When I know I am heading back to Saruni Samburu I start to feel excitement about two months before I’m even due to arrive there. Back in my early days starting out in the safari industry I pestered my boss to let me visit this magical place not long after it was built. I could just tell I was going to love it. The drive from Buffalo Springs airstrip in those days used to be straight through the park, a leisurely game drive amongst elephant and lion was to be expected but even then, the first time I arrived, I couldn’t wait to get to this mystical lodge based up on a flat hot rock in the remote Kalama Conservancy (bordering Samburu National Reserve) – I remember walking through the arched door into the vast open plan main area and literally having to remember to breathe such was the beauty of the view laid out before me.
Now, having even done a stint helping out with front of house there many years ago, that view still astounds me. The combination of the wild drive up a rock face to reach it, the impossibility of building a lodge here, and the clean inviting lines of the lodge itself make for an unrivalled experience of extreme comfort and extreme wilderness all rolled into one. For me this is heaven on earth, and having been fortunate to travel the length and breadth of East and Southern Africa looking for the most extraordinary properties there are, I can confirm this is certainly one of them. There is no other property in Africa built in such an environment and it cannot help to enchant everyone that goes there.
Watching a Lioness Hunt in Samburu:
In the distance the Samburu sacred mountain of Ololokwe has always winked at me invitingly – it has been on my hit list for years – you climb it in around four or five hours and come down in two. The views from up there are reportedly mind blowing, which is hard to imagine when you’re still trying to take in every inch of the view from the lodge. As soon as I landed at Kalama airstrip I asked excitedly about the possibility of climbing it the next day – Francis our guide looked dubious. The recent storms had made the footing pretty treacherous. Tom the manager and Francis eventually managed to talk me out of it, not least because I suddenly had a vision of myself coming down Ololokwe at one hundred miles an hour on my bottom – at least it gives me a reason to come back.
The walking at Saruni and in Kalama is a highlight so Francis arranged for myself and my brother to do a fast paced walk following some of the game trails. Our ranger Bati and Francis stopped every now and again to decipher our route – we weren’t walking a standard trail but one the two of them were putting together as we went thanks to our insistence on wanting to walk fast, far and into the wilderness. We covered everything from flat rocky outcrops to sandy tracks and it felt invigoratingly wild – to the point where you never wanted it to end. Francis’s knowledge of everything from tracks to plants was extensive and we couldn’t get enough of everything he had to share. There were certainly some amused faces as I puffed my way back up the hill to the lodge for breakfast, and some jokes circling about my desire to do Ololokwe which is at a much higher altitude.
Riccardo Orizio, Saruni’s owner, has a knack for finding the best guides, waiters and staff – all have wonderful charisma and charm, backed up by infectious enthusiasm for the area they have generally been brought up in. Our local Samburu guide Francis and tracker Emmanuel were one of the best teams I have seen or met in any lodge in Africa. Francis’s knowledge covers everything from wildlife, to geology, stars and plants. But best of all they were fun, everything was met with much hilarity and there was not a dull moment. They both had twinkling eyes full of amusement and could spot wildlife when we couldn’t even see it through the binoculars. One afternoon near the river in the reserve we sat and watched a lone pregnant lioness stalk and hunt warthog, Francis always positioned us in the best spot and knew instinctively what was going to happen. Emmanuel’s clear passion for the wildlife and delight in everything we saw was also infectious. The end of the game drive couldn’t have been more moving. Our vehicle was looking for game in an area completely alone as dusk was falling, I caught the flick of a tail before practically jumping out of my seat with excitement as a beautiful female leopard walked out in front of us – there were high fives and beaming smiles all round as we followed her at a great pace through the bush as she stalked a small impala herd that was heading unknowingly into open ground, luckily for them they made it into the open before she caught up and we had to race out of the reserve and back to camp to avoid missing the curfew. We were all very sad to say goodbye to Francis and Emmanuel at the airstrip and I doubt I will meet another team I would rather go on safari with as much as these two special characters.
The lodge still has the same magic it always had, now slightly bigger and with an extra infinity pool it still feels extremely exclusive with exceptional food, and charismatic efficient staff. It remains my favourite place in Africa, and hopefully with Ololokwe calling it won’t be so long until I return.