The tea is piping hot, just the way I like it. It warms the stomach and heats the body. The waiter moves round the table, jotting down orders. As we dig into breakfast, we discuss the distance we need to cover and how long it will take to get to Laikipia. Someone shares about a past trip. My mind wanders to my maiden trip to the vast county which is flanked by the green grasslands of Mt Kenya on one side and the desert lands of northern Kenya on the other. It was a flying safari to Segera Retreat, located in Central Laikipia. The retreat, a stunning property built from timber is owned by former PUMA CEO Jochen Zeitz.
Laikipia boasts of several such gorgeous, world-class lodges and camps. Have you heard of Arijiju? It is an underground lodge situated at the heart of Laikipia, considered to be Africa’s most beautiful holiday home by the likes of Conde Nast Traveller and the Telegraph. But exquisite properties are not the only thing that Laikipia is known for. A decade ago, with the aim of conserving the rich wildlife that roams its plains, huge chunks of private land in Laikipia were transformed into conservancies. So dotted all over Laikipia are private game reserves that are packed with wildlife and that often just have one or two accommodation lodges in hundreds of acres of land. This takes exclusivity to a whole new level.
Arijiju photo courtesy of Arijiju
Before long, breakfast is over and we drive on past the agricultural fields of Nyeri and Naro Moru on to Nanyuki, the capital of Laikipia. It is a small town founded in 1907 by British settlers, some of whose descendants can be found in the area to date. The British influence persists too because the town is a training ground for the British Army. After another 45 minutes, we arrive at the entrance of OlPejeta Conservancy, our first stop of this two-day safari through Laikipia. It is 1 o’clock and my stomach reminds me rather loudly that the morning’s breakfast has long been forgotten.
David, our driver guide alights from the land-cruiser and walks to the office to pay for park entry fees. I alight too, to stretch after the long drive. I turn around, seeking out the sun, and come face to face with the lady herself, Mt. Kirinyaga. There are no clouds about her to hide her splendour. I lean on the vehicle and stare at Mt. Kenya in appreciation, thoughts of a planned selfie-thon (#roadtrip manenoz) all but forgotten. Unlike other mountains, Mt. Kenya is never shy about her beauty, she often flaunts it, rarely hiding behind the clouds that tend to materialize from the blue. Just as I reach for the camera, David gets back to the land cruiser, I reluctantly follow suit. I know it’s not the last time I’ll lay my eyes on her.
We drive off to Kicheche Laikipia Camp for lunch. It is a small lodge with just six spacious tents and a waterhole that attracts zebras, antelopes and a host of other wildlife, making it perfect for some armchair game viewing. The hosts are wonderful and with immense knowledge of the destination. Between soaking in the information and copious glasses of wine, the afternoon rushes by and we soon have to head out to Sweetwaters Tented Camp, our accommodation for the night.
En-route we get the chance to check out Ol Pejeta House owned by billionaire Adnan Khashoggi. It is said that the late Khashoggi owned homes in all seven continents of the world. In Africa, his home was at Ol Pejeta House in Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Laikipia, Kenya. The sprawling house is nothing short of lavish. The bed in the master bedroom is massive, big enough to sleep a family of eight and leave room to spare. The huge tub has awesome views of the pool and green lawns outside. Today the house is being ran by Serena Hotels and available for bookings.
As we drive past the conservancy information office, we came across signage for the chimpanzee sanctuary. Ol Pejeta hosts the only chimpanzee sanctuary in Kenya. It is home to tens of chimps rescued from war torn areas such as the DR Congo among others. “I’m sorry, the sanctuary is closed”, the guard informs us. We are 20 minutes late. David makes a passionate plea on our behalf (the rest of us chime in with lots of ‘Please, tafadhali’); eventually the guard relents.
He takes us to the enclosure where a chimp family is going about the business of winding down the day. Typically, mama chimp approaches the wired fence to find out who would come to visit so late and much less without notice. She didn’t have time to lay out her best china or make sure the kids are in their best outfits. We assure her this is a brief visit. The guard gives us a brief history of the sanctuary and shares interesting anecdotes of the chimps. As we leave, we thank the guard profusely and promise to be on time on the next visit.
At about 1830hrs, David drives into Sweetwaters Tented Camp. The assistant camp manager meets us with cold glasses of fresh juice which is highly appreciated. He can tell we are exhausted and swiftly assigns us rooms. I let the hot shower wash the day off my body and thereafter take a rest on the tent’s balcony. And just as predicted Mt Kenya shows herself again…
Part II coming soon….