December 31st, 2019
As 2019 draws to a close, I find myself wondering where all the days went. This year has been an exciting, challenging and unfortunately a sad one for us. As I sit here reflecting on the past twelve months, I am amazed how time seems to accelerate as we get older. For our children Christmas never comes, but for us it never seems to be far away.
The year 2019 ended with the arrival of our daughter Alexandra at 3 am on New Year’s Eve. Here’s a girl who will always have a large group celebrating her birthday!
On reflection, having a third child after an eight-year break may not have been the excellent idea that Anthony and I thought it was. A newborn at the age of 40 with a full-time job working in hospitality is something that I now would not recommend. In spite of this, Alexandra has been an absolute joy to have around.
As she approached her first birthday, we had spent a lot of time trying to discourage her from any self-propelled movement. It had recently come to our notice that a splinter group in our family - namely our other two children, now aged 8 and 11 - have been conspiring against us to get Alexandra not only upright but also moving very rapidly. Although she hasn’t quite achieved the vertical, she is now able to hotfoot it around the house at a pace that even the dogs struggle to keep up with. The discovery of her latest achievement came as a shock to both of us! One evening, I popped her in the bathroom to play with her toys as I sprawled out in the bath to settle into a good book. Moments later, there was an enormous crash from the bedroom. She had ” escaped” and knocked over quite a large chair. We now think that with her lopsided crawl she is either going to be a hurdler or based on the chair episode an all-in wrestler.
Anthony made our annual marketing trip to the US for the first time. He met some of our tourism partners and updated them on developments in Kenya and at The Emakoko. He was overwhelmed with the friendliness and generosity of his American hosts and is already planning to replace me for the 2020 trip. Fortunately, I shall be back on the road next year, but Anthony and the kids will be joining me in the big Apple after my trip, and we will then explore the East Coast by road……….so apologies in advance to anyone who happens to be on Interstate 95 between the 26th of March and the 2nd of April!
We were deeply saddened to hear of the passing of an industry giant Johnathan Seex who was on the Ethiopian Airlines which crashed shortly after take-off on its way to Nairobi. He was an incredible man and hugely respected in the tourism industry. For those of you who have been to The Emakoko and tried one of our Dawa’s, it was the Seex family that invented this delightful little number which has been in circulation in East Africa now since the 70’s.
Another personal and heartbreaking loss for us was the death of our much-loved Jack Russell, Koko.
Anthony and I prefer to sleep outdoors in the fresh air rather than being cooped up in a building with bars and air conditioning. Everywhere we have lived we have always had windows or doors open, usually both. The Emakoko has been no different for us, and we have always slept with the French Windows in our bedroom wide open on to the verandah.
On this particular night we had an enormous amount of rain and the river had come up. At around two in the morning, I was awoken by my ‘watchdog’ who started to growl beside me on the bed. The other three dogs were on the chair at the end of the bed, right beside our open French Doors. Suddenly my fierce Koko let out an enormous bark and was off, out of the door with the others in hot pursuit. Within a second or two she let out the most almighty yelp as she was taken into the jaws of an old lioness, and moments later, she was gone - never to be seen again. Anthony went off down after the dogs and the noise, but there was no way that he could do anything. At the time, we thought it was a leopard, but the tracks were too big, and Rihaz then walked into the lioness a few days later. We were shocked that a lion had come up to the house, but could only put it down to the river being high and she was therefore stuck on our side with nothing to eat. In the heavy rains, the gentle Mbagathi can turn into a raging torrent which nothing living can cross.
It was a terrible loss for us. Koko was an exceptional dog, typical of the Jack Russell breed, with a significant chip on her shoulder, as a result of a close and unpleasant encounter with a Baboon when she was a puppy. She had a huge heart, and the courage to take on anything no matter how big or small in order to defend her family. The lion was no exception. Before she died, Koko had become a great nanny to Alexandra and was always as close to her as she could be. We will never forget this brave little dog, whilst accepting, with great sadness, this is one of the hazards of living on the edge as we do.
The annual Rhino Charge took place mid-year and the team, this year without my magnificent input (I was dropped for not being fit enough) came fourth. Unfortunately this result makes it hard for me to get back on the team next year. The Rhino Charge is an annual event that raises money for conservation projects in Kenya. It is well supported and builds and manages considerable sums for projects that are aimed at supporting their mission: “Humans in harmony with habitat and wildlife.”
The elevated railway line that now slices through the centre of Nairobi National park is an ugly scar across this pristine landscape. Having said this, the wildlife has now settled down after the chaos of the construction, and small groups of Impala are now evenly spaced down the line, using it as shade from the midday sun. The odd train chugs along from time to time, and the noise does not seem to bother them. The wildlife despite this is thriving in the park, and the plains game is abundant as are the predators.
Our Funicular lift finally started operating in the middle of this year, and the six months of operation we have found that our waistlines have thickened somewhat as a result of not having to negotiate 122 steps several times a day. Amazingly the odd Hyrax has made use of the empty lift moving up and down, and I dare say that even the Hyrax around the area seem to have a much stockier frame to them than the ones on the Park side of the river! The private house, at the top of the lift, is now being used continually. The exclusivity it offers makes it a popular place for both families and those seeking anonymity, and the private pool and kitchen provide the perfect level of privacy for those who don’t want to socialise with other guests.
In early December, the lovely, intelligent, beautiful Koko the leopard finally showed us her stunning new cubs. They really seem to be doing well. Amazing that she has almost become a part of our family now, we have watched her grow from a little cub to an adult. She is now a competent mother and seems to be quite at home around the lodge and not too upset at the sight of vehicles lumbering in and out at all hours. At the end of the school term, as the children and I were driving back to the lodge , we came across her snoozing in a patch of sun beside the track and perfectly relaxed. I had no idea she had her cubs with her, and she was so calm with us - we spent a good 20 minutes with her before she melted back into the bushes taking her small family with her. Photo Credit the lovely Sonia Varma.
The saddest aspect of this year has been the loss of our very dear friend Royjan Taylor not only a life-long friend but also Godfather to our son William. Royjan like Anthony, was a highly regarded and extremely knowledgeable snake man - he was an East African Authority on snakes and snakebite. He died suddenly in the middle of the year and had just returned from a snake conference in Switzerland where he successfully presented a case for funds to help in snake education and anti-venom development in the East African area. He died from a rare and lethal form of Leukemia within a week of diagnosis, at the age of 44.
His death is a significant loss not just to his wife and two children and to us, but also a considerable loss to the wider community where his work on snake education and the milking of snakes to produce serum was an excellent service to the region. His absence is not only a personal loss but as a result, Anthony, in particular, will have to spend more time with Bio- Ken, the company that is responsible for all things involving snakes.
Bio-ken is located on the Kenyan coast at Watamu and has the most extensive collection of East African snakes in the world. Not only is it a snake park, but Bio-Ken spends an enormous amount of man-hours educating the community on snakes and snakebite. Added to this, it is instrumental in the production of anti-venom. As part of the Emakoko CSR programme, we support this project actively, not just through Anthony’s involvement but also raising funds to enable people who cannot afford treatment, to be treated at no cost to them.
And finally the weather (Photo Credit to Rihas Sidi). Nairobi, like much of the world, is suffering from climate change. Having had very poor rains in the rainy season and suffered a severe drought, we have now had hefty unseasonal rains during the last two months of the year. This has made getting around a real challenge for those visitors driving in the park under their own steam. It has also been a challenge and a shock for some of the wildlife which have found their usual haunts unreachable or at the very least “boggy”. But what has been fantastic is that the cats, as usual, hate getting wet and now use the ‘drier’ roads to navigate the park. When in need of a rest rather than a quick siesta in the damp grass they all move up into the trees. It has not been an uncommon site to come across a tree straining under the weight of kilos of feline.
So as the year draws to a close, we look forward to what the ’20’s will bring. We wish all of you a very happy, healthy and adventurous 2020 and look forward to seeing you again and meeting new guests who have made the wise decision of choosing Kenya as a safari destination.
Happy New Year everyone - From all of us at The Emakoko
September 4th, 2019
It has been a hectic few months here at The Emakoko, we have met some fabulous people and had some exciting sightings with wildlife. The most amazing of all is our Cheetah sightings seem to be more frequent, in the past we would be lucky to see Cheetah at all, but it now appears that at least one, if not two are now using the park more and more.
Koko the Leopard seems to have had a lot of fun over the last few months, and as a result we have been expecting to see her cubs......so far she appears to have not had any babies. Her and Nguruman (our lovely large male) have spent a lot of time together, and so we continue to hope that we will see some baby ‘Ngurokos' any time now. Photo Credit Paras Chandaria.
On the lodge front, we have had the lovely Rose Lloyd Owen come in again from London to work with our kitchen. She has revamped our menus, and it is interesting how the world has now fully embraced the new gluten-free, vegan, celiac, intolerant dairy diets that appear to be more regular on our guest notes. Coping with sometimes the most extraordinary dietary requirements is becoming less of a problem for us, although, we are always continually baffled by the vegans who will eat bacon.
Our newly installed funicular is a hit, and we seem to have had to extend our belts a wee bit over the last month. Having to no longer use the stairs to come and go from home daily we have certainly put on a couple of pounds!
Anthony and I, for the first time in 20 years, decided to venture to the Northern hemisphere in August in celebration of hitting one of the big ‘0's in age. We decided to go even further north this time and cross the border into Scotland in search of the amazing Salmon which frequent the stunning Scottish Rivers. We were warned by so many that the fearful ‘Midge' would be a nightmare to live with, but coming from Africa, we felt that the European Midge was no match to the African Tsetse fly. Luckily we did not see one, and I think it is merely a rumour that the Scots have come up with to keep the English out.
What was never mentioned, however, was the weather. Having packed for an ‘English Summer' - with warnings of heatwaves daily throughout Europe, we were shocked to find that Scotland seemed to be immune to the sun and unfortunately shorts and flip flops was not enough clothing for highland weather. To be honest though, we and the kids had adequate clothing, but it was baby Alexandra who suffered the most, and I was eventually forced to buy a pair of ‘Moose Slippers' (I might add that my other daughter had called them that and the Scotsman very quickly corrected her that they were indeed ‘Aberdeen Angus' slippers!). We did spend the first five days of our week in Scotland, wondering why the Royals felt it necessary to fight for this part of the world, but alas on day six the sun came out, and Scotland showed her true self, what an incredibly beautiful place it is. We were very sorry to leave!
Another significant event which occurred was the loss of our dearest friend Royjan Taylor. Anthony and Royjan grew up together, their mutual passion of reptiles cementing their bond. They were both instrumental in the discovery of a new species, Naja Ashei, named after James Ashe, their mentor and had spent many times in remote parts of Kenya in search of a new species. Royan passed away on the afternoon of the 12th of June after a short battle with Acute Fulminant Leukemia. It was a total shock to us all and has left a gaping hole in our hearts as well as reptile conservation and the all-important work of saving lives. His wife and the team at Bio-Ken will continue his work, and we will be providing as much support as possible. Should you wish to learn more about what Bio-Ken does and would like to support the cause, please click on this link. https://www.gofundme.com/f/royjantaylor
Finally, it has been wonderful having our guests arriving from New York on the Kenya Airways direct flight, having had dinner in New York and breakfast in Nairobi, worlds apart but now only a 14-hour flight. Added to that, within minutes of leaving the capitals airport and coming to us, our guests have been amazed at the incredible wildlife the park has to offer on the game drive in before breakfast. This has transformed how our American friends view our side of the world, and we look forward to more of them venturing this way for that fantastic bucket list holiday in the safari capital of the world!
July 23rd, 2019
It has been an unbelievable uphill battle, literally, but we are finally there. Ladies and gentlemen, we would like to introduce the funicular!!!!!
The funicular was a project that started way back in 2014, bit by bit we slowly built this and are delighted that access to the top rooms of the lodge no longer require you to be an Iron Man.
The best thing about it is that you can enjoy your Dawa as you go up, without spilling a drop!
June 10th, 2019
So much has happened since my last post and we have really been buried in the realities of life - I feel like I am just coming up for air!
If you follow my blog you will now about the Rhino Charge, a unique race for a field of 65 modified 4WDrives over appalling difficult terrain to raise money for Rhino Ark, a huge environmental project, is a big event in our year. Anthony’s family have put in a vehicle (Car 49) for many years, driven by his brother-in-law, navigated by his father, and with Anthony and I part of the rest of the family team. For Anthony and I, is to run ahead through often-impenetrable and always uncomfortable bush, to try and find a way through for our car. A distance of around 25 kms takes a good ten hours to accomplish, and often requires winching up and down cliffs. It is challenging, exhausting, and often dangerous: winching a car down a 40 foot cliff is par for the course - but we love every minute of it!
In early June last year I finished the Rhino Charge feeling far more uncomfortable, battered and exhausted than in any other previous year, so took myself off to the doctor for a check-up. To my horror, I found out that we were expecting another child – not horror at the news which was extremely welcome - but horror at what my poor unborn baby had been through, being bounced around like a ping-pong ball, both in the car and running and scrambling up and down for ten exhausting hours in 31 degrees of heat. I was terrified some harm might have been done to this child.
As soon as I was told the news, I went online (and by the way, do not EVER do this) to see if many people at 7 weeks pregnant would have experienced something similar to what my foetus had endured. The closest I got was this -
‘Question: - Whilst on the Easter Bank Holiday, my husband and I took a long weekend break to Devon. On one of the days, we decided to explore the area and in driving to our destination our vehicle had to go on a dirt road which was rather bumpy. Will this affect my 14 week old baby?’
Answer “Although there is evidence that taking a bumpy car ride is not advisable, rest assured that mild bumps won't harm your baby either. ... However, before taking a car ride that's likely to jolt you around, get some advice from your GP or midwife.”
Needless to say, I spent the next 31 weeks filled with guilt and apprehension that I had done irreparable damage to my baby.
Photo Credit Sandro Abbonizio
She was due on the 15th of January so we decided that we would take the New Year off and spend it with friends on the slopes of Mt. Kenya on a trout fishing trip, before our family became three. On the 30th of December, we made the long trip up to Kenya Trout Fishers on a ‘mildly bumpy road’ and got there in time for lunch, followed by a spot of fishing before the sun went down. Had I known that it would be our last sunset as a family of four, I would have made more of an effort to catch the pesky trout that kept avoiding my fly, rather than return back to camp for a cup of tea and a digestive.
Alexandra Childs was born at 3:21am on the 31st of December, 2 weeks early by emergency Caesarian. It was a rather traumatising experience, more so for Anthony who had to drive the 3 hour drive back to Nairobi just before midnight, on definitely bumpy roads, with a very unhappy wife in the back seat not only giving back-seat instructions but also listing the provisions for my Last Will and Testament. It was all a blur for me and when the sun came up the following morning the reality of what had happened began to set in.
The urgency of our return to Nairobi meant we had to leave our other 2 children asleep in the camp with the rest of the fishing party, who woke in the morning to find somebody in Mum and Dad’s bed and a “Whatsap” image of their new sister, Alexandra, a healthy seven-pounder. Anthony paused for a brief sleep and then returned to the camp to be with the children, whilst I stayed in hospital with the new baby. Welcome to our world, Alexandra Ayton Childs!
Meanwhile back at The Emakoko quite a lot happened, Christmas and New year went by and the Nairobi National Park wildlife performed as it should throughout the festivities. We had Leopard and Lion in camp and our wonderful Black Rhino continued to midnight feast outside room Two, much to the delight of our guests.
Our ‘shiny new’ private House continues to be a hit, the best spot in camp to watch the sun go down over the Ngong hills.
Photo Credit GOH Iromoto
The funicular is ALMOST ready..........we just need some guinea pigs to try it out...any takers?
We have settled back into camp life as a family of 5 and it is quite different having a new-born being carried around the main areas. She is of course a hit with guests - who does not love a new born baby? I am a little worried that she may be attracting a few unwanted visitors. Only last night we had a Leopard in the car park, who rather then melt away into the bushes when our game drive cars came back in, decided that he would walk the bridge only to come face to face with Abraham our night watchman. Thankfully no harm done and our spotted friend decided to beat a hasty retreat back towards the car park and into the bush.
The joys of raising a family in Africa!
Photo Credit Paras Chandaria
November 19th, 2018
The dry season is coming to an end and as usual the wildlife is beginning to congregate around what ever pockets of water are left in the park, or down by the rivers which flow through. Although it is extremely hot and dusty, game drives at this time of year are excellent and our big cats are in great shape, picking off the weak and those that are bunched around water. It is an easy time for them and with the stunning November light, it is a great time for photography.
With the death of Ema, our senior female leopard, we have been concerned for her daughter Koko, who was last seen 3 months ago a fair distance from her usual haunts. It was with great excitement we heard that someone in the park had reported seeing a large male and female together. However this was in an area we had considered an unlikely location to find her. Imagine how delighted we were to finally find Koko, looking as sleek and beautiful as ever, bedding down with our notorious rogue ‘Nguruman” who is one of the largest male leopards in the park. They had been together for over a week and fingers crossed, we will have some cubs in the new-year. Clearly having taken advantage of the easy pickings in the dry season she is looking in really good health and has quickly found herself a worthy mate. Photo by Paras Chandaria
Another piece of good news, we now have a new feline on the block who has taken over Ema’s territory, and we are delighted to confirm that she is in fact Ema’s daughter from an earlier litter. It is normal for a daughter to take over a mothers territory so we shouldn’t have been surprised. We are so pleased that she is following in her mother‘s footsteps. It will take some time for her to get used to us, but we look forward to now having her as a part of our lives. Photo by Paras Chandaria
To be honest, welcome as the rains will be, the end of the dry season fills us with a little apprehension as we prepare ourselves, as best we can, to tackle the onslaught of tropical rains. Rain in Kenya is nothing like that which you would normally get in the northern hemisphere. Two inches being dumped within an hour over a small area is not unusual. The difficult conditions it then creates for us are particularly hard to cope with. Rising rivers and muddy roads may be interesting from a visitors point of view, but running a lodge and getting children to school with flooded roads and rivers in full spate is a real challenge.
As Emakoko guests will know the Mbagathi River runs just below the lodge. It has been known to rise by up to 8 meters in 4 hours, totally engulfing the pool area and flooding right under the lodge. Whist no-one has ever been in danger, I often watch with horror as the pool turns from a beautiful crystal blue to a muddy chocolate colour. Our staff of course find this hugely entertaining, especially when the water comes over the bridge. Branches and assorted debris come thundering downriver, smashing into our bridge before disappearing at speed into the distance.
Image by Lamak Sheikh
What is most astonishing is that our resident herbivores, who should be used to it by now, often wait until the river is right up and then leap into the raging waters to cross over for the ‘greener grass’ on the other side, only to find that the grass is no greener than where they were….. and now they are soaking wet! Why they choose to do this is mind boggling. They seem to wait for me to get to the office before they attempt it so that I get a magnificent view. An hour later, after the torrent has subsided, they swim back again to the same green grass they spurned before. Watching the behavior of wildlife in the wild is often quite puzzling!
Our resident “herd” of hyrax also decide that the rains are a great time to exercise themselves. They enjoy taking a dip diving off the bridge, swimming to a nearby tree and clambering up to the top where they dangle like Christmas decorations. They often do this on the thinnest branches, and when the branches snap they plunge into the river. Undaunted they swim back again to the bridge and start again. I cannot decide whether they are simply “adrenaline junkies” or really do not understand the dangers!
For us the climate is either feast or famine. Once the rains stop we can expect a similar very dry spell to the one we have just had. The dry spell is when our seasonal animals return to spend time at the lodge. By far the most exciting are the Hippos and Rhinos who come onto the lodge grounds as the park dries up in search of the green grass by our pool. They are in the grounds almost every night and the night watchmen are now back on ‘pot duty’ to defend my beautiful collection of potted plants and succulents from these marauding gangs. They, the rhinos and hippos, are joined by the buffalos who also enjoy annoying me by dining on my “a La carte” vegetarian menu.
We have gone to a great deal of trouble to create this potted garden at the end of the pool which survives both the drought and the rains, but is unlikely to survive the behaviour of these huge animals. After their vegetarian meal, to help with the washing up, they also love to push the left over plants together with the pots into the swimming pool. This obviously isn’t good for the pool, the pots or the plants. At the moment our defence against this is to wedge the various pot sizes into a formation where no individual pot can be pushed easily. Whilst we appear at the moment to be winning this battle, only time will determine who finally wins the Battle of the Pots!
Such are the trials and tribulations of living in a wildlife paradise.
September 24th, 2018
As a camp manager in the African bush one does require an extremely wide variety of skills. In fact, I don’t think that there are many jobs in the world which require such an imaginative diversity of abilities and, quite frankly, a degree in hospitality does not prepare one for such a challenge. Over the years I have observed a stream of highly qualified young people arrive at a number of the camps where we have worked, fresh out of some of the greatest universities in the world, with a shiny new degree, on a mission to change boutique lodges into corporate, streamlined, super-efficient ‘cookie cutter’ hotels: - only to find that working in the African bush does face one with a variety of challenges not covered in a university curriculum,
We were no different when we started running remote lodges here in Kenya. From our very first day and up until this moment in time, we learned, and continue to learn not just the basic procedures in running a lodge, but also how to survive when rivers rise ten feet unexpectedly overnight, cars are washed away, airstrips become unusable, and of course when a country is thrown into chaos dues to a political uncertainty as we were a decade ago. Catching and removing snakes, dealing with snakebite, childbirth, stitching up people and animals, fixing cars, not running out of supplies, producing various delicious four-course menus, maintaining boreholes and generators. Just another day in the life of a lodge manager.
The list goes on: entertaining people from all cultures, repairing and maintaining buildings, plumbing, electricity, telecommunications, ordinary communications, community negotiations, labour negotiations, horse riding, ostrich riding, sailing, surfing, scuba diving, fishing, drinking, singing, photography, playing every sport under the sun including midnight soccer........but I can tentatively suggest that, other than brain surgery, I think we along with all camp managers can probably handle most things.
Most people that have been successful in camp management do end up being rather over qualified by the time they return to “civilization”. Many of these skills that having no practical use in normal life! We are an odd brotherhood, with a collection of abilities developed solely to look after our adventurous overseas visitors, to make sure they return home safe with wonderful memories of their safari in Kenya.
The reason for this rambling background is to help you understand why we felt perfectly confident in our abilities to improve The Emakoko’s facilities by adding a private house at the top of the cliff overlooking the river. We could do it all while still running the lodge: we would not need a builder, we wouldn’t need a landscaper, or an interior designer, etc; we would do this ourselves, we were more than capable! At the start, I had completely forgotten how frustrating it was running a building site and a lodge.ccEspecially when we started in the most torrential rains that the country had had for decades, and on a site where the road turned into a quagmire in the heavy rains.
We did, in our organized way, plan and print a Schedule of Works with a completion date, which, even with our off the beaten track location, seemed achievable. It all made perfect sense and we had allowed a very generous period of time for the entire project. Considering all possibilities, I had, very sensibly, added on a day or two or a week or two here and there to allow for all eventualities. Wow what an optimist!! No matter how detailed the planning nothing prepared me for the reality. Delays were the order of the day. One order in particular which should have taken 24 hours to deliver finally arriving six weeks later. By the end of it, it was likely that next person who told me that an item was ‘on the way coming’ or arriving tomorrow was likely to be criminally assaulted on the spot.
After all the problems and frustrations finally in little over 5 months it was complete…. our Private House was born! A really great feeling to see the finished product ready for business. What started out as a two- bedroomed facility finally turned into a well-appointed extremely comfortable house complete with an Infinity Pool, private bar, kitchen, dining room and lounge. I think a number of our friends still believe that the house is built for our own convenience but alas, the popularity has been so great that from the moment we opened it there has not been an opportunity for this family to even have a dip in the pool!
We are both so very proud of what we have built, and look forward to the house ‘settling’ into the environment and the wildlife getting used to this latest addition. Already we have a flock of starlings that have turned the infinity pool lip into their own water bath. It won’t be long before Koko the leopard uses the pool as a watering hole in the dead of night. My horses have already spied the green grass that surrounds the house and when the house is quiet they sneak in and eat as much as they can, destroying the lawn and sending the ground staff into paroxysms of rage!. Annoyingly, we have had to put up a small fence to keep them out as I fear it will not be long before they end up in the pool. My mare is a particular water-lover and I see her eyeing the pool with great interest....
Other than the private house going in, we have had a wonderful summer season and had some fabulous visitors in the lodge. We look forward to welcoming some of you to The Emakoko and our private house next year. One thing that never ceases to amaze me is how many times airlines manage to temporarily lose luggage. I have lost count of the number of people who have arrived missing a bag. For some reason it is always the ladies’ bags that go missing, with all the items so necessary for a holiday in the bush. NOT the best way to start a Safari… but like all the challenges we face we always manage to solve such problems.
On a final note, we are expecting a little girl, due in early January. We are obviously delighted with the news and look forward to welcoming the new addition to the Childs family. Our children cannot wait for another member of the team to join and I have not yet mentioned the small details that when she does arrive, she will not be able to swim, play rugby, netball, ride a bike or do anything fun for a few years.......I will let them find out in January!
July 15th, 2018
For most parents, the prospect of un-leashing their little ones onto the African Continent fills them with horror and apprehension. Africa is far too dangerous and one couldn’t possibly allow children to be exposed to the risks of Malaria, snake bite, scorpion sting, man-eating lions and worst of all civil car! The dark continent indeed!
When I am overseas and I speak to people about visiting Kenya and get this sort of reaction, I am perfectly understanding. Why on earth anyone would pay for that? But where in Africa does this all happen? Then I am reminded how appalling our global press coverage has been and how it must look to the outside world. The Africa that people view through their television screens and android devices is on a different planet from the Africa that I know, and the Africa that my children love, adore and call home. Having said this, the Africa that I am talking about is Kenya, the country where I was born and the country where I hope to spend the rest of my life. There are indeed parts of Africa which are unsafe to visit, or so we are told.
A journalist stayed at The Emakoko recently, and I asked him to explain why the press is always so quick to report anything that happens in Kenya. He replied that it is because so many people in the Press business live in this country. Why do they live here, I asked? Well, because there is easy access to the rest of Africa and, most of all it is a fantastic place to live. The people, the safaris, the beaches, the climate, the education and the of course the vibe - it is a wonderful place to be based and a post that is a plum choice for journalists from all over the world who are covering Africa. So there you have it!
We are in a wonderful position here at The Emakoko. We have access to an amazing city and can retire at the end of the day to the call of the wild. Don’t be fooled, Nairobi National Park is not a zoo by any means - it is an incredible area stuffed to the brim with flora and fauna, some of which you will not see on the rest of your safari. What also makes it wonderful, is that we are the first and last point of entry and exit to and from Kenya.
We welcome guests, who less than an hour ago were clearing customs, having left their homes on the other side of the world, and who have already seen three of the “Big Five” within minutes of leaving the airport. For kids who devote the best part of their free time to their iPads, this can be a shocking experience, and by the time they have crossed the bridge and come into the lodge I have their full attention. GoiGoi the bush baby will be draped nonchalantly over the balustrade eating his banana and Kamakazi the Genet Cat is busy leaping about catching insects – they have walked into another world, a very far cry from the howling sirens and mass of humanity that they left behind only 16 hours before. Welcome to Africa!
When these families come to the end of their trip, I cannot resist asking what was the most memorable part of their safari - placing a bet with Anthony that I know exactly what they will say. The most memorable part of the trip was - the people. Yes, the people. In this day and age to see people live under the most basic conditions, trekking miles for water, without electricity or the creature-comforts most first-world inhabitants consider essential, and yet with a terrific sense of community, peace and harmony is something that most visitors cannot ignore. Not only this, but the unbelievably friendly nature of the people of Kenya is something that is so heart-warming, all the more so as it is completely unexpected.
I think the last time I went ‘out of my comfort zone with children’ (which I do appreciate is how a number of families on safari really feel) was about two years ago when we went on a safari into Kenya’s version of a 19th century ‘wild west’. Turkana, a place that I had only heard about, not only being a vast moonscape of stunning beauty, but being in such a remote area of this huge country, it was apparently somewhat lawless. Of course this would be a perfect place for a family holiday! We set off with another family, four adults and four children under 9 years old - into an untamed wilderness that none of us had ever visited before. It was exciting, and in retrospect, I wish we had stayed longer and that I had visited this place more when I was younger.
We stayed in a magical little tented camp called Koros. The staff, most of whom were the local Turkana tribe were amazing. Not only were they great at looking after us, but they literally took our children away for the best part of our time in the area and returned them to us when we left. The kids had a ball, tracking wildlife prints, learning how to make fires, milk goats, how to sleep outside and stop ants getting into your ears. Yes, every skill you could possibly need to survive in the wild against illness and predators, our children were taught. Should they ever be forced to go back in time and live as cave dwellers, I would be confident that each child would survive without any issues.
The person in control of our children, was a young Turkana man who was in charge of security of his family homestead. It is common in these areas for livestock to get “rustled” and therefore being head of security was a busy job. We were a little apprehensive when we first met him, he approached our vehicle literally dressed in a rather small cloth-like dress with a large Rifle on his back, ‘thousand miler shoes on his feet’ and a smile that could light up a dark room. The kids loved him instantly and he provided an experience that they will never forget.
Another reason for this trip I might mention, was my husbands new-found fascination with Scorpions (yes snakes and scorpions, what more could you want in a man?) and desire to see what species we could find in the area. With the days being so hot and lethargy taking over, the children were dispatched with their gun-wielding ‘Nanny’ into the bush to locate as many scorpions as possible. In order to find a scorpion by the way, you look for a hole and then dig....I realise that at this point it is obvious that I was never up for mother of the year award!
Anthony was delighted with what the kids found over the course of 3 days, and even more delighted when two specimens were confirmed as entirely new species, yes Gint Childsi, named after Anthony Childs himself. How happy I was to know that this is now another highly toxic creepy crawly to add to the many dangers of an African visit. I am even more delighted that neither of the new species will be named after me, I am not sure if one can take that as a compliment being named after an unattractive creature with a bad attitude and a painful sting in its tail!
So that was the last time, and hopefully will not be THE last time, I was out of my comfort zone with my children. I do tend to take for granted what a life these kids have, but going up to Turkana was a reminder that kids just want to be kids and are open to anything. Sometimes the most basic experience to us, ends up having an enormous impact on them. Disney world, Ski holidays, Versailles and Water World are not a patch on spending an afternoon in a Kenyan wilderness with one of our remarkable tribes.
So for anyone who is considering a safari to Kenya, there is nothing to consider - JUMP - take a walk on the wild side. You will not regret it and your children will be (for once!) forever grateful.
May 1st, 2018
March & April have been extremely sad months all round. Not only have we said goodbye to an incredible herpetologist, Sanda Ashe but also we say ‘Kwaheri’ to our matriarch, Dame Daphne Sheldrick. Both these ladies had an enormous impact on the preservation of a species, through education, conservation and rehabilitation. Each of these formidable ladies was a pioneer in their chosen field, and were never afraid of being the only voices to be raised in support of their beliefs, despite often being ridiculed, ignored and shouted down. They spoke ugly truths that nobody wanted to hear, forced people listen, and in their lifetimes have trained and inspired the dedicated teams who continue to carry forward their great work. This world is a lesser place without them.
I recall the story of Sanda, shocking the locals with her skills, when a hotel in the Watamu area had called the Bio-Ken snake farm for a reptile which had appeared in the roof. James Ashe, also no longer with us, was out of contact, and so it was up to Sanda to go and deal with what had been described as a large house snake which is a relatively harmless species. On arrival, and with the crowds now gathering Sanda clambered up into the roof of this hotel. On closer inspection, the reptile in question was not a House Snake but the much more deadly Black Mamba, and a large one at that! Sanda quickly realised that this was not only a dangerous situation (she had never caught a Black Mamba before) but also a rather embarrassing one. Unsuitably clad for such an exercise, she was wearing a dress and the crowd below could definitely see much more than she would have wished to reveal. She was never quite sure whether the Ooh’s and Aagh’s from below were entirely attributable to her skill in catching this unpleasantly disagreeable snake, but she certainly earned the respect of the entire community for this exploit!
Dr. Daphne Sheldrick was one of the first people I worked for and I spent just over three years in total with the Trust. At the time we had no elephants but we did have two very young Rhinos. I do remember the steady stream of elephants which soon flowed into the Trust nursery, and by the time I left there were 15 orphaned baby elephants in the nursery and we had just translocated six down to the new ‘Ithumba stockades’. This was all covered by Michela Strachen with the TV show “Elephant Diaries” and was a rollercoaster year!
I had many laughs, and plenty of tears, whilst working for the Trust. One occasion that stood out and I can still remember very clearly today, was coming into work one morning and Daphne, in one of her flowery dresses, lobbing the verandah scatter cushions at Magnum (one of the wild Rhino orphans) who had taken it upon himself to clamber up part of the verandah and attack her amazing Geraniums. While Daphne was skilled in so many ways — her throwing arm needed a bit of work, and I remember Magnum with his eyes closed in bliss, slowly chewing through the pink Geraniums as these cushions whistled past his ears — totally undisturbed by this attack. He made no attempt to move, either the Geraniums were worth the barrage of abuse, or he knew (as did I) that it was unlikely that he was going to get hit!
Just to add to the sadness of the first quarter of this year, we have also lost an entire species. The news of the death of Sudan (Photo credit Andrew Campbell Safaris) was global and whilst many say we lose a species a day I do think that the news of Sudan certainly rang alarm bells all over the world. It is clear that extinction is a natural phenomenon, but the rate at which it is now happening is beyond depressing.
We have experienced some amazing weather over the last few weeks and the park has transformed back into a luscious Garden of Eden. The Mbagathi continues to rise and fall as the rains over the past two weeks have been huge, and for those who have only been to the Emakoko when the river is a little trickle just a few feet wide, the transformation is sometimes quite terrifying. The power and ferocity of the tide that comes hurtling down the valley, sometimes more than 100 yards across, is shocking, and we have ourselves seen a Giraffe, foolishly attempting to cross, picked up and hurled down the flood like a wooden toy, and never to be seen again.
In the park itself, the wildlife looks amazing and I am so pleased that ALL of my pot plants have survived the drought and not been knocked over by our resident buffalo herd. Who have finally moved away from the pool and are now back in the park — terrorising motorists!
Koko the Leopard is very much a part of lodge life and I have found myself becoming a little blasé with her. She seems to be wary of everyone (my children included) except for me and makes no attempt to run away or hide if she sees me coming. The other morning I was on my way to town to deliver some eggs to Green Spoon and I caught her coming the other way. With the tall grass now drooping over, heavy with droplets of rain water, she was not interested in the least at getting wet and rather then take the high road and get off the path she simply stood there. I did not fancy my chances with her, and so backed away as she came towards me so she could keep on the path but get out of my way. She slowly walked towards me then took the steps to the Private House (yes this is new news!!). Amazing - but also slightly alarming!
We come to two years on of the burning of the 106 tonnes of Ivory in Nairobi National Park. Kenya continues to fight the Ivory trade and I gather that we have more heavy-weight senior people on board which is great news. On a more positive note, the Black Rhino population in Nairobi National park is doing very well indeed and their have been a few more births over the last few months which is excellent news!
And so, despite the loss of two great pioneers in the field of conservation, life goes on, the earth dries up, rains come and go, and the cycle of birth, life and death continues in the age-old pattern with the only variations caused either by unusual weather conditions or the continuing conflict between the habitat and the human race. We can only hope and pray that others will join the battle for the preservation, so that future generations as yet unborn will not be left with nothing but photographic records of the fabulous wildlife that our generation allowed to become extinct.
January 30th, 2018
If you are not in the hospitality business it is almost impossible to appreciate not only the ramifications of running a lodge, but the detail of what is involved in putting one together. In this country there are a handful of particularly awesome people who have built, and are running, lodges in extremely remote areas, away from families and “civilisation” and who manage to make it look completely effortless. The dedication and effort, and sheer man-hours which go into the construction of these little gems has to be experienced to be believed. Our story is no different and it is a long long story – but I will spare you the details!
Believe it or not, despite feeling that we are a “new” establishment, we opened our doors to our first clients six years ago this month, fulfilling a plan that was discussed with many friends years before our idea actually came to fruition. Standing on the edge of the cliff and looking down into the stunning little oasis which is the present-day Emakoko, it was very clearly a risky and somewhat daunting project. We would never have guessed that we would be visited by international celebrities, and by Royalty but best of all, by people who come back to us over and over again
Yet here we are in January 2018 and we have not only survived (by the skin of our teeth!) some of the worst years that Kenyan tourism has ever endured but we are thriving and looking forward to the future. My husband’s unfaltering optimism and determination to make it work has been inspirational. Our families have supported us magnificently through thick and thin but most importantly, our staff have stayed with us through difficult times when often it must have seemed as if there was no light at the end of the tunnel.
I used to read countless articles about starting your own business and I must admit none of my reading prepared me for the reality. What I can say though is this; the grass is NEVER greener, despite what you might think and it IS going to be a tough old slog. Nothing will prepare you for the highs or the lows and the hits will keep on coming, BUT when it finally comes together and you find yourself succeeding, enjoy every moment because not many people get to that stage. Admittedly we are not there yet, but there is definitely a brighter horizon!
About one month before our opening we realised that not only were we running out of money, but we were also running out of time. We were advised that there was only one option left and that was to bring in ‘Kariuki’. Apparently this was the only man who could turn the tide. I met Mr. Kariuki a day later, perched halfway up the hill sipping tea and bellowing insults at people who were marching back and forth over the site hammering, carrying, mixing, brushing & painting. He was a rather portly, old and disagreeable fellow and as I walked past him he barely acknowledged me. Instead he shouted at someone (I think it may have been me!) to “get out of the way and hurry up”! It turned out that Kariuki’s job was to keep everyone working and before long the site almost resembled a disturbed ant-hill.
Nevertheless, he got the job done and 24 hours before opening we were pretty much on top of things. The night before our official opening day, he finally said Hello to me and remarked in Swahili that this was going to be a special place because he had been sitting under the ‘Migumo tree’ and had prayed to ‘Muungu’ (God) for The Emakoko to succeed. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the lodge or Kikuyu custom, Reception, Offices and the lounges are under a Migumo tree and this tree is a very sacred spiritual tree where Kikuyus pray in the absolute certainty that God is listening and will answer their prayers. Apparently!
That day we closed the site at around midnight, running off small generators throughout as the power had not been connected. Our amazing carpenter, Grant, Anthony and I sat exhausted in the darkness, drinking the remainder of what had been a 5-litre bottle of Johnny Walker Black Label neat, chain-smoking cigarettes and going through the programme for the opening day. Our first guests were coming off an Emirates flight and would be in the lodge at 5 in the evening and there was still a mountain of work to complete. I didn’t sleep a wink that night, but lay in my daughter’s cot (she was just nine months old) and listened to lions roaring in the valley. I wondered if our lodge would be a huge success or an epic failure
The following day work started at first light and by 9am we had made huge headway. Laying grass around the pool area, nailing down the last planks in the dining room, painting the walls and connecting all the lighting. It was an epic push from everyone, Patrick and Laurence (our barmen) were busily painting doors and walls, Yvonne and the girls were getting the rooms ready and our head chef Steve with his team were busy making bread. It was an incredible moment to see everyone pulling together like that, hungry to get The Emakoko all fired up before the late afternoon.
Just to add to everything a small army of our friends arrived with sandwiches for lunch and hands to help put everything together. Washing floors, painting walls, placing furniture running up and down the hill to get things from the laundry area and generally converting a mammoth building site into a full blown lodge. These people were amazing and without them I think the lodge would have remained a building site!!!
By 5pm, as the vehicle, filled with guests, crept down the precarious hill to the lodge we were ready. The builders and Mr. Kariuki retreated into the staff camp and our friendly helpers vanished off into the sunset. I recall Patrick, armed with a paint brush having put the finishing touches to a toilet door, sprinting into the back and then re-emerging, “Superman”-style, in his new uniform. Having worked together at that point for over six years at the time, he knew exactly what was expected of him, and without hesitation he was off to the bar to get scented flannels and welcome drinks, plastering an enormous smile on his face he walked to the end of the bridge to welcome our guests, as though we had been here for years.
And just like that, on the 30th January 2012, The Emakoko was born!
January 8th, 2018
I would bet that if you asked any African Safari Guide what their favourite animal was, it would be a Leopard. Whilst they are not particularly rare creatures they are the most elusive of the big cats, and arguably one of the most beautiful animals you will see in Africa. Anthony certainly makes spotting a leopard almost essential to any safari, and in the days when we both did guiding work I recall spending whole days doing nothing but tracking leopard. We can truthfully say that we have never had a safari without finding one of these wonderfully spotted cats; I put this down to luck, whereas Anthony believes it to be pure skill: I will leave you to decide — perhaps a combination of both?
In the early days, when we received the green light to embark on “Project Emakoko” Anthony was given the task of finding the perfect location for the Lodge. There were several elements which had to be considered. The site had to be away from the flight paths of both airports; it had to be central to both airports for the convenience of clients; it had to be as far as possible from the urban sprawl; and most importantly of all, it needed to be on a river and in a beautiful wildlife area. Anthony spent numerous nights on the border of Nairobi National Park and approaching various landowners, all to no avail. He was beginning to despair when suddenly, by crawling down a cliff, he found the wonderful little Eden which has become the final location for The Emakoko. Above all, the little valley not only ticked all the logistical and practical boxes, it was the perfect environment for leopard you could possibly find. The plot was well concealed, had running water, wonderful trees with superb predator view points and good places to store prey, and best of all, there was a variety of suitable leopard food. The Chelsea or Manhattan of the leopard world, you could say!
It took years before the wildlife moved back onto our site and finally towards the end of last year our ‘visible’ leopard visits had become more frequent. So frequent that we ended up naming them, yes I know — how can you do that to such a majestic cat — but we needed to know who was who! Our senior female — “Ema"-killed one of our resident Impala in the car park and for a week she could be seen by anyone who was interested. Finally her beautiful young cub “Koko” made an appearance. “Koko” is not in the least afraid of vehicles and on one occasion walked up to Anthony’s car and spent a good few minutes examining the vehicle from all angles and peering up into the windows.
Mother and daughter for the last few months of 2017, felt at home enough to make use of the lodge facilities and not rush away when discovered. These two big cats could be seen frequently strolling around, frightening the Buffalo grazing in front of the Lodge into absolute fits and sending them crashing off into the river. A few weeks ago, we had an extraordinary and breathtaking incident. Once again “Ema” killed an Impala in the car park and she and “Koko” stayed in the car park for a week feeding off their kill. During the day they slept off their meals in a tree directly opposite the lodge creating wonderful photographic opportunities. Our guests could eat breakfast and lunch watching these beautiful animals, a very rare sight indeed.
Four days later Anthony and I were sitting in the bar having a nightcap before turning in when suddenly we saw a shadow crossing the bridge. Not sure what we had seen we sat frozen on our barstools, when suddenly “Koko," the cub, appeared outside the office of the lodge, easy to see but difficult to photograph in the dim light, and my video shows only the lamp in the lounge! She paused for a few seconds, gazed around in the way cats do, and then was gone back into the night, whilst we were left congratulating ourselves on a remarkable sighting.
From that moment on it was very clear that The Emakoko had been given the ‘seal of approval’ by these two and were seen daily on the lodge grounds. They soon became a big part of the ‘furniture’ of the lodge and we all became quite nonchalant about having them around.
However, they started to become a little too bold and when I was taking the children to school before the end of term, coming down the hill “Koko” popped her head out of a bush about 10 feet away, which is about 50 feet too close for comfort. She and her mother had made another kill and decided to bring it down the hill to a position far too close to the lodge for safety — in my view. I was too surprised to do anything other than move the kids down the hill to the car, but stopped at the office to pass on what felt like a perfectly normal instruction “The girls have killed something and it is hanging above the kitchen — please can you remove the corpse before our morning arrivals come in, thank you.”
That afternoon, once the leopards had departed the staff dragged the body away to a safe distance, well away from the Lodge. The following morning Anthony was horrified to meet Koko in precisely the same place where I had seen her the previous morning. She and her Mother had brought their kill back to the exact same place. This could have become serious, but I am happy to say that when the kill was again removed and put at a distance, both of them got the message and did not return.
Since that time, we continue to see these two frequently and the Baboon bark is always an indication that they are very close. It is wonderful and magical to have two such beautiful creatures feel so at home in our valley and whilst we do not want to discourage them, there is indeed a very fine line that we must not cross! That being said, it was wonderful to hear them calling very close to our house in the early hours of 2018, we very much look forward to following their lives over the next year.