August 7th, 2017
As a young girl living in Kenya I remember vividly staying at various lodges with my parents, and how awesomely effortless the management appeared to my innocent eyes. They were chic, they were elegant, and their perfect staff whirled around them, everything falling into place, whilst they sat at the bar drinking Pink Gins, chain-smoking Embassy blues and chatting with their guests. I wanted to be one of these people, and my plan was to get a degree in Hospitality and then, fully qualified in my own mind, launch myself into the industry fully equipped to handle the simple daily procedures of what made these amazing boutique jewels come to life. Sadly, It turned out that a degree in hospitality, or even tourism management was not nearly enough of what was needed to keep a remote self-sufficient paradise going.
The reality was harsh indeed, and I learned quickly that changing a tyre, fixing a leaking loo, stitching together a tent, delivering a baby or rescuing and nurturing orphaned (and often very dangerous) wild animals was a normal part of the manager’s job, as was creating an artistic and gastronomic marvel out of a green pepper, tomato and a cabbage when supplies failed to arrive.
Managing a remote camp is often all about improvisation - if any of you were fans of “MacGyver” you will fully appreciate the art of ‘making a plan’ as he so often did when having to get himself out of trouble armed with nothing more than a tooth brush & a pineapple! You learn very quickly that if things can go wrong they will, so brace yourself, because if it has already gone wrong it is about to get a whole lot worse. Dashing around a Kopje trying to keep lion cubs out of a private house, equipped with a lighter and wearing the latest fashion ‘ballerina’ shoes in tick infested grass was one of the many things I have had to do in order to keep our ship on a steady course. Think of a crazy story and I can guarantee you that there will be a camp manager out there who has done it, been chased by it or almost drowned in it. However, in nineteen years of bush life, the one thing I have learned is that I have NOT seen it all.
In every silly season, there is always a library of ridiculous stories that have happened, and unfortunately for us, this ridiculous story happened only a few weeks ago. I won’t go into the details, but the bottom line is that it all happened BY ITSELF, no one touched the car, it just switched itself on, slipped into reverse in the dead of night and proceeded to drive backwards down the hill and roll into the river. Yes, all by itself. Thankfully we have incredible friends Rihaz Sidi & Ian Mcrae - both of whom came to our rescue and despite an over-heating engine & a broken propshaft, the two of them managed to put ‘KAT 392U’ back on its feet and into a workshop by 4pm the next day....it was in #Amboseli only days later!!!
Other horror stories which happen behind the scenes catch you unawares. At the end of last month a delightful child unfortunately left his ‘teddy’ at the lodge and we had to somehow re-unite them somewhere in the far reaches of Kenya. I say this was a horror story purely because as a mother, you simply want your children to be happy and if they are happy then so are you. Losing a comforter is catastrophic, especially when you are thousands of miles from home. Thank you #Safarilink!
Finally it goes without saying that Kenya is about to embark on it’s 6th multi party election since independence. Ofcourse the news of the world is having a field day printing stories on how it could all go wrong, if it all goes well we shall hear nothing more. One cannot help but feel that there are those out there quietly willing Kenya to sink down a black hole of violence so that they can appear to be the one with ‘insider knowledge’. Sadly I do not have any insider knowledge, but I know Kenya and what makes it stand head and shoulders above everyone else is the incredible people that live here. We wish everyone a very peaceful election and may the best man win........And advice to the loser, from a generally hated, feared and most un-pleasant little man - but yet wise words indeed “Anyone can deal with victory, only the mighty can bear defeat” ...1942 AH
July 18th, 2017
July 15th, 2017
“There is something about safari life that makes you forget all your sorrows, and feel as if you had drunk half a bottle of champagne - bubbling over with heartfelt gratitude for being alive.” Karen Blixen
Those enlightened souls who have already been ‘on safari’ find themselves part of an exclusive club, a camaraderie unlike anything else in the world. We all know the feeling at the start of a safari - that extraordinary wave of excitement and anticipation. The smell of the bush, the red earth and the hot, dry wind, the sense of absolute freedom, and above all the feeling of being removed from petty human struggle and close to the mighty heartbeat of that primeval continent, Africa. It’s beauty is a tonic for any battered soul, and its savagery can break your heart, but above all, you cannot ever forget that you have been on safari and in paradise.
At this time of the year, when ‘The Migration’ of literally millions of animals is about to start in the Serengetti eco-system, all of us here at The Emakoko, as well as the rest of Kenya gear up for the influx of visitors, all anxious to see this amazing spectacle and to join the club of those who go on safari in Kenya. Camps throughout the country are re-opening, new staff are coming in, cars are leaving workshops with brand new paint jobs and for us there is enormous excitement as we all take our places in the “summer orchestra” of a safari performance.
“The Migration” of course is the burning subject of conversation. Where is it? Has it started? Is it early, will it be late? We sit at the bar of the Emakoko with friends in the business sipping my favourite Laphroig whilst the sound of lions roaring and the sudden bark of the odd baboon drift down the valley. The safari community is a small one and we all know each other and have done for most of our lives. We have quarreled and made up, changed jobs, changed husbands or wives, had our children and buried our friends. The environment and the preservation of the wonderful natural areas of Kenya is always a subject for empassioned discussion. The stories are endless and it is a magical time to be in Kenya, the beginning of the season, under the matchless skies of Kenya with their endless carapace of stars.
The Emakoko is of course the platform where safari starts and ends - in my view anyway - and thankfully the wildlife always performs as it should. Our beloved Genets – sleek, beautifully patterned members of the Ermine family have developed from a single, cautious individual into an army of five who believe the Lodge is run for their convenience and who grow bolder by the day. Sitting at the bar I often find myself in mortal combat with one female who has developed a penchant for Steve chef’s margherita pizza - much to the delight of our visitors. She will often leap onto the bar and try to snatch a slice and I find myself, armed with only a fork, trying my best to get her to give it back - needless to say this is not much of a deterrent and she simply curls away from my gentle stabs.
So welcome back, if you are old friends, and a very special welcome to all the newcomers to whom we wish a wonderful safari experience and hope this will be beginning of a love affair with Kenya.
June 26th, 2017
It is no secret that my husband is a complete snake nut, having had a life-long passion for these fascinating and much misunderstood creatures, and is indeed a leading authority on the subject. It is a rather better-kept secret that the resident staff in most camps in Kenya see more snakes than they are ever prepared to admit to, considering the large proportion of visitors who harbour serious phobias on the subject.
Before I met Anthony, I, like most people, was a great believer in the Legend of the Black Mamba; this fabled snake was alleged to hunt down unsuspecting victims on sight, attacking people without warning and charging across roads towards cars with no other object than to munch away at anything they could get their fangs into. Having spent the last 20 years with Anthony living in various camps in Kenya, my opinion has changed and whilst I have a extremely healthy respect for all snakes - especially our mamba friends - I have come to realise that although to most people seeing any sort of snake may represent an immediate threat, they are governed by the same basic instinct of survival as almost all living creates - fight or flight. With both options presented to them, snakes will almost always opt for the latter. As an aside, I have to report that is a source of great regret to Anthony that we do not live in Mamba territory!
In the final phase of constructing the lodge, we had a small team of chimney ‘cladders’ who had come in from Nairobi to put the finishing touches stonework in the lodge. Having driven through Nairobi national park and seen not only their first ever lion, but also a Rhino - these city slickers truly felt that they had gone totally ‘bush’ and when Anthony met them at the bridge they were quite apprehensive about their safety.
Anthony took them around all the rooms to show them where they would be working and had to dash out for a brief moment to capture a rather large reptile which had been spotted half way up the cliff. To most people, especially those who have little to no interest in nature, the idea of there being a snake in the vicinity would justify a mass evacuation from the premises. Our cladders were half way back across the bridge before Anthony caught up with them - six feet of Black-Necked spitting cobra clasped firmly in hand – and panting with the exertion of chasing down our small crew.
When I found them later, Anthony had persuaded them back into a room and was proceeding to explain – still clutching a vigourously-objecting snake - what needed to be done. All three men stood shoulder to shoulder to total attention, eyes wide, and appeared to be riveted by every word. I pointed out later to Anthony (who was rather pleased with himself that the crew had not only totally understood his instructions but were also now working at a speed that he had not expected) that the full attention from the crew was less to do with the quality of his instructions, and much more to do with him using the snake to illustrate his points.
Back to present day: I ‘ve just had another birthday and my challenge to Anthony - knowing full well that he would NEVER do this - was to get me my very own ‘Snake Grab- Stick’. Why I asked for this you may wonder. My thoughts were that he would never get this for me and I could use the fact that I had received no birthday present as leverage for far greater things. Unfortunately I had apparently made a dream come true (the two of us catching snakes side-by-side in perfect harmony)and the bloody thing arrived in the post a week later - much to my horror, and now not only did I have no leverage, but I was expected to use it!
Barely two weeks later, when Ann our Head of Rooms reported that she had seen a snake and it looked like a Cobra a very LARGE one (information of this sort when working in Kenya must be taken with a pinch of salt). You can imagine how quickly I leaped off my chair and ran the 200 meters to the site in order to capture it with my new grab-stick.
Unfortunately I took too long and Anthony got there before me. Actually …..10 minutes before me......thankfully! However, Anthony was delighted with my enthusiasm and promptly released the little cobra for me to catch - Ann, our head of rooms was as apprehensive as I was, standing right behind me and constantly breathing down my neck with the most unhelpful comments like ‘if this bites you Mama you will be very sick!!’ and ‘watch out, it can spit, Mama’. Eventually I did manage to capture and release this HUGE 25cm long baby cobra. I think it got so fed up with my being totally incapable that it eventually crawled onto the grab stick and sat there waiting for me to pick it up. We finally released it down river, in a lovely spot where there are no human visitors, and especially, no guests!
I think I have a whole new respect from the staff, or I may have lost it all! Either way, I am now the new ‘Mafundi ya Nyoka’ (snake expert) in town - a title that I am happy to accept as long as I don’t have to prove it again!
By the way - for those of you who have not seen this, check out our video that we filmed a few months ago showing what Naiorbi National Park has to offer!
June 7th, 2017
Good morning friends, old and new - Fantastic response to my first blog, thank you all!
We've been away with the children for the half-term weekend here in Kenya, taking part in the Rhino Charge which is a car challenge over unimaginably difficult terrain in the remotest parts of Kenya to raise money for fencing around some of Kenya's most beautiful and fragile ecosystems, and assist the local communities wherever the Charge is run. Every year we enter a family team (car 49) and the car is put together by my brother in law, also the driver. Unfortunately we didn't do too well as we broke a prop shaft fairly early on, got it welded back together and then promptly launched ourselves over a ravine at the gauntlet...........needless to say we did not make it and spent the next hour winching about 40 meters backwards through ‘wait-abit bushes’ - oh what fun!!!! This was however different from last year, when we rolled and completely burned out the car entirely - again not finishing the event. I know it sounds nuts - but it was a great weekend anyway and I'm the only girl in an all-boys team which is something of an honour in itself.
We've also had our annual "Owners Summit" at Lewa Downs hosted by Sophie and Calum Mcfarlane, part of the legendary Craig family and owners of Lewa House, perched on a hill overlooking the plains of Lewa. Two weeks previously Bush and Beyond released an incredible video showcasing all the various destinations in Kenya which are handled in their portfolio, with us owners as the cast, (that's me drinking wine!) and with amazing shots of game and landscapes which will blow you away.
It's always a fantastic party when the owners get together, arriving as we do by car, plane and even helicopter, comparing experiences, criticising each other's performances in the video, discussing how to keep a veggie patch when half of Kenya's game regard such an effort as an invitation to dinner, guests we would love to see again and those we would not ...............and always, game sightings, poaching and environment, regular hot topics at these meetings.
Back at the Emakoko, our regular visitors whom we could do without are the Hyrax, who love to bite the head off the roses in my flower arrangements. This is absolutely infuriating when you have done the flowers for Reception, lounge, bar and dining room and half an hour later the predominate feature is bare stalks! However, we have worked out that they prefer the scented roses so this will mean sniffing through 15 dozen roses every Monday to pick out those with no smell. Oh well, a lodge owner-manager's job is never done.
Coming back to earth, on the topic of the Owners Summit, we lodge owners are about to release over the next year lots of 'sneak peaks' into our homes, and we really hope that you will enjoy seeing how we live.
So that's the news from the Emakoko. For the next fortnight I will be recuperating from scratches, bumps and bruises acquired as a "runner" for Car 49 at the Rhino Charge!
May 18th, 2017
My grandmother always emphasised the value of matching underwear on the grounds that you “Never Know” what emergency might arise which would reveal any deficiencies. I have since this day, a better appreciation of why men spend a fortune on designer underwear, and have learnt that perhaps I should dig a little deeper when it comes to purchasing my husband’s undergarments.
We were very fortunate to have been selected by the Kenya Tourist Board to host a group of brilliant agents from London; what an honor this was, and it was "all hands on deck" to ensure that everything was seamless.
Having checked the group in, Anthony and I found ourselves as usual at the end of the day around the bar with Patrick knocking out ‘Dawas’ quicker than we and our guests could drink them. It had been a stunning sunset as the rain clouds were beginning to gather, and conversation turned towards the fate of Nairobi National Park - does it really have enough wildlife to sustain it?
Meanwhile just below us in the backround, a group of about 15 Buffalo had come to eat the grass around the pool and chomp down on my last remaining pot plant - leaving the pool surrounded by pots with nothing in them but a display of half-munched stalks. It was not long before all hell broke loose and an unfortunate baby buffalo found himself swimming for his life. Clearly not aquadynamically built his frantic splashes were accompanied by panicked sounds as his mother had no option but to look on, and by positioning herself at the deep end the wretched baby was trying frantically to reach her, which took him away from the steps at the shallow end.
Back to the underwear! It was at this point that both Anthony and I dashed down to the pool, tearing off items of clothing as we went. There was a moment when we both realised that running through a herd of buffalo may not be the best option so my job was to then ‘shoo’ (Karen Blixen Style) - them off while Anthony would make a dash through them and get into the pool. It was an excellent idea and within seconds, and much to my horror, Anthony had stripped down to his pink polka dot Marks and Spencers boxer shorts, and had flung himself into the water. My embarrassment and horror at his choice of underwear was huge, conscious as I was of the fact that our group of VIP agents were looking on with much interest. Mummy buffalo was not letting this pink polka dotted predator anywhere near her baby and in her efforts to keep her mouth on baby’s head she very nearly fell in herself. Thankfully Anthony had the strength to move the buffalo and try to get him out away from his mother.
The story ended with the baby buffalo being thrown out of the pool and onto the grass to his mothers delight - she gave one last agressive snort to Anthony and then rushed into the darkness with baby in tow. All in a days work! Anthony and I slopped back to the bar where we were given a round of applause and more drinks - what an evening and a night to remember for our London guests. I imagine the buffalo will think twice now about venturing too close to the pool!
May 18th, 2017
I never really appreciated just how wild and ridiculous our stories sound to the outside world until one evening after dinner, in a stunning house overlooking Paignton Bay, a dear friend said "you really do have to write a blog about this". Apparently the rest of the world live pretty mundane lives and don’t find themselves coming face to face with a hippo outside their front door after a 'sundowner' that turned into a very late night.
My name is Emma Childs, and I live on the edge of Nairobi National Park, where (along with my husband Anthony) I run The Emakoko. We have built a house at the top of the cliff overlooking the lodge with our two ‘wild & woolly’ children William and Netty and have a menagerie of creatures, some of which are welcome 24/7 and others - the odd Lion - are not welcome at all.
Running a lodge has often been described as rather ‘Swan like’ - to our guests we appear to glide effortlessly along the surface but underneath feet are paddling away frantically. Our lives are no different, and throwing in a 45 minute each-way school run through the game park into the mix does not help at all. My blog is really to give you a glimpse of what goes on under the surface and introduce you to the characters, both 4 legged and 2, who without which, our lives would be incredibly dull.