Hob House – Nairobi’s secret treasure.
Travelling one hundred thousand miles a year, year over year, changes you.
For one you tend to not get surprised by “expected” surprises. Plans go off, flights get delayed, baggage misplaced and appointments missed. This does not include screw ups from your side, like taking your old passport without the visa rather the new one, forgetting your yellow fever vaccination certificate at home, leaving your phone and your headset in the taxi outside the airport. You learn to sleep, eat and work in transit lounges, travel light and take hiccups and setbacks in your stride; it is called the budget for off kilter moments. You hate them but when your number comes, you quietly get your ticket punched and move on. It doesn’t pay to stay irritated due to factors that you do not control.
You also get used to the full range of hotel rooms and service apartments. From the truly glorious to the regally bad. At best you are just stuck in them for a day, at worst working through the full week. From the 1,200 square feet suites with infinity pools and emerald green rolling hill for views to the 90 square feet kitchen closets with faded carpets and uncomfortable beds that have one possible reaction. Who do I have to kill to escape this hole and get back home as quickly as possible?
On the other side of the distribution, hotel room and flight upgrades, despite being nice, quickly lose their appeal because you modeled for them. Nothing the world throws at you as compensation can offset leaving your family behind because you travel for work; and in the same spirit you start to take some of the nicest things in life for granted. Like traveling business class in a wheel chair or an Emirates airline first class suite on a truly long haul flight.
Still every now and then an experience comes so far off the grid that it completely catches you off guard. That one in thousand year anomaly that Nassim Taleb talks about. A surprise so refreshingly different and off scale that it leaves you breathless and humbled. Moments and minutes that you will always cherish. Stuff to look back on and remember. The true perks of travel.
Like Hob House last night.
Here is how I found the best kept secret in Nairobi.
When you see Hob House’s profile on booking.com, the initial impression is that of a low key bed and breakfast on the outskirts of Nairobi. The only indication that this may not be the case are the very high customer review ratings it carries.
I had to pick a low cost option for an overnight transit in Nairobi on my way to Kigali. While not a long haul flight, with lounge times, my total door to door travel time was adding up to eighteen hours. I wasn’t really looking forward to being in wait state for roughly half my journey. Any room, clean and functional, would do, because I was booked back to back for work for the next four days.
Hob House’s daily rate fit in nicely with the amount I had budgeted for my overnight stay in Nairobi. On Booking.com user reviews are great leading indicators of the experience. A few years ago the same reviews led me to Karen County Lodges in Karen.
Calvin, our guide, driver and handy companion in Nairobi came to pick me up at the airport. Once we crossed West Land and started moving towards Peponi, Kelly called to confirm we had the right directions. Calvin got really excited after he put down the phone. In his words – ‘Javaad, that sounded like a white woman. The address is in a really nice location outside Nairobi. You are going to enjoy the views in the morning’. Calvin with a single casual encounter with Kelly had been converted to the cause.
When we finally made it to Hob House, it was past 10:30 pm. Kelly had stayed up for me to ensure that I was happy with the room. Hard wood floors, tasteful Nairobi art, pillows and carpets everywhere, a welcoming host and yes an absolutely gorgeous, open, airy, well lit room. Just the way I like it. Luck had once again favored the bold.
All this was before the food arrived and company showed up.
Kelly is not just a warm host but also an outstanding cook. She had guessed that I had would favor fish and the grilled fillet of hammour, served on a bed of mash, with a side of beans and Lebanese cottage cheese samosas was a treat. The wizards in the kitchen had waved their magic wand on an ordinary fish and turned it into something quite extraordinary. I had had a bite to eat on the flight and wasn’t really hungry but my plate was wiped clean quickly with an efficiency that surprised me. The fish was followed in quick succession by Peter, Kelly’s husband, back home after a week long road trip from the south and Kate, fellow resident, Hob House regular, PhD in epidemiology, USAID consultant and a singer when she was not tabulating charts in Excel.
They both joined us on the table. In a few minutes a guitar magically appeared in Kate’s hands and we had impromptu live music to go with the food. I was no longer in a bed and breakfast in a strange city; I was at home with family.
While we ate we chatted about Kelly’s many adventures in hard to name lands in her prior life. When she retired from work she decided to do the one thing everyone had been asking her to do. Open a bed and breakfast. She had originally picked up Hub as in the Arabic word for love (not the networking or content marketing kind). When she tried out the English translations for Hub House, as in the house of love, she did not want to be confused with a different kind of facility. The Arabic Hub became the English Hob.
Sleep came quickly. Beds are an unknown quantity in new hotels but the one in my room was designed for instant snooze. Breakfast in the morning was just as impressive as dinner and the views as promised by Calvin, very different from downtown Nairobi. The bird feeder in the garden became the site for a wild orchestra being run by humming birds, one hyperactive long tailed orange beaked conductor and bit sized angry birds (from the game).
Having said all of the above I want to stand up and say something. Hob House is not for everyone. I loved it and my family would love it just as much as I did. But it has its quirks. If you are looking for a five star hotel experience with a minibar stocked with gin and tonic and an air conditioner that you can dial down to 16 degrees, please go ahead and book a five star room in Nairobi. There are quite a few of those and I will recommend a few if you are interested.
Try Hob House only if you are thinking about bunking in with a loving cousin in her off the reservation estate, surrounded by green maize fields and fresh air. Come looking for homemade flavors of hospitality and Kelly will serve you a large offering. The one thing she won’t serve is alcohol. You are welcome to bring your own but you have to drink it outside in the patio.
While the options on offer are limited, they are all worthy of sample. For breakfast in the morning I ordered a single serving of brioche French toasts with cream and fresh fruit preserve. If I had space I would have ordered everything on the menu.
I had left my home in Karachi 14 hours ago. Other than with immediate family, never in my life, have I ever felt so completely at home, so quickly. That is Hob House and Kelly’s magic. While the prices they charge are affordable, even below the market for comparable square footage and comfort, the magic they weave is anything but. If you are weary traveler missing home in Kenya and need a bit of warm sunshine to brighten up your day, walk right up to Hob House. Kelly will fix it for you.