’s Camp). For years my clients have been fiercely divided on whether the Safari Club should be included on their itinerary.
On the one hand it was always a beautiful place, a wonderful way to “catch your breath” between intensely scheduled days game viewing. And on the other, it meant you had to trade away a precious day of new adventures in the Kenyan bush for something easily had back home.
I respect that gusto but in some respects it greatly reduces an East African experience. Coming here should be much more than just a safari to see animals. East African society is one of the most interesting on earth. The skyrocketing transition of traditional life ways into the quagmire of the modern world is fascinating, and even a brief experience grows our global perspective in very important ways.
To me, Nairobi is a must, and not just as a quick overnight positioning before heading to a game park. Visiting community development projects, like the Kazuri Beads and (near the Safari Club) Nanyuki Weavers reveals a side to Kenyan life many visitors never anticipate. Rather than flying everywhere, I fervently believe you’ve got to drive at least a little, to see from the road the everyday lives of East Africans. I don’t think we should tolerate a vacation where you travel in a bubble made of your own comforts and securities.
And given these tenants of good travel, the Safari Club works masterfully into an itinerary. Its location is perfect for ending an overland safari. In a single day you can begin in a desert among traditional peoples struggling into modernity, climb through the immigrant Islamic town of Isiolo, whiz on the highway by Kenya’s largest and very successful corporate farms, visit the Nanyuki Weavers self-help project and enjoy Nanyuki town’s legendary Settlers’ Stores samosas. After all that cultural and visual overload, the free afternoon at the Safari Club is perfect!
But it seems like the Club’s current owner, Fairmont, is struggling. The new rooms are truly lovely, but the water doesn’t drain any quicker from the bathtub than before, making two baths before dinner a scheduling difficulty. The electricity was off for an hour when we arrived. And the food isn’t very good. This has always been a problem with the Safari Club, but last night my clients had to go through several knives to try to cut the steak, and the chicken looked (and one person said, tasted) like Plaster-of-Paris. To top off our dinner angst, the old piano player is still there, and just like before, he’d clear a 4th grade recital hall in a blink.
But the greatest put-off are the prices Fairmont is charging for incidentals. A bottle of water, $1 in the grocery store, is $12. A couple cocktails can top $20. A “3 Hour Nature Walk” – which you can easily do by yourself on beautiful trails – is almost $50. These aren’t prices you’d squint at in San Francisco, but hey guys, this is Kenya.
When Fairmont bought the Lonrho properties several years ago, there was great hope. And they’ve redone the Norfolk beautifully. But they’ve abandoned completely two important chinks in the safari circuit: The Ark and the Aberdare Country Club. You can’t even find these properties on the Fairmont website. This is Kenya, much more than the Safari Club.
I applaud Fairmont for trying to move Kenya forwards. I just wonder if Kenya is moving Fairmont backwards.