The river sweeps seemingly upwards, flowing away from us round a bend to the whap whap calls of Egyptian Geese – Mtorogi in Maa, the language of the Maasai, whose land this is.
Egyptian Geese are rampant south of the Sahel and Egypt – where the ancients domesticated them, considered them sacred and painted them in decorative arts. Their’s is a love story full of intrigue. Having been bred as a delicacy in many parts of Africa then taken away to Europe and America as ornamental birds, they escaped and survived harsh winters forming self sustaining, wild populations all over the world. But here in their conservancy, they are as feral as they have ever been.
The flash of rain and lightening last night is almost forgotten as the wind dies down and the heat and humidity rise from the earth. Predators take shelter in caves and dens as the grazers wander out into the haze of open plains in the valley below. Two seasonal tributaries meet the Olare Mtorogi from either side and sweep through a rocky crease in the hills beyond the plains in the valley, away from us. This, beautiful place, is Mahali Mzuri in Kiswahili. We sit crested in a curve of twelve canvas constructions stretched over modern engineering. Steel, glass and concrete is humbled by wood, leather and sisal. African art prints hang alongside products sourced further afield in Africa. Wilson, the general manager, tells me the designers are South African but the lodge is all made in Kenya.
We explore the Motorogi conservancy, driving along a green line of shrubs that lines a lugga. From one of the old trees that towers above the canopy of scrub, a leopard slinks down to its kill, hidden in the red croton below. And when we drive around the gorge we see two lionesses scale hundreds of metres within minutes even after stopping several times to watch us – tiny specks on the other side of vastness. Light is falling, the Impala and zebra are already up there along with a family of elephants. Glen, the operations manager, who is guiding us, explains that as hot air rises with the coolness of nightfall, the valleys get very cold and animals make their way up to higher ground to keep warm. There are elephants making their way up along with the Baboons.
This is the Mara, meaning land that is dotted – by Acacias and also by lions. We see more lions and still more, dozing about near the roadside, lifting their heads in curiosity for just a minute before resuming their repose.
Whilst we are resting I’ve allowed my ten year old daughter to take a camera out with her and her returning calls of “Mama! Mama!” alarm me but she hasn’t been stung, hasn’t fallen and hasn’t dropped the camera on it’s lens. She continues – “I’ve just taken a picture of a hyrax drinking milk from its mama.” Watching the antics of rock hyrax keep us amused later as we observe our fellow guests talking excitedly about their finds.
Whilst most of the visitors are young couples, the family tents have a lounge in the middle, which can be converted into a bedroom for two children at night. This is Virgin Media of Richard Branson and they do merchandising well – complimentary caps, beaded pens and activity book for children’s quiet time.
Sometime in the afternoon we take a dip in the cold, infinity pool. On the opposite side are the honeymooning Chinese couple we met at the airstrip. Her first vision of wildlife drew the comment “So that’s a real Giraffe”. City dwellers. Later, more young couples arrive, and from their careful questioning, we get the impression that this is their first visit to Africa but they are with a young man who is well prepared and owns a super long lens. There is laughter and excited chatter later as they settle in, sharing stories and relaxing into the rhythms of the land, earlier anxieties forgotten.
The staff are diligent, my child is soon suitably occupied, and my mind at rest. I can look for nasaro – refuge – in Maa. In Nasaro, the name of the spa. I opt for an African facial which exceeds my expectations – the therapist is very well trained and wonderfully attentive, including a neck and foot reflexolgy to the experience, as I wait for my mask to do its work.
The food is several light courses. Knowledgeably prepared, decoratively served and adhering to your dietary requirements, with a constant flow of drinks. Carefully selected wines, beers and spirits are at your command. Along with the baby hyrax and the leopard in the tree, the duck punctures a highlight into my girl’s life and as she asks to be spoiled with another adult sized serving.
We sit on the deck around a bonfire enjoying our after dinner drinks as the Maasai guards top up the wood. Mtorogi, the geese are out there nesting, intensely territorial and bonding in pairs for life. Despite their tumultuous history, possibly due to warming temperatures in Europe, their populations have exploded and Britain has recently declared them to be pests.
That night, as the crickets take over the sounds of hyena whoops, we fall asleep. Several times I am reminded that I am asleep in the wild by the low pitched grunts of lions close by busy with their nocturnal activities. We’ve left the front flaps open for the sunrise. I can hear the askari’s boots crunching the earth outside but I don’t see him. The night is starlit and that little sense of danger, makes this one of the most romantic spots you could visit.
And, children go free until end of 2017.