Rhino Tracking on foot at Sera Conservancy
We all have bucket list adventures that we would want to experience. Top for me would be to cruise the world, savour the adrenaline verve of a dog sledding tour in Iceland, live it up in Vegas, visit India’s icon Taj Mahal and go on a tiger trail while at it. It, however, is not so often that we get the chance to live our dreams. All factors considered, then, we should try to sample the bucket list adventures within our borders that draw visitors from across the globe.
I am talking deep sea diving in Kilifi, Swahili dhow sailing alongside dolphin pods en route the enchanting Wasini Island, sky diving over award-winning Diani beach, experiencing the cradle of mankind at Koobi Fora, petting Sudan-the only remaining male northern white rhino in the world at Lewa, attempting climbing Mt Kenya, witnessing the prodigious wildebeest migration, among many other boasts right at your doorstep. While at it, add to your list the freshest thrill-of-a-lifetime offering.
If you are not in the know, there exists a vibrant community conservancy membership organisation dubbed The Northern Rangelands Trust. Set up in 2004 in northern Kenya by a coalition of local leaders, politicians and conservation interests, 35 member conservancies work across 4.5 million hectares of northern and coastal Kenya. One of the successes of this initiative is the Sera Community Conservancy that encompasses 345,000 hectares. Improved security and better rangeland management has allowed a significant rise in the number of wildlife. To bolster As a result this fact, on May 2015, Sera earned the right to reintroduce the critically endangered black rhino 25 years since the last individual was poached in the area. The 54,000-hectare sanctuary is the only place in East Africa where visitors can track wild rhino on foot.
If the thought spurs your attention, then weave your way to Samburu East District. If you have buckets of time, then I recommend the 5-6 hour long scenic road journey through Nanyuki and Isiolo towns and Archer’s Post hamlet. Flying, however, is the choice mode of transport for most guests landing at the adjacent Kalama Conservancy Headquarters airstrip. This writer arrived at Kalama aboard an Air Kenya (one of two airlines that operate daily flights to Kalama) Cessna Caravan airplane. My journey had begun at the crack of dawn and I was pleased with the four stopovers in Amboseli, Nanyuki, and Lewa Downs before Kalama. Let’s just say a bird’s eye-view paints a different impression of Kenya.
While camping, choice of two campsites at a cost of Sh2, 700 inclusive of conservancy fees, is an option at Sera, this once-in-a-lifetime holiday might call for exquisite lodging. As you may conceive, Samburu is a wild country with a sun that can be unforgiving. Saruni Collection, nevertheless, run luxury bandas on a most quixotic location overlooking the Lugga, a dry river bed, shaded by doum palms. Saruni Rhino, they call it, is an intimate set up consisting of a restaurant christened Swara House and a detached kitchen flanked by two bandas.
To the left is an open ‘family’ banda that can sleep up to four pax with a shared, covered outside bathroom and toilet. The room is open plan in style with no room dividers. At the time of my visit, plans were underway for an extra banda of this character. For the discerning couple seeking intimacy, however, I recommend booking into the en suite banda to the right that sleeps two. A beautiful private sandy terrace has chairs and tables overlooking the Lugga while a nearby tree hoists a dreamy hammock bed.
You will most likely be received by a shuka-clad manager called Samuel Lemerumi, whom everyone prefers to call Sammy, and his lean team who efficiently run camp. With this team, royalty does not seem too far-fetched as they cater to your every whim. I can assure you that I have never felt more pampered yet at home more than I did in the care of David Lemarle (head waiter), Moses Lerumbe (guard), and Lepasiele (room steward). My mouth still waters when I recall how Calphert Lemeletian spoiled me silly with delectable Michelin Star dishes served under a starlit sky whose light is amplified by strategically-hung hurricane lamps.
The solace of camp is matched by the adrenaline filled rhino tracking. This is one experience I will not give away but rather summarise with one guest’s recount thus: “…The tension is palpable as you come across the rhino in such close proximity for the first time; heart beating, pulse racing, curiosity and excitement mounting – it doesn’t get more thrilling than this!”
Of the rhino population that call Sera home, I was privileged to spot two females: 14-year-old Sala alias Nairenyu (pushing away) and five-year-old Julia aka Naponu (the adding one). We were also on the trail of ten-year-old Cedric aka Lodungu (cross savannah migrant) before dusk cut us short. I cannot help but mention a bat-eared fox that scurried out of a hole during one of the sessions giving us a fright; I guess it was probably more frightened of us. The sessions that last anywhere between 2-4 hours, with varying walking distances depending on each track cost at least Sh8, 000. Note that you require air evacuation insurance; consider AMREF Flying Doctors Maisha Tourist cover valid for a month that costs Sh1, 600.
Hats off to Saruni guests Tjardus & Laura who were unexpected HEROES of the day recently. Along with Sera Community Rangers and Sambara, Saruni guide – they rescued a baby ellie who had fallen down a well in Kisima Hamsini (the Fifty Wells), near to Saruni Rhino. Sera Rangers on their daily patrol found the ellie struggling in the well and called 91 Rapid Response Sera ranger for back up! Rangers & Sambara accompanying Tjardus & Laura finishing a rhino tracking session got the radio call to assist – and off they all went! Sera Ranger Jimmy and Tjardus jumped into the well without hesitation and got pushing (approximately 300 kilos!) – with everyone else pulling up the calf from above. It took only five minutes to get him out – an unforgettable five minutes for all involved. Tjardus escaped to tell the tale with a few bruises from the elephant pushing him against the rocks of the well. The male calf, who was around 4-6 months old, was then tethered safely to a nearby tree and monitored overnight by Sera Rangers to see if the mother came back. Alas – no mother come next morning, so now the ellie is being cared for by nearby Reteti Elephant Sanctuary. Well done all for such quick action – talk about an adventure holiday! www.retetielephants.org