Article by Barbara Kingstone Pictures by M. Maxine George
New Yorkers, Liz E, a magazine executive and Chris C, a Wall Street financier, were holding hands over a table at breakfast when I met them. They were on their honeymoon. Sitting here in a remote part of Tanzania at the luxurious tented Grumeti River Camp, they told me, it had taken them months of researching various global destinations before they decided on this idyllic valley in the western corridor of the Serengeti National Park. And they couldn’t have chosen a more romantic and private spot in the world. I had just caught up with my stomach after the 15 seat Twin Otter had made five short and swift ups and downs at various small airstrips starting in Nairobi Kenya, before the final landing. Under the banana-leafed thatched roof, open- sided reception area, I quickly re-adjusted my mental and physical demeanour.
From a blanket of Nile Cabbage leaves in the Grumeti River, just past the long narrow garden, out popped a huge hippo, exhaling and inhaling before submerging again. Next a couple more hippos appeared, grunting loudly. More discreet were the crocodiles which keep a lower profile at this time of day, hidden away under the cabbage leaves in the river.
The ochre-coloured sand and cement dining-sitting area, my viewing perch for the moment, is whimsically decorated with inlaid glass flooring depicting crocs and other jungle designs. The upper level cleverly divides an eating area from the bar/ snack section. Decorated with unexpected colourful cushioned, modern stainless steel backed chairs. In another mode is the reception/lobby adorned with a totally beaded chair done by hand by the Masai women and high traditional tribal beaded hats plus plush sofas and tables piled high with books and native handicrafts. However, all I want is to get to my tent, one of 10 canvas and beautifully furnished ensuite accommodations, so that I could dash into the shower after the hectic, five-plus hours air trip.
The outdoor shower is one of the highlights of this safari. While under the very hot water, I looked up to see a monkey staring down from the trees above. “Who is more surprised,” I wonder. Among the décor is a Phillip Starck inspired conical sink, quite a departure for a tent in the bush.
During the first night, I heard expected jungle sounds, seemingly right outside the canvas siding. My suspicions were confirmed in the morning by the general manager, Peter Dunning, when he showed me a clump of Nile Cabbage leaves, a souvenir from the hippos who had almost been my room mates. A lion, roaring about 100 metres away, seemed much closer. But sounds are louder in the silence of the secluded valley.
The day centers around game viewing drives; the first at dawn and the last, late afternoon. And this being in the heart of Africa’s greatest wilderness, sighting a dazzle of zebra, a pack of hyena, a journey of giraffe, a crash of rhino, a raft of hippo, a herd of buffalo, troop of baboon, hearing the sounds of a covey of Franklins, makes for an exciting journey.
Looking down from the 18 seat Twin Otter to Klein’s Camp, I could see zebras, impalas and other wildlife roaming the runway and the land below. Klein’s Camp, hidden on the edge of the Kuka Hills with only 10 conical shaped huts, are quite different from the tented camps. The white stucco and dark beamed ceilings have indoor amenities and even a bidet. White netting, let down at night to prevent mosquitoes and other creeping insects from invading your sleep area, give the room an ethereal look. And just in case you happen to be in the mood to stay put, there’s a paint box and paper to amuse yourself.
It is a bit of a walk from the room to the main buildings. There’s a hard and fast rule: before dawn and after dusk, nobody struts around any part of this or the other reserves unless accompanied by one of the armed staff. Since there aren’t any phones, pre-arrangements with the guides are necessary.
The view from the library/bar, with comfortable sofas, games and books, commands attention. While seated there, I am served coffee and cookies on a silver tray, as the breeze sweeps through the startling silent room. Just below is the panoramic vista of the valley and vast plains on this 10,000 hectare private sanctuary. It’s here that the majestic elephant is king and the valley is the passage of migratory herds of zebra and wildebeest.
A much anticipated buffet lunch of salads, fish, chicken and fruit, is served under a thatched gazebo, pool side.
Since Conservation Corporation Africa Foundation which owns these camps, is committed to the environment and takes an active role in hiring Masai from nearby communities, we have the opportunity to take a side trip to the medical centre which they founded. Three Masai women are patiently waiting for the doctor who is employed by Conservation Corporation Africa Foundation or CC Africa. He knows the probable diagnosis even before seeing them. Malaria is a common occurrence here in Africa. However, tourists, who take the prescribed dosages of antimalarial drugs, are rarely affected. From there we visit a school. Knowing this before I left home, I bought a few dozen pens to hand out to the children. A young, quite discouraged teacher tells of his woes trying to encourage parents to keep their children, especially girls, in school. Adorable children happily pose for photos and gleefully grab for pens. Our last visit before going on the evening safari drive is to a Masai village where the chief and his 4 wives and 35 children crowd around and invite us into their enclosure see one of the mud and dung-made huts built by the wives.
Returning to the lodge along the red clay, bumpy road, we see dik-diks, bush babies, hyenas and graceful giraffes. The heavy scent of jasmine fills the chilly but fresh air. We arrive back in time for a sumptuous dinner at about 9PM -corn soup, grilled pineapple chicken and a rich dessert. Everything seemed to be a highlight but one stands out. One evening after the game drive, Mudy, our guide, stopped the Land Rover, pulled out a table, filled it with glasses, cold drinks and nibbles then started to identify the galaxy of stars, so clear in this Tanzania sky.
After another series of plane rides and 1 ½ hour drive from Lake Manyara Airport, we reach our destination, Lake Manyara National Park. Happily, a few minutes away is the stunning Lake Manyara Tree Lodge, the newest addition to CC Africa’s impressive resorts. The setting in a verdant ground-water forest and grassy floodplains, located in the eastern arm of the Rift Valley at an altitude of 945 metres above sea level up to over 1000 metres, is great for wildlife. With the exception of Black Rhinoceros, every other great game animal can usually get to be seen there. If I have to choose one idyllic moment, it’s when a flock, perhaps two hundred, of Lesser Flamingoes, seem to cover the alkaline soda Lake Manyara. From the distance, sitting in our open sided car, it looks as though a large pink cloth had been stretched over the water. Later, there are sightings of baboons, blue monkeys, elephants, gazelles and giraffes.
Waiting for us at the entrance of the lodge is a quartet of “shuka’ clad (red cloth) Masai men, who shout their welcome. Upright antique canoes flank the narrow walkway which leads into an exclusive gated ‘sand box’, ( boma) - the perfect place for our outdoor meals .
The rooms are quite unique since no trees were axed so they are often included in the architecture of the room and verandahs. The private outdoor shower dramatically designed with its large curved gated enclosure sits under an umbrella of trees. What makes this a tribute to design is that the room always looks neat since the shelving and luggage units are hidden behind the bed. The sitting area has a rattan rug and khaki sofa on logs. The tub also set on logs, is entirely screened. A most unique interior design feature is made from banana leaves intertwined into chains which hang from the ceiling, to partially separate the sitting area from the bedroom.
Viewing wildlife is easy but unsettling once darkness sets in, since there is nothing between you and the unknown creatures except some fine metal meshing. After the first night, that nagging fear recedes, although the boisterous noises still kept me alert. And forget about reading in bed since after 10PM there is no electricity until 5AM, but not-to-worry, there is a handy ‘torch’ (flashlight) in every room.
By the time Abdullah brings the wake- up coffee, the hyenas’ laugh and the tweeting of the birds have already nicely done the job. One morning after seeing an assortment of animals, we are driven to the remote Maji Moto Hot Springs (the water is about 60c) only to be surprised by the staff who had arranged an English morning ‘elevenses’.
The only way to describe Ngorongoro Crater Lodge, is ‘over the top’, a stew of styles, where bush meets Baroque. The 2 ½ hour ride from the Lake Manyara airstrip over unpaved, dusty roads suddenly seem worth the difficult ride. A lesson is always to expect the unexpected in Africa. Silk drapes cascading down from thatched ceilings, gilt regal crests on off- white cement walls, elaborate glass chandeliers mixed with damask covered chairs and African art, are as wonderful a surprise as they are a triumph of interior design. The crested and inlaid pink ochre curved, sumptuous private rooms and buildings all sit overlooking the two million year old, 126 square mile Ngorongoro Crater. After seeing the public areas, it’s a no-brainer to know that the rooms will be equally innovative. Carved wooden closet doors, when open, become a room divider. Dozens of red roses in a vase are on a table near the bathtub which is in the centre of the over-sized bathroom. Nothing is left to the imagination -an ultra modern vanity table with purple lucite inlaid with genuine porcupine quills, two sinks separated by a curved mosaic inlaid open shower and little doors which when open, are small windows for viewing the crater, even from the loo. (The men’s urinal in the main building looks more like a sculpture with inlaid mosaic tiles, a stainless steel backing with a constant water falls running down.)
The long drive down to the crater is initially through a dense forest which then becomes sparse desert. A myriad of animals wander around. Two lions slyly lurk in the tall Red Oat grass, eyeing some unsuspecting impalas. We wait quietly in the Land Rover but the predators are too slow and the graceful doe-like animals swiftly dash off. The six hour safari around and in the crater is a showcase of zebras, wildebeest, warthogs, Thomson gazelles -a smorgasbord of animals suitable for the mixed grill of the design of Ngorongoro Crater Lodge.
Awaiting the dusty, grimly and tired guests at the lodge, are a blanket of rose petals, scattered on the floor each unit.- a pathway to the ready hot bubble and oil bath, also topped with colourful petals. A soak in that tub, the stunning ambiance, memories of the day, no TV, no phones, only a whistle to blow if you needed assistance, made the world’s problems disappear, even if only for another few days.
Each of the above lodges supplies daily laundry, gratis, therefore decreasing the amount of clothing and luggage needed. Take convertible synthetic pants which turn into shorts when unzipped, wear synthetic socks which keep feet drier than cotton and remove moisture from the skin.
‘Musts’ include, DEET which shouldn’t be lower than 19%. After-Bite, and other sensible medical needs should be considered along with a hat (some manufacturers are making the with SPF brims), sun screen, insect repellant (most of the mentioned lodges have them in each room) and sun glasses. Since evenings are casual, it isn’t necessary to bring anything other than two pairs of comfortable shoes, tops and a few pairs of long pants and socks.
Malaria pills are essential.
CC Africa Lodges has a good medical insurance plan and can evacuate a sick guest quite quickly.
I flew from Toronto to New York on Air Canada, then transferred to KLM for the flight to Nairobi, where I started the first part of my trip. The lodges usually make arrangements for their guests on the small in-country Dash 7 or Twin Otter airplanes.
Article by Barbara Kingstone
Pictures by M. Maxine George
A view of Mount Kilimanjaro from Kilimanjaro Buffalo Lodge in Kenya's Amboseli,
Masai Chief and children in Masai village, Kenya
Masai women beside corral inside Masai village, Kenya
Cape Buffalo at The Ark, Kenya
Masai escorts at The Mara Sopa Lodge in Kenya
Return to Magic Carpet Journals
Return to Africa
To sign in as a fellow traveler on Magic Carpet Journals contact us just click here to send a message. Last Updated on January 27, 2006 by M. Maxine George editor. © 2004 Magic Carpet Journals. All rights reserved