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Tembea Kenya: The Samburu experience - Wild, Rugged, Romantic

By Njambi Mungai | April 4th 2016

By Njambi Mungai (@njambie)

The moment our light aircraft touches the runway at Oryx airstrip, claps rent the cabin. It was a mildly terrifying landing with the Samburu winds almost having their way with our plane.

We thank the awesome pilot and first office of SafariLink for making our flight bearable despite the turbulence.

The moment we step onto the ground, we come face to face with the Samburu heat. Ladies and gentlemen, Samburu is hot! Perhaps just topping off the rugged, dusty landscape set all around us.

A group of Samburu morans relax at the airstrip’s facilities. They are to ensure that the airstrip is clear of giraffes or other animals that might present a problem for landing aircraft. As if turbulence and hairy landings are not bad enough

The good folks at Spero Africa, a travel destination management company, had arranged for transport throughout our stay.

Bags loaded, we set off. We were in the Samburu National Reserve. A place famous for, among other things, Elsa the lioness and Kamunyak, the lioness who adopted oryx calves.

A view of the Samburu National Reserve from the Archer's post gate    Photo: Wilberforce Okwiri

The reserve is located north of the great Ewaso Ng’iro river banks. The river, a lifeline of the arid landscape, serves wildlife, domestic animals and humans alike. It gets its name from the colour of its waters. Brown water, is what Ewaso Nyiro means in the local language.

The reserve is located roughly 350kms away from Nairobi and spans an impressive 165 square kilometers in size.

It boasts a variety of game despite its hot and arid setting. The masai lion, cheetah, leopard, elephant, buffalos and hippos.

An African elephant with her calf at Samburu National Reserve Photo: Wilberforce Okwiri

There is also the Samburu special which includes the Recticulated giraffe, Grevy's zebra, Beisa Oryx, Somali ostrich and the Gerenuk.

Other easily visible animals include the olive baboon, waterbuck, dik-dik, impalas and warthogs.

It also happens to be a birdwatchers paradise with over 350 species of birds.

One of the 300 plus birds found at the reserve    Photo: Wilberforce Okwiri

The reserve which is said to rival Maasai Mara in terms of game is however facing an uncertain future. With the proposed megadam to be built upstream, the flow of water will be cut out denying sustenance to millions of nomads and semi nomads as well as the wildlife

The locals and conservationists have been up in arms against the project that is supposed to provide energy to the Isiolo desert city…pretty much a Las Vegas in our desert.

We were not only able to sight the Samburu Special but also an abundance of African Elephants, leopards and lions.

It was time to set off to our abode for the night, Samburu Intrepids, one of the many tented camps on the reserve.

Located just a 20 minute drive from the airstrip, the luxurious tented lodge offers 27 modern tents. We were received by the supervisor on duty and of course James Ntopai, the Samburu naturalist based at the lodge.

“Now while I encourage you to be relaxed, you have to be careful about the baboons who are very adept at getting into the tents,” the supervisor warned.

How bad could they get, I wondered.

As we walked towards my room with a porter I encountered a family of the olive baboons… sooo cute! They did not look like they could harm a fly.

‘Don’t be fooled,” the porter reminded me as I attempted to pet one of them, “they can be vicious when they feel threatened.”

Well that marked the end of my interaction with the cute looking baboons.

We arrived at my tent and hot damn, the only thing that gave meaning to the word tent was the exterior. The interior felt like I was inside a modern five star hotel. The four poster beds, mahogany closets, twin washbasins and steaming hot showers made me forget that I was in Samburu.

A view of one of the tented rooms at Samburu Interpids    Photo: WIlberforce Okwiri

The tent, raised well above the ground with poles overlooked the Ewaso Ng’ro river. While there was a table and 2 relaxing chairs on the deck, I could see the river from my bed! I could hear the water flow and the bells on the livestock’s necks as the young Samburu boys brought them to drink on the other side.

I used the 30 minutes before sundown to take a cool shower and wash off the dust before joining the rest of the crew.

There was also a pool that I was dying to get into.

The Intrepids staff had set a surprise for us. So we bundled ourselves into our safari rides and set off to  the reserve. A short 10 minutes later found us on a hill overlooking the vastness that is the reserve. Just in time for the famous Samburu sundowner.

We had a setup of drinks and snacks to work on while we watched the African sun, which seemed more spectacular here, set over the hills.

The sundowner is an activity offered by the Intrepids at an extra cost but the views are well worth it.

Our stay was complemented by a romantic dinner by the pool Photo:Wilberforce Okwiri

Later on we retreated back to the lodge and were entertained by a group of Samburu over a romantic dinner by the pool and later on went to enjoy a night of star gazing.

Mornings in the Samburu are unlike others because breakfast can be had in the bush. We were once again treated to a bush experience with the bush breakfast right next to the Ewaso Ng’iro river.

The Bush Breakfast was simply spectacular    Photo:Wilberforce Okwiri

The Interpids is part of the Heritage hotels which include Mara Intrepids, Mara Explorer, Great Rift Valley Lodge, Voyager Beach Resort and Voyager Ziwani in Tsavo West.

People talk about Samburu as a romance destination but you have to be there to experience it. The landscape, the intimacy, the heat, the privacy and the luxury, all perfect for a romantic getaway.

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