December 30th, 2020
And so the extraordinary year of 2020 has finally drawn to a close. I have never been so happy to see the end of one year, and so full of hope for the year to come. So much has happened, and so much has not happened.
Somewhere on the other side of our world, a hungry person took a bite out of a Bat dumpling, with unimaginable consequences. In one way or another, every single human on the face of this planet has been faced with how hard life can be, up close and personal. Our ability to earn a living, to be amongst friends and family and to walk freely on this earth has been seriously eroded. And north and south, rich or poor, white or black, powerful or insignificant, countless millions have had to face the reality of that empty seat at the table.
But the year 2020 has changed the way we work, interact and behave to an extent where we may never fully go back to where we were. Only time will tell whether these changes will affect us for the better or the worse.
For the Emakoko, the restrictions on free travel have obviously affected us greatly, and like most of the hospitality industry throughout the world, we have had to cut down on staff and follow all the precautions which ensure that our visitors can stay with us safely. Although we have had few of our international friends, our Kenyan compatriots have been coming to the lodge in normal numbers, which has been a huge support through the year, unfazed by restrictions they have always been amazing!
For us living in Africa, we had expected to suffer casualties from the pandemic much worse than the more developed countries, and have been astonished, so far, at the low number of cases and deaths Kenya has suffered. Many theories exist as to why: inaccurate reporting, a much younger age profile, a higher level of natural resistance to disease, and many others. I think it is true to say that more people are dying from Malaria in Africa, from dysentry in lower income countries and from heart disease in the 1st world than from Covid 19, but yet this will never make the news.
Living in the middle of a large, natural ecosystem our focus has tended to be on the larger mammals that live around us, and obviously, being immune to Covd 19, the only change for the wild-life is the reduction in the number of vehicles in the Park. We have no feedback as to whether this is a good or bad thing from their point of view, but it has given the Authorities time to improve greatly the quality of the roads within the park, for which we are very grateful. Asante sana to the Kenya Wildlife Service!
We live in the heart of nature, surrounded by flora and fauna both great and small. For most visitors the focus has always been on the larger mammals of our unique ecosystem.
However, there are myriads of smaller mammals and insects.
One such species are the “Siafu” or as we know them here 'Safari Ants'.
Growing up in Kenya I can recall many occasions when we have stumbled across these incredible fierce and persistent creatures. Often it has been pure comedy.
Not so long ago, we escaped with a few friends to the beautiful Aberdares to enjoy the forest environment. After a long drive, we decided to stop the cars and get out at a viewpoint to stretch our legs and enjoy a spectacular view.
Without noticing, we had entered a 'motorway' of Safari ants passing over, under and through everything in their way. If you have never seen them, a Siafu train is a brown river, anything from an inch to six inches wide, a solid procession of ants escorted by outriders who tend to be larger and far more aggressive than the main body. These outriders attack anything they come across. So numerous is a Siafu train when on the move that their passage often leaves a trench through a lawn where they have passed. All of my family have at some point in our lives found ourselves disturbing these ants and have had to deal with it in many different ways.
The standard operating procedure given to any ant it seems, is to refrain from biting you until a large number of the team are ‘on board’, and then a secret signal goes out and every individual bites whatever portion of the body they are on. From a human point of view, the only way to deal with them, after leaping about three feet in the air and screaming, is to remove your clothes and pick them off one by one, and they are so tenacious they will often leave their had and pincers imbedded in you.
William, our son, happened to be standing next to another mother in our group, who was suddenly under attack…….
Frozen with horror as clothes rained around him, he tried to look away, but eventually had to get involved as our dear friend screamed, jumped and ripped off her outer clothing and, now down to brassiere and underpants, was begging us all 'get them off'. It was hysterically funny, we were also trying to avoid the ants, so anyone who had been watching from a distance would have thought we were doing one of the more esoteric Scottish reels.
This season we seem to have been under attack in the lodge more than once from these regimental columns of ants. I have always felt that as long as the pathway of ants is not going into a room that has a living creature in it, then they are best left alone as they will move on. Unfortunately, many people fear them so much they do not agree with this “laissez faire” attitude, and rather than ignore these formidable armies, prefer the practice of pouring petrol or emptying cans of doom on them.
One night, a few weeks ago Anthony woke up and switched on the lights telling me to get up “As we were under attack” and the ants were now in the bed! I looked around and thought he was being a little overdramatic, I could only see one or two. Man up, Anton!
I promptly stepped out of bed and into an enormous ant highway going from one end of the room to the other. They were still in regimental formation and were on a mission - one or two of the outriders had broken off to become scouts to investigate my foot and other areas of interest but other than that, the discipline remained and the march, which was only about 3 inches wide and goodness knows how long, was carrying on regardless unaffected by lights and general commotion. The train appeared to be coming in through our bedroom windows, crossing the floor and going out through the bathroom.
I opened the door and went outside where we have an enormous creeper which covers one entire wall of the house. This creeper was alive with the ants and they were hunting whatever was in the tree. One by one victims fell from the creeper to my feet writhing as the ants attacked. In the short time I stood there the leaves shook as though they were being sprinkled with rain, three Geckos and a Skink abandoned ship and leapt over me to the ground. A baby bat was a victim and countless other poor creatures had already perished and were being carried away.
As it was only our room which was affected we decided to open the room up to the outdoors and close it off to the rest of the house. We would block the ants from coming in.
My idea had been a towel lined across the bottom of the door, but according to my resident expert, apparently this was ridiculous and the only remedy was to pour a thick layer of salt along the door entrance.
“Nothing will get through that” pronounced my trusty super Alpha male, my knowledgeable guide of a husband told me as he retired to bed in one of the kids rooms. I was not convinced and decided to test this theory. I grabbed a small handful of ants and dumped them next to the barrier to see what they would do. Without hesitation, they charged through the salt as though it were a sand dune and carried on into the house.
It turns out my husband, as I suspected, really knows nothing about the habits of ants….Amongst other things! So I reverted to my common sense approach and put down my trusty towel to stop the ‘calvary’.
In the morning I was up first and went into our abandoned bedroom, picking up the towel as I walked in - not an ant in sight. Anthony came in behind me and was very pleased with his work - he wandered off muttering to himself about how brilliant he was and how he had told me so…..blah blah blah. I did not at the time have the heart to tell him how his old wives tale trick was a load of rubbish, so decided to let him know in this blog….If he ever reads it!
So there you have it the wildlife in Kenya is very diverse and in some cases is best controlled, not by a qualified guide, but a very practical housewife. (I think that’s what we are still called.)
So the first year of the ‘20’s has not been a happy one. Certainly the Emakoko is coming out the other side, battered but unbowed, and we desperately hope that 2021 will allow us to gather our loyal team back together. But we do believe there will be a plus to the new year with renewed friendship, a more generous attitude towards our fellow man, and a greater faith in the human race.
But oh what a year it has been, and it is a year I will never forget. The repercussions of this pandemic will be felt for many years to come and I can only hope that when we do find a new normal, it is a normal that is not only socially more equal but also a normal where making our planet and all it’s wonderful flora and fauna safer becomes a priority.
Finally on a happier note, for those of you who miss the Emakoko and want to keep in touch. My mother has finally written a book! It is a romantic novel set in Kenya and more particularly around a lodge called Mbinguni (which means ‘heaven’) and which bears more than a striking resemblance to the Emakoko. So to get you in the mood before you come to us or simply to remind you of (I hope) a happy time in Kenya read it…. Its called “”Yesterday today and tomorrow” her name is Jacqueline Hunt, and it is available at Amazon Kindle, Smashwords and Apple books.
Unfortunately and unbelievably I am not the heroine, although she says Anton and I are in it…….Soo while we wait for a brave new world to emerge from this catastrophe, we would like to wish you all a very Happy New Year and hope that you are, and will remain, safe and well - we look forward to welcoming you to “Mbinguni” (sorry Emakoko) soon.
Happy New Year!
PS - All our images are by the AMAZING Rihaz Sidi!!!!!
June 1st, 2020
I must admit that when the prospect of having to educate my children from home became a reality, my immediate reaction was extremely enthusiastic. This, I believed, was my chance to really REALLY teach my kids something.
History, French, Kiswahili, Maths, Science, these were all going to be so easy! In my dream, our kids would suddenly rise to the top of the leader boards, and be so far ahead of the year groups. It would be mere days before The Banda School would be recruiting my services to ensure that ALL students would be passing their 'Key Stage 3' (what is that?) with flying colours.
The morning of the first day of school was nothing short of a nightmare, and the most painful and humiliating reality check I have ever had.
I got the kids up as if it were regular school; the standard operating procedure of feeding them, dressing, teeth-brushing etc. went without a hitch. Books, pencil cases, laptops, whiteboards (make sure there is a superb background so that my children could be the envy of everyone) and then - on your marks - get set……………GO!
It suddenly became apparent that I had spent far too much time smoking with my buddies behind the mandatory bike shed, with my hitched up skirt, gothic makeup and laddered tights, than I had on any of my core subjects.
Frankly, I do not believe that knowing the properties of an Isosceles triangle will help in later life. The lack of such information hasn't affected me in any way. Unfortunately, having convinced my children for all these years that I was the fountain of all knowledge, the perfectly-behaved student and the highly-educated article, by break-time my cover was blown!
It became very apparent to them that I was an Idol with Feet of Clay, not nearly as perfect as they had been led to believe. It now also dawned on me that I had not appreciated my teachers very much at all. This was perhaps why I was now an expert on New World wines and how to change a tyre of a 4-tonne Landcruiser. Of course, this didn't have much relevance in this world of learning - It certainly wasn't going to cut it with the kids.
Discretion being the better part of valour I suddenly realised that I was needed urgently in the lodge kitchens. This, just as I heard Mr Swift - my son's history teacher - tell my son William that he was going to have to 'mute' William because of the 'interesting background language' which he felt was inappropriate for this lesson!
And there it was - Hero to Zero in less than a 45-minutes!
In the security of the kitchen, I considered what had just happened. Not only were we as a family and a business fighting some invisible virus, but now for 5 days a week, I would be scrutinised by not only my children's teachers but their entire class! I had to be better. I had to get out of my pyjamas and actually dress up, just in case I had to 'intervene' with a computer malfunction. God forbid that the Year 7's (or their parents) see me without my make up on, let alone the exceptional teachers who my children hold in such high regard. Tomorrow would be a better day.
Later that night, once the kids were in bed, I went to the infamous 'snake room' which also doubled up as a store, to see if I could dig through my A level archives. I hit the jackpot, and by midnight I was fully versed on the 100 Years War and the different parts of a plant's anatomy. Tomorrow I would be SO ready for the science and history lesson, they won't know what hit them!
Days melted into weeks, and my daily routine was no different from the above, peppered with the regular terrorist assaults by my 15-month-old 'strawberry blond' monster. Her aims and ambitions seem to be unplugging all electric appliances and also shrieking for food at the most inconvenient times. Another intellectual giant in the making.
I was living in a madhouse - surrounded by 'screen junkies' who were ruled by this midget demon who has now appeared in classrooms all over the world (a number of my children's classmates and teachers were stuck in different countries in lockdowns). She is often seen hanging off her siblings by the hair, demanding to be heard at the very least and hopefully fed 'big-dicks' (biscuits)....again. Any illusion that anyone had of our household being an orderly, calm oasis of peaceful industry is now shattered.
The entire Banda school has been in my dining room since April, and I must admit that to start with I did not enjoy it. From 8:30 in the morning until past 12 I had to hold my tongue and act as the perfect combination of mother and businesswoman, a role model for all to behold.
But as May 2020 rolled away, I find that I am now more comfortable within this chaos, listening with humble gratitude to these fantastic teachers dealing with all children in their various classes. They are so calm and so patient, and they have been a shining beacon over what has been, for the lodge and me, a very trying month indeed.
Surprisingly, I have found myself really looking forward to The Banda assemblies, listening to the wise, strong words of our very own 'Churchill' in Ali Francombe (without the hat, pipe and whisky!). In the mornings with my cup of tea, I too sit down at my screen as my children sit at theirs. And I find myself 'joining in '...and suddenly I am a child again - all the worries and anxieties of this difficulty of the world melt away.
Not all of them, however: on another note, I am quite worried about the end of year exams which we have now just been sent an email on the subject.......I don't think I am quite ready for exams yet!
Despite getting into a routine and a pattern of life which is becoming increasingly "normal", I have had one or two moments which I would rather forget:
In our home, mornings have developed into a routine. Baby wakes up and I giver her the feed and put the kettle on. Within minutes, William, Nettie and I, along with Alex, sit back and plough through another episode of 'ZingZillas and the Teletubbies'. (On an aside, I must admit, if someone told me 9 years ago that I would be watching this all over again I would never have believed it.) William, with his Earl Grey – yep! - thank you, COVID! - and me with my 'Chai', scrolling through the latest COVID figures throughout the world.
We have this one hour lull before it all kicks off with the 'ready steady go' of school. Earlier this week, I parked the kids up in front of their screens and went out, clearing up the bomb-site that is normal in every household with children in the morning. Anthony and I had been celebrating his birthday the night before. I decided at that point (my son was in a lesson) to go and tidy up the verandah which had accumulated a few empty beer bottles during the evening.
As I drifted past my son's screen, I leaned over without thinking and checked it to see what lesson this was, and who was in class. A dozen pairs of curious eyes stared back at me, and I suddenly became aware that I was still in my pyjamas and clutching an armful of beer bottles. To my absolute horror, the entire class could see me, still wearing pyjamas and carrying beer bottles at 8:30 in the morning! I shudder when I consider the impression I must have created, so if anyone is reading this who was IN that lesson, please know that I was clearing up from the night before, and not just getting started!
On a serious note, though, it has actually been such a pleasure having all these different teachers in my home over the last few weeks. This phenomenon that we are now all a part of will teach us all so many things. But one thing that I will never forget is the comfort I have felt from having these amazing people in my home, on time every day without fail. To give my children (and me) both vital education and a sense of life continuing as per usual.
Living as we do, in the middle of a wilderness which is Nairobi National Park, I do live in something of a bubble, so this new 'normal 'is not something that I am yet quite accustomed to. So thank you, all you wonderful teachers (and IT Staff Isaac!), for the efforts you have all made to retrain for online teaching, and for making it all seem, in such a short time, a perfectly 'normal' process.
April 26th, 2020
In this time of international lock-down and enforced isolation, I have to remind myself how lucky my family and I are living, as we do, in a National Park only minutes away from Nairobi.
Corona virus has made social distancing an unfortunate condition of life in the world. For us with our individual cottages and open air lodge, social distancing is something that has been a part of our every-day lives since we opened. Indeed, it is something that a safari anywhere in Kenya offers, let alone one so close to Nairobi.
As those who have stayed with us will know the only company we have is the birds and beasts, who more and more view us as a part of their world. Our small size , which when we opened we thought might be a disadvantage, in this current environment is now possibly an advantage. Although our International guests are for the moment unable to get to us, our Kenya resident friends see us as an oasis of calm and relaxation and enjoy getting away from it all for some peace and quiet. That peace and quiet is something that our family have come to take for granted. So while our business, like many others in our industry, is really struggling, we are fortunate to be able to count the blessing of living a natural life in a natural environment with some of the most wonderful people.
The Emakoko is built on the edge of a gorge overlooking the park and we have an untamed wilderness 20 feet from our office. We have our own chickens and a wonderful veggie patch that is feeding us all. During this time, the “mess” area is no longer the quiet centre where our guests can relax, but more a battle-ground for our large population of resident Hyrax. Since the weelky order for roses for the rooms and public areas has been cancelled there are no more little floral snacks, and they are now ‘thinning out’ and turning back into the strong fierce little creatures they are. Gone are the days of lounging on the bar stuffing ones face with delicious rose petals!
At night our Genet cats and Bush babies have taken over completely and the following morning the carnage of what looks like an all night rave has to be cleaned up. Incredible the damage that these little nocturnal visitors can do! It is so quiet now that from time to time we do get the bigger predators crossing the bridge and moving through the mess area at night. Our poor nightwatchman, no longer having to pace the pathways and keep the wildlife away from the rooms, was woken from a peaceful slumber on a sofa to find himself alarming close to a Lion on a midnight stroll through the bar!
Rihaz and Anthony have popped out on the odd game drive to keep in touch with not only the park rangers but also the park residents who appear to be unaware of the world’s isolation. Working on their photographic skills, it is wonderful having Rihaz here - our now onsite professional photographer - who is at the moment teaching Anthony a few tricks of the trade. The Park seems to be heaving with lions and the other day we had the misfortune of coming accross an extremely grumpy female Black Rhino who, having had no cars to chase of late, thought that she would take out all her stored energy on us. The kids shrieking like sirens in my ear with “Mummy Mummy she is going to hit us” and a baby screaming with joy ‘baba bye bye baba bye bye baba bye bye’ it was an extremely stressful minute or two until we left her in our dust.
We have the most amazing community of Masaai around us who although apprehensive to a certain extent about this new pandemic, will not let this get in the way of their daily lives. Following Social distancing guidelines of course, the main activity is moving cattle and goats over the plains, chatting to neighbours (at least 8 cows apart) and now looking after their small vegetable patches. If you are a part of this community you are very well looked after.
Protect the elderly and the vulnerable - yes, we have been doing this for decades.
Feed those that cannot feed themselves - again, this is part of our lives.
Stay at home - why would we ever want to leave? We are indeed in isolation, but it is about 35,000 beautiful acres of isolation!
I go for my runs in the morning through the community and it could not be more normal, village people are going about their business. What has changed though is the complete joy and enthusiasm people appear to have when they greet each other these days. The traditional handshake is now replaced with an elbow knock or a foot tap dotted with hysterical giggles as to how silly this has all become. As I run past, people wave madly as though I have not seen them for years........and I feel safe. I live here happy in the knowledge that this community here is a very special one; where everyone knows your name and we all look out for each other. With a pandemic like this you need a community like this, a group of people who understand the risks, protect those who are vulnerable, ensure that everyone does their bit and that no-one goes hungry. There is no such thing as “me first” in this little world; we are so very lucky to live here.
In harsh reality though, the only effects of Corona on this community and us, is the loss of business and we now find ourselves staring into a financial abyss, as are so many of our sister companies in the tourism industry. I don’t think any of us know when life will get back to normal but what we do know is it will. When it does we hope that we will be able to welcome you to our wildlife hideaway and that once again you can enjoy life as is should be lived: in a natural environment surrounded by the flora and the fauna of this beautiful country.
In the meantime, an extract from my all time favourite poem which is more fitting now then ever.
“And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive him to be. And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.”
Please stay safe everyone and we really really hope to see you again soon.
March 16th, 2020
I started writing this sitting at Atlanta International Airport and waiting, hopefully, for a flight back to the Kenya via the UK as our marketing trip to the USA has been aborted. This tidal wave of horror is gathering momentum but yet it feels so surreal as I move from one continent to another.
Our plan was for a group of Kenyan lodge owner/manager/operators to take our annual marketing trip through the USA. Once we had finished, then our group would part ways and Anthony and our children would join me for a road trip in the States. The inexorable march of the Corona virus across the world ended that plan, as it has affected the lives of so many millions of people across the world.
Our visit started off with a very positive showcasing of the appeal of Kenya - and The Emakoko - as an exciting holiday start and end to any East African Safari. It ended in the short space of a few hours in Atlanta as news spread of the spread of the Corona virus.
What is the right thing to do with this crisis? It has taken me days for this turn of events to sink in and it has led me to speculate if our various leaders really are making the right decisions. On the one hand, people who are elderly and have medical problems are at so much risk, And can it be risked. Whilst to the young and fit if could be no more than a bad cold, and these ‘worker bees‘ are what we need to keep working. The outcome of this, it seems to me, is that we will all, inevitably, at some point come into contact with this disease, and if we do get it will be more than likely to pass it onto someone else. This is all very worrying and stressful in itself. However the worst outcome is not the disease itself, it is the prospect of the global economy crashing and the unimaginable backwash of suffering that will happen to many millions of people.
It was only as I checked out of my hotel in Atlanta (very sadly, as we have had to put a years worth of planning on hold) that I befan to appreciate clearly how big the impact of the virus is going to be. The fact is that the Corona virus itself is only part of the worry. Government action to contain it is far more worrying and the risk to so many peoples lives and livlihoods is enormous. Many people during the coming week will go home anxious about how to feed their families, where will they be able to get medical care if needed, and what will they do with elderly relatives already needing care. For the millions upon millions who have very little anyway, the consequences will be appalling. The line between life and death for the poor in this world is a very fine one indeed.
I have been staying at a hotel in Buckhead, Atlanta for three nights and chatting to their wonderful staff, who went out of their way to make us feel at home - Americans ( and the Canadians - you know who you are team! 😉) are so good at this! Being a Kenyan, I am extremely proud of Kenyans who work in the service industry – they are so genuine in their efforts to make you comfortable and at home, and North Americans are no different. As I checked out I talked to the reception staff and learned that one of the staff members had just been laid off that very day. His kids had just had all their schools closed, his mother was in a nursing home, and his wife was an office manager/receptionist for some corporation - no doubt about to start the process of laying off and unpaid leave. The future of this family alone now hangs in the balance in every possible way, and there is nothing that will soften the blow.
It made me wonder if Boris Johnsons ‘herd plan’ is an option that perhaps we may not be angry about in months to come. The idea that the workers must keep working, industry must continue, public services must be maintained, and we must lock down and quarantine those at risk, may not be a bad idea at all. At this moment in time, I feel that the concept of isolating those at high risk before they get ill, and accepting that the younger and fitter will probably get the virus and get over it without too much hardship might just be very effective, rather than putting all and sundry into quarantine on a pretty random basis. And a quarantine that could potentially go on for a rather long time. I guess the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. I would hate to be having to make those decisions.
My husband and I will face similar challenges when I get back to a Kenya which is only now facing the issue of the spread of the disease. Our own staff, like our American counterparts, will for a period of time live in much reduced circumstances. As a third-world country the people of Kenya, however, are used to enduring and facing hard times and in this way are probably better equipped to deal with difficulties than their wealthier and more sophisticated counterparts in the so-called developed countries.
As I dragged my feet to book the last flight out of the USA and arrived at Atlanta airport, the lack of a seething mass of humanity suddenly hit me. This is a world crisis, it is really happening, and for perhaps the first time in my life time I am made aware of the fragility of human life, and the that entire world as I know it is about to come to change forever. But still …. but still ….a small part of me wished, when I handed over my passport, that someone would say in that soft American voice “Sorry Ma’am, but you cannot board this flight! You are in the US for the next 30 days” I have so enjoyed this beautiful country and had hoped to explore it further on this trip - the idea of a temporary ’Rick Rimes’ lifestyle sounded pretty good!
As I said at the start of my blog, I am in transit, and about to leave the First World, now with its’ Third-World problems, and head back to my own part of this planet. For us in Kenya, this ‘aint our first rodeo’. We as a country have been through so much in the last two decades, and this will no doubt just be a another ‘dropped stitch’ in our country’s tapestry.
So these are my thoughts at the moment, and like most people, I have absolutely no idea what is to come. I do however have a profound belief in the human spirit and hope that this insanity will come to an end soon, and life will return to as normal as it can be. In the meantime, I do very much look forward to being re-united with my family and my fellow Kenyans and enjoying the incredible wildlife and landscape my country has to offer. Sadly, with all the lockdowns, it will be rather empty of people, but wonderfully, it will be teeming with wildlife. Oh how happy Mother Nature must be!
Until then - as we say in Kenya ‘Tu Ko Pamoja’ - We are together.
We really hope that in the not too distant future we will be able to welcome you to The Emakoko and that this period of international calamity will simply be a sad memory for all of us soon. In the meantime, as we are slowly becoming more isolated, please make sure you have a sundowner wherever you are - we certainly will be!!!!
Stay safe all, and please please please (wash your hands of course) but please support local industry as much as you can, as often as you can and for as long as you can.
THIS TOO SHALL PASS 🙂
16th March, 2020
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!