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She was tall and elegant and moved with the long-legged grace of a dancer, and she had the most beautiful dark limpid eyes and the longest lashes I’ve seen. When we kissed, her tongue felt like slobbery sandpaper.

Well, that tongue was better suited to stripping the leaves from thorn studded trees, but it worked just as well curling around the pellet of compressed food I was holding between my lips. She snatched the pellet and her tongue snaked back into her mouth.

Her name was Lynne and she was a Rothschild Giraffe, one of a resident journey (the collective noun for giraffe) at the crazily wonderful Giraffe Manor, in the Nairobi suburb of Karen.

Before we arrived in Nairobi we kicked off our East Africa trip with five nights on the beach at Mombasa, on the Kenyan coast.

I like Mombasa. Sure, the town is hectic and the traffic is positively life-threatening, but the white sands of Nyali Beach provide a perfect escape from the hustle and hassle of East Africa.

In fact, there isn’t much hassle at all at Nyali, particularly on the stretch of beach in front of the place we stayed, the Nyali International Beach Hotel. It’s a rambling property that’s been added onto many times since it opened as THE in place for the colonial set back in the 1940s.

The Nyali International’s near a dead end of this stretch of beach and uniformed security officers patrol the grounds to keep the touts out. It’s a peaceful place, whose clientele tends more towards retirees and families, perhaps with some past or present connection to Kenya, rather than bucket shop package tourists from colder climes seeking cheap booze and holiday romance.

The rooms are a bit tired, but the hotel’s owners are progressively renovating them and the bars and restaurants facilities have had a bit of a makeover since we stayed there last year. Most importantly, the beach bar has re-opened.

I came to Mombasa with one thing on my mind”¦ seafood. It’s the only thing I miss when we’re in the African bush, and we’d been in the bush a long time – about five months in fact.

There are some great restaurants in Mombasa and it’s always fun revisiting places we’ve been and discovering new ones.

Our favourites were still good – Yul’s for prawns; Il Covo for lobster and spaghetti; and the Tamarind for its location and style – but the find of 2011 for us was a brand new place, Thalassa. It doesn’t look like much from the front – situated next door to the slightly dodgy looking Millionaire’s Casino, but behind the concrete wall is a breezy, open space, recently and tastefully redecorated, with a fantastic sundowner view out over Tudor Creek.

I hit a personal best this year – six lobsters in five days (Thalassa’s was the best). I didn’t only eat lobster; I also ate prawns. I was sorry I had to leave the coast, but the Indian Ocean’s crustacean population wasn’t.

I really don’t like Nairobi.

It’s crowded, chaotic, dirty, polluted and ugly. So, Mrs Blog and I needed a bit of convincing to stay two nights anywhere near the city, rather than flying on to our next destination. Our travelling companion from Australia, Robert, recommended (ordered) us to stay at Giraffe Manor, as he’d been there before.

The whole premise of Giraffe Manor sounds a bit twee – a herd of semi-tame giraffe wandering around a mansion and sticking their knobbly horned heads in through windows in search of food – but it works.

The building itself, a copycat English manor house plonked in what was then the Kenyan bush back in 1932, is lovely. It was built by Sir David Duncan, a member of the Mackintosh Toffee family. Its wood panelled rooms, parquet floors and imposing staircases seem to echo with the accents of the Happy Valley set and Karen Blixen, but the real attractions are the towering four-legged ones, who amble up at the site of new guests arriving.

Hosts Giles and Jessica welcomed us with a few words of caution about watching out for kicking hooves, and the pack of warthog that tails the giraffes, looking for dropped game pellets.

Jessica tells us to treat the place like our own, and she means it – the party before us, not-so-fresh from a week on safari – put all of their clothes in for the complimentary laundry service and then spent the rest of the day in their pyjamas.

Giraffes Lynne, Arlene, Helen and Patrick were regular visitors during our two-day stay. Any initial trepidations we had about sticking our fingers near a giraffe’s mouth disappeared with the first lick of that long, rough, but surprisingly gentle tongue.

It wasn’t long before some of us succumbed to the dare of placing a food pellet between our lips and having Lynne kiss it out of our mouths. If you can handle the slobber, it’s worth it, to get this close.

Giraffe Manor’s not cheap, but it’s all inclusive. The food’s fantastic and the drinks flow. For some reason I can’t fathom the barman christened me “˜Mr Tusker’ (after the Kenyan Lager).

If you have to spend some time in Nairobi and you feel like a splurge, then this is the place to be. After two nights we’d fallen in love with a journey of giraffes, stacked on a couple of kilos, and were ready for detox.

As we got on the shuttle bus to take us to the airport we realised reality was about to hit again. Next stop, Rwanda.



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