December 31st, 2019

As 2019 draws to a close, I find myself wondering where all the days went. This year has been an exciting, challenging and unfortunately a sad one for us. As I sit here reflecting on the past twelve months, I am amazed how time seems to accelerate as we get older. For our children Christmas never comes, but for us it never seems to be far away.

The year 2019 ended with the arrival of our daughter Alexandra at 3 am on New Year’s Eve. Here’s a girl who will always have a large group celebrating her birthday!

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On reflection, having a third child after an eight-year break may not have been the excellent idea that Anthony and I thought it was. A newborn at the age of 40 with a full-time job working in hospitality is something that I now would not recommend. In spite of this, Alexandra has been an absolute joy to have around.

As she approached her first birthday, we had spent a lot of time trying to discourage her from any self-propelled movement. It had recently come to our notice that a splinter group in our family - namely our other two children, now aged 8 and 11 - have been conspiring against us to get Alexandra not only upright but also moving very rapidly. Although she hasn’t quite achieved the vertical, she is now able to hotfoot it around the house at a pace that even the dogs struggle to keep up with. The discovery of her latest achievement came as a shock to both of us! One evening, I popped her in the bathroom to play with her toys as I sprawled out in the bath to settle into a good book. Moments later, there was an enormous crash from the bedroom. She had ” escaped” and knocked over quite a large chair. We now think that with her lopsided crawl she is either going to be a hurdler or based on the chair episode an all-in wrestler.

Anthony made our annual marketing trip to the US for the first time. He met some of our tourism partners and updated them on developments in Kenya and at The Emakoko. He was overwhelmed with the friendliness and generosity of his American hosts and is already planning to replace me for the 2020 trip. Fortunately, I shall be back on the road next year, but Anthony and the kids will be joining me in the big Apple after my trip, and we will then explore the East Coast by road……….so apologies in advance to anyone who happens to be on Interstate 95 between the 26th of March and the 2nd of April!

We were deeply saddened to hear of the passing of an industry giant Johnathan Seex who was on the Ethiopian Airlines which crashed shortly after take-off on its way to Nairobi. He was an incredible man and hugely respected in the tourism industry. For those of you who have been to The Emakoko and tried one of our Dawa’s, it was the Seex family that invented this delightful little number which has been in circulation in East Africa now since the 70’s.

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Another personal and heartbreaking loss for us was the death of our much-loved Jack Russell, Koko.

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Anthony and I prefer to sleep outdoors in the fresh air rather than being cooped up in a building with bars and air conditioning. Everywhere we have lived we have always had windows or doors open, usually both. The Emakoko has been no different for us, and we have always slept with the French Windows in our bedroom wide open on to the verandah.

On this particular night we had an enormous amount of rain and the river had come up. At around two in the morning, I was awoken by my ‘watchdog’ who started to growl beside me on the bed. The other three dogs were on the chair at the end of the bed, right beside our open French Doors. Suddenly my fierce Koko let out an enormous bark and was off, out of the door with the others in hot pursuit. Within a second or two she let out the most almighty yelp as she was taken into the jaws of an old lioness, and moments later, she was gone - never to be seen again. Anthony went off down after the dogs and the noise, but there was no way that he could do anything. At the time, we thought it was a leopard, but the tracks were too big, and Rihaz then walked into the lioness a few days later. We were shocked that a lion had come up to the house, but could only put it down to the river being high and she was therefore stuck on our side with nothing to eat. In the heavy rains, the gentle Mbagathi can turn into a raging torrent which nothing living can cross.

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It was a terrible loss for us. Koko was an exceptional dog, typical of the Jack Russell breed, with a significant chip on her shoulder, as a result of a close and unpleasant encounter with a Baboon when she was a puppy. She had a huge heart, and the courage to take on anything no matter how big or small in order to defend her family. The lion was no exception. Before she died, Koko had become a great nanny to Alexandra and was always as close to her as she could be. We will never forget this brave little dog, whilst accepting, with great sadness, this is one of the hazards of living on the edge as we do.

The annual Rhino Charge took place mid-year and the team, this year without my magnificent input (I was dropped for not being fit enough) came fourth. Unfortunately this result makes it hard for me to get back on the team next year. The Rhino Charge is an annual event that raises money for conservation projects in Kenya. It is well supported and builds and manages considerable sums for projects that are aimed at supporting their mission: “Humans in harmony with habitat and wildlife.”

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The elevated railway line that now slices through the centre of Nairobi National park is an ugly scar across this pristine landscape. Having said this, the wildlife has now settled down after the chaos of the construction, and small groups of Impala are now evenly spaced down the line, using it as shade from the midday sun. The odd train chugs along from time to time, and the noise does not seem to bother them. The wildlife despite this is thriving in the park, and the plains game is abundant as are the predators.

Our Funicular lift finally started operating in the middle of this year, and the six months of operation we have found that our waistlines have thickened somewhat as a result of not having to negotiate 122 steps several times a day. Amazingly the odd Hyrax has made use of the empty lift moving up and down, and I dare say that even the Hyrax around the area seem to have a much stockier frame to them than the ones on the Park side of the river! The private house, at the top of the lift, is now being used continually. The exclusivity it offers makes it a popular place for both families and those seeking anonymity, and the private pool and kitchen provide the perfect level of privacy for those who don’t want to socialise with other guests.

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In early December, the lovely, intelligent, beautiful Koko the leopard finally showed us her stunning new cubs. They really seem to be doing well. Amazing that she has almost become a part of our family now, we have watched her grow from a little cub to an adult. She is now a competent mother and seems to be quite at home around the lodge and not too upset at the sight of vehicles lumbering in and out at all hours. At the end of the school term, as the children and I were driving back to the lodge , we came across her snoozing in a patch of sun beside the track and perfectly relaxed. I had no idea she had her cubs with her, and she was so calm with us - we spent a good 20 minutes with her before she melted back into the bushes taking her small family with her. Photo Credit the lovely Sonia Varma.

The saddest aspect of this year has been the loss of our very dear friend Royjan Taylor not only a life-long friend but also Godfather to our son William. Royjan like Anthony, was a highly regarded and extremely knowledgeable snake man - he was an East African Authority on snakes and snakebite. He died suddenly in the middle of the year and had just returned from a snake conference in Switzerland where he successfully presented a case for funds to help in snake education and anti-venom development in the East African area. He died from a rare and lethal form of Leukemia within a week of diagnosis, at the age of 44.

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His death is a significant loss not just to his wife and two children and to us, but also a considerable loss to the wider community where his work on snake education and the milking of snakes to produce serum was an excellent service to the region. His absence is not only a personal loss but as a result, Anthony, in particular, will have to spend more time with Bio- Ken, the company that is responsible for all things involving snakes.

Bio-ken is located on the Kenyan coast at Watamu and has the most extensive collection of East African snakes in the world. Not only is it a snake park, but Bio-Ken spends an enormous amount of man-hours educating the community on snakes and snakebite. Added to this, it is instrumental in the production of anti-venom. As part of the Emakoko CSR programme, we support this project actively, not just through Anthony’s involvement but also raising funds to enable people who cannot afford treatment, to be treated at no cost to them.

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And finally the weather (Photo Credit to Rihas Sidi). Nairobi, like much of the world, is suffering from climate change. Having had very poor rains in the rainy season and suffered a severe drought, we have now had hefty unseasonal rains during the last two months of the year. This has made getting around a real challenge for those visitors driving in the park under their own steam. It has also been a challenge and a shock for some of the wildlife which have found their usual haunts unreachable or at the very least “boggy”. But what has been fantastic is that the cats, as usual, hate getting wet and now use the ‘drier’ roads to navigate the park. When in need of a rest rather than a quick siesta in the damp grass they all move up into the trees. It has not been an uncommon site to come across a tree straining under the weight of kilos of feline.

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So as the year draws to a close, we look forward to what the ’20’s will bring. We wish all of you a very happy, healthy and adventurous 2020 and look forward to seeing you again and meeting new guests who have made the wise decision of choosing Kenya as a safari destination.

Happy New Year everyone - From all of us at The Emakoko