As sundowners go, this one was pretty spectacular. We sat, dawas in hand, 300m above the Mara Triangle, on the edge of the Oloololo Escarpment. A group of Masai performed their traditional Adamu dance against a crimson sky, their chequered shukas lit by a stream of lanterns. Silhouetted behind them was the kopje where Meryl Streep and Robert Redford famously picnicked in the film Out of Africa.
These are the enviable surroundings of the Angama Mara safari lodge. It’s no wonder that Angama’s creators were drawn to this site for their lodge, just as Sydney Pollack was drawn to it for his film. Angama is far from an Out of Africa themed lodge, but there are plenty of subtle references to it. Isak Dinesen – Karen Blixen’s nom-de-plume – is quoted often, and beneath a moth tree by the Pavilion is a plaque where Denys Finch Hatton’s burial scene takes place. In the main guest areas, too, are stylish plantation chairs from the verandah of Karen Blixen’s house in the film.
Angama’s design, otherwise, is clean and contemporary, with a few colonial and traditional Masai influences. The lodge is split into two adjacent camps either side of a central Pavilion with an infinity pool, a safari shop and a fitness room. In each camp are 15 luxury tented suites and a smart guest area.
For these guest areas, architects Silvio Rech and Lesley Carstens took inspiration from Nairobi’s Muthaiga Club. The main building is framed by stacking glass doors, which envelop a series of brick and shingle-clad conical structures. An expansive modern grey deck protrudes out front, wrapping around leleshwa trees and extending out onto the edge of the escarpment. In Swahili, Angama means ‘suspended in mid-air’, and it’s a sensation that the architects have very cleverly created. Standing on the edge of the deck with the plains stretching out beneath you, and vultures thermaling in front of you, you might as well be floating in mid-air.
Behind the Pavilion, within a small red-brick building, is the Photographic Studio. Here I found studio hosts Adam Bannister and Jeffrey Thige. Jeff led a one-hour introductory session for my wife and I, to tune our wildlife photography skills before we headed out on an afternoon gamedrive. Adam is a seasoned safari photographic guide, and is also one of five judges of the Greatest Maasai Mara Photographer of the Year competition. This is an annual contest started by the Angama Foundation to raise funds for a wide range of conservation initiatives.
Cameras in hand, we meandered down the escarpment into the Mara Triangle in an open game-viewing vehicle. Our guide, Geoffrey Maina, took us straight to the banks of the Mara River, where we scoured the croton thickets for lions. There they were, the River Pride, playfully stalking a squeaking troop of banded mongooses.
The short rains had arrived and the reserve had recovered from the barrage of a million lanky, bearded herbivores. Even in the absence of the wildebeest, the Triangle flourished with life. This is an ideal time to visit, when herds of elephants fill the swamps and minibuses don’t line the riverbanks. We drove further south to the central plains and spotted more lions – two brothers scarred from a territorial fight.
One of them had part of his tail missing, and is now famously known as Prince Mkia, or Half Tail.
Back up at the lodge that evening we admired the view from the terrace. Like Isak Dinesen and her beloved Ngong Hills, we were captivated. Her words now resonated:
“Up in this air you breathed easily, drawing in a vital assurance and lightness of heart. In the highlands you woke up in the morning and thought: Here I am, where I ought to be.”
For more information about Angama and special resident rates, visit www.angama.com.
Published in Kenya’s Sunday Nation