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 Lion Camp far exceeded any promise its name may have implied! Lions? I had little doubt there’d be lions. The camp was located in the Olare Orok Conservancy, a 23,000 acre (9,000 hectare) private game reserve on the northwest boundary of the Masai Mara National Reserve, which is reputed for its lions. But even at my most optimistic, I hadn’t expected an entire pride of lions, 17 in all, to materialize in the savannah grass 10 minutes into my first game drive! They were rousing from their afternoon siesta, feigning nonchalance as they began to focus on an approaching herd of zebras. I was able to observe the team effort of their stalking process and the zebra’s ultimate narrow escape. We moved on, only to stop again instants later at the edge of a clearing were a breeding herd of elephants was feeding. I was privileged to observe a newborn elephant calf’s first unsteady steps, and its efforts to figure what to do with its unwieldy nasal appendage in its awkward attempt to suckle. A few feet away, its sturdier week-old cousin was trying to uproot a twig, before loosing interest and taking off, puppy-like, in hot pursuit of a bird. By sundown, without leaving the conservancy, we had also sighted buffalos and a leopard for four of the Big Five! We viewed the “fifth’” at close range early the next morning. Shortly after we crossed the boundary of the Masai Mara National Reserve we happened onto a pair of black rhinos engaged in their courtship ritual. But even this exciting sighting was soon overshadowed by a cheetah and her three young cubs enthusiastically tucking into their impala breakfast.
Porini is Swahili for “in the wilds.” Nowhere did I find a more vivid proof of it than at the Mara Porini Camp. The intimate luxury camp was nestled in a soaring grove of yellow-barked acacia, within the Ol Kinyei Conservancy, a private 8,500 acre (3,500 hectare) swath of the Serengeti-Masai Mara ecosystem set aside by the local Masai land-owners for the exclusive use of Mara Porini guests. This pristine wilderness of open savannah plains and rolling hills, riverine forest, permanent streams and spectacular views across the Masai Mara was home for the broad variety of species for which the park is famous, including resident big cats.
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.