Nothing shouts destination wedding like Kenya. Lara Sage recounts her recent attendance at a friend’s wild wedding – where the dress code was “bush attire” and Masai warriors served Bloody Marys – followed by a romantic tented safari, reminiscent of the era of Hemingway and Karen Blixen.
We flew into Nairobi and drove four hours north to Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, a place of conservational repute, but more recently acclaimed as a favoured destination of Princes William and Harry.
This wildlife sanctuary was created in the late 1980s when the poaching of rhinos in Kenya had reached a zenith. Lewa now spans 60,000 acres of wilderness and is home to the black and white rhino, the elusive sitatunga antelope, the endangered Grevy’s zebra, as well as lions, leopards and elephants. We remarked endlessly on the superb African atmosphere, and admired snow-capped Mount Kenya in the distance, and envied those living this wild and carefree existence.
Our friend Charles lives in Kenya, working as a bush pilot. His African lifestyle suits his charismatic personality. His wedding was hosted inside Lewa, at Sirikoi Lodge, surrounded by an acacia grove and overlooking a natural waterhole fed from a mountain spring.
We stayed nearby at Kifaru House, previously only available to conservation donors. With more couples than this intimate lodge could accommodate, we were delighted to be allocated (what to most would have been the less favourable option) one of two bush tents, rather than the highly sought after lodge rooms.
Staying in the tent was exhilarating. It was novel brushing my teeth outdoors while Justin shaved in a freestanding bucket before heading to the wedding in an open game-viewing vehicle. I must admit that before walking back to my camp bed at night, I panned my torch many times to double-check for reflective eyes in the tall grass and pitch darkness. We’ll never know if it was the attentive camp staff or hyenas that took away the lamb chops that our friends (pranksters that they are) scattered around our zipped-up abode!
Travelling across Kenya
After the wedding revelry, we took off from the local dirt airstrip and flew south to what the locals call The Mara. Domestic flights in small planes are all part of the adventure; it’s exciting and the scenery is marvellous. Of course, driving in Africa is the way to really see where you are. It’s not the most romantic way to flit in and out of a luxury safari though. I like driving to African destinations to see the everyday things, but prefer to fly the “shortcut” route once the novelty has worn off, as the distances are usually vast and the roads often bad.
Despite the obvious poverty in rural villages and Nairobi’s sprawling city slum, we felt a sense of progress as our driver complimented the new four-lane highways currently being built; “by Chinese foremen, but employing Kenyans” he was quick to point out.
We saw this ourselves when traffic on a congested highway came to a halt, and two workmen languidly unrolled their crude tape measure to measure the width of the lanes while drivers jostled to get past. But nothing could beat seeing a causeway that allows elephants to pass underneath a highway on their migratory routes.
The Masai Mara
Kenya boasts spectacular natural beauty and bountiful herds of wildlife, and is renowned for the annual Great Migration of millions of herbivores across the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem. The Masai Mara is an extension of Tanzania’s well-known Serengeti plains. Without fences or man-made barriers, wildlife can move freely throughout this area in a timeless natural cycle. The best time to witness this spectacle is August and September, when thousands of wildebeest make one of their river crossings just a short drive from the camps where we stayed.
We travelled in March, so we missed this, but benefitted from the quieter camps and fewer vehicles traversing the reserve. We still saw plenty of game, including giraffes, topi antelopes, zebras and numerous herds of elephants and buffalos, pods of fat hippos, a pride of lions with three females nursing seven cubs, two young cheetah brothers and the enormous crocodiles that lay in wait in the Mara River.
The wildlife in Africa is more varied than one realises, with different species of giraffes, antelopes and zebras found in the north and south of Kenya. It was fantastic to see wildlife unlike any I’d seen previously in my native South Africa, and I had a taste of the wonder foreigners feel when they see our fabulously colourful African creatures, with their stripes, spots and patterns. The variation of antelope shapes, sizes, horns and markings added an interesting dimension to the experience.
East Africa retains a wild, post-colonial charm, which our &Beyond Kenyan safari reflected. &Beyond’s two classic camps situated in the path of the Great Migration cater for various budgets. They are tented camps, built in the riverine forest and overlooking the extensive grass plains where the African sun burns. Their shade makes a welcome respite from the heat, and also provides a home for various species of primates and hundreds of bird species. Unfenced from the reserve, it’s also an area favoured by leopards, so guests must walk escorted by rangers at night.
Bateleur Camp is the exclusive tented camp, its accommodation erected on fixed sites equipped with king-size beds and proper bathrooms. Through canvas sides and gauze windows, the African night permeates the tent for a fantastic bush experience, but I have to admit I nearly jumped out of my skin when my feet made contact with a hot water bottle deep under the bedcovers!
That wasn’t the only surprise – a throng of Masai dancers appeared out of the darkness to entertain us at dinner; one night we returned to crystal glasses and candles set for a private dinner on our deck; and on one evening drive, we turned a corner to find a butler with drinks table and snacks, set with roses no less, beside the Mara River.
The adjoining Kichwa Tembo camp offers simpler and less expensive tents with humbler finishes, but guests at both these lodges enjoy the forest’s spectacular setting. You explore the same reserve in open vehicles and enjoy cuisine that surpasses expectations in such a remote place.
There is nothing quite like sipping a gin and tonic on a leather sofa reminiscent of vintage safaris of a bygone era, watching wildlife roam through tall grass and pause under the umbrella trees that are constantly trimmed by giraffes.
It’s a privilege to visit these magnificent, ancient, yet perishable parks. It’s commendable that some African governments have noted this and created dedicated reserves and conservancies, making a commitment to maintaining these ecosystems despite the poverty of the people and consequent human pressure on the environment.
While affluent Africans and tourists know and understand the value of wildlife preservation, thousands of rural Africans struggle daily to survive in the neighbouring villages, with little or no exposure to the glory of the wilderness. &Beyond is a conservation-minded company that has implemented projects aimed at educating and improving lives of the African communities who live on the fringe of these reserves. I hope to return, assured that the endless cycle of life that is played out in the Great Migration will continue.
Fly into Kilimanjaro or Nairobi and use &Beyond to co-ordinate your journey and connections from the airport for ease of travel. It’s now possible to fly between the Masai Mara and Serengeti ecosystems. Combining a trip to Kenya with a visit to Tanzania is highly recommended. &Beyond can arrange accommodation at Lake Manyara Tree Lodge and Ngorogoro Crater Lodge in Tanzania.
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