What it takes to get a safari on the road!

It’s sometimes hard to imagine what goes on behind the scenes when it comes to preparing for a safari. A little like that glorious period in life when your parents held your passport and your only duty was to turn up and be excited about whatever the plan was… that’s how we want it to be for you when you’re with us in the wilds. But safari can be full of moments which our guests may never know about… one memorable story Dad tells is of half the horses running away two nights before a horseback Safari started. The whole team was dispatched by vehicle and on foot to search the horses out and eventually found them in the nick of time enjoying some wonderful fodder in a secret forest glade! 

The first thing we have to do is activate the bush telegraph to let our Maasai colleagues in the bush know that we are coming. Pre-mobile-phone days, this could often be hugely challenging, and involved dispatching a verbal note with anyone going to the Mara to tell Chief Lemaiyan and Metian that we were inbound. Nowadays, chances are that the nomadic Maasai will have a battered Nokia on them somewhere, which they charge intermittently on cherished mini solar units. If we do get through, we’re always prepared for a lengthy chat; one must ask first about children, wives, family, livestock, and finally weather. It’s also a moment to get the latest intel from our team – what’s been happening with the rains and therefore the wildebeest migration for instance. This kind of info can influence how we decide where to start or end a ride or safari. 

Then it’s back to some of the admin in the office. Maureen and Gordie work together to plan meet and greet at the airport, internal flights, Flying Doctor cover, transfers and all the nuts and bolts that make a safari go smoothly. Felicia and her team get together to discuss menus, and out of that comes the extensive food list (perfected over years of practice!) and shopping that must be done. Our fresh fruit and veg is the most sensitive part of the inventory, so it has to be purchased last minute and is by default seasonal and local. But meat, wine, drinking water, ice and staples are bought earlier and frozen where necessary so that it can last the safari. We are super careful about sourcing all our food, with local, regenerative meat at the top of our list. 

Before we leave for a horse safari, the right horses must be selected for each guest. This is a delicate operation, as it’s a kind of human-equine match-making process. We want both parties to adore each other throughout the safari, so looking at the experience, weight and character of the guest together with the nature of the horse is an exercise that determines which of our four legged friends will walk up the ramp into the lorry. Sometimes there is a last minute swap but we do pride ourselves on this part of the planning process. The horses always roll out of our homestead to much fanfare, their heads nodding from the top of the lorry, palpable excitement as they head off on their adventure. First stop at Dad’s farm, where they get to stretch their legs and run around with their old friends, and the next day on to the Mara – land of big spaces where they are simply tied to a picket line by night. Like our guests, the horses are blissfully unaware of the organisation that must go on in the background – veterinary checks, pre-safari injections, planning feed and hay allowances, and ensuring the first aid kits are up to date. 

Nowadays, we also have all our Covid compliance to ensure, which entails tests for all our staff. Luckily we have a local clinic where this can be done; and certifications issued. Once we reach camp, the local County Government inspector also visits us to ensure we have hand washing stations and all our staff are equipped with masks and hand sanitizer. We take Covid very seriously in camp and also request that our guests are tested, for their sakes as well as our team. On that note we have an extensive first aid box and several members of our team undergo first aid training on an annual basis so they are up to scratch. 

The second wave of bush telegraph goes out to our wonderful team of staff, most of whom live several hundred kilometers away from safari HQ. They report in for work after long bus journeys, smiles showing their excitement for a new safari, and huge hand shakes, back slaps and banter as everyone catches up with each other’s news. Trucks must be packed, and each member of the team knows that if something is forgotten they’ll have to improvise! After years of experience, they have it taped. As the kit is lugged out from our stores, cleaned and checked, and then repacked, Karanja and Sammy are meticulously going through each vehicle to ensure the mechanics are up to scratch. There’s nothing like breaking down in the bush – and Karanja, who has been our mechanic for nearly forty years – is obsessed with his pre-safari checks. Meanwhile our cohort of professional safari guides is fired up for action, and the kids are also being prepared for as long as several months of life under canvas away from home. Tyga and Thego love being on safari, but being young they also like their creature comforts and toys. They spend time in the staff camp helping out and also attend a fun little bush school run by friends of Gordie and Felicia when in the Mara.  

It’s a massive operation to successfully mobilize for a safari, and we love it. The excitement of heading back to the bush ripples through the homestead as everyone prepares their part. Inevitably Dad is on the blower at some point double checking that we haven’t forgotten something; it’s a great comfort having the wider net of support.

Mantras for 2021

I have discovered six mantras that I love and plan to fulfill for the remainder of this year and beyond. We need to do so much more for our environment and our planet. There is a climate crisis and we must reconnect with nature.

1. GET INVOLVED. I will vote at every opportunity, speak out and take time to learn about climate change and support environmental organisations close to my heart. Some that are already close to my heart include Mara Elephant Project, MMWCA, Seas 4 Life Trust, Mara Predator Conservation and Save the Elephants.

2. BE CURIOUS. Read, learn (and unlearn). Read books that challenge my point of view and anything about the art of travel. Sophy Roberts’ IGTV series make me think big and beyond.

3. EAT CONSCIOUSLY. Eat local and seasonal. By choosing carefully what I eat, I can be an activist three times a day. I should be eating less meat, but struggling. Check out Green Spoon if you’re local.

4. SUPPORT SMALL AND LOCAL BUSINESS. As they often have a smaller carbon footprint, they care about and are invested in the well being of the community and its future.

5. BUY SUSTAINABLE AND ETHICAL FASHION. You know me, slightly vain safari guide, but hey, look to see where our clothes are coming from, who was involved, how much they are they paid and what the clothing is made of. We love Hamaji Clothing. 100% brilliant.

6. LOOK AFTER YOUR MENTAL HEALTH. Get out into the great outdoors (post lockdown). Exercise. Ride a horse. It’s always SO good for your mind. So obviously… come on safari with us.

My heart sinks for Africa in the time of Covid-19

My heart sinks for our beloved Africa. Slaughtered in broad daylight by some mystical virus from a far-off land that was created by a perverse culture infatuated with consuming exotic mammals, whom in a savage twist of irony, originate right here in the so called ‘dark continent’. I shed a tear; for what will happen to the wide open spaces with drifting grasslands once filled with wildlife? What will happen to the deep impenetrable forests and the secret paradise of life within? What will happen to the people of Africa, who have endured so much over time.

Felicia, the children and I, have just spent the most incredible six weeks in the Masai Mara (Kenya) with guests from the USA on a horseback safari. Much of my childhood was spent in this wildlife area, and I have not seen it looking quite so magnificent for many years. Huge herds of elephants and buffalo, the mighty wildebeest migration, daily sightings of lion, cheetah, hippo, giraffe and a plethora of plains game. Coupled with above-average rainfall over the last nine months – it was spectacular and yawningly empty.

However romantic this all may sound, tragically, the Covid pandemic may lead to a collapse of this ecosystem. Tourism is the major contributor into conservation efforts and plays a vital role in supporting the local communities on whose land this wildlife exists. Tourism also pays for the anti-poaching operations, so as it continues to dwindle, funds dry up, leading to increased poaching of wildlife and loss of habitat. Most worrying is that ultimately, the Masai landowners may change land-use from the current set up of wildlife conservancy, to large scale crop production, and who could blame them when income opportunities are scarce. However, the devastating reality is that this would mean the end of the Masai Mara.

During our six weeks on safari, we came across two dead female elephant, several zebra carrying wire snares around their necks and a hippo that had perished. All a clear indication of increased poaching activity. In addition, there were huge herds of livestock, often in core wildlife areas, as the community lose faith in tourism, and turn to alternative revenue sources. Many tented camps have remained closed since the pandemic was declared, with employees sent home, canvas left to rot and game-drive vehicles lying idle and in disrepair.

Perhaps we need to examine the gaze with which the world looks upon our continent. Does there exist a pervasive attitude that Africa is incapable of managing a health crisis? Let us not forget that this continent has been through far more health crises than most, such as the ongoing threat of malaria, Ebola, AIDS, and more. But with every crisis comes a learning. As of today, Kenya has less than 50,000 cases of Covid-19 and less than 1,000 mortalities. Our government has done an outstanding job. They reacted quickly, professionally and sensibly. Kenya has a curfew, people wear masks, social distancing is respected, hand sanitising is common practice and public health awareness is thorough. 

The collapse of the safari industry will lead to an immediate and adverse effect on wildlife areas and ecosystems. Conservation in Kenya is almost entirely supported by tourism, therefore with rapidly diminishing funds there are far less rangers on the ground for anti-poaching efforts. Couple this with the increase in unemployment driving communities back to a subsistent existence, and you have an incendiary setting as the bush meat trade once again becomes a necessity, and protected areas are encroached for firewood, cultivation and grazing. 

2020 was to be our best season on record in over 50 years of outfitting safaris, but as a business, we are continuing to pay all our employees a retainer so that they do not go back to the bush to poach wildlife. We also continue to honour our conservation commitments in order to keep boots on the ground. Our efforts to date have been funded by company cash reserves and generous guests contributing to our safari postponement contribution fund. 

Every industry on the planet has been affected by this pandemic, and although it has led to catastrophic consequences for many, we believe that the upside may yet be seen for tourism. During this quiet time, wildlife and ecosystems have flourished – and will continue to do so if we can keep them protected. When guests return, it will undoubtedly be with a greater sense of responsibility, and increased sensitivity to the environment, global communities, sustainable travel, carbon footprint and conscious travel. The future is not what it used to be, and I believe humans will evolve to be better citizens of the world; with a greater respect for community. That sense has forever been known in Africa, and goes by the term ‘ubuntu’; the philosophy of looking after one another, respecting our elders and loving our children. Let this be our central tenet as we move out of crisis and into a brave new world.

From Pili Pili Purusi to Giant Guhondo: adventures in Congo – Rwanda – Uganda

Our visits to the giant lands of the Congo have spanned four decades, and its thrall has never diminished. There’s still a palpable burble of excitement in my stomach when one of our guests asks about a safari into the land that Joseph Conrad named the Heart of Darkness. Not because there’s a certain risk to the whole venture, but because of the myriad opportunities for life-changing experiences that always leave the axis of my world just a little adjusted – perhaps just by a 100th of a degree at a time.

And this is ultimately why I love being in travel; for it is the most transformational of life’s activities.

When Dad first went in 1971, he was on a reconnaissance safari with Geoff Kent of A&K; first visiting the Ituri Forest and the Royal Albert National Park (now Virunga National Park) on back jarring roads that warranted second gear the whole way. Their guide in Virunga was Adrien Deschryver, a pioneer in habituating eastern Lowland Gorillas gorilla beringai graueri). During the ‘70’s, this region of the Congo was still badly scarred by civil war – and in fact when we went in 2011 we found not much had changed; it is a place of constant upheaval and vicious fighting over the precious natural resources.

The Belgian planter turned mercenary, Col Jean “Black Jack” de Schramme had conquered Bukavu in 1967 where he based for 7 weeks before being forced to retreat back to Rwanda with his surviving rebel militia. The signs of battle, when Dad was there, were evident everywhere in this beleaguered town – bullet pocked walls, mortar holes in the pavement and nearby a skeletal DC-3 lay at odd angles against the tarmac of the airfield. Even the hotel in which Dad stayed was seriously damaged, but after a peaceful night Adrien collected them and drove into the forest to meet his Pygmy trackers, Pili Pili Purusi and Mishibera Patrice.

Before long, they made contact with a family of gorillas, headed by a formidable silverback. Dad always said this was the most extraordinary experience; coming face to face with our ancient ancestors.

Not long after this reconnaissance trip, Dad was asked by Geoff Kent to guide a safari for George Staempfli of the same named art gallery in New York, and his wife Florence. They were keen for a gorilla stalk, and were also on the hunt for ivory artifacts. Florence had insisted on bringing her clarinet, which baffled Dad!

On the first day of their trek, there was a sudden parting of bush and not more than 15 feet away was a 6 foot tall silverback; beating his chest in a manner of dominance. They froze. Would Adrien have to use his rifle? He looked as calm as ever, and Casmir, the silverback, returned to his wives. They crept forward again, and found themselves on a gentle rise looking into a forest glade, in which a dozen females were quietly feeding on the forest floor whilst their young frolicked amongst the creepers. Casmir did not let us out of his sight. Once everyone had settled down, Florence carefully assembled her clarinet, and began playing Handle’s “Arrival of The Queen of Sheba”. The acoustics in the forest canopy seemed to accentuate the sounds, the gorillas all stopped feeding and cocked their heads in wonder. The babies were mesmerized, and cautiously they all started to move towards Dad’s group. There was a moment of sheer delight for both parties as they all integrated. At the end of this interaction, Adrien motioned to the party to start backing away, but Casmir crept around to the side to stop them leaving. He wanted them to remain part of his group. They had to remain patient, and calm, until finally Casmir let them slip away.

This was always a story that Dad told with glassy eyes; one of the most memorable days of his safari career.

More recently, in the early 2010’s, Felicia and I went with my sister and a gang of our friends, to explore opportunities after the last rising of M23 and to stay in the newly opened Virunga Park as guests of Emmanuel de Merode – the Belgian prince who has gone a long way off the beaten track to pursue his passion for conservation. The lodge is nestled deep in the forest, with a gorilla sanctuary attached where particularly vulnerable gorillas are looked after by their doting and completely committed carers. We, like Dad on his first trip, were on a reconnaissance, which meant that the first morning saw us head out to look for the chimps. We had a little start when we saw that the vehicle in front was mounted with a machine gun, but soon settled into a real sense of adventure. We walked for miles that day, it was humid and hot, and all our senses were at full volume – both for the chimps and for any more sinister danger. Fortunately the latter was probably more of an over active imagination issue rather than reality, and after a few hours of hard walking we found the chimps. They aren’t easy to see, and move extremely quickly, but we had some good sightings up in the trees. The best part was simply standing still and listening to the noises they make as they call to each other, fight and socialize.

Another day, we trekked out over fields and into the thick nettle-lined forest to look for a group of gorillas. With tired legs from the chimp trek, we counted our lucky stars when the gorillas were sighted just 45 minutes into the walk. Our troop was also guarded by a large male, but there were twin babies who were utterly enchanting to watch. Unlike the 1970s, one is only now allowed to stay in the presence of gorillas for up to an hour, so we soaked up the moment as fully as we could, taking photos, not making too much eye contact and watching these huge relatives of ours undertake the ultimate simple life. They are quiet but awe-inspiring creatures with great big eyes that seem to take you in like you belong. Gently they roll onto their backs and let the babies skitter over their tummies, or sit and pick at tufts of juicy grass as another baby loses its balance and comes crashing down into a clump next to them. Nothing seems to bother them; it’s like the ultimate mindfulness moment.

The next challenge was climbing the still active volcano, Nyiragongo, which stands proud over Goma and Lake Kivu. We travelled there in the back of a huge old Bedford truck, which – if only it could talk – must have seen a myriad human misadventures. The trek was beautiful – up through cool, heavily shadowed forest, and then out onto slightly more tricky terrain with loose rock underfoot. From here, the temperature dropped and we found ourselves on slippery flat rocks as we pulled ourselves up towards the lip of the volcano. This was a health and safety hell, but boy did we feel alive. The wind careened through the air, threatening to push us off our feet. We leaned into the mountain and finally found ourselves near the top, a warm orange glow visible beyond the lip of the crater. We crawled, on our bellies, towards the edge and found ourselves looking down into a 500m drop to a spitting mass of boiling lava. Mesmerizing, and terrifying, we struggled to pull ourselves away. Vertigo and an overwhelming sense of smallness defined the night as we settled into the very makeshift huts that perch on the side of the mountain. My sister, Felicia and I ended up in one shed together, sharing two beds – I’m not quite sure how we did it in the end, but it was always bound to be a restless night at altitude, with the wind relentlessly battering the side of our hut. The morning could not come soon enough, and we were soon hugging mugs of tea and looking back over the edge at the still swirling lava. The descent would have been easier on sleds, but as it was bruised bottoms were the order of the day, and we finally made it down to the Bedford around midday, and on the way home we stopped to try riding a Chukudu (the famous Congolese wooden bikes), and then home to camp and a hot bath.

Now, a decade later, I’m just back from an amazing Gorilla safari again. We visited the Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, visiting the home of Dian Fossey who lived and finally met the end of her days at Karisoke in Rwanda. Dian’s extensive work on gorilla behavior started in the mid 1960’s, thanks to early support from Dr Louis Leakey, who had also helped Jane Goodall set herself up researching Chimpanzees. On arrival in Nairobi, on her first safari, Fossey became friends with William Holden, Joan and Alan Root, and a host of mad cap adventurers of the time. When she returned to Africa, she went first to the Congo to study gorillas, but when it became too dangerous, she relocated to Karisoke, still with her sturdy old Land Rover called Lily. For a more detailed insight into this remarkable woman’s life, it is worth sitting down of an evening to watch Gorillas in the Mist, filmed in the 1988.

Today, and in part thanks to Dian’s initial efforts with her work in Rwanda, there are an amazing 1,000 Mountain Gorillas in DRC, Rwanda and Uganda (from a low of about 450 in the mid 1980’s, around the time Dian was killed). These three countries share the Virunga Massif, which includes the Karisimbe, Visoke, Sabinyo, Gahinga and Muhabura volcanoes.

Our safari included visiting two groups of gorillas – the Agasha and Sabinyo, and amazingly we also saw Guhondo, the oldest (at 49 years) and heaviest Mountain Gorilla ever recorded. His gigantic Silverback stature completely belittled our group, and we felt so humbled seeing him.

I was really heartened to hear that the Rwandan Government have an ambitious plan to increase the Volcanoes National Park by 25% in the next decade; an incredible and visionary plan. But as with all our visits to this part of the world, Dad’s included, I came away feeling like this is a unique and remarkable ecosystem, which we need to contribute to in order for it to be protected. The gorillas, chimpanzees and primates that help us decode our own DNA are key to the great circle of life that inhabits these lush, fertile jungles. And thankfully, the battle between man and beast in these areas is being managed, with both being catered for in the bigger plans laid out by governments and stakeholders in the area.

If you’re thinking about a safari in this region, contact us – we would absolutely love to take you there!

Feature image credit: Dian Fossey Centre, Rwanda

Big Tusker from the North dies

Matt was one of Kenya’s Big Tuskers and a well-known elder. He appears to have died from natural causes after a 52 year life roaming huge distances across Northern Kenya. He was tracked by Save the Elephants, and they reckon he may have travelled further than any other elephant nearly circumventing Mount Kenya from Meru all the way to Laikipia – which is a loop of approximately 245km.

Matt measured 10 foot tall at the shoulder and weighed in at a massive 6 tons +. Thanks to Save the Elephants collaring him in 2002, he was not only studied for his behaviour but also monitored to protect him from poachers. With his large tusks and impressive bulk, Matt survived and in fact thrived during a high risk poaching epidemic a decade ago, which is testament to his intelligence, adaptation and local knowledge. During that decade, an estimated 100,000 elephants were killed across Africa in just three years (2010 – 2012).

Matt was a curious bull, with a knack for shredding his collars which meant that STE researchers were always kept on their toes! His last collar was fitted in March 2016, and this helped position him every hour for the last three years. As a dominant bull, Matt would trek from his resting area near the Matthew’s Range to Samburu to find females for a frolick. He appeared in a number of nature documentary series including “This Wild Life”, “The Secret Lives of Elephants” and “Nature’s Epic Journeys” all by the BBC.

Save the Elephants was founded by Elephant Researched Iain Douglas-Hamilton, who had this to say about Matt:

“Matt’s movements were highly original, and taught us that far separated protected areas could be linked by nighttime dashes through dangerous territory,” said Douglas-Hamilton. “This ability to make large movements under cover of darkness revealed previously unknown corridors, all of which which will give conservationists and government planners the chance to understand and manage the vast ecosystems of northern Kenya. When he was in his prime Matt dominated matings so his genes were spread far and wide in the elephant population through the many calves he sired in northern Kenya. When he grew old he moved less and he was peaceful towards human beings. He became well known by the Samburu people living in the village of Serolipi.”

He will be missed, but we are so chuffed that he was able to live out his 52 years in relative peace and safety.

News from Save The Elephants.
Image credit: Eldemond Williams

Bringing Pangolins back to the Maasai Mara

One of our close friends and a neighbour at home, Claire Brainch, has started Kenya’s first Pangolin Project in the Masai Mara. This highly endangered species is hugely misunderstood by the local community – along with creatures like the chameleon, hyena and owls – and thought to be bringers of bad luck and misfortune.

Claire is working hard to educate the local community whilst at the same time working to closely monitor the individual pangolins to ensure their safety and protection. Unlike other wildlife species, pangolin are no threat to people. As ant and termite eaters, there is no competition between this species and people for food resources either. Nonetheless people that encounter the pangolin may harm or even kill the pangolin, unaware of this creatures perilous future.

Monitoring the pangolin takes time, patience and a huge team effort. This all pays off when strategically placed camera traps produce footage of this elusive and wonderful animal in their own habitat. The success of the project is due to collaboration between communities, tourism partners and conservationists.

Recently a small pup was born and shyly came out of their underground burrows to see daylight. With no opposable thumbs, it’s a fine balancing act to carry the pup out of the steep burrows – in this case, the pup chose a forward position on its Mama’s back to ensure it didn’t fall off!!

Follow The Pangolin Project on Instagram @thepangolinproject



Reflections on Out of Africa – by Tony

In 1984, the motion picture company Universal Pictures with director Sydney Pollak, got the rights with actor Robert Redford, to make the epic film of Karen Blixen’s life.

John Sutton, then chairman of K & D safaris was appointed to do the location selections for the film. In 1984 we were living in Keepers within the walls of The Anthill Castle, on our 135 acre farm just off the Langata Road. Sutton chose to construct the set depicting Nairobi in 1913 right opposite our farm entrance – with a good view of the Ngong Hills to the west.

The early White Settler community travelled mostly on horseback, by horse drawn buggy, or in ox wagons in the early 1900s. However the Uganda Railway (aka The Lunatic Express) ran from Mombasa into the interior reaching Lake Victoria in 1901. This steam locomotive brought Karen Blixen from the port of Mombasa up to the frontier town of  Nairobi in 1913, where she soon became involved with developing a coffee farm on the outskirts in what today is the suburb of Karen.

Having established Safaris Unlimited in 1971 and now well known for our long distance  equestrian safaris across Masailand, Sutton approached me to rent our farm with all my Anglo Somali ponies for the making of the film. I agreed to this proposal which would also include basing a team of oxen and a some mules on the farm. As part of the deal, Universal Pictures were to erect an electric fence around the whole farm to replace our very dilapidated wire fence. This was quickly built in time for filming to start in January 1985.

Robert Redford, who played the lead role of Denys Finch Hatton, made it clear he was not prepared for Tony Church to hire out his 24 odd safari ponies between his commercial safaris in the Mara. Filming could not wait to suit Tony! Redford demanded complete control of the ponies for the duration of the shoot, so he could film as and when it suited him and Sydney Pollak.

As 1984 had been a disastrous drought,  my ponies were tired and very short of grass on the farm. I agreed to postpone riding safaris for 6 months and have the Film Company take over all my ponies, and take responsibility for paying for all horse feed, maintenance, veterinary and the salaries of Tristan Voorspuy and the syces until June 1985. In addition Universal Pictures agreed to pay me £3 per horse per day for 6 months. This turned out to be a real bonanza!

I took the time to concentrate on mobile photo safaris, knowing the ponies were in the good hands of Tristan, who lived on the farm in our cottage “The Roost”, next door to the Castle.

Besides my 24 Somali ponies I also owned 2 bigger horses referred to as principal horses, called Nanyuki and King Kong. These were regarded as bomb-proof horses and suitable for Meryl Streep (acting as Karen Blixen) and King Kong to be ridden by the British actor Michael Kitchen (in the part of Berkeley Cole).

Being an accomplished rider, Robert Redford seldom came to the farm to brush up on his equestrian skills. But Meryl Streep and Michael Kitchen came regularly to ride under Tristan as tutor. He would ride them round the ring and continue into the Ngong Forest which bordered the farm.

One day I arrived back at Keepers after a road safari to find Michael Kitchen lying on the sofa in the drawing room somewhat shaken, nursing a bloody flesh wound on his face whilst Tristan was preparing a cup of tea laced with brandy. They had been out riding in the forest and practicing a controlled canter along one of the roads which divided the Ngong Forest into blocks. On reaching a feeder road coming in at right angles King Kong decided this was a quick way home and did a smart ‘quick step’ sideways, pitching the unsuspecting Kitchen forwards onto his face. He landed on the dirt resulting in a severely grazed face on the right side. He and Tristan walked home rather dishevelled and sheepish.

After dressing the wound (what might be described as a grass burn) we did what we could to cheer him up. He was very nervous he would lose his part in the film. However with clever make up, and by keeping the left side of his face shown to the camera, he survived the whole shoot.

In the mean time I was collecting my cash from the film company week by week and hastening off to our beach plot on the south coast of Kenya to supervise the building of our Lamu style brach house, to be called ‘Samawati’ which translated into Digo tongue means ‘a heavenly place’.

In March of 1985, it was decided to shoot the Victory Parade marking the end of WW1. This was to be held down the Main Street of Nairobi, just across the Langata Road.The set was built with carpenters to depict old Nairobi. The dukas were constructed of timber with wooden board walks under a corrugated iron roof. Beyond the front wall being only a mock up, there was empty space!

When the day arrived to start this sequence,  many extras were hired to form the crowds lining the streets. Besides the officers of the Kings African Rifles, there were the troops of the Indian regiments, the European settlers dressed in Edwardian attire and various African Chiefs with their tribal followers, and none other than a large band of Masai warriors in full battle array. The make up crew and dress artists had a major exercise in preparing all these people in authentic costume. Most of the crowd had to wave little Union Jack flags too. The Masai smeared in red ocher dressed in red shukas carried their glistening spears.

It was to be a night scene with a huge bonfire at one end of Government Road. The towering Wendy lights were in place with Sydney Pollak directing the parade with a loud hailer. The parade was lined up with the troopers coming first, followed by officers in horse drawn buggies  (Tristan in one drawn by our horse Selous), and an old field car carrying Field Martial Jan Smuts,  the  Commander of the British East African forces.

I walked over from the farm to watch this incredible scene. Just after getting into position, and out of sight, there was a streak of lightening followed by a crack of thunder. Pollak had given the signal to start.  As the parade arrived about half way down Government Road the heavens opened. The rain came bucketing down. Everyone ran for cover. The Masai with red ochre streaming down their faces rushed onto the board walks and hurriedly opened the doors to the Dukas only to walk out into the rain again without realising it was a set!!

They must have thought this was a crazy white man’s idea not to have a proper room inside the door. It was hilarious standing in my little covered spot watching this pandemonium! The Masai were running in and out into empty space getting soaked!

That nights shoot was rained off. As happened again the second night. On the third night it did not rain. The costs of setting up this scene three times must have been quite a financial burden on the production company.

The premier of Out of Africa was shown in Nairobi in January 1986 . It was amusing seeing all my ponies in a cavalry charge in one scene shot in the Rift Valley along the road to Magadi. The film received the Oscar for Best Film of the year in February, an Academy winning block buster which gave Kenya wonderful exposure, boosting our tourism industry for many years to come.

In the mean time I finished building Samawati by July 1986. When we christened this beautiful house with a family party made up mostly of teenagers, it was a real humdinger of a party in our partially furnished house.

The house remains in the family to this day.

Supporting MEP with 15% of every safari!

Did you know that 15% of your total payment for any safari goes directly to conservation and communities?

Because without pristine landscapes of natural habitat and the wildlife that comes with it, we wouldn’t have the incredible areas in which we safari, so it’s the foundation of our entire operation.

Recently, the Mara Elephant Project, which we have supported from day one, has worked with the Maasai Mara Wildlife Conservancies Association to collaborate with the Pardamat Conservancy to take down their fences and allow 15 parcels of land, which amounts to 500 acres of land, to be opened up to wildlife. We are excited about this because it will set an example for other communities to think about doing the same.

The amount of fenced-in land in the Mara is on the rise, with some communities hoping to benefit by keeping livestock and crops safe from wildlife. Unfortunately, the fences not only harm the wildlife, like zebra and wildebeest, but they also cut off key corridors for elephants.

One of the landowners in Pardamat Conservancy said:

“From my view as a landowner in Pardamat Conservancy we wanted to have good grass for our animals and that’s why we decided to erect fences, but it’s turning different because these animals are still breaking fences and getting in and many animals are dying in the process. This is worse than poaching because we are blocking animal corridors and we are losing wildebeest and giraffes everyday killed by electric fences. We needed a better solution and today we’re celebrating that.”

Follow the Mara Elephant Project on Instagram – click here.

Treading lightly on the planet

Climate change and global warming are definitely two things we are concerned about. We have experienced flash floods and extended drought with each season, and we are fully conscious of leaving as light a footprint on the planet as we possibly can.

We follow the five R’s when it comes to our safaris: reduce, recycle, refuse, reuse and rot.

There’s very little plastic in camp because we transport everything in boxes, fridges and trunks. We don’t give out plastic bottles of water, but instead we have beautiful glass bottles in our tents which are regularly refilled, and we gift our guests with refillable aluminium bottles that they can use for the duration of their safari.

Organic. Local. Community.


Our meat and vegetables are locally and sustainably sourced, with the vegetables being delivered in little to no plastic at all. As most people are aware, Kenya was the first country to ban plastic bags, which makes us super proud. We work with farmers near our home in the foothills of Mount Kenya to source the most beautiful herbs, salad leaves and other vegetables, and we keep it organic as far as we can. We’re also very conscious of the negative impact that the palm oil industry has had on the wildlife in Indonesia, so we make an effort to avoid palm oil whenever we can.

When on safari, we do have some tin can waste, as well as bottles of wine (of course!). These are brought back to Nairobi for recycling with many of the wine bottles being turned into hand blown glasses by the amazing artisans at Kitengela Glass.

So we have reduced the amount of waste we have by refusing to carry any unnecessary plastic on safari. We recycle what we can and reuse anything that has a secondary use, for instance recycling tyres into shoes. Finally, when it comes to rot we have very little food waste, but what waste there is we bury in the ground or carry with us to put into our compost heap at home. Occasionally we leave a juicy little tidbit out for the one resident camp genet cat, who is always happy to see our arrival!

Supporting Riding for the Disabled

We came across Riding for the Disabled in Kenya through close friends of my father. It’s an amazing local charity where a team of volunteers helps assist disabled children – many of whom have no access to any form of therapy – to ride and play games on horseback in a safe and happy environment. The children have seen a great number of physical benefits, but in addition they also get a real sense of achievement which helps boost their self esteem. Most importantly – they have an hour of real happiness from this form of therapy.

We are big believers – of course! – in the relationship between horse and man. When we ride, we feel somehow at one with the animal, and are able to enjoy focussing on that process rather than thinking about all the things rushing in on our emails and other daily pressures. The children who come to RDA seem to benefit not only from the therapeutic affects, but also from better balance and coordination, and an increase in muscular strength. The ability to listen and follow instructions, to concentrate and communicate and for some, even the ability to sleep at night, comes from spending time with RDA.

Felicia and I are therefore very proud to be supporting two young girls, who attend RDA on a weekly basis. Kezia Wangechi came to Fairmile at the age of four, in 2009. She was non ambulant, could not feed herself and we had to force feed her to get anything in her body. She had very low muscle tone, could not sit in a chair for five minutes, and spent her life on her tummy.

Today Kezia walks, runs around, and has a lot of purpose for her life. Given the fact that her hands could not touch or handle anything, today she  feeds herself, uses the toilet, dresses, brushes her teeth and does more things that we all take for granted. She  can only say “Mama” and “Baba”, but is a happy child who explores her surroundings, plays music from computers and phones, loves to terrorize people with their iPhones and smiles a lot. She really loves her riding each week. 

Kezia takes instructions and follows them to the letter. She is a miracle child in her own way. Her parents say she has a huge appetite, and a great love of ugali (a Kenyan staple made from cornmeal). She also loves playing hide and seek, which her Mum says gives them all great joy.

Joanne arrived at Fairmile with her mother unable to walk, at the age of four. She spent the first week at Fairmile on the floor, but after much encouragement from the team, her mother started to massage her and take her for short walks. Within one week, she was walking whilst holding her mother’s hand. And within one month she was walking alone. She’s very strong willed, and has learnt a lot from her riding with RDA. Aside from the benefits of socialising and spending time with loving animals, she has also developed core strength which in turn has helped her to walk better. Having the opportunity to sit on a horse and hold the reins has also meant she has developed both the physical skills and the strength to hold objects. So now in lessons she is holding crayons and pens, and at mealtimes she holds a spoon and tries to feed herself. 

Another fun development with Joanne has been her singing. She sings all the time and wants everyone to join in dancing with her when she has a tune. This indicates that she has developed a strong sense of self-awareness as well as of social awareness.

More info on Riding for the Disabled is available here.


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