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June 2008 Trip Report - Kenya and new Saruni Camp

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Our twelve day Kenya adventure was fantastic and I would highly recommend Northern Kenya to anyone considering a trip to East Africa. We stayed at Borana Ranch for six days and then moved on to the new Saruni Samburu camp adjacent to Samburu National Park. Borana is a 35,000 acre reserve with prolific game. We chose Borana because it offers Horseback Safari and we were able to ride twice each day. There are actually two groups of horses from which to choose: Somali/Thoroughbred crosses that are smaller in stature and fairly quiet in nature AND Thoroughbred Polo Ponies that are the Ferraris of the equine world. As you can imagine, we opted for the mad gallops on the thoroughbreds! We were delighted with the gameviewing at Borana: Grevy's Zebra, Reticulated Giraffe, Beisa Oryx, Gerenuk, Eland, Waterbuck, Hartebeast, Leopard and a pride of twelve lion!

Although Borana is a working cattle ranch, the scale of the property seems to dwarf the cattle aspect. It feels like a game reserve teeming with animals and you occasionally see a few small herds of cattle being tended by Masai herders and their dogs. The accomodations at Borana are spacious and I looked forward to a roaring fire in the bedroom fireplace each evening. The bathrooms are enormous and each chalet has a large veranda from which to enjoy incredible views of Mt. Kenya. The property is at altitude (6,000 feet) and quite hilly, so this might be a consideration for some people. The payoff is certainly 360 degrees of panoramic splendor, as the terrain is mountainous and overlooks the Lewa Conservancy. After seven trips to Africa, I would rank Borana as one of my most favorite places and do hope to return again.

One of the sublime experiences at Borana is spending one morning riding with Rose Dyer, one of the daughters of the original landowner. Rose is in her mid-70's and rides horses every day! She has habituated the herds of reticulated giraffe to the horses, which enabled us to get within 10 feet of these beautiful creatures. It was somewhat surreal to be able to become part of the giraffe herd, as they quietly browsed on acacia. Rose is an absolute inspiration and has convinced us that we have many more years of horseback safari ahead of us!

The new Saruni Samburu camp is perched about 300 feet above the Kalama Reserve (95,000 acres) on a rock cliff overhang. Once again, the views are both dramatic and breathtaking. Part of the 'road' leading to the camp takes you through a boulder field and you end up parking on the top of a huge cliff. The individual houses could be right out of Architectural Digest and have a Morrocan design motif. The accomodations are stunning and spacious. Because we arrived shortly after the June 1 opening, there were several facilities that were still under construction (dining area, pool, lounge area). It might be best to wait until the camp is complete before booking a stay.

Game viewing in the Kalama reserve was scant, with just a few elephants and giraffe. We would make the 30 minute drive to Samburu National Park for better game viewing, but it mostly consisted of impala, gerenuk, giraffe and some elephant. We were somewhat disappointed in the game viewing, but the ecosystem is harsh and it is easy to understand that it cannot support large herds. I would have to believe that Saruni Samburu offers one of the most stunning and dramatic settings for a safari camp anywhere in the world. This alone is worth the visit.

A final highlight was our visit to the Sheldrick Elephant and Rhino Orphanage. If you plan on visiting Nairobi, I would encourage you to adopt an orphan ellie or rhino online. This will allow you to visit the facility at 5PM for a much more personal experience. It was a thrill to watch the elephant keepers bring the babies in for dinner and then watch them bottle feed the little ellies. We were able to give the ellies a scratch around the ears, as they grabbed our hands with their trunks. It is simply one of the most amazing animal interactions one could possibly hope for and the babies were relaxed, impish, naughty and engaging.

To our delight, we were able to meet Dame Daphne Sheldrick and enjoyed a long conversation with her. She was awaiting the arrival of yet another orphaned ellie whose mother had recently been poached. The youngest ellie at the orphanage is just three weeks old and it is heartwrenching to realize just how traumatized the little dears must have been before arriving at Sheldrick. Dame Daphne and her elephant keepers are selfless heroes and you leave the facility with a deep appreciation for the amazing work they are doing each day. Another highlight of the visit was the opportunity to give a good scratch to Max, a blind Black Rhino baby, who was rescued from the bush by the staff. For those of you who have already visited the Sheldrick facility, you know just how special that hour with the babies can be. It is something I will carry with me for a very long time.

I look forward to returning to Kenya someday soon. We found it to be magical in every way.

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