A Wildly Private Escape to Ol Pejeta

I needed a break. I needed to get away from Nairobi, even if for a little while. I got the break – a very good one.

At dawn last Saturday morning we drove off, threaded the streets of the city, took to the Thika Highway, and made north for Nanyuki. We were heading for the Ol Pejeta Conservancy, where we had booked a night at the Safari Cottages that, in the words of their brochure, promised ‘a wildly private escape’

It was a family trip, so our escape wasn’t wildly in the partying sense of the term. But it was certainly private – and at a place that is well in tune with the wild. The cottages are set in a riverine woodland in the less frequented southern part of the conservancy.

We have been to Ol Pejata a number of times over the last twenty or so years. We have taken guests to the popular Serena Sweetwaters Tented Camp, where they would be guaranteed to see plenty of interesting animals: elephants, rhinos and buffalos, for sure – and, with luck, lions, cheetahs or a solitary leopard. Also in this eastern section of Ol Pejeta there is the Endangered Species Boma and the Chimpanzee Sanctuary.

The Boma provides a protected home for the last remaining northern white rhinos in the world, and it also has a project for Grevy’s zebras and Jackson’s hartebeest. The Sanctuary is a refuge for chimpanzees that have been rescued from captivity or the bush meat trade – many of them from the Congo.

I have also had the pleasure of sleeping in Mrs Kashoggi’s bedroom, in the opulent Ol Pejeta House – the ‘billionaire’s nest’ – Adnan Kashoggi, the Saudi tycoon, had built for himself in Kenya’s wild. Not, I should hasten to add, that Mrs Kashoggi was there at the time!

On this trip to the conservancy, my wife and I were staying in a less opulent but, I think, more delightful accommodation. There are four Ol Pejeta Safari Cottages in the southern section of the conservancy, near the Ngobit River and surrounded by some magnificent acacia trees.

Each of the two-bedroomed cottages has an interconnecting dining area and lounge, with a fireplace for blazing logs in the chilly evenings. There is power all day and night, so there is hot as well as cold running water. And the shower room and dressing space would have pleased even Mrs Kashoggi.

Everything in the rooms is well-chosen and interesting. But the glory of the cottages is the wide wooden veranda with a dining table, comfortable sofas, and a view across the lawn and to the trees. Down there, too, is a secluded platform – for sunbathing, al fresco meals, or even a stretch of yoga. In the evenings, too, a fire is lit in a circle on the lawn.

After an English breakfast at Barney’s by the Nanyuki airstrip, we drove on and turned left to Ol Pejeta just before the town. Once through the gate, where we paid the residents’ entrance fee of Ksh.2,200 per person, we had a leisurely drive through the conservancy on our meandering way to the cottages.

After our lunch on the veranda, we had a long chat with Andy and Sonja Webb, who own the cottages. They are from Zimbabwe; they have a very rich experience of lodge management, the safari business, and guiding in the bush. They opened the cottages only last April – and they are very enthusiastic and deservedly proud of what they have created. They have two magnificent Alsatian dogs, who are also in their element around the cottages – but they have to be safely corralled at night.

In the late afternoon we went for a game drive. We saw many elephants, and in one small herd there was a baby that must have been less than 24 hours old – the umbilical cord was still attached. There were many rhinos. In the conservancy there were 144 of them when counted in 2016, and there were 14 births during the year. The only predators we saw were a family of spotted hyenas. But as were eating our dinner on the candle-lit platform, we heard the roaring of lions that must have been about 500 metres away.

If this has whetted your appetite for your own stay, I should tell you the costs. For residents, self-catering is 9,900/- per person per day – and there are staff to cook the food you take. Full board is 14,900/-. The full package, inclusive of game drives, with a vehicle per cottage, an expert guide, and drinks, costs 19,900/-. For more information, go to http://www.thesafaricottages.com.

Sitting on the veranda, we saw and heard many birds; some of them recent migrants from Europe. I can well understand why they fly all the way down to this warm and beautiful place – but I really can’t understand why they fly away again.

Published in Kenya’s Sunday Nation

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