Out of Africa – Karen, Kenya A Safari, Chapter One

My first safari was over 25 years ago. One of my lasting memories is the vast wide-open blue skies and the infinite horizons. The seemingly edge of the earth thrusting itself up to graze the pale sky. The sky in Africa always seems bigger than anywhere else in the world, an endless horizon stretches forever. Occasionally peppered with billowing pristine white clouds, it’s like IMax scenery!

I’ve enjoyed numerous Journeys to Kenya, a last-minute invitation on a business Safari, known as a Fam, was impossible to resist! A Fam is industry vernacular for a Familiarization trip to explore hotels or lodges – with a small group of like-minded agency owners – usually an arduous schedule to enjoy ten days of adventure jam-packed into five days! Morocco was already on my schedule, change flights and I’m in Kenya.

My month in Morocco allowed a few days of down time before meeting the Fam group. Arriving in Nairobi at 3 am via Istanbul, I woke up in a familiar property, Hemingways in Karen, Kenya. The suites are enormous, terraces open to the expansive always green garden, a pond gurgles and swells with dragon flies, mynah birds speak their own language – coffee delivered to my sunny terrace – a marvelous way to wake up in Kenya!

Agenda: repack Morocco bags, safari gear into green canvas and leather satchels, swim and run a few errands with Sammy, my local driver. Sammy intent on reteaching me Swahili!

Who can complain about African November heat, follow the sun, avoid winter. Two days of Hemingways, move to Manzili House to meet the Fam, after a few days, FAM could have been altered to FAMILY.  I rarely go on Fams, if I want to visit a property, I go. One must play well with others for a week or so, and there is no escape! Turns out this group was beyond swell, hugs and tears upon departure!

Karen, Kenya properties are primarily reserved for pre and post safari. I’ve stayed at all the five-star options, Manzili House was new to me. Owned by a local family, Vanessa and George Roumeguere,  it’s a comfy luxury homestay – home away from home. Karen is a leafy quiet Nairobi suburb, Manzili House is on a family property, designed and built by the owners. My arrival with four 60-pound bags raised eyebrows – a month roaming Morocco was my only explanation! One of the guests arrived with a small duffel, the look…Uh oh – she didn’t get the safari bag memo.

Manzili House proved to be an enchanting choice for our group, as each traveler wandered in from international flights. A charming 4-bedroom home with individual suites and a separate 2-bedroom house with a full kitchen separated by a pool and garden, the ideal location for a small group. Acacia trees, flowering vines surround the garden property.

Perfect central base for exploring, it’s a stone’s throw from Nairobi National Park and the local must-see galleries, shops, Sheldricks Elephant Orphanage, and the Giraffe Center.

The main house is light and airy, beautifully decorated in distinctive Swahili architecture and impressive accessories- I felt at home! The owner’s son, Louie, plays host with the butler – who does anything and everything at a moment’s notice! Hospitality is in their genes.

I asked about the antiques and art – I mentioned we could be friends- I have a few of these pieces! Relaxing at the pool, a charming woman with tiny puppy greets me, I assume one of our Fam group. It’s Vanessa, the owner of Manzili House. Within minutes, we are fast friends! She’s French, married a French man whose French anthropologist mother married a Maasai, and he grew up with 100+ step brothers and sisters in Kenya. This is Karen, Kenya, after all. Google the legendary history of Karen…it’s quite interesting!

We chat and Vanessa exclaims, we must go visit my artist friend – let’s go, you will adore him! Puppy in tow, we traverse a few blocks through rural Karen – think Montecito or Beverly Hills landscaping, although you can’t see homes behind the massive shrubs and enormous trees and substantial gates. Some gates have local tribesmen as guards.

Indeed, we visit her friend, the artist Anthony Russell, in his over-the-top studio. Truly, it is more like a museum of antiquities merged with his enormous expressive art collages and photographs. Anthony, engaging and amusing, is a local legend, it turns out he owns a property formerly known as Shampoli, I stayed on one of my first Kenyan safaris. After an hour studio tour, he asked what are you doing in Karen?  I’m meeting a group of agency owners- he ponders and says – you are coming here tomorrow to meet me! Sneak peek with Vanessa! He also has a Masai Mara based Art Camp, no talent required, he is inspirational!

Vanessa and Louie and team host cocktails at the pool; bush babies leap from leafy limb to limb above. It’s Africa, after all! They are screechers, my first BB encounter was in a tree house lodge in Tanzania, I was terrified assuming they were the size of lions, preparing to invade my tree house and eat me.

Henry and their private chef serve a divine dinner, Vanessa, her husband George, and Louie are our hosts. Fire blazing in fireplace, dessert and after dinner drinks, we all linger despite some travelers having flown overnight.  Manzili House feels like home, with charming and engaging hosts.  

Manzili House Karen Kenya

We spent a delightful day visiting my favorite Karen haunts: bead shops, antiques, art, Giraffe feeding, and a scrumptious lunch at Cultiva!

Morning, we are Wheels Up from the private Wilson Airport. Our Fam is hosted by my dear friend and her teams: Scenic Air, Cottars Safari Camp and Ol Jogi Lodge.

The advantage of flying over Kenya with a private charter, is the joy of landing on an airstrip for an impromptu brekkie or lunch! Our amazing pilot, Kim, had a superb soundtrack for each route! Swooping low over volcanic landscapes, miles of untouched sand dunes, small village bomas, and of course, all the wildlife! It’s the only way to fly, Scenic Air lives up to its name!

Highly Recommend Manzili House!

Go To Chapter Two The Lodges.