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Kenyan Karibu

KENYA | Sunday, 22 December 2013 | Views [696]

I mentioned that Kenya was not on my original itinerary but what is a 20,000km detour when it provides the opportunity to return to your teenage homeland and spend the holiday season with friends who I count as my extended family. All that is missing is the more immediate family.

The flight from Ho Chi Min City to Abu Dhabi on Etihad's A330 was the best so far. Of course it helped that the plane was far from full and so everyone had plenty of space. I liked the added touch of changing spa effect lighting when the cabin lights were dimmed. In terms of competing with Emirates, they did not let themselves down - at least during the flight.

The vastly under-staffed flight transfer desk was crowded with protesting passengers. I was on a tight turnaround and finally had to barge ahead only to be told I needed to go to the flight transfer desk in Terminal 1. Rushing there I was told the flight had already closed. I demanded that they had better get on with re-opening it since it was down to their inefficiency that I had only just got here. Phone calls were made and superiors consulted, resulting in a mad dash to the departure gate. In fact I was not last as a connecting flight from the UK was running late. The bus trundled across the apron and at the sight of the Kenya Airways 737, I felt overcome with emotion. It has been around fourteen years since I last went back.

Boarding the aircraft I was welcomed with a big smile and a 'karibu' (Swahili for welcome) which almost set me off again! After nearly a year on the road where I have faced adventures, tackled personal challenges and experienced life in so many different colours, to be going back to the place my heart has always called home is overwhelming. Later on, air steward Maxwell serves tea, not the dreadful Lipton Yellow I have all but given up drinking, but real strong Kenyan tea with fresh milk! Beside me a guy orders a beer and I am so delighted to see a Tusker arrive in a can, I sneak in a photo of it - how do you explain why that should be even vaguely interesting?

In Nairobi I am met by the only one of my four closest friends that I have not yet seen on this trip. We drive the short distance to a nearby hotel with a terrace that overlooks Nairobi gamepark. Sadly, as we have coffee and catchup, we do not spot any game. I have always found it quite incredible that a gamepark sits right on the edge of the city. By 9am it is too hot to sit in the sun and I wonder just how well Asia has acclimatised me. I have recognised nothing other than part of the airport so far. I feel disorientated, tired after the long trip and then strange not recognising anything. At least my friends don't change. It is my biggest hope that one day I might be able to get together with all four friends, our common denominator being South Africa.

Back at the airport the domestic departures is full of Nairobites making the annual pilgrimage to the coast for the holiday period, as once we did too. Faces may change but the story does not - a kind of legacy that is perpetuated throughout the years, regardless of the huge changes that have taken place. A mere 45 minutes later and my last flight of 2013, we arrive in Malindi. Despite the cloud cover, it was possible to see the top of Mt Kilimanjaro, a familiar sight from our days of living in Ruraka. I grin broadly watching several ground staff waving the plane towards its parking spot with their bare hands. The airport is small enough not to matter.

The taxi towards the Marine Park rattles cheerfully along and my driver Fuad chatters away to me about life in Malindi. Importantly he knows where to buy the best Arabic halwa and it is therefore certain that I will be travelling with him again before this trip is over! This halwa was always a huge family treat and I have never found the same quality, even living in the Middle East, as can be found along the Kenyan coast.

I am the first to arrive at my friends' house and as such I have four staff to look after me. In a few days there will be fourteen of us staying here which will be a big change from my fairly solitary travels. In the meantime I enjoy the pool, wander down to the Indian Ocean which pretty much roars compared to the gentle lapping of the Gulf of Thailand waters. This is Africa, where everything is bigger and more intense. It is great to see that the only litter washed up on the beach is natural-seaweed, shells and a little coral.

It is the strangest, forgotten things that can trigger vivid memories. The hand soap unexpectedly reminds me of my African childhood. Was it called Lifebuoy? The vibrant colours of the flame trees, bourganvillia in every shade and of course the frangipani flowers. My Swahili was always poor and yet I am amazed how quickly my limited vocabulary returns.

Taking a tuk tuk into town, I am sitting in the Karen Blixen restaurant, whose menus are in Italian. Malindi has always had a strong Italian presence and I note that this has in no way diminished. The patchwork road down to the Marine Park, coupled with the absence of any suspension, and I now feel like the smaller bones in my body have been somewhat rudely rearranged. At last, something that leaves me in no doubt where I am. As an infant I made my first trip to Africa. Too young to have influenced the decision in any way, I look back and realise that the travels of the last year would not have been possible had I not inherited my Mother's sense of wanderlust and adventure. Thanks to her courage, I had a childhood in beautiful countries that taught me to push my barriers and not be afraid to take risks. Thank you Mom.

Tags: beaches, childhood home, coast, etihad, home, kenya, malindi, memories, von blixen, welcome

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