A short safari to Lemarti's Camp
Leaving Nairobi Park's verdant grasslands behind, we were airborne to Loisaba on the 10h20 Safarilink flight. Our pilot flew us smoothly north over the checkered farmlands and later the arid savannah of Northern Kenya before we descended to Loisaba and met Daniel and Lemanyas. The sky was huge and blue, dotted with white clouds and within five minutes we saw a large herd of elephant astonishingly camouflaged amongst the bright green bush. The hour and a half drive across Loisaba and onto Koija Community land to camp seemed to take no time at all as we both soaked up the fact that our phones were firmly switched off and we had two days of bliss ahead.
On arrival in camp we were given delicious freshly made passion fruit iced tea, and beckoned to the sofa by William for a relaxing chat about camp and the community before we sped around and saw all the tents. Each of the rooms at Lemarti's Camp is enormous! I am staying in room four and Shelly is in room three; both have the most lovely views across the river (Ewaso Nyiro) onto Mpala Ranch. Lunch was a sumptuous spread that started with creamy avocado soup and puffed up pitta breads, followed by chicken and apricot kebab skewers sharpened with a feta salad and a kidney bean concoction, and as though we needed it, an ice cold strawberry sorbet arrived to satiate and refresh. After a feast of such proportions, a siesta was in order; and time to collapse onto the soft love rugs and while away the time chatting. The afternoon held further treats as we wound our way across the dry scrub of Koija to the local manyatta, where the community welcomed us into their homes and Lemarti gave us a true insight into their lives and traditions; as well as some interesting discussion about the inevitable change sweeping across East Africa with the advent of mobile technology and western ways. Our debates continued as the sun shied away from day and we lounged on the enormous floor cushions sipping wine and (again) feasting on freshly made samosas. The fire danced as the stars started to sparkle, and I remarked on what a clear evening it was. I may as well have been dreaming; right behind us was the blackened sky of impending rain, and a lightening show to die for - I had missed it all simply because I was facing the wrong way! Anyway, we headed back to camp to be greeted by the warriors gently strumming on their lute and singing around the fire, cocktails were concocted and shortly afterwards Paul and Walton produced yet another sumptuous meal: courgette soup starter followed by risotto and minute steaks, salad and broccoli, and finished with white chocolate mousse. Yum!
I slept like a baby, and woke to the dulcet tones of the softly spoken Samburu askari calling from outside. I quickly dressed in the dark and made my way to the mess tent for some of that tasty passion fruit iced tea, before we were beckoned to cross the river. Lemarti gallantly offered to carry us across the river, but we all opted to wade through the waters and what a great way to start the day! Lemanyas was on the other side to help us up the steep bank and, luxury of luxuries, to pour water over our feet before we got into the car! What a treat. The Mpala rangers greeted us with wide smiles and indemnity forms, and we then set off to seek out the elusive wild dog. Mpala Ranch is a private research ranch, one of Kenya's key areas to see the wild dog, and the morning took us far and wide over the ranch, seeing impala, grant's gazelle, grevy's zebra, burchell's zebra, hyrax, hyena on a fresh kill, and more. When we stopped on the edge of the river, a huge pod of Hippo emerged and stared at us curiously. Even more curiously when Lemarti started to do his whistle-click noises at them, which resulted in some loud indignant honking from the water! Later we stopped on the top of an enormous flat rock and drank in a never-ending view, devoid of any sign of man, and feasted on freshly made muffins, chocolate croissants and sandwiches along with masala tea, coffee and my staple passion tea. Fully replete, the hunt for the wild dog continued, however they proved very elusive, and we returned to camp after the sad but interesting sight of a large male Grevy zebra whose rump had been dug into by a lion that hadn't yet been successful in bringing down this zebra, but who had damaged him so badly that we are sure he will not make it past the first few hours of this evening. We returned to camp by vehicle, and crossed the river at a very steep crossing point (more excitement), arriving back just before lunch! Paul and Walton had been busy in the kitchen for we were served a deliciously ice cold gazpacho with freshly baked olive foccacia, followed by his italian lunch of pasta, pizza, caesar salad, tapenade and finished off with a pineapple and mint sorbet; all home made! Boni hosted lunch and spoke about the art of beading; and the art of buying his wife the correct beads at market on Tuesdays and Wednesdays (alternate days each week).
What really amazes me about this camp is the extreme attention to detail, and whilst it was designed and built by Anna, it is now maintained by a group of Samburu warriors who have never seen this kind of luxury and yet appreciate the need for perfection. Maybe it has something to do with their own vanity; the men are very self-aware and love to look perfect; so it's possible that this has rubbed off in their amazing talent to keep the camp looking so beautiful.
In the late afternoon, as the shadows stretched in the changing light, we were treated to an incredible show of movement and colour with about thirty warriors from the local community coming to camp to dance. The tiny metal discs of their jewellery flashed and jingled, myriad colours of beads and shukas blurred into flashes of bright colour, and guttural bass tones coupled with higher melodic tunes beat a rhythm to which they moved. This in such contrast to the colours of their surroundings and yet in total harmony with what we have come to know about the Samburu. We watched on until dusk and then hurried up 'telephone' hill to check in with Ben at Tropic Air about the possibility of a lift back to Nanyuki by air rather than by road. After long minutes of trying to get signal, we were finally rewarded not once, but twice: we could make a phone call, and yes, Ben could pick us up as he was coming this way tomorrow anyway! Hurray!
Dinner was a sumptuous feast of light butternut squash soup followed by chicken breast, mashed potatoes, beans and salad and finished up with diving and perfectly cooked iles flotants, a french speciality of meringues floating in a lake of custard and topped with an intricate nest of spun caramel. A truly impressive dish for somewhere this far away.
This morning we awoke at 6:30am - after a bit of a lie in - and after a few yoga stretches and some hot lemon we met up at the mess and set off on a walk with the honey gatherer. Lolkirik, the honey man, walked ahead and found an acacia xanthophlea with several bee hives hanging high in the thorny branches. I took some video of his expert honey gathering; and an interesting part of the story is that he uses a 40 year old buffalo leather 'rope' to climb the tree. This was given to him by his father, who in turn was given it by his father. So effectively in this culture one is born into being a honey gatherer. He shimmied up the tree with such speed and confidence, despite the yellow fever acacia being one of the most slippery of trees to climb, and went right to the top bee hive where he extracted some delicious combs of honey, but by usual standards not a huge amount as the best time for honey is after the rains; and right now we are waiting for more rain. It was a fascinating experience, and en route home Boni decided it was also time to show us one of their favorite games which involved using his machete to ... actually it's quite difficult to describe, and much more fun to watch the video: click here!
We are leaving Lemarti's Camp having had a fantastic time at this special place. The camp is such a special place, with intricate detail in every part of the furnishing and interiors, extraordinary design and thought throughout. The highlight for me is usually the people, and this camp is no exception - the gentle warriors of the Samburu tribe are entertaining, caring and really good fun!
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