Awakening the Sleeping Warrior
Posted On 20th December 2015
I speak of Africa and golden joys, Shakespeare, 2 Henry IV
Aren’t we all attracted to tales of grandeur? Tales of sweeping romance, mysterious secrets, ostentatious parties, new worlds with their strange cultures, blood rushing safaris…all urged on by exaggerated innuendo and rumours. I am particularly drawn to 20th Century Kenya dreaming and recreating it with the same marvel the green and blue early pioneering eyes did.
Naivasha through Elementaita on to Nakuru. I have plied this highway marked by lakes countless times. I have stayed around Elementaita before, but it is easy to assume the full breadth of the beauty unique, veiled in mystery, that lies beyond. Beauty that has been immortalised in the film Out of Africa and as fate would have it, one of the few remaining great Kenyan safari frontiers.
It is thanks to its working model where the finest Boran cattle thrive in harmony with wildlife just like they did in the last Century that Delamere Estate, a 48,000-acre private property, has remained as pristine as when it was first founded in 1906, by one of Kenya’s most colourful pioneers. At its heart, lies the 20,000-acre Soysambu, which plays a major role in the Elementaita-Nakuru Eco System. Soysambu was turned into a Conservancy to be protected for future generations and to preserve a wildlife corridor from Nakuru to Naivasha and opened to the public in 2008.
Various accommodation has sprouted around soda-lake Elementatia, but I reckon that there isn’t a more fulfilling way of experiencing a phenomenon than by being caught stack right in the middle of the action as opposed to looking in from the side-lines.
“Right over that hill,” driver Njoroge pointed out as we snuck past the barrier that marks the Delamere estate. Dusk was fast approaching and the shadows of acacia and game covered the endless plains as we galumphed off the beaten track towards our destination. Half an hour later, a feeling I still cannot shake. The feeling of arriving home after a long while away. From the drive way, welcoming yellow light beckoning from a natural stone structure finished with wood and thick thatch. This shelters the reception, lounge and dining room, below which a stone terrace with a baronial fireplace, a safari bar and extensive landscaped gardens extend. Lanterns hung from the high roof shine down on hand-made cedar furniture and wall hangings. Again, that warm feeling of being home. Soothing music and a crackling fire sets the mood before I tease my palate with a cream of Florentine soup followed by grilled tornedos of beef fillet accompanied by William potatoes and finished with what I think is a heavenly Lemon tart dessert.
An unfenced premise means that a car ride is necessary for the track snaking through the acacia to the landscaped terraces. Only at night though. Here, ten wide-spaced, kidney-shaped cottages each with an outshot deck look out across an addictive view of Africa as she used to be. Each has been named after the fabulous birds that flirt around the individual gardens and I would be staying at the White Barbet. Amply spacious, but before I could take it all in, a luxurious queen-sized bed seduced me and not even distant hilarious hyena laughs broke my sleep warmed by hot water bottles.
It took dawn for me to fully appreciate the set. Just like I had imagined it, untamed Africa shone in through the blue shades on the equally charming bathroom the following morning. Perched on a volcanic hill, The Sleeping Warrior Lodge overlooks a crater which viewed from the distance, its time-eroded crater, suggests the profile of a massive Maasai warrior. That and the magnificent panoramic views of Lake Elementaita and the Soysambu plains. From my stay, I gathered that the homely feel was a result of the passion the lodges’ owners put out. As a matter of fact, to ensure that the standards do not drop, the owners have a family home a stone throw away from the swimming pool. At breakfast one waiting staff who started out as a labourer during the building stage tells of how the horizon pool looking out into the plains from a cliff seemed impossible to the incredulous hands yet from an indecipherable scratch, a masterpiece was created.
“When a hornbill calls out to your left as you head out for marriage negotiation then good tidings await. If the same happens to your right, tough luck.” Maa wisdom recounted by guide Lawrence made the game drive palatable as did the wildlife this eco-system hosts. We were tracking two young lions, a male and a female, that moved into Soysambu Conservancy from Nakuru Park. This was the first time in decades that lions prowled on the Conservancy, a good indicator that the ongoing conservation efforts and habitat rehabilitation were bearing fruit. Dusk caught us still on their trail, but not a damp moment as flamingo, spotted hyena, innumerable dik-dik and the endangered Rothschild's giraffe made for good sightings. As I relished a sundowner on the Out Of Africa plains, Lawrence explained that about 20 leopards call Soysambu home. Even though I did not glimpse on one, Lawrence continued, that one is very likely to spot these shy and elusive big cats along with springhares and aardvarks more easily at night. All it takes is a powerful spotlight and the African bush in all of its nocturnal mystery bought to life.
Oh! All tastes and budgets are catered for. Apart from the lodge, The Sleeping Warrior destination offers a camping option nestled in leleshwa groves overlooking a watering hole where buffalo and zebra frolic all day. While the lodge has a bird’s eye view of the crater, the camp sells the worm’s eye view. So close is the crater that the groves where I am told an unlucky buffalo tumbled to his death are very distinct. Not to be outshone, the camp offers a choice of four en-suite tents, a stone-built guesthouse or a part-tented hill-top retreat with roll-out star bed. Standing out is the Eagle’s Nest constructed from natural lava stone and fitted with a classic canvas zip-down front. It features a double bedroom, shower and WC and private panoramic terrace. Set on top of a rocky crag and reached by its own private pathway, the ‘nest’ offers a garden bathtub and the ability to roll out the bed so that guests may sleep beneath the stars. Secluded, entirely private and utterly romantic it makes the ideal honeymoon cottage or get-away-from-it-all retreat for two. At the main house, a lounge with panoramic view of a dining terrace and intimate bar decorated to a safari feel wait. In building, both the lodge and the camp seem careful to use only sustainably harvested wood, re-use cedar fence posts that once delineated the colonial ranch, use traditional building methods and locally sourced volcanic stone, harvest only rain water and use only solar power wherever possible.
We are incredibly fortunate. Few nations can boast the array of natural beauty and clement climate that Kenya hosts. Beauty that our ancestors amicably shared an address. Beauty that strange curious eyes presently pay to live. Beauty that most of us (the children of this very soil) today take for granted and treat with reckless abandon. Still, our fortunes remain because nature fights back dying hard. That and the efforts of a few visionaries who attempt to conserve what they can for the next generation. If you want to relive the glorious days reminiscent of an era gone: straight out of a Kuki Gallman novel (of the I dreamed of Africa fame) when hordes of buffalo and rhino pursued by hungry yellow-eyed carnivores crashed through bush to the point of being termed pests, The Sleeping Warrior beckons.