As soon as we landed on the Sasaab airstrip we noticed a vast difference between the terrain in Samburu and Maasai Mara. Whilst the dominant colour in the Mara had been lush green with sweeping hill sides, Samburu was a rusty red colour with dusty sands and a more arid landscape. Something new and exciting to explore with different animals indigenous to the area.
As with most safari lodges, days begin early and we left our tent just after the sun rise. A pick-me-up of coffee and biscuits was enough for us to start our day and we headed to our safari vehicle to meet our guide Eric and our tracker. Sasaab Lodge, part of The Safari Collection, is actually located close to the Buffalo Springs National Reserves and it take around half an hour to get to the gates of the Samburu National Reserve and a further half an hour to get into the park and find the denser population of animals.
For this reason there is only one game drive a day at Sasaab in the morning, and in the afternoon there’s an activity more local to the lodge.
The first animal that we saw was an elephant, as you know the gentle giants are my favourite animal and though we’d seen a fair few on safari it still filled me with utter joy to see one.
The herd was so much bigger than any we’d seen in the Maasai Mara and they came so close…
Soon we were surrounded and it was time for some elfies (elephant selfies…)
As I mentioned, in my post about the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, elephants are affectionate creatures and intertwining their trunks is like a hug.
Though Eric got a little nervous as this huge guy approached the car…
So we drove off in search of more animals.
As well as being home to Africa’s big five, the area is also home to the ‘Samburu Special Five’ which are found rarely anywhere else in Africa. The Gerenuk antelope above, with it’s characteristic graceful long neck is one such animal.
Our next exciting spot was this beautiful pride of lionesses; it was such a thrill to be so close to such majestic creatures.
Who affectionately nuzzled each other.
Samburu is also famous for being one of the areas where conservationists George Adamson and Joy Adamson raised Elsa the Lioness, who featured in the iconic book and film Born Free.
Virginia McKenna, who played Joy in the movie, and her husband and co-star Bill Travers subsequently set up the Born Free Foundation. The Born Free Foundation is a conservation and animal rights organisation established to help wild animals. Born Free Kenya does excellent work to protect the animals against poaching, offering education and working with local communities and partners to raise awareness of animal welfare.
Even more specifically to Northern Kenya is the Ewaso Lions project an organisation set up to conserve Kenya’s lions and other large carnivores. The main goal of the project is to promote a coexistence between wildlife and people using education to guide long term conservation. Ewaso Lions works closely with key partners, such as Sasaab Lodge, in order to promote conservation and run the project successfully.
Conservation is absolutely paramount to the ethos of The Safari Collection and the team is totally committed to the preservation of Kenya’s beautiful wildlife and landscape and to supporting these valuable projects.
And was I scared to be that close to lion bearing it’s teeth? Well, a little bit…but I had absolute trust in Eric’s knowledge of animal behaviour and instincts and I knew we were in good hands.
At 9.30am it was time to stop for breakfast and Eric found a beautiful spot by the Ewasu river… and away from the lions!
Our fantastic tracker started laying out some delicious fruit, cakes and museli…
And then our surprise Eric whipped out an oven and started making fresh pancakes on the stove!
As the delicious smells emanated from Eric’s cooking area, I took a moment to enjoy my coffee. Honestly, I can’t tell how peaceful and relaxing it is to enjoy your morning cuppa in the wilderness, not a single sound or another person apart from our little group in sight.
75% of the staff at Sasaab are employed from local community, this not only helps the local economy but allows the guests to understand more about cultural traditions. Our guide Eric and our tracker are both Samburu people and keen to tell us more about their local customs which really enhanced the experience for us. Born into a traditional Samburu family of eight children, Eric spent his childhood tending to goats and livestock but chose the path of attending college and gaining a hotel management degree and a certification as a guide and he has worked at Sasaab now for eight years and knows every little corner of the bush it seems.
You should definitely come hungry to a bush breakfast (and we were having been up since 6am!) as well as the mini al fresco buffet and pancakes, Eric also prepared a full cooked breakfast. There is something so wonderfully incongruous about sitting down in the middle of nowhere and eating a fry up! Full and happy, it was back in the car to continue our safari.
There are three types of giraffe, the Maasai Giraffe that we’d seen in the Mara Triangle, the Rothschild Giraffe that we’d encountered a Giraffe Manor and finally these guys pictured above and below. The reticulated giraffe is one of the ‘Samburu Special Five’ and can only be found here in Northern Kenya, Somalia and Southern Ethopia.
The giraffe itself is characterised by a beautiful regular pattern of polygons on the skin and is easily differentiated from the more common Maasai giraffe.
Another member of the ‘Special Five’ is a the Grevy’s Zebra which has a white belly and more rounded ears that is unique to it’s species.
When Eric asked me what animal I’d most like to see, the answer was easy. I’d never seen a cheetah in the wild, either in Kruger Park or in Maasai Mara. Of course, he became determined to ‘spot’ one for us…and he did. We saw this beautiful creature lying in the shade of a tree…
And soon spotted this whole coalition of cheetah cubs. It’s was truly magical to see cheetahs in the wild and they are beautiful creatures.
Sadly the cheetah is very much becoming an endangered species with less than 7000 left in the wild. It’s for this reason that The Safari Collection have become involved in the Mara Cheetah Project, set up to monitor threats to cheetahs in the Maasai Mara.
As well as the wonderful morning safaris, a stay at Sasaab really allows you to see the cultural side of Samburu. The staff arranged for us to visit a local village to learn more about their customs and way of life.
Eric was extremely well placed to tell us about a Samburu village, having been bought up in one himself.
The Samburu tribe are actually related to the Maasai but are even more traditional and strict about adherence to their culture. Interestingly we learnt that there are 42 languages spoken in Kenya and the Samburu and Maasai both speak the Maa language though with a different dialect and speed.
I’ve never been to such an authentic tribal village before and it was really interested to see their huts built with mud, grass, fabric and in some cases dried cow dung. We even had the chance to step inside one of the huts and see exactly how the Samburu live. The people also rear herds of livestock, sometimes cows and sheep but here we saw mostly goats which wondered freely through the village, herded by the children. The staple food of the tribe is corn, milk and blood but they also eat meat on special occasions.
Like the Maasai, the Samburu people wear brightly coloured shukas and the women wrap themselves in beautiful long traditional beads which are not only decorative but inform other members of the tribe about status and relationships. The Samburu women do most of the work around the village and maintain the houses, collect water and vegetables and care for the children while traditionally the men look after the cattle.
Singing and dancing is an important part of their culture and we were treated to a sample from a group of children from the village.
But I had a soft spot for this little girl with a sense of humour who mocked my photo-taking!
Community outreach is incredibly important to The Safari Collection and Sasaab provides support to the Samburu people both in term of health care and education, for example a partnership with Medical and Educational Aid to Kenya has led to the treatment of over 10,000 patients with eye and vision problems around Sasaab and sister lodge Solio. UK Dental Charity SmileStar have consulted over 3,000 patients at The Safari Collection wilderness lodges and operated on over 1,000.
Educational partnerships have provided scholarships for Kenyan children, a program for school meals and the ‘Team Talk’ initiative to empower girls through sport. The Safari Collection is also dedicated to educating the Samburu people in the issue of FGM, AIDS and gender-based violence through a partnership with the charity ‘S.A.F.E Kenya.’
It was incredible to hear more about the valuable work that The Safari Collection is involved with, a company dedicated to the conservation of the surrounding areas as well as the highest of hospitality.
Have you ever been on safari?
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Our accommodation was complimentary on an all-inclusive basis. We covered the costs of transfers and park fees.