A trek up the sacred mountain of the Samburu left us totally exhausted but exhilarated. Coming downhill was, however, much faster probably because we desperately needed to reach the base camp for a descent shower. The last one we had had was four days earlier, sweat and dust notwithstanding.
As soon as we got downhill, we loaded our luggage onto the vehicle and tearfully bade farewell to our Samburu guides and the donkey handlers. Our journey back to Nanyuki was more relaxed compared to the previous day. The countryside looked different this time. From Isiolo to Timau the landscape is almost exotic. The expansive farms of wheat and barley, the fenced farms with merino sheep and cattle grazing gives the landscape the ambience of farms in Far West. Tourists often identify easily with it.
After Nanyuki, we stopped at the Equator crossing to enjoy the memory of striding the two hemispheres. We met a lanky fellow who introduced himself as ‘Professor’ Zach and insisted on teaching us about "The Corriolis Effect".
To demonstrate how water rotates in opposite directions depending on which side of the hemisphere one stood, the ‘professor’ poured water in a bowl that had a small hole at the bottom and floated a matchstick in the water. He then let the water drain into a jug placed below the bowl.
Mountain rock lodge
The farther one moves from the Equator towards the northern hemisphere, the water oscillates in the clockwise direction whereas in the southern hemisphere, the water oscillates in the opposite direction. Apparently, wind systems, tornados and hurricanes rotate clockwise in the northern hemisphere and anti-clockwise in the southern hemisphere.
Zach could have done a good job in his explanations had he not heavily tried to imitate the American accent — which he did a pathetic job of considering the interference of his mother tongue, which made his explanations incomprehensible.
After the demonstration, the beaming ‘professor’ flung certificates at our faces. He demanded we buy them as proof of our crossing the Equator. We did not really need the certificate but we did not want to anger him so we bought one for the whole group.
Afterwards, we drove to Mountain Rock Lodge. This is a delightful country-style lodge tucked away in the woods of the forested slopes of Mount Kenya, seven kilometres north of Naromoru along the Naromoru–Nanyuki Road.
Established over 20 years ago as a base for mountain climbers, Mountain Rock Lodge has grown over the years to become a famous holiday destination for both foreign and local tourists.
The lodge is surrounded by luxuriant gardens with a spacious lawn and a man-made mini lake. The tranquil atmosphere and the all-round professional service promise one a memorable stay.
Hikes can be organised for visitors to the Mau Mau hideout caves to learn more about the history of Kenya’s freedom fighters. Its proximity to game parks such Aberdare National Park, Sweetwaters Game Sanctuary and the Samburu National Reserve makes it an ideal tourist destination.
Day trips to these parks can also be arranged from here. The lodge’s chief executive, Patrick Wanjohi, told us it was common practice for tourists visiting Mt Kenya National Park to spend a day or two at the lodge to acclamatise and prepare for their high altitude hike.
We checked into our cosy rooms and after that much-needed shower, we met at the Old Moses Bar to relax with some Tusker beers as we waited for dinner, which was a sumptuous selection of African delicacies.
The starter was a fresh, delicious and mildly spiced vegetable soup. The main course included roasted goat, grilled chicken, mukimo, rice, ugali and chapatis as well vegetable salads. For dessert, we had the choice of banana fritters and tropical fruit. Kenyan tea and coffee completed the feast.
Satisfied and tired from the activities of the day, it did not take long before we retired to bed. It can be chilly at night but thankfully, we each had two or three blankets and could request for more.
The following day, we decided to take a nature walk in the indigenous forest surrounding the lodge. Our guide, Joseph Gatheru, led us past the man-made lake where one can do boating. During our walk, Joseph pointed out certain plant species and explained their medicinal and cultural uses.
We caught a glimpse of a beautiful, furry, black and white primate with an exceptionally long white bushy tail. We learnt that this was the rare and shy colobus monkey, an entirely arboreal monkey. It spends its entire life in the upper branches of trees where it gets its food. The monkey only comes down to search for water. Its furry skin helps it glide from one branch to another, while its bushy tail provides the necessary balance.
Sadly, the colobus monkey is on the verge of extinction due to frequent poaching by the locals who hunt it for its skin, which is used to make traditional costumes for the village elders.
Birdlife is also abundant in this forest. We saw bee-eaters, hautlaubs turacos, fiscal shrikes, hornbills, ibises, crowned cranes, owls and other birds of prey.
We unfortunately had to cut our walk short since time was not on our side and we had to move on to our next destination.
—The writer is a professional tour guide
Article at: http://www.eastandard.net/InsidePage.php?id=1144000212&cid=470&
Somewhere at Olchoro Oirogua Conservation in the Maasai Mara National Reserve, is the all-suites Ngerende Lodge, locally named to describe the shrubs in the expansive grassland.
Stunning in its unique design and majestic interiors, the lodge is the latest entrant in the luxurious league of Mara’s magnificent lodges. Unlike many of Mara’s lodges and tented camps, Ngerende basks in her own class — it offers exclusive accommodation to 14 guests in individual and contemporary designed suites.
The lodge has a unique combination of mahogany floors, canvas and double skinned walls for warmth. In the suites, a convenient fireplace safely tucked at a corner is lit early every evening.
The bathrooms shine with top class Villeroy and Boch Germany fittings. A full-length bath overlooks the terrace, a great temptation for a lunchtime open-air bath.
All rooms offer stunning views of the Mara River. In the main building, the dining room extends to the verandah overlooking the Mara River and the nearby hippo pool.
A sundowner bush dinner and sunrise breakfasts are some of the unmistakable spoils here.
For lovers and newlyweds
Robert and Eunice Glenie (the couple owning the Lodge) say they dreamt of opening a memorable resort that would offer pure relaxation and pamper its guests. "We had visited Maasai Mara many times and it inspired us to design a unique boutique lodge that provides guests with contemporary style and a luxurious environment to enjoy the very best of Kenya’s Maasai Mara," they say.
For lovers, especially newly-weds looking for memorable romantic escapades in the wild, an inviting and irresistible honeymoon suite beckons. It is isolated from the main camp ostensibly to provide extra privacy.
Olchoro – Oirogua is a mass grassland covering over 5,000 acres of mainly open savannah except along the banks of the Mara River, which are heavily wooded making it an ideal habitat for wildlife. Some memorable moments include enjoying delightful panoramic views of the Mara River and the woodland on the bank, thanks to a raised platform where all suites are anchored.
In line with wildlife conservation, Ngerende Lodge’s management have initiated a noble project to rear the endangered white rhino and later release them to the wild once they are old enough to fend for themselves.
Ngerende Lodge is a two-hour drive from Narok town. However, guests can also fly in as the lodge has an airstrip.
Article at: http://www.eastandard.net/travel/InsidePage.php?id=1143999690&cid=453&
Under a Tented Roof, an Unknown World Beckons
Susan Glairon for The New York Times
Published: November 30, 2008
I WALK carefully in the cool night air, focusing a kerosene lantern on the stone-paved path. Suddenly a figure approaches, one arm outstretched, his checkered red blanket gently flapping in the wind.
“Soap,” he says as he stretches his arm toward me.
The sudden appearance of the Masai man almost startles me, and it takes a moment to realize what he’s offering. I take the two hotel-bathroom-sized bars, and he immediately retreats into the darkness. I continue walking to the toilet and open the door to find another lantern conveniently hanging above it, illuminating the surroundings. The toilet is clean, has a seat — a somewhat rare commodity in Kenya, in my experience — and flushes. Afterward I place the soap next to the outdoor sink on a shelf made from twisted branches, then tilt my head and stare at the endless stars as cool water trickles down my fingers.
Such moments of quiet fascination are common during my two-night stay at Oldarpoi Maasai Safari Camp, a permanent furnished tented camp just outside Masai Mara National Reserve. It is on the edge of one of the world’s greatest wildlife safari parks, yet is largely unknown by most travelers to this part of Africa. (A Kenyan friend recommended our guide, and he recommended the camp.) The 40-acre camp, which opened in December 2006 and is solely owned and operated by the local Masai community, is built with all the comforts of home, including hot showers, beds with pillows, sheets, blankets and mosquito nets, and porches with armchairs. A station by a generator that supplies lights and refrigeration for the dining area allows cellphones and digital cameras to be recharged.
The camp’s modern accommodations sharply contrast with the Masai villages just a short drive down the road. There the Masai people live in enkajis, cow-dung huts shared with calves, and Masai children walk barefoot through the dung-strewn village. Here poverty exacerbated by droughts have greatly reduced the Masai’s livestock, and of the more than 45,000 Masai people living in the area, 78 percent earn less than $1 per day, according to research conducted by the I See Maasai Development Initiative (www.iseemaasai.org). The mission of the organization is to empower the Masai people economically by advocating for education and by leading a campaign to eradicate such practices as female genital mutilation.
Nelson Ole Reiyia, a well-traveled, college-educated Masai man whose life teeters between the Masai world of his childhood and an urban life in Nairobi, hopes the camp will address some of the tribe’s poverty issues in a self-sustainable way, instead of relying on donations from abroad. Mr. Reiyia, one of the camp’s founders, says that camping and meal fees go toward educating impoverished Masai children and creating a rescue center for girls escaping from female genital mutilation, a practice, he says, that forces girls as young as 9 into marriage and prevents them from receiving an education.
The lack of education, Mr. Reiyia says, has made it difficult for the Masai to compete with other educated Kenyan tribes like the Kikuyu or Kalenjin. In addition, the Masai traditionally rely on their cattle and other livestock for survival, and as traditional grazing land is reduced through wildlife conservation and agricultural practices, the Masai’s ability to sustain themselves has also been greatly reduced. With illiteracy and limited skills , the Masai cannot find gainful employment, he says. “The Masai would have to rely on other people to work in their district as teachers, nurses, etc., and this importation of skilled labor does not have to be the case if the Masai fully embrace education,” Mr. Reiyia says.
Each morning the Masai staff prepares tea, along with a breakfast of eggs, sausage and toast. They make our beds, put a padlock on the zipper that closes our tents and watch over the camp while we visit the park, oohing and aahing as we watch gigantic herds of zebras and wildebeest run by. At night they cook our dinner and while we eat, staff members light our lanterns and build a campfire. They sit with us at the fire circle, eager to share information about their lives.
During our second day, we are offered an opportunity to visit the enkang, the homestead where staff members grew up. It’s another way for the Masai people to earn money by charging an entry fee, and I’m not sure I want to watch a show created for tourists. But the people are so joyful and so eager to share information about their lives that I am suddenly glad to be in the midst of an indigenous culture that has not given way to modern times.
First the men perform a welcome dance for us outside the village, in which they jump as high as they can, and my teenage son, Eliot, joins in the fun. Next the women emerge singing, grabbing our hands and leading us into the village. Our host, Samuel Ngotiek, an educated Masai man in his 20s, informs us we can take any photos and ask any questions. He takes us into the enkaji, and as our eyes adjust to the darkness, he shows us where the calves sleep inside with the owners.
As we leave the hut and squint into the sunlight, I can’t help but notice the “store” that the Masai have arranged for our family of four, a long line of blankets filled with a variety of Masai jewelry, key chains and knives. I can feel their hope and anticipation as we watch a group of men make a fire from a wooden stick rotated on a board. As soon as they light the fire and give us a chance to try, we are suddenly engulfed by their desperate attempts to sell us something, even the stick and board that started the fire. Even though I only purchase one item, a beaded Masai wedding necklace, they are immediately gracious and thank us for coming.
Although Mr. Reiyia has spent his adult years in Nairobi, he wears traditional Masai clothing when returning to the camp. He says it’s comforting to sleep in the tiny huts he remembers so well as a child.
“I feel completely at home whenever I return to the manyatta,” Mr. Reiyia says, referring to the homestead. “All the good memories of my childhood are rekindled every time I sit next to the wood fire in the center of my mum’s enkaji. I am a warrior of two worlds, the modern cyber and the traditional natural lifestyle of the Masai.”
IF YOU GO
Oldarpoi Maasai Safari Camp (254-721731927; firstname.lastname@example.org) is located at Sekenani, Masai Mara National Reserve, about 145 miles from Nairobi and 10 minutes by car from Masai Mara’s main gate.
Safari guides are still largely unfamiliar with Oldarpoi Maasai Safari Camp. You can arrange ground transportation through Pure Destinations Tours and Safaris (www.pure-destinations-safaris.com; email@example.com), part of the I See Masai Development Initiative; or through the experienced guide Johnstone Kirimi (254-721683700; firstname.lastname@example.org).
The cost at the camp is $70 a person per night, including three meals and lodging in a furnished tent ($10 a person to pitch your own tent, without meals, or $35 with meals). Safari tours offered by Pure Destinations and Mr. Kirimi are $150 a person per day, including transport from Nairobi in a safari van with a pop-up roof, meals, furnished tent camping at Oldarpoi Maasai Safari Camp, park entrance fees, payment to drivers and guide and taxes. Visits to Masai villages not included.
Article at: http://travel.nytimes.com/2008/11/30/travel/30personal.html?ref=travel]]>
The October sun is blazing at midday. It gives a wet heat, the kind that promises rain. There are no visible animals in the park but for the ubiquitous zebra and the occasional traipsing impala. We come to a spot near the Ura River which is loud and rhythmic. A herd of elephants has left its footprint nearby. The vehicle skid marks at the spot cause us to shiver.
On approach, it is difficult to see why Elsa’s Kopje (Afrikaans for hillock) has won the prestigious International Property Awards, 2008, in the category of Best Development in Kenya. That is because there is no building in sight, just a mountain of rocks. Huge, craggy overgrown rocks.
Set on Mughwango Hill in Meru National Park, Elsa’s Kopje is named after Elsa the lioness, made famous by George and Joy Adamson’s biographical film Born Free. Elsa’s Kopje manages to hide on the hill. Its hushed existence is what earned it the award. It does not disturb nature but blends into it.
"Lunch?" A feminine voice called.
"Yes, we are here for lunch," we reply, leaving Flick Woodhouse, the manager puzzled.
"Did you call to book?" she asks.
Of course we did not. Our norm when travelling out of Nairobi is to just arrive at a lodge and expect food to be available. Big mistake. Theirs, we later learn, is a cuisine with an Italian bent, served in modest portions. Still, Flick finds a place for us at the table.
The most striking feature about the lodge is the rocks. Natural and undisturbed, they jut in and out of every room as the walls embrace them. The rocks determine where the rooms are placed. Each of the 11 cottages is different, each uniquely designed and crafted to integrate the natural rocks.
Elsa’s private house
Mimicking Meru traditional architecture, the reception building is elegant and rustic. The main structure is an adobe makuti-thatched curvaceous building. It overlooks the pool and offers a sweeping panorama of the park. Housing the dining room and the lounge, it is touched up with ethnic style decor and earthy colour highlights.
Cottages take the shape of irregular huts with an open view. They have double or twin beds and elegantly appointed bathrooms.
Elsa’s Private House is a spacious, exclusive hideaway set slightly apart from the main lodge. It has one double room and one twin, both with en-suite bathrooms. The living and dining area leads seamlessly outdoors into the private swimming pool. Three levels up, Elsa’s honeymoon suite spots a double bed and en-suite bathroom that offers breathtaking views.
Elsa’s Logde is serene and planned into a compact circuit. Sam Taylor, another manager, explains what makes the lodge eco-friendly. "Our ethos is ‘small and personal’. We like to spend time with our guests. We have limited generator hours and use solar-heated water. The energy-efficient bulbs are painted yellow to reduce visibility and distraction to wildlife.
Chilling out on Moroccan style cushions
Wild with rocks
"We use only natural fertilizers and encourage walking," Taylor continued. "Water comes from a borehole. The park is not fenced so animals may wander in and out of the lodge. At night, we advise the guests to carry flashlights."
In building the lodge, no tree was destroyed. Like the rocks, trees were incorporated into the design of individual cottages. The park itself is unadulterated. In our 25km drive from the Murera gate, we only saw one other vehicle.
The animals are not habituated to people and so the lodge offers an authentic wildlife experience. Regular sightings include the beisa oryx, gerenuk, elephant, grevy’s zebra, reticulated giraffe, lesser kudu, grant’s gazelle, leopard, lion, cheetah, rhino and the rare, elusive greater kudu.
Meru is famous for its birdlife with over 300 riverine, forest and arid dry country species.
Elsa Kopje’s grounds are fascinating and statuesque. Much of it is left wild with rocks and vegetation, with the paths rising and falling through the landscape. A curious highlight is the numerous lizards and geckos, like the red-headed Agama, that reside in the cracks. They slither out to bask on the rocks when the sun gets out.
Sweltering in the heat, we ease ourselves into the elegant infinity pool that is carved into a large rock. Its lip touches the edge of the cliff and offers a beguiling view of the Meru plains below. We cannot resist the allure of the pool’s edge.
George and Joy Adamson
Meru Park is a vast 870 square kilometres with arid, open plains dotted with Doum palms, Baobab trees and lush vegetation. Elsa’s grave, we learn, is 45 minutes away near River Tana, the park’s southern boundary. The lodge is served by Mugwango airstrip so local flights from Nairobi or Nanyuki have access to the park.
"The lodge overlooks the campsite that was used by George and Joy Adamson when they set up in Meru in 1950," enthuses Sam. "George Adamson often walked Elsa, the lioness, up the hill."
A range of activities to entertain the guests include both day and night game drives in four-wheel-drive vehicles, guided bush walks, bush meals, day excursions to the Tana River, sundowners, massage and visits to the local Tharaka village.
Having won the prestigious CNBC award, prospects are looking good for Elsa’s Lodge. Should it win the Best International Development category, it will grace the pages of World’s Best magazine.
This is a good time to visit Kenya’s best-kept secret because its local rates are favourable. Come Christmas and New Year, it will be near impossible to secure a room since most of its cottages were booked a year ago by international tourists.
Article at: http://www.eastandard.net/travel/InsidePage.php?id=1143999688&cid=453&]]>