Off the beaten path in Kenya

1

By Sarah Sekula, published in New York Resident

Click clack, click clack.

I awoke from a dead sleep and sprang to my feet.

It was the unfamiliar sound of hooves on the cobblestone pathway outside of my tent. By the sound of it, I immediately ruled out soft-footed lions, elephants and hippos.

As I tiptoed over to the tent window, I saw the shadow. Large horns, long graceful neck. The mysterious silhouette stretched all the way to the top of the tent.

Then another completely foreign sound — slow, rhythmic grunts.

Curious and slightly nervous, I hastily lifted the tent flap. Nothing in sight, but I could still hear heavy breathing. I walked to the next tent flap just steps away. It was zipped shut and messing with it would surely spook the creature.

Luckily, though, there was one tent flap left in the bathroom. Not knowing what I would encounter, I lifted the canvas and, bingo, there it was. An adult antelope, massive and stately and staring me in the eye.

As huge as this majestic creature was, I’m sure at that moment, my eyeballs were larger than his. I was in awe of this late night, bleary-eyed encounter. And better yet, this was only my first night in Kenya. I backed away from the window, my lips curled into a smile, and I headed back to bed in disbelief.

The next morning, as things often do unfold in Kenya, it just kept getting better. I awoke to several adult warthogs and their babies trotting, tails up, through the savannah, just steps away from my patio at Sweetwaters Serena Camp. By the time I finished breakfast there were several zebras knee deep in the nearby watering hole and Thompson’s gazelles frolicking nearby.

Who knew I’d see so much wildlife before even hopping in a safari vehicle?

I was already giddy by the time we took off for the first game drive of the trip. Within about 10 minutes of traveling down the bumpy dirt road, we came across a Northern White Rhino meandering along the grassy field. This is cool in itself, but even cooler when I found out that there are only seven left in the wild, and Ol Pejeta has a strong focus on protecting them.

Next, we spotted an active group of zebras with a few babies in tow, two giraffes, water buffalo, even a dozen cyclists on a biking safari. And we ended the day with a visit to another part of the conservancy to meet Baraka, a blind rhino who lives in a protected area and is tame enough that we were allowed to pet him on the snout and feed him huge clumps of alfalfa.

Our next few nights were spent at Olare Mara Kempinski in the Masai Mara. After a lavish welcome dinner, I was escorted back to my tent by a 6-foot-5 Masai warrior wearing a traditional red plaid shuka.

That night, as I drifted off to sounds of grunts and splashes of water, I knew exactly why I needed his protection; we were very close to the hippo hangout, a riverbed on the property. Not only that, but lions have also been known to approach the camp, as well as, a resident leopard named Acacia who, not surprisingly, loves to perch in one of the many acacia trees on property.

All things that you’d need a Masai warrior for. This, no doubt, sufficiently summed up the safari experience: completely wild.

Where to stay:
Eka Hotel — Nairobi
Eka Hotel, a 170-room contemporary hotel, is located in the heart of Nairobi.
www.ekahotel.com

Sweetwaters Serena Camp — Mount Kenya region
This charming camp on the plains of Mount Kenya offers a blend of under-canvas ambiance and safari luxury. Not to mention, a nearby watering hole that attracts everything from zebras to warthogs.
www.serenahotels.com/serenasweetwaters

Olare Mara Kempinski — Masai Mara
This place is geared for active adult travelers. In other words, it’s easy to set up game drives, escorted nature walks, Maasai village visits, bush breakfasts at the nearby hippo pool and early-morning balloon safaris over the Masai Mara National Reserve.
www.kempinski.com/en/masai-mara/olare-mara/

Manda Bay — Lamu
Manda Bay is the ultimate island hideaway. The bedrooms are constructed in the traditional palm-thatched roofs and all of the rooms have direct access to the beach.
www.mandabay.com

Hemingways Nairobi — Karen
Situated in the suburb of Karen, Hemingways Nairobi is near Kenya’s famous Nairobi National Park, the Giraffe Center, the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust for Orphan Elephants and the Karen Blixen Museum.
www.hemingways-nairobi.com

What to bring:
-Light rain jacket
-Comfortable walking shoes
-Sandals
-Swimsuit
-A sweater for cool evenings
-A hat for sun protection
-Mosquito repellent
-Sunscreen
-Chapstick with SPF
-Moisturizer
-Earplugs
-Camera
-Camera charger
-Binoculars
-Cash (U.S. dollars accepted)