GLIMPSES OF PARADISE: our best experiences in Kenya, so far....
By Silvia Danailov and Jonathan Huston
Meru National Park – Elsa’s Kopje Lodge – a national park for yourself
In the 70s, Meru was compared to the Masai Mara National Park – with plenty of wildlife and one of the most diverse landscapes in Kenya. Poachers ruined this place in the 80’s but, little by little, the dreams and hopes of nature-lovers have helped restore the diversity of the flora and fauna. Today, many animals can be seen and, above all, the wilderness, crisscrossed by many rivers, is a unique sight in this part of the world.
We arrived on a small plane from Nairobi, after a few grasshopper stopovers on the way, to find ourselves in one of the most beautifully designed and professionally run lodges in Kenya, Elsa’s Kopje. George Adamson, immortalized by the film “Born Free”, and his lions had set up his base on this kopje – meaning hill – and the whole atmosphere is timeless. There are about 10 guest cottages spread throughout the vast property overlooking the Meru plain, each one of them blending naturally into its surroundings and open to the nature. You can hear the sounds of the wildlife from your bed or from your shower. You can indulge in a hearty but refined and delicious meal while observing the many winged visitors of this realm.
What else can you do while here? Sip sundowners after a game drive, follow the tracks of giraffes, zebras, cheetahs and buffalos on foot, or hang out with the local herd of hippopotamuses for brunch. And, after a full day of adventures, relax in the swimming pool flowing down from the hills into the plains below.
(Pictures taken in November 2003: 1.Champagne in Meru, 2.Giraffe in Meru, 3.Meru in B&W, 4.Road to adventure, 5.Landscape in Meru, 6.Our Hippo friends, 7.Elsa's Kopje)
Lamu – a timeless Swahili town on the Indian Ocean
The dhow awaits your arrival at the airport – on the island opposite Lamu town – and you are transported to your hotel of destination – for us Peponi Hotel, at the tip of Shela, next to Lamu – forgetting any hassles or stresses you may have. Cats and donkeys cross your path in the middle of the town, and afternoon Quranic prayers accompany your afternoon’s stroll through the labyrinth of small streets and glimpses into backyards full of life. You can disappear into the heart of the town or lose yourself on the 30km stretch of sand dunes and white beaches, dipping into the turquoise water, staring at the blue blue skies. You will wish to remain here for many days, having found calm and bliss.
We recommend that you spend at least 2-3 nights in Lamu or Shela (which is closer to the sand dunes) and Peponi Hotel is certainly one of the favorite places to hang out, watch dhows pass by, and immerse yourself in good books and cold drinks.
(Pictures taken in November 2003: 1.View from Peponi Hotel in Shela/Lamu, 2.Relaxing & Observing, 3.Like a sailor on a dhow)
The road to Lake Magadi – Encounters with Masai hitchhikers
Lake Magadi is close to the Kenya/Tanzania boarder, about a two hours drive from Nairobi, passing by the majestic Ngong Hills and through the Rift Valley. The lake has almost no water and is full of salt, whose extraction seems to be the main industry in this part of Kenya. From the lake, we started driving towards our eco-lodge – the newly established Shompole initiative, with an astonishing architecture combining stones, water and nature in the most creative ways possible. The lodge certainly deserves a visit even though it is one of the most expensive places to stay in Kenya (if you are not a beneficiary of the Kenyan resident price – at least four times less expensive than the tourist price!).
The most incredible experience however is the drive from Magadi Lake to Shompole and back. You cannot make it without a four-wheel drive and some courage and trust in your driving skills. Indeed, you can bump into running zebras or lazy cows on the way to your destination. (Silvia made it without problems even though this was her first real ‘safari’ driving!). The only directions you receive from anyone prior to your departure resemble something like: “Once you see a Masai under a tree, please take a left for about 3 kilometers…”. A Masai under a tree? Is this the replacement for modern-day traffic lights? We could not believe what we heard but, without another choice, decided to trust the information, and it was true: we did find a Masai under a tree at the place we were expecting to find him. The man was standing next to his cow, immobilized for a moment or for eternity. We have no explanation if his function was solely to direct tourists to their right destination, or if this was his home base from which he could observe the few cars wandering onto his property.
Once we found this Masai, we were in Masai country, with many children greeting us joyfully, herders taking a break from their journeys to welcome us, and women smiling at our muddy car. We even stopped for hitchhikers in this most unexpected part of the country. And we were able to converse for a short while about our mutual origins and destinations, in a mix of English and Swahili only understandable for those willing to try.
(Pictures taken in January 2004: 1.Salty plains of Lake Magadi, 2.Courageous driver in Masai country, 3.Shompole eco-lodge)