Like Finch Hatton Out Of Africa
“We’re clear of Nairobbery at last,” writes Correspondent Paul Lewis, “with our wallets still in tact.
“The politically correct thing to do now would be to head for Kogelo Village near Kisumu in Western Kenya on the shore of Lake Victoria, the ancestral home of President-elect Barak Obama’s father and the place where his aged step-grandmother still lives under police protection to keep away journalists and tourists like us.
“But that’s a boring part of the country with absolutely nothing to see–no elephants, no big game at all. Not even hippos in that part of Lake Victoria.
“So, instead, we headed south in a little plane to the best, the grandest, the ne plus ultra of all luxury safari camps in Kenya’s game reserves. The place where you watch elephants and buffalos–to say nothing of lions, cheetahs, leopards, hippo, giraffes, zebras, gazelles, crocodiles, and rhinos–in far greater comfort than you ever experience at home.
“It’s the Finch Hatton Camp in Kenya’s Tsavo National Park (email@example.com) just an hour’s flying time from Nairobi in the shadow of Mount Kilimanjaro. The camp is named after Dennys Finch Hatton, the now legendary white hunter who, in the 1930s, organized splendidly luxurious safaris for the rich and famous. The Prince of Wales and future Duke of Windsor went hunting with him, as did Hemingway and others.
“But today Finch Hatton is best known as the lover of Karen Baroness Blixen (Isak Dinessen), the Danish aristocrat, coffee planter, and magical story teller, who immortalized their affair in her book ‘Out of Africa.’ Remember in the film how Robert Redford and Merryl Streep sip wine from crystal glasses by their campfire under the African stars after a day’s big game hunting, while their ancient gramophone plays Mozart? Well, that’s the effect this camp is after–sybaritic indulgence on a splendid scale in the midst of wildest Africa.
“The camp sits on the edge of 10-million acres of untouched wilderness, a shady preserve with its own freshwater pools where hippos wallow and 35 comfortable ‘tents’ are pitched inside wooden huts with private bathrooms, Persian carpets, old furniture, and verandas looking out over the game reserve.
“Gourmet dinners are served in the restaurant on tables covered with starched white linen and sparkling crystal (men are required to wear long trousers). The library offers deep chairs and leather-bound books, something like an English country house. The bar commands a view of the swimming pool and the hippos, who, when not wallowing in the glorious mud, wander peacefully around the camp lawns.
“The shape of your day at camp Finch Hatton is like other safari camps because it follows the habits of the animals you have come to see. Since lions and other big cats hunt by night and sleep during the heat of the day, visitors rise before dawn, pile into Land Rovers with tiers of game-watching seats in the rear, and head out down the bumpy tracks to the park.
“As the sun rises, elephant herds come lumbering precariously down from the hillocks they retire to at night, surrounding the calves with a solid phalanx of adults as they cross tracks frequented by scary motors.
“The drivers keep each other posted about game movements over their radios. And a pack of vehicles (with clicking cameras) will quickly converge on a pride of lions found devouring a zebra or a couple of cheetahs hungrily watching a herd of gazelle. Then it’s back to the camp for a big breakfast, followed by lunch, a siesta, a swim, and into the Land Rovers again around 4 p.m. for the evening ‘game-run’ until nightfall.
“A six-course dinner awaits when you return, served at gleaming tables by soft-footed servants in red tarboushes and long white gowns with Mozart’s ‘Eine Kleine Nachtmusik’ floating through the tropical night air, this time from a state-of -the art stereo, followed by brandy under the stars.
“Finch Hatton camp has set the standard for other luxury safari camps in Kenya and elsewhere and has many imitators. Among the best is the Kitchwa Tembo Batteleur Camp (firstname.lastname@example.org) in southwest Kenya’s Masai Mara reserve.
“This has only nine spacious double tents pitched inside elevated wooden cabins with private bathrooms, rugs on the polished wood floors, writing desks, verandas looking out over the game park, and a personal butler at your beck and call. There is also a small swimming pool and a comfortable lounge with chesterfield sofas, lots of books, and antique bric-a-brac, including cabin trunks from by-gone days with their original labels. Dinner is usually served outside in a forest clearing under the stars. No hippos wander; you have to settle for warthogs.
“The Masai Mara reserve is a long valley formed around the Mara River that runs into Tanzania’s Serengeti National Reserve to the south. Between June and October, it is the scene of spectacular animal migrations as some 2 million buffalo, zebra, wildebeest, and other herbivores move up from Serengeti in search of fresh grass and then return south again, fording the crocodile-infested Mara River and preyed upon by lions and other big cats and scavengers.
“Now that you have sampled luxury in the wilderness, what about saving the world and preserving the elephants you have enjoyed watching?
“These are the themes of the Elephant Watch Safari Camp (email@example.com) at the Samburu National Reserve near Isiolo in Kenya’s arid northern frontier district, home to nomadic pastoral peoples like the Samburu, the Rendile, and the Turkana, with their distinctive baked mud head dresses.
“This camp, built on the edge of the Ewaso Ng’iro River, is run by Iain and Oria Douglas Hamilton, who have devoted their lives to studying and protecting the African elephant, whose only predator, as they are never tired of pointing out, is MAN.
“It’s an ecological camp with just six big comfortably furnished double tents with woven palm mats on the sandy floors. No private bathrooms and flush toilets here but sun-heated bucket showers and deep holes in the ground near trees.
“Furniture and beds throughout the camp are made from the remains of trees knocked over by elephants and might have been designed by Salvador Dali. Electricity comes from solar panels. And clothes are pressed with charcoal-heated irons. The camp offers Italian-inspired meals and a large selection of wines.
“Here you spend your day with a colorful Samburu guide meeting the 700-odd elephants who live in the Samburu reserve, some permanently, others just visiting. You learn to recognize their families and spot the ruling matriarchs–‘Queen Victoria’ heads the ‘Royals’ family. Another family is called the Spice Girls. Bulls lead more isolated lives, like male lions.
“Before leaving Kenya, make a safari to where there is nothing to do. Baytil Ajaib (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a refurbished Swahili house on the tiny coastal island of Lamu, where history stopped a few hundred years ago when the local Sultan moved down to Zanzibar. Its name means House of Wonders, and it contains just two suites and two double rooms, a dinning room for breakfast and dinner, and plenty of space for lounging about.
“And that is about all you can do on Lamu. Cars are banned, and the streets of its tiny perfectly preserved Arab town–a world heritage site–are just wide enough for a donkey, which is indeed how the locals travel around, as Dhows glide silently by on a turquoise sea…”