Helen Kirby shares her favourite experiences in this magical east African nation
Kenya is a hugely popular destination, with bucket list activities and sights including Big Five game viewing and the stunning coast. But there’s even more to this destination than meets the eye, as Helen Kirby discovered on her recent trip.
Hot Air ballooning in the Maasai Mara
No first time trip to Kenya is complete without a hot air balloon safari. After an early morning start from your lodge, you will be driven to the departure site at Governors Balloon Safari, where a cup of tea or coffee awaits and the excitement is palpable. If you’re a nervous flyer, which I am, you needn’t worry as you will feel really secure in the basket, which comes with a cushioned bench to and seat belts to ensure you’re strapped in tight. The pilots are all incredibly experienced, with massive hours of flying time – they work wonders at allaying any fears. After a safety briefing, you’re asked to jump onboard, ready to set off. It’s amazing how quickly you find yourselves drifting over the tree canopy, gliding and floating towards the Mara River in search of game below. After an hour of flying, witnessing the majestic landscape and the animals that call it home, it’s time for an exciting landing on the Mara floor. Your game drive vehicle will be waiting patiently for your arrival, whereupon you will be whisked away for breakfast and a well-earned glass of bubbles.
Shamba lunch at Angama Mara
Food is a serious business at Angama Mara, and a highlight of any stay. From the barbecue set up under the trees, to the boma dinner around the fire, every dining moment is amazing. However, there is one experience that stands proudly above the rest – the Shamba lunch experience.
Located in the main gardens at Angama Mara, the Shamba (Kiswahili for vegetable garden) is a must-see location during your stay. Guests are greeted at the entrance by the Shamba keeper, who will guide you through the passionfruit archway, along winding pathways and onto the gardens, which are filled with local fruits, herbs, chillies, vegetables and so much more.
Armed with your very own basket, you’re welcome to roam the gardens and select your very own fresh produce that the chef will ensure features on your table that afternoon. Take a seat on the deck overlooking the Mara, under the shade of the moth trees, and enjoy the beautiful surroundings and exquisite food. Not to be missed, the Shamba lunch perfectly encapsulates the concept of farm-to-table eating.
Singing wells at Ol Lentile
The Ol Lentille Conservancy in Laikipia (northern Kenya) is home to three sets of “singing wells”. A unique tradition of the Maasai and Samburu, and only found in this particular part of Kenya, these wells are dug deep into lagha (dry riverbeds). Maasai and Samburu warriors create a human chain that descends into the well so that water can be passed up to the surface in buckets, and as they do so, the men sing a hauntingly beautiful chant that echoes through the valley. This song also acts as a signal to their cows, telling them it’s time to come and enjoy a drink. It’s important to note that the wells are only be used during the dry season, which falls from January to September.
During this guided walk, there is a chance you’ll witness local women using the wells to fill water buckets, ready to bring back to their homes some distance away. A hugely eye-opening experience, this serves as a reminder of just how lucky we are to have access to fresh running water.
Ol Lentile school and Maasai village visit
A stay at Ol Lentille is an opportunity to immerse yourself in the life and culture of ancient communities; visit a colourful local market and witness locals interacting, trading and catching up on the latest news. During my stay, I dropped into one of the schools that the lodge supports and enjoyed a hugely most memorable time with the children. Being a parent myself, and knowing how privileged schools are in the UK, it was very humbling experience and one I will never forget. After a game of catch and time spent taking lots of pictures, I was guided to a traditional manyatta (Maasai village) to meet some of the elders and the local women. I was invited inside one of the homesteads for traditional Kenyan tea and a chance to chat to one of the wives and hear how little life has changed over the decades. We know there is normally some stigma surrounding village visits in east Africa; some feel contrived and opportunistic, but the ones that Ol Lentile supports are far from that and this was an example of an authentic experience at its best.