This past summer my husband David and I spent 12 days running around Kenya, from the northern Laikipia region to the Mara’s Naboisho Conservancy, to the coastal islands of Lamu and Manda.
We started out in Laikipia, driving up to Ol Malo after our morning flight in from Nairobi. Laikipia is an expansive region made up of private ranches, communal grazing areas and game reserves. While it’s not as game heavy as the Masai Mara, Laikipia has fewer visitors, gorgeous views across the high altitude grasslands into the foothills of Mt. Kenya, and an incredible array of activities. I love visiting this area because the emphasis really is on personal engagement and getting out of the vehicle.
Photo ©Ol Malo.
Our first night at Ol Malo we drove 45 minutes out to a nearby Samburu village. I’m always a little leery of cultural experiences like these because too often you have camps over-commercializing interactions or paying tribal members, and the whole experience can feel awkward and “put on.” With that in mind, this visit through Ol Malo was one of the absolute best village visits I’ve ever been part of. With a few other travelers, we drove up to the village, a small collection of huts, women cooking dinners while children ran around playing and the men brought the cattle home for the day. We were free to settle in or speak with locals (with the help of our guide translating) as we wished. Meanwhile, the Samburu warriors – young men considered adults but still unmarried – made their way to the village’s main communal area to visit with, you guessed it, the young, unmarried women of the village. What proceeds is an evening of traditional song and dance between the warriors and women, all decked out in their fine jewelry and beads, showing off for each other like Samburu have for decades. Even the songs have not changed; they’re the traditional songs and dances of generations past and totally mesmerizing to witness. The most amazing part, though, was how little attention was paid to us as guests. The warriors went about their ritual, the other tribe members took care of their day-to-day routines. The song and dance wasn’t for guests – it was for the men and women participating. Ol Malo doesn’t pay the community for visits, though they do contribute to their wellbeing in other ways. We were welcomed as friends of their friends which is very different from being a direct source of income. What you see is what you get, and it was obvious these nightly performances were genuine and authentic – and a cultural highlight I cannot recommend highly enough.
Photo ©Ol Malo.
This really set the tone for our entire time at Ol Malo: genuine, warm, and fully engaging. I love this lodge because of its personality and the exceptional care the owners put into every guest experience. Will everything be perfect and polished, and offer every gadget and modern convenience? No. But it doesn’t need to be. Ol Malo offers a luxury far more difficult to come by: the luxury of meaningful connections, of delighting in unexpected adventure, of experiencing Kenya through the passion and love of the Francombe family.
Hiking in Laikipia.
One morning, we were settling in for a bush meal after hiking with our Samburu guide Leuya. As we relaxed under a beautiful tree, the Francombe family, dogs and all, came to join us! To me, you cannot beat that kind of warmth, lively conversation, and genuine hospitality. Ol Malo isn’t just another property for them; it’s their baby and they truly care about every aspect of the guest experience.
Stopping for a private breakfast thanks to Andrew and his Raven R44.
I have to say, though, that the number one highlight of this visit to Laikipia had to be our full day helicopter excursion with our amazing pilot, Andrew Francombe. While some visitors might be uncomfortable with the heights, I was hooked. I’d been in helicopters for transfers before, in Africa and elsewhere, but had never spent a whole day exploring a region this way. With Andrew at the helm, we had total freedom to follow whatever sights or areas piqued our interest. We could get close enough to touch the treetops, and land whenever and wherever we wanted (as long as there was adequate space)! We stopped six or seven different times over the course of the day, which let us experience remote areas you can never reach by car, get out and stretch your legs or hike to the top of a caldera (what views!) and then hop back in the helicopter to keep going. You gain such an incredible appreciation for Kenya’s rugged northern landscape this way. We went across Karisia’s forests, dense with plants I’d never even seen before, following the trees as it drops off thousands of feet into the Great Rift Valley. There we followed marshes, run down sand dunes and went swimming in lakes. We got to fly over Lake Logipi and literally soar over the water with thousands of bright pink flamingoes! It was so beautiful and special to feel a part of the animals’ flight in that way.
Flamingoes over Lake Logipi.
Spending time at Lake Turkana was especially important to me, I had never been before, but my mom, Marcia, had camped there before I was born. The Turkana people are the only ones living out in that remote area. So there are family stories for me, from my mom’s travels, and it’s just unbelievable to see the Turkana people continuing to live in such harsh conditions, and to know that some of our oldest human ancestors came from this place. The whole landscape feels heavy with history and stories from millennia past. It’s awe-inspiring. And while David wasn’t so sure about it, we wound up jumping into Lake Turkana for a swim in the most amazing jade-colored waters! Moments like that, playing in the water in this totally remote area with your loved ones and relaxing into adventure again, that’s what travel is all about for me, and what we always aim to create for EJ’s clients.
Of course, this was only the start of our journey! Stay tuned my adventures in the Mara and along the coast.