Fly Camping under the Stars
When guests ask me what my favourite experience in guiding is, I never hesitate in my answer. Whilst game drives are always a productive way to see the most animals in the shortest amount of time, I am all about the wild meanderings through the bush on foot and sleeping under the stars. I grew up doing this and my happiest memories as a child were on 'bivouacs' in the South of France where we rode ponies in the day and slept by fires at night on the bare ground with just a sheet between us and the earth. Waking up and washing in a river or stream and then carry on the next day with woodsmoke in my hair and dust in my ears.
There is nothing that seeps into the blood more than these experiences in the bush, that allow us all to absorb a new, more gentle rhythm, to explore the incredible freedom we can offer guests here and to revel in the slightly heightened feeling of adventure that only comes with walking in areas like full of iconic wildlife.
Nothing quite beats a long walk through these plains and luggas, searching for interesting rocks or insects, catching lizards or skirting around giraffe, creeping up to zebra, feeling the long grass brush against your legs and seeing the far off soaring of a Pallid Harrier over the open spaces in this incredible landscape... The perfect end to a day on foot exploring El Karama for me can only be sleeping under the stars! Luckily our guests also seem to agree, so its become something for at least one night for each group that visits us from far of places!
Our lodge is of course very comfortable and full of cosy touches and loving additions like fresh flowers and hand picked Tisanes, soft sofas and plush carpets, carved woodwork and colourful details, but fly camping...now that is something else entirely...
Fly camps are simple bush camps set up for a night in the middle of bush. Everyone does it differently, some in the far Northern reaches of Laikipia sleep on roll mats or on warm rocks, others have built platforms in the trees, we favour Tentsile tree tents and beautiful Bell Tents to really feel like an adventure, but with our cooler nights in some seasons, a little bit of cover from dew...
Once you're in camp, it's all candles, open fires, the sounds of hippo snorting in the dam beyond and the shimmering of stars in endless inky skies. Even the most urban of travellers shed a skin over this night as they allow themselves a total immersion. Always accompanied by our lovely guides, who understand that for some this is a stretch, the experience is warm and nurturing, adventurous but full of care and thought to how far people are from their home.
First we have sundowners by the fire, digesting the day and sharing stories, often the baboons start calling as they go up into the higher branches to sleep and roost, an activity that is often accompanied by a loud cacophony of screeches and howls. With families the kids want to jump straight into the tree tents to test them out, bouncing joyfully and arranging their soft toys for when the night falls.
Then comes the quiet but constant call of the Scops owl in the trees and the singing of little frogs in the lugga nearby. The woodsmoke, the open fire cooking, the ease and kindness of our guides, the tall tales, the marshmallows on a freshly whittled stick and gentle crackle of embers all serve to remind you...that all we really need is a bit of time in these wide open spaces to reconnect with an ancient way that is buried deep inside us, at a cellular level, and that reawakens every time we do this. Each and every time we open ourselves up to nature, be it plunging bare hands into soil to plant food, or walking across great swathes of wilderness in search of serenity, or simply sleeping as we do with the sounds of nature and the smells of the earth near us, something unlocks.
We cook dinner on the open fire, fresh fillet from grass-fed cattle nearby, beautiful vegetables kebabs with tahini sauce and baked potatoes wrapped in foil and filled with fresh feta and chives. You won't starve in this bit of bush that's for sure!
When it comes to bed time, everyone gets into their warm duvet, plush hand spun blankets made by artisans of the Rift and now for the best bit, the view of the stars and sounds of the wild take over. Little solar lamps are dotted around the camp, the guide sleeps next door and a ranger paces around the wider area keeping larger ungulates at bay and making sure that any exciting sightings taking place are shared with a wake up call no matter what time of night!! Lion, leopard sometimes herds of buffalo can be watched at a safe distance. Sometimes the Bushbaby is enough to soothe guests to sleep, but more often than not they say their minds race to a slow and they lie eyes searching, marvelling at the dark skies and twinkling stars, no artificial light just peace.
The mornings bring the smell of woodsmoke and hot coffee, hot chocolate and freshly baked cinnamon buns with fried bananas and macadamia cookies. Everything is home made, fresh off the charcoal, just enough to get you out of your warm bed and into the next part of the day....
It's the best thing you can do in your holiday, this simple little piece of the safari puzzle, take yourself out of your comfort zone, re-wild your spirit by an open fire and remind your family of how little we all really need to be happy. Connection, understanding, awakening and freedom....
Photo Credit: Albie Venter 2019/20