Fresh Focaccia and Fish Pie

Life was pretty tough over the Christmas holidays.

Anxious that I would turn on my heels and flee back to the U.K., Will had booked not one, but TWO holidays for us. I am sort of on permanent holiday at the moment anyway, but it was great to see some more of Kenya and good to catch up with hubby too.

 

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Our “mini-break” to Malu Lodge, near Lake Naivasha started in traditional fashion, with an argument in the car. (Some things don’t change, no matter which continent you are on.) I was impressed that Will was brave enough to drive on Kenyan roads, but terrified to be a passenger. Having me “squeak” every time we came too close to another vehicle (every 20 seconds or so) was probably quite unhelpful, but really couldn’t be helped. Will was valiantly trying to navigate his way out of Nairobi, avoid potholes and steer clear of crazy matatu drivers, who seem to hold their lives in very poor esteem, careering along at a fixed speed and using the wayside as an extra “lane” when any other vehicle poses the risk of getting in their way.

We eventually came to what we thought might be the turn off to Malu Lodge; Lake Naivasha was to our left and a long escarpment ran along the road to our right. We plunged down the dirt track, past goats and a few shepherds. The track became increasingly rocky and pot-holed and again, I started making unhelpful noises, this time of the “umming” variety. These translate roughly as “I have no better solution to offer, but is this the right way?” Twenty minutes or so later, down (and up, and down) the track, with Will occasionally flinging his arm in the broad direction of Uganda: “it’s over that way, I know it is”, we passed another car and stopped to ask them if we were going the right way…

“there is absolutely nothing up there” replied the driver, with a broad smile.

This didn’t deter my darling husband. He knew better – he had used Google before we left home and that man clearly didn’t understand what he was asking.

Ten minutes later we came to a quarry, the road veered off in an unhelpful direction and Will admitted defeat. Back down the track we bounced and around an hour later we arrived at Malu Lodge. It was definitely worth the bumpy drive. High up on the escarpment, in the middle of a 1800 acre private forest reserve, five little white-washed cottages stood in a row, one with our name on it.

 

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Malu overlooks Lake Naivasha in one direction and the Mau escarpment in the other and was beautifully quiet and peaceful compared to Nairobi. A couple of girls came to light the fire in our cottage in the evening and we walked five minutes or so to the main banda or “hut”, where an Italian-trained chef had prepared us a four course meal that included home-made focaccia and home-made pasta (my love for Will knows no bounds).

The next day we set off on a forest walk with a lovely guide called Charles. Johnny was allowed to come with us, which was unexpected – we thought he might meet a sticky end with a python, or a leopard, but Charles seemed pretty confident he would be ok. (I did think this might be a cunning way of dispatching our dog, but the staff did genuinely seem to like him.)

 

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The walk took us up to the top of the Mau escarpment, which we had been gazing at from our veranda and on the way Charles taught us all about the different plants and animals in the forest: spotty Aloe Vera plants taste bitter, while plain ones do not; dik-diks always poo in the same place and scent-mark their territory through a sticky, black substance which is secreted by a gland in their eyes; there is an amazing shrub nicknamed “Rhino” plant, which turns from brown to bright orange when you rub it between your hands, (so called, because it is often eaten by rhinos).

At the top of the escarpment, Charles showed us the area behind the reserve that has been completely devastated by deforestation. It was very miserable looking compared with the lush, green forest we had walked through and I made a mental note to check my furniture has been responsibly sourced in future.

I felt this hot, sticky two-hour walk more than justified our indulgent diet while we were there (the four course meal was not just a one-off “welcome”) and we did little besides eating and reading for the next few days. The Malu website suggested:

Sit on your verandah and mull away the time as the horses and Zebra wander past, gently grazing as you catch a gentle afternoon sun, or evening ‘sundowner’

 With Johnny in tow this bucolic scene was replaced by one of Airedale Rampage with all game and livestock temporarily terrified out of the area. I do hope they come back. In the meantime Johnny found a fantastic new girlfriend called “Bolt” and they had a lovely time together playing on the lawn.

 

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Our next adventure started at 4am the day after Boxing Day when we travelled “military style” in a vehicle convoy with four other families, down to the coast.

It was beautiful to watch the sun coming up as we drove South away from Nairobi (I was also very glad Will had roused me into action in the early hours to make bacon sarnies, as the lead vehicle showed no sign of stopping until we were a good four hours into the journey.)

As we had Johnny with us, we couldn’t break the drive up as the other families did, but carried on along the Mombassa Road, passing markets and game parks, but mostly just concentrating on trying not to get squashed by oncoming traffic. (Oncoming on our side of the road that is.)

In order to avoid Mombassa, (partly for security, partly because of traffic), we took a very scenic, very “off-road” route through Kwale county. Our Freelander, Johnny, Will and I just about survived this but I think pure luck more than anything else as the track was entirely composed of pot-holes. It was very dry and very hot and the villages we passed looked pretty desperate, though shamefully lots of the inhabitants smiled and waved as we cruised on past, on the way to our beach holiday.

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Arriving at Diani Beach was like arriving at an oasis – such a contrast with the area we had just driven though. Wealthy Kenyans from around all around the country flock to the coast for the Christmas holidays (kind of like Summer holidays in Cornwall, but with actual sunshine) and the area was packed with people. This would have been fine had it not been for the fact that our accommodation was double booked and after an eleven-hour journey to get there, it looked like we might just have to turn around and drive back home.

 

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Luckily Will’s boss and his wife came to the rescue and we were able to sub-let a room in the incredible beach house they had rented. The sound of waves crashing on the beach nearby was music to my ears after the hot, sticky journey we had had, and with the promise of a cold glass of wine on the way, I was in heaven. Then a thought stuck me … where was Johnny? I should really have kept him on the lead until I had safeguarded the kitchen…

Sure enough, living up to his fine record of gastronomic decimation, Johnny was face-deep in a delicious looking fish pie (our hosts’ supper).

“Partial to a bit of lobster is he?” grinned Will’s boss.

Please Lord, let the ground just swallow me up now, I thought. I don’t mind the eleven-hour car journey; let’s just go.

Fortunately there was another fish pie in the oven.

The relationship between “Chef” and Johnny remained a tad strained for the rest of our stay, but everyone was very kind about the whole “incident” and after a good night’s sleep, lounging on a sunbed, amongst the palm trees and coconuts, I finally settled down to enjoy my first proper Kenyan beach holiday.

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