“I had a farm in Africa.” So begins the 1985 film Out of Africa, with what may be the most famous 15 seconds in American film. What follows is a sweeping epic that spans some 15 years of Karen Blixen’s life in the highlands near Nairobi, Kenya. And with Discovery Tours, you can visit the stunning setting where her unbelievable story unfolded early last century.
In 1913, Karen Blixen and her husband, the Swede Baron Bror von Blixen-Finecke, uprooted their lives in Denmark and moved to Kenya, then part of British East Africa. With family money, they set up a coffee plantation and employed members of the local Kikuyu tribe to work the land. The marriage was stormy, as the baron had an affair and she contracted syphilis. She sought treatment back in Denmark, but there was no cure for her relationship once she returned to Kenya. The marriage ended in separation in 1921 and divorce in 1925.
After her separation, Blixen began a love affair with a wealthy hunter Denys Finch Hatton. The adventurer was in the safari business, leading well-heeled clients in search of big game, and he used her house as a base between 1926 and 1931. After his death in a fiery plane crash in the bush, and with a drought and the world economy sending her coffee plantation into collapse, she left Kenya. Back in her homeland, she famously chronicled her story, which Sydney Pollack adapted into that Oscar-winning film starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford in 1985.
No matter your feelings about Britain’s colonization of Africa, the story encompasses far more than the doomed love story between Blixen and Finch Hatton. Both the book and the film were hailed as meditations on the loss of Kenya itself. During the early 1900s, the British believed themselves to be stewards of this paradise-like Eden. Elephants and giraffes roamed freely, life was lived by the cycle of the seasons and, as Blixen (under the pen name Isak Dinesen) wrote, “the pioneers lived in guileless harmony with the children of the land.” It was only when the march of progress intervened—as the British footprint expanded into the wild and expelled local tribes from their land, and as retired World War I officers took up hunting big game as sport—that the once-beloved paradise became an arena for land-grabbing. For many, Out of Africa captured the nostalgia of that loss.
Today, the coffee plantation holds a legendary place in Nairobi’s history. Located “at the foot of the Ngong Hills,” as Blixen wrote, it was given to the Kenyan government by Denmark as a gift for the African nation’s newfound independence in 1964, just two years after Blixen’s death.
In a Discovery Tours small group, you’ll explore the house and museum, a magnificent snapshot of life in colonial Africa in the early 20th century. Stunning period furnishings and décor adorn each room, from old Danish stoves and a beautiful marble chimney piece to Denys Finch Hatton’s favorite chair and old African spears and other weapons. The house has been left exactly as she decorated it, giving insight into the author’s day to day life. Blixen’s charcoal and pastel paintings can also be seen in the house and museum.
You’ll visit the Karen Blixen Museum during our Kenya Safari Exploration.