Some time back my son, Jan, wrote about his time at the El Karama Ranch in Laikipia. We have just been there again, this time with my daughter’s family on holiday from the UK. There is much more to say about the place than Jan could tell in 830 words – so it’s my turn to take up the story.
But, first, let me apologise for a bad mistake I made in my Going Places two weeks ago. I wrote that the Waterbuck Hotel in Nakuru was built on the site of the old Stag’s Head. It wasn’t; the Merica Hotel in Kenyatta Avenue is on that site – as so many wrote in to correct me. I must learn to cross-check my information.
… Now back to writing more about the ranch. In her book, On A Kenya Ranch, Lavinia Grant says that El Karama means in Swahili ‘something of honour, an answer to a prayer, a treasured possession’. I have cross-checked – it does.
Whether El Karama Ranch was an answer to a prayer, I don’t know. But it is certainly a treasured possession of the Grant family. And I think the family should be honoured for what they have made of it – a working cattle ranch, an excellent example of wildlife conservation, a gallery of amazing art, and a place for a relaxing but also a stimulating holiday.
We spent two nights there; my wife and I in the comforts of a banda, with the bed warmed by hot water bottles – and the younger ones in the chill of tents. However, they did have the pleasure – probably also a chilling pleasure – of hearing the nearby roar of a lion and the coughing of a leopard.
All of us on our game drives around the ranch saw plenty of wildlife, with the highlight for most of our group being 11 lion cubs left on their own in the evening, while the old male was sleeping some way off. We presumed that the two lionesses were busy hunting for something to feed to their young.
For me, the highlight was the sight of an African Finfoot scooting fast upstream and over the rocks as my wife and I sat for our first al-fresco lunch by the Ewaso Nyiro River. Andrew, our guide for the two days, told us that a month or so previously a birder had stayed a week looking for that same bird and never saw it.
Lavinia is the daughter-in-law of Hugh Grant, the District Commissioner of Narok in the late 1940s, who was speared to death by a young Masai moran in the Loita Hills. It was a tragic incident of cross-cultural miscommunication. The story is well told by Rupert Watson in his book, Culture Clash: The Death of a District Commissioner.
Lavinia’s paintings, a celebration of El Karama’s landscapes and wildlife, are hanging in many rooms of the lodge. There are also examples of her son’s very special bronzes. We had the pleasure of talking with Murray Grant, grandson of Hugh Grant, in the airy house he has built himself, and in the studio where he works on his animal sculptures. Based on detailed photographs, drawings and measurements, he crafts in plasticine, and then his life-size and realistically-textured models are shipped to a foundry in the UK for 3D printing and for turning into bronze or, for smaller pieces, silver.
At the lodge we sometimes ate by the eco-friendly swimming pool, sometimes down by the river, and sometimes in the lounge and bar, where occasionally a young male leopard visits at night and sleeps on the cosy settees. You can see his scuff marks on a sheepskin that he tried to eat.
El Karama is very children-friendly. It has a ‘bush-school’ where my two grand-daughters were engaged in baking the bread we ate with our lunch. On a game drive with their father and Andrew, they made a plaster cast of a leopard’s paw mark. It will be a treasured memento.
The ranch is a one hour’s drive from Nanyuki, along the road to Rumuruti. When you squeeze a few children into the bandas, the capacity is only about 24. So the place has an intimacy – and a quietness. The lodge is not fenced, so animals sometimes come to you. And on the game drives there are species of animals and birds to satisfy the most avid of spotters.
It is a friendly place. The managers, Richard and Della, can’t do enough for you; the same is true for Lovi, the assistant manager, who has worked there in various capacities for fifteen years.
I reckon El Karama is the best value for money of any place we have been to in recent years. For the resident rates and the variety of packages, have a look at the website, http://www.elkaramalodge.com.
Published in Kenya’s Sunday Nation