Continuing our travels through Africa, this is an account of a few days spent in Kenya – Lake Elementaita at the Sleeping Warrior Lodge. It is a fascinating, welcoming and wildlife rich area which I would be very happy to revisit one day….
From the terrace of our cottage nestled atop an escarpment we had a commanding view of the immense plains below; a patchwork of acacia scrub, reflective pinpoints of light from small pools, and vast open savannah stretching far into the distance. A series of shallow hills gave perspective and form to the vast panorama rolling into the horizon, without break for any man-made contrivance.
Through binoculars, herds of gazelle and buffalo could be seen, mere specks in a tapestry of greens, browns and reds. A perspective that served to emphasize ones insignificance under the banks of towering clouds. Distant showers scurried hither through the valley, from such an elevation seen as hazy curtains sweeping across the sward. A welcome relief from the sweltering heat of late afternoon. And all around colourful birds; doves, weavers and finches, sang and went about their business oblivious to me and my musings. Africa! Alive, pulsating, vital. The smells and the sounds, the tang of electric storm and dung, vibrant colours and a sense of space.
We had arrived at the Sleeping Warrior Lodge, a few dusty hours drive along the Great Rift Valley north west of Nairobi for our first ever safari and couldn’t wait to get started.
But first introductions, which took place in the main lodge restaurant/bar area. Here, comfortably seated by a glowing fire, the manager, a big, booming personality, welcomed us royally. He thanked us profusely for coming to visit, and was at pains to point out that without people like us the lodge, its conservation aims, its position as an employment hub for local villagers; guides, rangers, drivers, cooks, cleaners, waiters, groundsmen, would simply not exist. He was sincere and made us feel more than just privileged, wealthy (by African standards) tourists.
It was the low season and the lodge had few visitors, in fact we almost had the place to ourselves. But it was such a friendly place that we didn’t feel awkward or intruding. One thing we certainly heeded was that on no account should we walk around the camp at night. Buffalo and other wild animals move up from the plains after dark to feed around the camp, so whatever and wherever was needed had to be satisfied by ringing reception. They would send a vehicle to escort us to and fro. After a chilled beer or two and an excellent meal, we were driven back to our palatial accommodation to spend our first night under wide, star strewn Kenyan skies.
Camp staff get the solar powered boiler stoked at 6am we discovered, the purpose of this is to brew a pot of tea which they leave at your door. Pointless wasting time in bed when its nearly daylight, so up and out to sip a hot cuppa on the decking, watching the rising sun paint the fleecy clouds with edges of fire. Safaris follow similar patterns the world over: up early, out for 3 hours or so to take advantage of cooler early morning activity, back for a leisurely breakfast followed by relaxation time through the hottest part of the day. Later in the evening there is the option for a sunset drive or a drive through the dark enshrouded bush searching for nocturnal creatures. It sounds good and it is.
This day, we had a morning trip to nearby Lake Elementaita which proved to be marvellous beyond words. It is one of the smaller soda lakes of the region, and for me as a bird lover it was heaven. Especially so as almost the first species we spotted, I say we, but of course mean our guides, was a martial eagle. A huge bird sitting sedately watching us from a safe distance.
I wouldn’t have seen it, in fact I wouldn’t have seen 90% of what was pointed out, but the guides have razor sharp vision, local knowledge and are keen as mustard. That’s true the world over and that’s why they get the job and keep folk like us very happy. This fine raptor was followed by another in the form of a tawny eagle, a magnificent individual that we watched as it hunted small mammals amongst the low growing scrub.
Then bee eaters – my favorite bird group bar none – a pair of white-fronted, beautiful, sleek and resplendent. It all comes so thick and fast. Buffalo, water buck, Impala, zebra and then towering Rothchild’s giraffe. You almost swoon with the diversity. But there is no let up.
We park by the lake and have a while to scan the water lying in front of us. Where do you start? Flamingos, both greater and lesser, storks, pelicans, plovers, some familiar, others not, African spoonbills, kingfishers, egrets, terns and gulls. A melee of colour, noise and activity. Probing, preening, squabbling, roosting, fishing, nesting and squawking.
Take it easy, one at a time, there’s no rush! But of course there is, because you just have these few precious moments before moving on to new experiences. It’s not your local patch, you can’t just nip down for a quick look around after work. You just try and absorb as much as possible and snap away to your hearts content. We were even allowed to leave the vehicle and walk around a bit here; large mammals and their predators are few in this conservancy and our vigilant guides know what they’re about. It all added to the excitement.
Once back at the lodge we could birdwatch around the main buildings or from our veranda, or simply go for a swim in the infinity pool or just have a little doze.
Later, after dinner, we set out on a night safari hoping to catch sight of those nocturnal creatures that rest up by day. Another couple we spoke to over dinner, veteran travellers to the Continent, informed us that throughout all their many visits they had yet to catch sight of an Aardvark. Guess what we managed to find on our first ever night excursion? Yes, an Aardvark! tracked in the beam of a powerful light wielded by our guide. They find animals by looking for the pinpoint reflections from their eyes caught briefly in the headlights of the 4×4. Once discovered, a strong torch illuminates them for a short while for all to see. In this way we saw white-tailed mongoose, African hare, bat-eared fox, an array of nightjars and a gorgeous spotted eagle owl. Sated, tired and happy we slept soundly and deeply that night.
The following day we were taken to Lake Nakuru, a National Park which contained a much greater array of large mammals. Here we were fortunate enough to see a white rhino, more Rothchild’s giraffe, herds of buffalo, olive baboons, warthogs and black-backed jackals. Our packed lunch was taken at a picnic table on a bluff overlooking the immense plains below. It was at this very spot that a scene from the film Out of Africa was shot. Even if Meryl Streep and Robert Redford waltzed by it wouldn’t have made me take my eyes off the vultures, eagles and Bateleurs riding the updrafts just a few yards from where we sat. The lake itself, unusually flooded this year, was simply stunning with flotillas of shocking pink flamingos, rafts of terns and gulls, waders poking in the mud like armies of clockwork toys and paint by numbers rollers, starlings and hoopoes. A fly through pallid harrier had me palpitating whilst fumbling for my camera and the crowned cranes were beautiful. Far too much to list, so I think the best way is to include an image gallery that you can browse through at your leisure. I hope it will give you a better flavour of some of the goodies we encountered.
Our stay in this wonderful place was short, our list of memories long. We had just over 2 weeks for our whole African experience, and our stay here was only for 3 nights. It’s surprising what you can pack into just 2 full days however, and we did see an awful lot of exceptional wildlife. The following morning, after a leisurely breakfast, we somewhat reluctantly finished packing and were driven for an hour to a small airstrip. Here we would board a light aircraft taking us to our next destination on the edge of the Masai Mara where new and sensational wonders awaited…….
For other articles on my trips to foreign lands click here.