Named after the warburgia ugandensis tree, referred to commonly as the elephant pepper tree, Elephant Pepper Camp offered a genuine bush experience in the heart of the Maasai Mara North Conservancy. The leaves of the elephant pepper tree are spicy hot and a favorite snack of elephants. These pungent leaves also serve as medicinal cures for local Maasai people. Elephant Pepper Camp offered a classic tented bush experience and some of the best wildlife viewing we have seen on safari.
Named in honor of Joy Adamson, a well-known naturalist, artist and author, Joy’s Camp is located in the Shaba National Reserve north of Nairobi. Joy wrote the famed book, Born Free, in which she describes her experiences raising a lion cub named Elsa. She raised a leopard named Penny and introduced her back into the wild. The camp was built near that location. Joy later wrote a book about this experience entitled The Queen of Shaba. The camp features photos and memorabilia from Joy Adamson in the common areas.
We traveled from Nairobi to the Samburu airstrip in a Cessna Caravan. Once we landed at the Samburu airstrip our bush adventure began. A small group of Samburu women gathered in a half-circle on the ground, selling beautiful beaded jewelry made by women in their village. The contrast between the vivid colors of their clothing against the colorless, arid background made these women a feast for the senses. They were quiet, their faces gentle. A young Samburu warrior strolled by, his turquoise wrap floating in the breeze. He wore the traditional tribal clothing of a Samburu warrior; beaded neck pieces, a headdress and other brightly-colored accessories cascaded down his chest and back. These handsome people took our breath away.
Porini Rhino Camp was located within the 90,000 acre (365 square kilometer) Ol Pejeta Conservancy, on a verdant plateau between the foothills of the Aberdares Range and the stately snow-capped peak of Mount Kenya. Although the area was on the equator, the altitude (around 6,500 feet or 2,000 meters) made for a temperate climate with cool nights, and a landscape of wooded grassland reminiscent of alpine pastures. However, there was nothing alpine about the fauna; game viewing was some of the best East Africa had to offer both in density and variety. Within minutes of entering the conservancy, I had sighted a white rhino, followed in short order by a large journey of reticulated giraffes.
A secluded tented camp under the giant umbrella of a thorn acacia tree; elephants wandering across a grassy plain against the majestic backdrop of the snow-capped Mount Kilimanjaro; proud Masai nomads herding their cattle in the distance? My Amboseli Porini safari epitomized the timeless romance of the Kenya! The breathtaking outline of Kilimanjaro filled the horizon as we entered the Selenkay Conservation Area, a 15,000 acre (60 square kilometer) private game reserve where the camp was located, at the northern edge of Amboseli National Park. A cheetah flashed across the track just ahead of us. Further on, a pair of elephant cows and their calves showed us less concern. We waited until they cared to let us go by. Giraffes peered over the treetops. Potbellied warthog piglets scampered behind their mother. By the time we reached the camp, I had already enjoyed a rich impromptu game drive. There, I was warmly welcomed by the camp manager, Tony Musembi and members of the Masai staff, and shown to my tent: a large, comfortably furnished sleeping room and bathroom. I was pleased to notice the environmentally-friendly features of my accommodation: solar electricity, bush shower and the absence of any permanent foundations or fixtures. After enjoying a late al fresco lunch in the shade of an acacia and ample time to settle in, I was escorted to the nearby Masai village for a visit.
Kenya is a land of contrasts; a mosaic of cultures developed through millennia of rich history, scattered throughout a 225,000 square mile area (582,650 square kilometer; roughly the size of Texas), with a population of 38 million representing over a dozen main tribal groups. Many have retained their ancestral traditions from the Swahili sailing their ancient dhows along the coastal waters of the Indian Ocean to the Masai still herding their cattle across the wide open spaces of the southwest of the country. The topography of the land is equally varied and offers some of the most stunning landscapes in Africa. The country sits astride the equator on the eastern coast of Africa. From a 333 mile (536 kilometer) coastline of tropical beaches melting into the Indian Ocean it rises toward the west to the mile-high plateau of Nairobi and central highlands culminating at the snow-capped peak of Mount Kenya, 17,058 feet (5,200 meters) above sea level. Further west, the land slopes down again toward Uganda, Lake Victoria and Tanzania to the south, to become arid red-dust plains and sun-baked savannah teaming with some of the most spectacular wildlife in the world.