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DREAMING IN KENYAN



I came home to Kenya in January, when the winds were soft and sun was forgiving. Mount Kenya’s stepped profile peeked through the fog, showcasing its jagged edges, casting shadows on an endless golden, verdant savannah. I came home to the Jambo! Jambo! of Swahili smiles and welcoming embraces, to lyrical Masai voices ringing through acacia canopies. As yellow orange skies faded to moonlit blues, I curled into slumber, serenaded by chirping starlings and restless lions, asserting their domains.  In truth, I was spending my first night ever on Kenyan soil, yet feeling as if I had always belonged. 


This safari had its beginning in Kenya’s capital. A beehive of vocal and visual energy, Nairobi airport is a prismatic blend of global travelers inbound and out. Upon exit, lorries, buses, motorbikes, and taxis all jockey for space on bustling roads, weaving about with purpose and urgency. Two nights at Hemingways was a welcome respite. This elegantly comfortable colonial enclave with gardens rolling into the distant Ngong hills bridged our deep dive into a storied animal kingdom.

 

A sleepy culinary star serving up inventive cuisine, Nairobi and its bush camp outposts merit better recognition than they get. Emerging dining venues deliver a feast for the senses with locally sourced meats and vegetables, fresh fish from coastal Mombasa, greens and herbs often grown on-site. Time well spent in Nairobi includes visits to notable cultural and historic sites: the Giraffe Center, David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, Karen Blixen’s homestead. Each offer keen insights into past lives of nature and wildlife conservancy trailblazers. Their selfless contributions and tireless devotion transformed the consciousness of Kenyans and visitors alike, establishing modern day socially responsible, sustainable tourism.


Ahead, the journey. Once aloft on our bush flight, the noisy maze of Nairobi streets gave way to puffy clouds and lemon sunshine. Awaiting us at Lakipia’s dusty landing strip was our Masai driver, in full tribal attire, escorting us to the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy.  That Sirikoi arrival is forever etched in my travel memory... the purity of the air, green canopies framing an outdoor dining terrace, a watering hole boundary with elephants lazily grazing, shaven pathways to our spacious tents, aromas wafting from the busy jikoni, preparing our dinner. 


A well appointed, intimate lodge, Sirikoi offers four comfortably deigned tents, with a spacious house and two bedroom cottage for families. Both staff and cuisine were extraordinary, we feasted like royals.



In the days following, morning and afternoon game drives were action packed with animals aplenty. Thanks to recent rains, grasses were tall, water and wildlife, abundant. Our expert guides, safari director Peter and driver LeGai, were fountains of info, imparting their native wisdom, sharing stories, ever conscious of animal behavior around us. Bush walks provided opportunities to appreciate the smallest of African creatures, view animal tracks, with insightful commentary provided by Peter and Joseph, our rifleman.


 It became the norm to watch dazzles of zebra, towers (and journeys!) giraffe, parades of elephants, crushes of rhino. Watering holes revealed pods of bathing hippo, along with Egyptian goose and crowned cranes, feasting on insects. A pride of lions slept and stretched within intimate distance of our vehicle. Over four days, we shared the air with flocks of ostrich, herds of gazelles, gangs of Cape buffalo, all totally relaxed within our midst.



Notably, Kenya has criminalized poaching, which lends to animals being at peace around unarmed humans. Watching these animals in their habitat within close view, I began to understand why our travel companions kept coming back.


Our visit serendipitously coincided with a Rhino relocation. White rhinos - which the Dutch so named for their “wide” mouths - are plentiful in the northern territories but dwindling to the south. We were among a select few invitees to witness this incredibly orchestrated event, including wildlife experts, park rangers, scientists, and a vet.





The female rhino had been tracked for days. At the precise moment, a flying sharpshooter with tranquilizer gun darted the rhino; the team then quickly moved to her location. A crane lowered a huge metal container to the ground, where she was expertly prepared for travel, then moved into the container which left immediately for its designated destination. A once in a lifetime event!


So many takeaways from our Sirikoi experience...the friendly female resident giraffe...nightly dinners under the stars…sundowners on bluffs… gourmet bush breakfast with mimosas in the wild following our leisurely walk. Genuinely gracious hospitality, every meal served with beaming smiles, from breakfast to candlelit dinners. Most impressive was Sirikoi's unwavering dedication to preserving this abundant wildlife, while working in concert with nature’s unpredictable seasons. Formerly a farm, this bucolic setting is straight out of a Hemingway novel. Sirikoi’s prairie kitchen creates inventive, exceptionally delicious cuisine, lovingly prepared. Every fruit, vegetable, herb, flower served is grown in Sirikoi’s shamba, their massive organic garden.


Without surprise, tears fell on the page as I signed the guest book. Enriched for the experience, yet leaving a piece of my heart behind. Never before have I been so immersed in such idyllic natural surroundings, witnessing a calm, gentle side of wild creatures. Before departure, we all engaged in a Sirikoi farewell tradition: placing a hand on each wall of the communal gathering place, pledging to return again.

That’s a promise I plan to keep.








The Backstory : Safaris do not magically happen. It takes considerable research to plan and advance education to appreciate. I had the privilege and pleasure of working with legendary Micato, the ultimate in safari hosts. Emphasis on “hosts” as this best describes who they are and what they do. Micato shines in prepping guests well in advance, sending numerous reference and reading materials, including a beautiful hard cover book detailing Kenya’s animal kingdom, the all important safari bag to check/hold the max 33lbs for bush flights. That, along with cool stuff before and during safari (mug, keepsake box, lovely scarves, jewelry, handmade basket and bag). Hands down, five stars for Micato, operating at consistently high levels of excellence.

 





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