Kitengela Glass

A couple of weekends ago we spent the night at Kitengela Glass and what a place! Back in the 60’s, Nani and her husband Eric came from Germany to start an artists commune about an hour outside Nairobi and wonderful and mad it is too. It has grown organically over the years so that the accommodation blends with the countryside – it sits on the edge of a beautiful gorge on the edge of Nairobi National Park – and workshops, hobbit-like dwellings, stables, shops and even a hot furnace have sprung up as if from the ground itself. And everywhere, but everywhere is inlaid with the most beautiful broken tiles and mosaics, including the dragon that sails majestically across the infinity pool. Being glass people, they are not restricted like us mortals to square windows oh no. The guesthouse, much like anywhere else, is a mushroom of concrete very reminiscent of the Barbapappa house, if you recall that children’s programme? With stained glass windows and inlaid floors, lovely glass shades and glass bead curtains; they make everything from vases, mobiles, lamps and sculptures to mosaics, mirrors, furniture and beads. The khazi sits in a bubble looking out over the gorge with a lovely round window so you could sit there and look out all day if you wanted. In fact we took our G&T’s on the (inlaid) terrace, marvelling at the tree hyraxes which surrounded us. They’re like massive guinea pig/rats that live in trees and are normally hard to see as they are very shy. They also make most incredible, horrible noise at night, even worse than our urban foxes. We also saw some giraffe across the way and a family of baboons crossing the gorge. Plus a majestic male ostrich which turned out to be part of the menagerie.

And what a menagerie! Nani has geese, duck, rabbit and many, many dogs wandering around freely. Then there’s a donkey, the aforementioned ostrich and a few black pigs. Plus the most amazing aviary. I mean, it really was astonishing, hundreds upon hundreds of birds living in these carved iron cages/sculptures above the main living quarters. We had a fantastic lunch with the family and all those birds, including parrots, lovebirds, bee-eaters, starlings and a very rare and very sharp Egyptian Vulture. I kept well away from his beak I can tell you. But most animals that wandered, fluttered or flew up got something from the table. Lovely and mad.

Naturally we spent the morning wending our way through the workshops and ‘factory’, watching artisans at work making and mending and creating. Nani’s son Anselm built a furnace and is the author of the ‘hot glass’ range which includes most domestic items such as glassware, jugs and bowls, which you may have seen a very small sample of at our house and which can be seen in every single restaurant in Kenya I think. It’s all 100% recycled, including the engine oil which fires the furnace (which never goes out). And all, as I say, growing out of the side of this gorge, filled with hibiscus and bougainvillea, huddling under trees and joined up with a snaking path of inlaid bits of broken glass. Very romantic and arty and surreal. Alfie loved it!

Eventually we had to say our goodbyes and made our way on to the road marked ‘very bad’ on the map, thinking that without rain it couldn’t be that bad. And it wasn’t (sorry to spoil the story) but it did take us a pretty while to reach the Acacia Lodge on the Athi River where we were spending Saturday night. It’s set in a small private game reserve with no natural predators (no lions and such) so plenty of herd beasts of all varieties and especially birds. Alfie and I took our sundowners in the garden and were keenly followed by a flock of splendid starlings (which are sooooo splendid, especially their bright blue backs) who seemed rather partial to bits of mini Baby Bel cheese.

We had an awesome dinner there, which frankly didn’t augur well at first as I thought it was a bit of a boring Sunday dinner coming up (the manager is an English lady). But the roast pork and crackling was the best I have ever tasted and the roast beef so sublime I am still thinking about it. We found out later that the butcher marinates it in pawpaw to get it so tender. Yum! And the evening ended sitting around a camp fire discussing what we might see the next day. Which were the usual suspects; gazelles, lots of giraffe, some zebra and wildebeest. With the lack of predators we were able to get out of the car and wander around, though the place is infested with a particular type of tick which looked like a spider and was a bit unpleasant; miraculously Alfie managed to get away without a single bite. And he LOVES going in the sling, even though he’s just about grown out of it, because being up as high as Daddy and going on adventures such as rope bridges, is clearly oodles of fun.

So that was our lovely weekend away. Our next adventure is the Mara for four days in our last week, at the Kechwa Tembo lodge. If we’re really lucky we may see the stragglers from the great migration though July and August are optimal for this in the Mara. It doesn’t look like we’ll make Mombasa this time which is such a shame as I’m told it’s an absolute must. Ah well, we’ll just have to come back!

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