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Kenya Enchants. Safaris are Posh and Special Adventures
By Heidi Kingstone
Kenya improves with each safari, the Swahili word for journey, especially as you travel deeper and deeper into the country. On my third visit and away from the mass tourism of the Maasai Mara and the sprawl of Nairobi heading north you get a sense that even in this vastly travelled country there is still room to explore. In the shadow of the Matthews Range (also known as the Lenkiyio Hills ) I was actually the only tourist in almost a million acres of remote wilderness.
Kenya’s tourism has not yet recovered from the political violence that marked the beginning of 2008 and until mid-October drought also continued to mark the situation with crop failures, dry rivers, and devastation for the people. Flying over the land the impact of the damage was clear – you could spot cattle carcasses lying on the parched ground. Certain animals, like rhinos, can survive in this kind of habitat and tourism that they pull in can provide much need money. (The rains finally came in mid-October, which was what people predicted.)
An interesting form of responsible conservation tourism was carried out at some of the lodges I stayed at. What I liked about these places was they offered four completely different ways to travel – from upscale to rugged – all with their own unique flavour, and three are community-run conservancies. In the past nature conservation was a preserve of the rich, and the philosophy was that land was for the animals. Over the past couple of decades that has changed.
The Lewa Wildlife Conservancy is an example of how to adapt conservation to include the community, which then benefits directly from tourism income. That should translate into schools, clinics, employment, and micro-financing schemes. Too often the money that tourism brings in does not trickle down to the people who need it most. Lewa is also the last corridor between Mt Kenya and the north, especially for elephants. It is here where I began my trip.
Kifaru means rhino in Swahili, and rhinos dominate the landscape. Creatures of habit, you can find baby black and white rhinos grazing alongside their mothers almost on a regular basis. Ian Craig, the co-founder of this conservancy, started to campaign to get the rhino returned to this part of the country. Security is essential for the 67 black rhinos and 46 white rhinos because poaching remains the biggest problem. By the time horn reaches its end user – often in China or Yemen – it costs $6000.00. The GDP in Kenya hovers around $300.00 so it’s no wonder animals need protection.
Kifaru is one of the most luxurious lodges on the 62,000 acres of the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy and is used almost exclusively for the donors who help keep the conservancy afloat. Everything in the rooms from the mosquito net to the hot water bottle tucked between the sheets at night define safari chic. The coffee is great and occasionally at tea-time rhino shaped biscuits appear magically – and disappear all too quickly.
Knowledgeable guides oversee game drives, and for bird lovers there is a covered forest walk that I did not do but heard was fantastic, as is the staff. You really believe it when they say they are going to miss you.
SaSaab Samburu sits in an elevated position above the Ewaso Ngiro River in a dry, arid part of the (politically) forgotten north. The lodge has a Moroccan theme with nine magnificent individually located rooms, open on all sides, with amazing views towards the jagged peaks of Mt Kenya. Each room has a plunge pool and there is a long cushioned banquette on which to hang out and watch the sun set. SaSaab Samburu offers great amenities, a wonderful gift shop, and a spa with western prices.
Over Moroccan food at dinner, Tanya Carr-Hartley and her husband Mikey, the owners of Sasaab, chatted with the guests at the communal table. She’s a wonderful story-teller and that night she talked about her grandmother riding horseback to her home at Lake Naivasha.
While I love flying in small planes across the continent, I was told by one of my guides that the only real way to see Kenya and feel part of the country was by car. I have my doubts….. saying the roads can be gruelling is an understatement. I left SaSaab by car and headed to Sarara past long lines of camels moving through the acres of dead acacia trees, past the Samburu people, wrapped in their red check blankets and wonderfully bright beadwork.
Sarara Tented Camp
Of all the places that I visited on this trip, Sarara Tented Camp stands out most of all. To me this is the way I like to see the African wilderness. It’s rugged, real, quiet, vast and run with the passion and commitment of Piers and Hilary Bastard who gifted the camp to the community and drew up a contract to run it.
A tented camp on a natural slab of granite looking over nearly a million virtually empty acres of wilderness, it is as close to perfect as a safari camp can be.
Years ago safaris meant roughing it, now even bush camps have to be equipped with the right shower gel, which Sarara happens to have, along with excellent food.
One of the highlights, besides the natural granite pool outside the mess hall was a trip to the nearby ‘singing wells’. The Samburu love their cattle. Every morning men go to the wells to get water for their herds. In this particular spot there are about 50 wells, each family having their own. Depending on the climate the large round wells cut into the red soil can go seven men deep. Each hands the other water to put into the trough, singing while they work. The cattle know the songs and only go to their herders, refusing to drink if they are not there.
Peak Season; $610 p.p. per night, plus a Community Conservation Fee of $80 p.p. per night
Regular Season; $530 p.p. per night, plus Community Conservation Fee of $80 p.p. per night
Strong winds blew and the tall palms swayed as we arrived at this camp and this really is camping. There is almost nothing around except the stillness of the Kenyan wilderness.
It was here that I met conservationist Ian Craig, a former hunter and now passionate animal activist, and a group of us sat in a semi circle in the dry riverbed as the embers of the fire died and the stars and the new moon came out.
When it was time to sleep the men took only their sleeping bags to the river bed.
Instead I followed the row of lanterns in the sand and headed to the banda, the open air stone hut with a large comfortable bed, a rock shower and running water, lit with the half light of solar powered bulbs. Never mind the bats. I am told some people actually like them. I just ducked.
$40.00 per person per night
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|Print article||This entry was posted by Barbara Kingstone on January 16, 2011 at 9:13 pm, and is filed under Africa. Follow any responses to this post through RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback from your own site.|