Camping at the Rocky Mountain

Both mornings we woke to the calls of francolins. I used to have them as the ringtone on my mobile phone – until a friend pointed out that it sounded like someone having fun on an old spring mattress.

At any time of day when at our tent – one of those luxury-style tents, with a proper bed (not a metal spring one) a shower and a flushing loo – we were entertained by bird song: the fading notes of an emerald-spotted wood dove, the repeated warning of a red-chested cuckoo (the rain bird), or the rude command of a white-bellied go-away bird.

But when we did go away, on our short walk to the camp’s dining room, we found the sounds much less entertaining. Dinner on our first evening at the Oldonyo Orok Camp was quite a shock. The piped music was disco-style. It was loud. It was so loud that the only conversation had to be at a shouting level.

All the twenty-or-so diners – mainly family parties – were obviously enjoying themselves. A teenage girl sashayed back from the buffet table, humming to the music as she carried her full plate of food. At a corner table, a couple of young children were having a brief but shrieking quarrel. So much for the website’s promise of ‘a quiet environment for guests looking to unwind from the daily hassle and stress of a busy city life’! But we realised we were a small minority. There was no way that we could complain. We even contemplated leaving after breakfast the next day. We are both glad we didn’t.

The Oldonyo Camp is certainly in the bush that the website promises – the arid and challenging bush of the Masai. It is off the main road from Athi River to Tanzania – 23 kilometres short of the border town of Namanga. We took the less travelled Pipeline Road from Kiserian to Isinya, and then on the main road through Kajiado and Bisil. On Good Friday morning there was little traffic all the way, and it made for a pleasant drive – especially since we knew we had enough diesel in the Defender’s tank to get us there and back.

The camp takes its name from the imposing Oldonyo Orok mountain, off to the west of the road. Oldonyo means ‘mountain’ and Orok means ‘rock’ – so it is Kenya’s Rocky Mountain. It is curve-shaped, and the camp is set at its foot and in the broad sweep of a natural amphitheatre. The camp has 50 acres, with 10 tents well-spaced among the thorn trees. The main building has the dining room on the ground floor and a lounge above, from where you get a good view of Oldonyo Orok – and Kilimanjaro on a clear day. Alongside the dining room, there is the pool.

There is a large compound for six eland – the biggest and heaviest of Kenya’s antelopes – two ostriches and one young giraffe that was rescued when orphaned. Some lesser kudus, with their imposing horns and side-stripes, are free to wander through the camp. Unfortunately, there were crowned cranes and peacocks in a low-slung aviary that were not free to wander. We would advise the camp re-think this.

We walked the paths around the camp; we drove the sandy tracks towards the mountain. We could have been accompanied by a local guide. We could have hired bikes. On a longer stay, we could have driven to Amboseli for a day or two.

Our sour mood had changed after our first breakfast. We saw how much fun the children were having in the pool. And we ourselves enjoyed what the website describes as a ‘digital detox’. We especially enjoyed the food – much of it fresh from the owner’s farm. We even found ourselves occasionally humming to the music in the dining room.           

Published in Kenya’s Sunday Nation

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