“I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills.” wrote Karen Blixen in her book Out of Africa. This sentence has always left me feeling great empathy for the Danish woman who loved Kenya but was forced to return to Denmark because of financial and physical problems. Recently, I went to East Africa and as the19 seat Twin Otter left Wilson Airport and over the Ngong Hills (Knuckle Hills) from Nairobi, I could understand her sadness at having to leave the undulating land, sparsely spotted plains, unique views, the bluest sky and the animals.
“If you look up, you can see the hand of God,” said Wickens, my companion. There, radiating from the setting sun were straight rays of light over “God’s playground”.
I arrived at Bateleur Tented Safari Camp slightly shaken from the low flying 45 minute flight, but the surrealistic ambience of Bateleur Safari Camp on the western border of the Masai Mara in south western Kenya, is a testimonial to nature’s unspoiled beauty. “Take nature on its own terms but remember, this land belongs to the animals and we’re interlopers,” said Johnson, our most knowledgeable Masai ranger.
As I settled into my luxury tented room, when I looked out through the screened area, playing, at a distance among the Red Oat grass were impalas and zebras. With my binoculars, I sat on the private veranda viewing the vast forest of this National Park and endless plains reaching to the Oloololo Escarpment. Immediately, I thought how very ‘Hemingway” this was. Each of the 9 tented units face the wilderness.
From the start, the friendly staff was adamant about when guests could leave their lodging on their own, “never before dawn or after dusk”. Although the entrance has a hard wood door, it is emphasized that the zippered part of the tent must always be closed and that guest be aware this is a wild area even though it is surrounded by electric fencing..
My butler (every tent has one) Isiah, greeted me each morning at 5.45am with his wonderful smiling face and a welcomed tray of coffee and cookies before leaving at 6;15am for the first safari of the day. Usually, the ride lasted until 11am depending on whether we were trailing an animal or wanted to see more.
On our first safari, we hit the jackpot as we bumped over dusty red clay roads. There was a dazzle of zebras, a pack of hyenas, a journey of giraffes, a raft of hippos, a lioness coddling her babies and some elephants. Strange Sausages trees, with dangling look-a-likes studded the area. Certainly, the sighting of an eagle sitting on a Desert Date tree, never taking its eyes off the dead zebra’s carcass below and well-fed a lion lurking nearby after his hearty zebra feast, was our epiphany. On our return to camp we were all ready to attack the table filled with a great assortment of food which had been laid out for breakfast under the acacia trees.
Feeling much like a cinnamon covered doughnut, after this amazing morning in the open sided Land Rover, I rushed into the modern glass-in shower where the walls resembled a topi’s skin.
The accommodations may be a tent, but that’s where the similarity ends. The shingled banana leaf thatched roof which keeps the coolness during the day, is the perfect adjunct to the refined décor of local mahogany shiny wood flooring, shelving and finest linens. . Other areas were painted cement in various Masai shades of rose and ochre. Even from the perfectly placed bed with the largest wooden four posters I’ve ever seen (mahogany also), the view was spectacular. From the propped up small mountain of fluffy pillows, the vista through the screening was special in the early morning as the sun started to rise and the animals seemed playful.
Everything about the accommodations screamed, luxury. The modern designed bathroom facilities – white twin porcelain bowl sinks perched on mahogany counters- were very Architectural Digest. Between the sheets when the temperature dropped dramatically in the evening, it was startling (but oh so nice) to discover a hot water bottle, which Wickens could only assume in her weary state, was a lion’s head. Imagination gets to play a large part in the jungle.
Potions and lotions are in large curved glass jars, refilled for new clients – an environmental aspect to all Conservation Corporation Africa resort camps, a company which concentrates on ecotourism, community development and environmental commitment.
As for the large thatched roof, open-sided public tented meeting area, it is an inspiration for design eclectics . Persian rugs, leather sofas, Masai beaded studded antique leather benches and chairs, African and European artifacts on the old trunks and tables –so very vintage 20s and 30s- a fire place and books – the perfect African movie set.
The meals prepared by Chef George, he from the wood carving Kamba Tribe, who shocked his family when he decided to go to culinary school in Nairobi for three years. His specialty is reducing sauces, making his own stock and creating recipes. Since much of the produce comes from the on-site garden which Chef George oversees, quality is hiss greatest consideration. (All the vegetables are washed with mineral water before serving.)
For lunch he had prepared cool roasted red pepper soup, a trolley with a choice of B.B.Q. chicken and beef, a variety of vegetables including roasted garlic and large capers. Dinner under a forest of the acacia trees, included asparagus soup, tilapia fish with ginger baked in a banana leave, caramelized onions and for dessert, a perfectly light beignet shaped like a snake and served with homemade mango ice cream. After trying the local drink – Dowa- made with vodka , honey and lime,- this teetotling scribe decided to stick with pop as I felt my grey cell decreasing with this so-called ‘medicine’ drink…
With time between safaris, the resort had arranged a visit to a small traditional Masai village where the Skuka-clad (red-cloth) warriors, young men, usually not yet married, spears in hand, were waiting. The village women performed a welcoming song before setting out their handmade, colourful bead work for sale. At the insistence of the elder, we entered one of the small, low mud and dung built huts. It’s the women’s job to erect these living quarters from scratch. The only daylight is from a very small window to prevent animals from attacking some extra light comes from the cooking fire. A slightly raised niche of the same building material is the sleeping area and another small section is for the children. Since men are allowed 4 wives, the population in this village includes 15 men, 40 women and the rest of the 75 residents were the children..
After the late afternoon safari and the sun had set, Johnson, our knowledgeable guide, stopped the Land Rover at a remote spot, brought out a table which, like magic, suddenly was laden with glasses, drinks and hors d’ouvres. It was an almost starless night and the darkness suddenly, like a curtain being dropped.
What a shock to the system to realize you can actually survive without email, telephones, television. Like Blixen, said “ there is something about safari life that makes you forget all your sorrows.”
Leaving was difficult.
HIGH SEASON GAME PACKAGE ; 1-3 nights -US$ 475 4-5 nights- US$ 450 6+nights-US$ 430
LOW SEASON GAME PACKAGE; 1-3 nights –US$380 4-5 nights- US$ 360
6+ nights US$ 340
HELPFUL HINTS. Since the small Twin Otters only allow a maximum of about 7 k, so pack a lightweight duffel bag, take lightweight clothes and an extra pair of walking/hiking shoes. The CC Africa Lodges wash you clothes gratis daily. Just leave the washables in the laundry bag in the morning and you’ll have it back by evening. Look for hats with a SPF brim. Outfitters like Ex-Officio, Patagonia, Columbia Manufacturers, have all the trekking gear needed. Insect repellant spray can be used on clothing and some manufacturers have fibers which include repellants. Although I didn’t wear shorts, it is advisable to take convertible synthetic pants. They’re loose, dry quickly and easy to pack. Take synthetic socks which keep feet dry and removes moisture from the skin. Keeping feet dry in the Tropics is essential. Cotton doesn’t do the trick.
After-Bite is the anti-sting essential. Dermatone has moisturizer and SPF rating is non- allergic and non- greasy. DEET shouldn’t be lower than 19%.
I flew via Air Canada to New York City then KLM to Amsterdam and on to Nairobi’s International Airport. Visas on arrival are US$50..
IF YOU HAVE A FEW HOURS IN NAIROBI.
1. Karen Blixen Museum is the in-tact house where Blixen (a.k.a Isak Dinesen) lived and where part of the film, Out of Africa, was shot. Most of the furnishing is original and one can immediately see why she hated to leave this glorious and well maintained house and grounds.
2. Giraffe Centre
In Langata, a suburb of Nairobi, these graceful Rothschild giraffes enjoy being fed as they poke their long necks towards visitors knowing that they’ll be greeted with handfuls of edibles. Since there were only a few hundred of these giraffes left in Africa, A.F.E.W Kenya, which was founded in 1979, has helped the sad plight of the Rothschild giraffe by resettlement, raising funds and moving them to safe areas…
3.Tea is nice especially at Karen Blixen Coffee Garden & Cottages Ltd.
Owned by a former American PH.D AIDS researcher Bonnie Dunbar, has established a first class restaurant among beautiful flowers, a pool and a small hotel with individual rooms decorated most attractively with all the essentials. Rates on request.