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Having grown up, lived, and worked in Kenya, you’d think the excitement and intrigue this beautiful country inspires in its visitors might have lost its hold on me, but once a fam trip begins those feelings always come back.
27th September 2017
Somak’s relationship with Kenya Airways has ensured the group are sat comfortably in the airline’s lounge, anticipation on the faces of what is a fairly young cohort from several East Africa tour operators. Hosted by Saruni, the group probably don’t realise they have a particularly good week ahead of them as the plane takes off from Heathrow.
Air Kenya’s stellar service facilitated our Kenyan adventure, and we had pilot Kiprotich Biwott all to ourselves.
28th September 2017
Eight-and-a-half hours later we touched down at Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, the Kenyan dawn following soon after. Printing and filling out a VISA form early from the high commission website ensured the usual efficiency and politeness at the border. $50 in cash, or more sensibly at current exchange rates £30 cash, is the entry fee.
Warm air and familiar smells were Africa’s greeting. After a seamless transfer to Wilson airport and a flight to Kalama that revealed Mt. Kenya and the surrounding savannah in all its glory, we arrived at Kalama to be taken to the idyllic Saruni Samburu in time for an afternoon game drive. It’s a cliché, but no less true for it – there’s simply nothing like an African safari.
Samburu’s stunning panorama is a warm welcome after a long journey, and in stark contrast to the approaching British winter.
Jamen Benedict Lekoomet is one of Saruni Samburu’s trackers. Approaching 30 years old, he is about to come of age in Samburu culture – the point in his life where he must choose a wife. Charismatic and confident, Jamen was strutting his feathers and backing his chances to win over the best available match.
Jamen and Alois Lenasiyo, tracker and driver-guide respectively, were excellent hosts and ambassadors for the Samburu way of life.
As you weave across the wild, rugged landscape spotting antelope, elephants, zebra, oryx, giraffes, as well as less celebrated species such as the astonishingly elegant giraffe-necked gazelle – the gerenuk – or the cheeky red-billed hornbill, you’re drawn irresistibly closer to the vastly complex ecosystem you’re now a part of, and the wider natural world.
Originally from South Africa, Lodge Manager Johan Kloppers’ thorough professionalism was accompanied by a creative streak as he took us on a surreal UV scorpion safari.
The wealth of species and the intangible, immeasurable value they represent is so obvious when standing face to face with a bull elephant on his own terms. The damage of Samburu’s recent drought or the horrors of the ivory trade now represent a personal cost, just as the magic of this encounter is an emotional fortune.
29th September 2017
The lodge itself is one of Kenya’s most beautiful, set on top of a hill in the Kalama Conservancy with breathtaking views in every direction, yet determined not to compromise on luxury. Sitting with friends on a deckchair, drink in hand and watching a troop of baboons play around the watering hole below to the backdrop of the African sunset, it’s hard not to believe in the adventures Somak sells.
Saruni Samburu boasts the Kalama savannah’s ‘most romantic suite’: two chairs nestled under protruding rock looking out on the kind of panoramic splendour some people go their whole lives without seeing.
I settled for the similarly visually impressive outdoor shower, which though less storied was perhaps more novel.
At the end of a long day’s safari, drinks in the central lodge area overlooking the African sunset are a must.
Later on we were treated to a full bush dinner, complete with impeccable service and the best of Kenyan safari cuisine. The experience isn’t complete without a visit to the local village, where the knowledge, heritage, compassion and charm of the Samburu people are evident from the smallest children to the most respected elders. The whirlwind of colours, traditional dancing, and Samburu hospitality is like nothing you’ll find outside of this country; it’s an insight into a complex and proud culture utterly different from the West, yet entirely welcoming.
The sheer positivity and enthusiastic optimism of the Samburu children blew me away. By British criteria so unprivileged, paradoxically they’re so free and happy they were the ones impressing and inspiring us.
30th September 2017
Air Kenya was our carrier for the journey south to the world-renowned Masai Mara. The airstrip is a gentle 45 minute drive from Saruni Mara through a lush landscape wholly different to the dry sands of Samburu.
Our driver and guide in the Masai Mara, Senior, was excellent, which is so crucial to a truly great safari. The epitome of the Masai spirit.
We arrived through the wide Saruni Mara main lodge, which opens out onto the lush green rolling hills of the Mara North Conservancy. The fusion of old-fashioned decadence and Kenyan style, as always, instantly felt like home. What was particularly impressive was how closely linked the lodge is with the local community, giving back to the community in projects and opportunities. We met William – a Masai driver-guide turned Saruni manager – walking proof of the success of this model.
William (centre) welcomed us to Saruni Mara with a delicious lunch and drinks, helped by James Soit (left), the head waiter at Saruni Wild, and Benard Kiser.
1st October 2017
The Daily Nation recently reported that the Masai Mara was voted Africa’s best national park, outgunning the Serengeti, Botswana’s Central Kalahari Game Reserve, and Kruger National Park, among others. It wasn’t hard to see why as we cruised past a plethora of varied wildlife, including ostriches, hippos, vultures, wildebeest, buffalo, a pride of lions complete with enchanting cubs, zebra, elephants, giraffes, and even a hyena stealing a kill from a cheetah. Life is lived day to day in the bush, minute by minute; witnessing this huge game of predator and prey is a visceral wake-up call from nature, a show that provides the perfect antidote to the grey routine of the commuter.
There are very few parks that can rival the Masai Mara for the abundance and range of its wildlife. From newborn lion cubs to an impressive cheetah kill, in just two days in this sanctuary we tracked down some of Africa’s most powerful sights and experiences.
2-6 October 2017
All good things must come to an end, and Air Kenya was once again our taxi service from Mara North back to Wilson airport. The younger members of the group have been exposed to one of Kenya’s and Africa’s most rewarding experiences, and I could see they had all caught the safari bug. The rest of the fam trip continued with a stay at Diani Beach’s Alfajiri Villas to unwind, but for myself it was straight into the fast-paced bustle of Somak’s Nairobi Office.
Smiles like that mean one thing – happy clients just back from our Cheetah Safari to enjoy a meal and refreshments in the Somak Lounge.
The week’s target was to kick-start the process of bringing the London and Nairobi offices closer together, to put everyone on the same page working toward the same goal as a team. Genuine change and improvement requires commitment and drive from within, no matter the skill set or investment in the workforce.
The building blocks of Somak and the reason so many clients keep coming back year on year – our driver-guides set the bar for an African safari. From the left: Samuel Mureithi, Clide Misiko, Martin Weru, myself, Phillip Musyoki, Richard Okubo.
Fortunately I had nothing to worry about, and left Nairobi encouraged, proud, and touched by the passion and desire to learn that radiates from the team. Their enthusiasm and willingness to take ownership of their work will lay the foundations for Somak’s future in the long term.
Somak’s unsung heroes are the mechanics, tasked with keeping our vehicles on the road and undoing any damage Kenya’s unforgiving roads and dusty conditions cause. The comfortable, efficient, and spotless machines clients see are a testament to the team’s dedication. From the left: Gabriel Nyambare, Oscar Beuttah Mutahi, Richard Obare, Joseph Inyangala, Charles Mutuku, Stephen Juma, George Otieno, Jenny Kaka (Customer Service Manager), Okoth Ongak, Kennedy Nyajowi, Sylvester Oduor.
On my final night I took the office staff out to dinner at Pampa Churrascaria, a pleasant Argentinian restaurant, to let their hair down a little and celebrate the week’s work. The photo will bear witness to the night’s success, but I think my biggest take-away is that the spirit of the Somak family is still going so strong.
More of our terrific driver-guides. From the left: Joseph Wangombe, Francis Mafa, James Gitonga (Somak rep and Spanish liaison), Ahmed Mohamed, Samuel Mureithi
From the incredible range of charming, funny, and knowledgeable driver-guides our guests are so blown away by, to the immensely dedicated office staff that have been this company’s lifeblood for nearly 50 years, there’s a belief and pride in the work we do. Somak’s future is bright.
Somak Nairobi’s Japanese-speaking team facilitate many of our Far East bookings and take care of the arriving clients. From the left: Catherine Kamunde, Rose Kimathi, and Keiko Yumoto.
A devoted transport team coordinate Somak’s vehicle fleet to ensure all safaris run smoothly. Left to right: Michael Kilonzo, Shahid Ayoob, Peter Karanja, and Joseph Inyangala.
The work was hard and the hours were long, but by the time I landed at Heathrow on Friday afternoon I still had a smile on my face and a renewed energy that reminded me exactly why I keep going back to this beautiful country. They say some people are so poor all they have is money. Whenever that starts to ring a little truer, I know my next African adventure beckons.
The iconic planes of Kenya Airways are a gold standard for comfort when flying to the African continent.
I travel back to Kenya at the end of November (i.e. quite soon) for another dose of sheer magic!!