November 6th, 2017
I absolutely love this time of year in Kenya. The rains clear all the dust out of the air, and the sunsets are incredibly beautiful, crystal clear and often in a cloudless sky. Frequently there are rainbows which shine amazingly bright against a golden light and the vibrant green background.
With the beauty of the landscape comes the inevitable hazard of treacherous roads, often affecting vehicles in the same way ice affects tarmac. By the time the long-awaited rain comes I have completely forgotten these unpleasant drawbacks and find myself sliding off roads into ditches and wash-aways either going or returning from the school run. My children find this hugely entertaining; I find it less so, as the view through the windscreen changes from road to bush as we slide sideways across the road and into a ditch. Last week was no exception and within seconds I found myself not stuck in deep mud but also wedged against the high side of the road with both doors and windows pressed into a wall of thick mud and bush.
Naturally I was dressed perfectly for the occasion in a short dress (khaki green of course) and white Converse (yes indeed – who wears white trainers when National Park mud is a rich red color). My son William, aged 9, is highly trained in what to do on this type of occasion and leaped from the car, only to land on a very slippery convex-shaped road, from which he promptly slid into the same muddy ditch where the car was buried. This meant that his efforts actually made things worse as I now had a child covered in thick red mud who would have to get back into the car once we had extricated ourselves.
As an intrepid Kenya-born woman I am usually very reluctant to ask for help, particularly from my husband, or any other man for that matter, so for the next 20 minutes I managed to stay on my feet and fought to get the car back on the road, sadly in vain. Realizing that I would need a tow rope I called Anthony for help, and half an hour later he arrived. His comments were unflattering and extremely insulting, but with 5 meters of slippery mud between our vehicles he knew he would be safe from retaliation, at least for the time being!
At this point I was beside myself with rage and frustration, and he decided that rather than approach us and hook the tow rope to my car, he would keep a safe distance and throw it to me. My attempt to catch it was successful, but unfortunately I lost my balance and fell into the mud with the car which contributed even more to the complete failure of my sense of humor. My children knew this was not the moment to laugh, and once he had pulled us out of the mud, Anthony remembered urgent business at the Lodge and departed at speed. We then proceeded with caution, and mostly sideways, back to the Emakoko, watched with lazy interest by Zebra and Impala staying safely out of the way and munching contentedly on the lovely lush green grass. We got back just before sunset, muddy car, muddy child and very muddy driver!
Despite the issues of being temporarily stuck in the mud, we all LOVE driving around in these conditions. Not only do the roads have the ‘black ice effect’ but also the rivers come up, and crossing them can be quite a challenge and it certainly makes our school runs a lot more interesting. Being stuck in the mud next to a pride of lions on a kill is also not too bad a thing. These wonderful big cats, however, do appear to hate the rains. With more grass available over a wider area the plains game spreads out and the lions have to move around more. Like all cats they dislike getting wet and when moving through the park tend to use the roads more than usual. It makes it an excellent time to visit - filled with adventure and getting "up close and personal" with the park feline residents.
Whilst our life here in Kenya continues in a peaceful and interesting way I am reminded what a huge debt of gratitude we owe to the many men and women who fought and died so that we may live our lives as we choose. For most of the year we take our freedom for granted, but at this special time we think of them, and are grateful for the sacrifices that were made and are continued to be made on our behalf.
“At the going down of the sun, and in the morning we will remember them” “To the Fallen” by Lawrence Binyon
October 24th, 2017
With our home in the heart of Nairobi National Park we have a number of friends and followers who are curious about where we go on our “holidays”, the assumption being that living in a national park is already a holiday in itself.
If we have the time, my passion for European history allied with a desire to make sure our children have a relationship with their genetic roots takes us to Europe. Paris is one of our absolute favorite places to go, as is London, but it is always interesting when you have two Kenyan savages in tow. They regard all humans as natural friends and allies, and are completely uninhibited with their opinions and questions, which are usually delivered at volume. But those are experiences to relate another day!
Most of our free time tends to drive us deep into the more remote parts of Kenya. Tsavo is a particular favorite, and we have a lot of family and friends based on the coast at Watamu, one of the most beautiful coastlines in the world. This month, we visited Manda Bay in Lamu. Despite all the horrendous ‘travel advisories’ urging us to stay away from this dangerous place, we gathered ourselves together in a large party of like-minded couples with children of all ages and braved Lamu, only to feel ashamed and disappointed that we had deprived ourselves of such a fabulous experience for so long.
One of the best parts of our time there is that we barely saw our children! Falling asleep with the ocean lapping at our front door, the incredible hospitality and great food, and the fact that the tribe of children were having a great time, fishing every day, sand dollar hunting, water skiing in wonderful warm, shallow water, star fishing – they were never bored. For the adults: a herd of buffalo next to the air strip, the sound of hyena in the night, sundowners against a spectacular sunset and some of the best fishing I have ever had was one of the many activities that we all got involved in. Being towed however on a tube behind the boat with our respective husbands on the wheel trying to throw us off is NOT something I wish to do again. The last time I was clutching a ski rope behind a boat was a good twenty years ago, tubing was even longer - and I do not recall it being a painful experience back then. Manda Bay is just a fantastic place to be and such a complete contrast to our busy life at the Emakoko - anyone pondering going there should just do it!
Back home again at the Emakoko we are delighted that the rains are finally here after months of drought which has pushed the wildlife in the park to the limit. Now, at last, there is a burgeoning of life both in the flora and fauna, and the only truly unhappy inhabitants are the big cats, who have been driven on to the roads by their dislike of walking through long, wet grass! I am happy – at least for this first time – to report getting stuck in the mud. I’m also very proud to report that I got myself out (my Rhino Charge skills coming to the fore) without any assistance and only a bent panel or two to show. Most people would avoid Kenya in November because of the rain, but for those of us who have lived through the agony of a drought and seen the desperation and decimation of the wild life, the revival and restoration of life under the incredible transformation brought by rain is a never-ending source of joy and relief. Everything is becoming green again and in my view, is a paradise for photographers. The evening sunsets are stunning, and the miracle of the dry, brown plains bursting with grass and a million wild flowers is a wonder worth any photographer’s time - photo credit to Gurchuran Roopra.
Finally, we end the week with the second round of our Presidential elections. For those of our readers who are not aware, the August elections were nullified by the Supreme Courts here in a breathtaking precedent throughout the African continent, where the ruling party’s victory was overturned on the grounds of election irregularities. Whilst those of us who are Kenyans and democratic were proud of our country beyond belief, the cost to the economy has been unimaginable.
Thursday there will be another vote, and we hope and pray the outcome will be positive and peaceful.
So pray for us if you believe this will help, or cross your fingers, or just wish us well, as we wish all Kenyans a safe and secure outcome. We look forward to the re-appearance of #githeriman.....
October 2nd, 2017
Here we are at the start of October and there are no raging torrents; although we did have a torrential downpour measuring 26mm, it has merely settled the dust and allowed the Mbagathi river to flow. Throughout the park there are tufts of new green grass one day which are then munched down to nothing the next, but I am happy to report that all the wildlife in the area appear to be doing amazingly well, and despite the drought there are expectant Mums and new births everywhere. Photo credit to Rihaz Sidi!!
Our quintuplet of Genet Cats – yes, now there are five of them - have become extreemly bold. One individual in particular has decided, after months of careful observation, the food on the tables and especially the butter is perfectly safe. ‘Kamakazi', our appropriately-named youngest, was in the habit of launching himself off the lounge area into the darkness like a small, spotted missile, at the first sniff of danger. He has come to realize that such exertion is unnecessary as humans around the dinner table appear to be no threat, and we are particularly grateful our guest Chris Swindal for taking this amazing picture of KK using Anthony as a personal bridge to the delights of the Emakoko cuisine!
With the ongoing drought we still have our resident herd of buffalos, led by The General. To my personal annoyance, at the end of a night of eating and drinking they seem to be on a mission to knock over my precious pot-plants by the pool. It has become a battle that I am afraid we are losing and despite sending a strong protest (bearing in mind that these are extremely dangerous animals when roused) the Buffalo have come to realise that a torch and clapping hands, with the odd stone hurled in their direction are minor irritations which can safely be ignored.
We have, however in the last few days had a VERY frequent night-time big cat visitor who is our little Leopard cub - now not so little any more. As he strolls past the pool the buffalo panic and rush in all directions, and the Leopard has proved a valuable ally for our team in moving them away from the pool. I am not sure however, if our cub can be relied upon to appear every night, but for now we really do appreciate his visits - as do our guests!
Our other piece of exciting news is the arrival of our new Chef’s uniforms with which I am delighted. Unfortunately our culinary experts are not impressed with this new look and feel like they are in their ‘pyjamas’. Thankfully we had a wonderful Professional Chef as a visiting guest who showed them images of what his team looked like. I think he may have won them over, and I am delighted that our kitchen is back to a happy group of smiling faces, instead of a mournful chain gang!
September 9th, 2017
A lot has gone on in Kenya and at The Emkaoko over the last few weeks. We have had the country’s General Elections, lions in camp, leopard in camp, rhino in camp, buffalo in camp and then election results officially nullified. It has been quite the rollercoaster and I am pleased to report that we are all alive and well and incredibly proud to be a part of this amazing country as it redefines itself in terms of democracy. Only four countries in the world, and none in Africa, have had election results overturned, quite justifiably, by it’s own Supreme court which was itself appointed by the party in power. Kenyan people turned out in their millions to vote, stood patiently and uncomplainingly for hours in the blazing sun, and in the end were betrayed by the officials who’s sworn duty was to report the results accurately. The election will be run again on 17th October and we would ask all the friends of Kenya to wish us well in this remarkable endeavor to give to the Kenyan people what they deserve – a democracy achieved through conducting a fair and honest election, with peace throughout the land whatever the result.
We are in (hopefully) the last few days of a drought which has gripped the country, affecting drastically both wildlife and livestock all over Kenya. It appears that the tide is beginning to turn and there is finally rain on the horizon. During the dry seasons, The Emakoko wildlife residents double, attracted by the rich grass around our lodge, and we have had not only a black Rhino in here every day, but now two more who like to hang out beside Room 1 and down by the river. Along with these endangered creatures are the ‘buffalo old gentlemen’ who like the men’s bar at the Muthaiga Club meet every evening for a drink. They are old and grumpy, their huge horns hanging low on their heads. One of these old boys, no less dangerous despite his age and now aptly named “B52", has decided that our home is the best place to be and we, along with the staff and our children, are on ‘red alert’ between 7am and 7pm when he is on the rampage, charging trees and eating what grass has been left by the horses. It has turned into an assault course, and after a night's work it really is a challenge to try and creep off to bed without being seen and chased by this extremely disagreeable old fellow.
Speaking of challenges, if you do survive the wrath of B52 we now have our Funicular Staircase in place - 123 steps in total, designed to run alongside the mechanical lift which we hope to install soon. The climbing record has now been set by Jackson, one of our waiters at 14.5 seconds. The best youngest time is by Harrison Scott, a guest aged 13, in 19.5 seconds. My mother, who is 73, can do it in just under three minutes and probably faster if she didn’t have a quadruple gin to help her on her way!
On the local community side of things, we have managed to get our Trampoline up again and have had the “mini-Masai” young over all day, every day, during the school holidays. I am pleased to say that William and Kagooo can now do a forward somersault without breaking anything. Even our local Chief, a most dignified gentlemen, could not resist having a go and was absolutely enchanted with the height he achieved. It was a magnificent spectacle, and I think it will not be long before Trampolines become a big part of Masai culture here in The Emakoko community.
Chris Galvin, a wonderful repeat guest of ours also paid us a visit last month to donate some binoculars to the Rhino Units in the park. The KWS (Kenya Wildlife Services) have done an amazing job with Nairobi National park and over the past three weeks have embarked on a Rhino ear-notching program for identification. It was quite spectacular watching the teams with the help of a helicopter dart, notch and record each Rhino with great professionalism.
So fingers crossed for some rain over the next few days and when I write again it will hopefully be (although I do not really mean this) about raging torrents!
August 22nd, 2017
A sneak peak into our lovely home on the edge of a bustling city. Anthony & I have now lived here for 6 years and the park never ceases to amaze me. The lodge has been absorbed into the gorge and life continues for all the local residents, the Hyrax in particular have moved in and are now a regular part of the welcome committee!
August 7th, 2017
As a young girl living in Kenya I remember vividly staying at various lodges with my parents, and how awesomely effortless the management appeared to my innocent eyes. They were chic, they were elegant, and their perfect staff whirled around them, everything falling into place, whilst they sat at the bar drinking Pink Gins, chain-smoking Embassy blues and chatting with their guests. I wanted to be one of these people, and my plan was to get a degree in Hospitality and then, fully qualified in my own mind, launch myself into the industry fully equipped to handle the simple daily procedures of what made these amazing boutique jewels come to life. Sadly, It turned out that a degree in hospitality, or even tourism management was not nearly enough of what was needed to keep a remote self-sufficient paradise going.
The reality was harsh indeed, and I learned quickly that changing a tyre, fixing a leaking loo, stitching together a tent, delivering a baby or rescuing and nurturing orphaned (and often very dangerous) wild animals was a normal part of the manager’s job, as was creating an artistic and gastronomic marvel out of a green pepper, tomato and a cabbage when supplies failed to arrive.
Managing a remote camp is often all about improvisation - if any of you were fans of “MacGyver” you will fully appreciate the art of ‘making a plan’ as he so often did when having to get himself out of trouble armed with nothing more than a tooth brush & a pineapple! You learn very quickly that if things can go wrong they will, so brace yourself, because if it has already gone wrong it is about to get a whole lot worse. Dashing around a Kopje trying to keep lion cubs out of a private house, equipped with a lighter and wearing the latest fashion ‘ballerina’ shoes in tick infested grass was one of the many things I have had to do in order to keep our ship on a steady course. Think of a crazy story and I can guarantee you that there will be a camp manager out there who has done it, been chased by it or almost drowned in it. However, in nineteen years of bush life, the one thing I have learned is that I have NOT seen it all.
In every silly season, there is always a library of ridiculous stories that have happened, and unfortunately for us, this ridiculous story happened only a few weeks ago. I won’t go into the details, but the bottom line is that it all happened BY ITSELF, no one touched the car, it just switched itself on, slipped into reverse in the dead of night and proceeded to drive backwards down the hill and roll into the river. Yes, all by itself. Thankfully we have incredible friends Rihaz Sidi & Ian Mcrae - both of whom came to our rescue and despite an over-heating engine & a broken propshaft, the two of them managed to put ‘KAT 392U’ back on its feet and into a workshop by 4pm the next day....it was in #Amboseli only days later!!!
Other horror stories which happen behind the scenes catch you unawares. At the end of last month a delightful child unfortunately left his ‘teddy’ at the lodge and we had to somehow re-unite them somewhere in the far reaches of Kenya. I say this was a horror story purely because as a mother, you simply want your children to be happy and if they are happy then so are you. Losing a comforter is catastrophic, especially when you are thousands of miles from home. Thank you #Safarilink!
Finally it goes without saying that Kenya is about to embark on it’s 6th multi party election since independence. Ofcourse the news of the world is having a field day printing stories on how it could all go wrong, if it all goes well we shall hear nothing more. One cannot help but feel that there are those out there quietly willing Kenya to sink down a black hole of violence so that they can appear to be the one with ‘insider knowledge’. Sadly I do not have any insider knowledge, but I know Kenya and what makes it stand head and shoulders above everyone else is the incredible people that live here. We wish everyone a very peaceful election and may the best man win........And advice to the loser, from a generally hated, feared and most un-pleasant little man - but yet wise words indeed “Anyone can deal with victory, only the mighty can bear defeat” ...1942 AH
July 18th, 2017
July 15th, 2017
“There is something about safari life that makes you forget all your sorrows, and feel as if you had drunk half a bottle of champagne - bubbling over with heartfelt gratitude for being alive.” Karen Blixen
Those enlightened souls who have already been ‘on safari’ find themselves part of an exclusive club, a camaraderie unlike anything else in the world. We all know the feeling at the start of a safari - that extraordinary wave of excitement and anticipation. The smell of the bush, the red earth and the hot, dry wind, the sense of absolute freedom, and above all the feeling of being removed from petty human struggle and close to the mighty heartbeat of that primeval continent, Africa. It’s beauty is a tonic for any battered soul, and its savagery can break your heart, but above all, you cannot ever forget that you have been on safari and in paradise.
At this time of the year, when ‘The Migration’ of literally millions of animals is about to start in the Serengetti eco-system, all of us here at The Emakoko, as well as the rest of Kenya gear up for the influx of visitors, all anxious to see this amazing spectacle and to join the club of those who go on safari in Kenya. Camps throughout the country are re-opening, new staff are coming in, cars are leaving workshops with brand new paint jobs and for us there is enormous excitement as we all take our places in the “summer orchestra” of a safari performance.
“The Migration” of course is the burning subject of conversation. Where is it? Has it started? Is it early, will it be late? We sit at the bar of the Emakoko with friends in the business sipping my favourite Laphroig whilst the sound of lions roaring and the sudden bark of the odd baboon drift down the valley. The safari community is a small one and we all know each other and have done for most of our lives. We have quarreled and made up, changed jobs, changed husbands or wives, had our children and buried our friends. The environment and the preservation of the wonderful natural areas of Kenya is always a subject for empassioned discussion. The stories are endless and it is a magical time to be in Kenya, the beginning of the season, under the matchless skies of Kenya with their endless carapace of stars.
The Emakoko is of course the platform where safari starts and ends - in my view anyway - and thankfully the wildlife always performs as it should. Our beloved Genets – sleek, beautifully patterned members of the Ermine family have developed from a single, cautious individual into an army of five who believe the Lodge is run for their convenience and who grow bolder by the day. Sitting at the bar I often find myself in mortal combat with one female who has developed a penchant for Steve chef’s margherita pizza - much to the delight of our visitors. She will often leap onto the bar and try to snatch a slice and I find myself, armed with only a fork, trying my best to get her to give it back - needless to say this is not much of a deterrent and she simply curls away from my gentle stabs.
So welcome back, if you are old friends, and a very special welcome to all the newcomers to whom we wish a wonderful safari experience and hope this will be beginning of a love affair with Kenya.
June 26th, 2017
It is no secret that my husband is a complete snake nut, having had a life-long passion for these fascinating and much misunderstood creatures, and is indeed a leading authority on the subject. It is a rather better-kept secret that the resident staff in most camps in Kenya see more snakes than they are ever prepared to admit to, considering the large proportion of visitors who harbour serious phobias on the subject.
Before I met Anthony, I, like most people, was a great believer in the Legend of the Black Mamba; this fabled snake was alleged to hunt down unsuspecting victims on sight, attacking people without warning and charging across roads towards cars with no other object than to munch away at anything they could get their fangs into. Having spent the last 20 years with Anthony living in various camps in Kenya, my opinion has changed and whilst I have a extremely healthy respect for all snakes - especially our mamba friends - I have come to realise that although to most people seeing any sort of snake may represent an immediate threat, they are governed by the same basic instinct of survival as almost all living creates - fight or flight. With both options presented to them, snakes will almost always opt for the latter. As an aside, I have to report that is a source of great regret to Anthony that we do not live in Mamba territory!
In the final phase of constructing the lodge, we had a small team of chimney ‘cladders’ who had come in from Nairobi to put the finishing touches stonework in the lodge. Having driven through Nairobi national park and seen not only their first ever lion, but also a Rhino - these city slickers truly felt that they had gone totally ‘bush’ and when Anthony met them at the bridge they were quite apprehensive about their safety.
Anthony took them around all the rooms to show them where they would be working and had to dash out for a brief moment to capture a rather large reptile which had been spotted half way up the cliff. To most people, especially those who have little to no interest in nature, the idea of there being a snake in the vicinity would justify a mass evacuation from the premises. Our cladders were half way back across the bridge before Anthony caught up with them - six feet of Black-Necked spitting cobra clasped firmly in hand – and panting with the exertion of chasing down our small crew.
When I found them later, Anthony had persuaded them back into a room and was proceeding to explain – still clutching a vigourously-objecting snake - what needed to be done. All three men stood shoulder to shoulder to total attention, eyes wide, and appeared to be riveted by every word. I pointed out later to Anthony (who was rather pleased with himself that the crew had not only totally understood his instructions but were also now working at a speed that he had not expected) that the full attention from the crew was less to do with the quality of his instructions, and much more to do with him using the snake to illustrate his points.
Back to present day: I ‘ve just had another birthday and my challenge to Anthony - knowing full well that he would NEVER do this - was to get me my very own ‘Snake Grab- Stick’. Why I asked for this you may wonder. My thoughts were that he would never get this for me and I could use the fact that I had received no birthday present as leverage for far greater things. Unfortunately I had apparently made a dream come true (the two of us catching snakes side-by-side in perfect harmony)and the bloody thing arrived in the post a week later - much to my horror, and now not only did I have no leverage, but I was expected to use it!
Barely two weeks later, when Ann our Head of Rooms reported that she had seen a snake and it looked like a Cobra a very LARGE one (information of this sort when working in Kenya must be taken with a pinch of salt). You can imagine how quickly I leaped off my chair and ran the 200 meters to the site in order to capture it with my new grab-stick.
Unfortunately I took too long and Anthony got there before me. Actually …..10 minutes before me......thankfully! However, Anthony was delighted with my enthusiasm and promptly released the little cobra for me to catch - Ann, our head of rooms was as apprehensive as I was, standing right behind me and constantly breathing down my neck with the most unhelpful comments like ‘if this bites you Mama you will be very sick!!’ and ‘watch out, it can spit, Mama’. Eventually I did manage to capture and release this HUGE 25cm long baby cobra. I think it got so fed up with my being totally incapable that it eventually crawled onto the grab stick and sat there waiting for me to pick it up. We finally released it down river, in a lovely spot where there are no human visitors, and especially, no guests!
I think I have a whole new respect from the staff, or I may have lost it all! Either way, I am now the new ‘Mafundi ya Nyoka’ (snake expert) in town - a title that I am happy to accept as long as I don’t have to prove it again!
By the way - for those of you who have not seen this, check out our video that we filmed a few months ago showing what Naiorbi National Park has to offer!
June 7th, 2017
Good morning friends, old and new - Fantastic response to my first blog, thank you all!
We've been away with the children for the half-term weekend here in Kenya, taking part in the Rhino Charge which is a car challenge over unimaginably difficult terrain in the remotest parts of Kenya to raise money for fencing around some of Kenya's most beautiful and fragile ecosystems, and assist the local communities wherever the Charge is run. Every year we enter a family team (car 49) and the car is put together by my brother in law, also the driver. Unfortunately we didn't do too well as we broke a prop shaft fairly early on, got it welded back together and then promptly launched ourselves over a ravine at the gauntlet...........needless to say we did not make it and spent the next hour winching about 40 meters backwards through ‘wait-abit bushes’ - oh what fun!!!! This was however different from last year, when we rolled and completely burned out the car entirely - again not finishing the event. I know it sounds nuts - but it was a great weekend anyway and I'm the only girl in an all-boys team which is something of an honour in itself.
We've also had our annual "Owners Summit" at Lewa Downs hosted by Sophie and Calum Mcfarlane, part of the legendary Craig family and owners of Lewa House, perched on a hill overlooking the plains of Lewa. Two weeks previously Bush and Beyond released an incredible video showcasing all the various destinations in Kenya which are handled in their portfolio, with us owners as the cast, (that's me drinking wine!) and with amazing shots of game and landscapes which will blow you away.
It's always a fantastic party when the owners get together, arriving as we do by car, plane and even helicopter, comparing experiences, criticising each other's performances in the video, discussing how to keep a veggie patch when half of Kenya's game regard such an effort as an invitation to dinner, guests we would love to see again and those we would not ...............and always, game sightings, poaching and environment, regular hot topics at these meetings.
Back at the Emakoko, our regular visitors whom we could do without are the Hyrax, who love to bite the head off the roses in my flower arrangements. This is absolutely infuriating when you have done the flowers for Reception, lounge, bar and dining room and half an hour later the predominate feature is bare stalks! However, we have worked out that they prefer the scented roses so this will mean sniffing through 15 dozen roses every Monday to pick out those with no smell. Oh well, a lodge owner-manager's job is never done.
Coming back to earth, on the topic of the Owners Summit, we lodge owners are about to release over the next year lots of 'sneak peaks' into our homes, and we really hope that you will enjoy seeing how we live.
So that's the news from the Emakoko. For the next fortnight I will be recuperating from scratches, bumps and bruises acquired as a "runner" for Car 49 at the Rhino Charge!