Unity in the Serengeti

Indwe - - Contents - Text: Nicky Fur­niss Images © Nasikia Camps & Nicky Fur­niss

It was an un­usual sight. A large Mar­tial ea­gle sat perched on a log, its ex­pan­sive wings puffed out and pulled in front of it, al­most in a self-em­brace. A move­ment to the right of it caught our eye – two Tawny eagles, their eyes trained on some­thing be­neath its talons. Peer­ing through the binoc­u­lars we made out the in­ert shape of a hyrax (or dassie). It was a prize catch, and there was no way the Mar­tial was go­ing to share his lunch. I can’t help feel­ing the same way when­ever I dis­cover an amaz­ing new place. I too want to wrap my arms around it and keep it all for my­self. But then again, some dis­cov­er­ies are too good not to share.

While the rolling plains of Tan­za­nia’s Serengeti Na­tional Park are fa­mous for the mag­nif­i­cent an­nual wilde­beest mi­gra­tion, they have be­come, in re­cent years, al­most as well known for the hordes of over­land ve­hi­cles and ea­ger tourists who fre­quent it. It is thus an ab­so­lute lux­ury to find a spot in the park where you feel like you have the place en­tirely to your­self.

ON THE PLAINS OF THE NORTH­ERN SERENGETI

Kaskaz Mara Camp is just such a place. Sit­u­ated in the north­ern reaches of the Serengeti, this area was off lim­its for many years due to in-fight­ing be­tween the Maa­sai and Kuria peo­ple. Fi­nally, through con­ser­va­tion ed­u­ca­tion and the build­ing of schools and dis­pen­saries, the fight­ing ceased, but the area’s rep­u­ta­tion still kept most lodges away. Grad­u­ally, though, a few in­trepid com­pa­nies moved into the area, in­clud­ing Nasikia Camps, a fam­i­lyrun, Arusha-based com­pany that ini­tially made its mark with a num­ber of mo­bile tented camps.

Kaskaz, while also tented, can be found here in this largely iso­lated part of the park all year round. With an em­pha­sis on cre­at­ing as min­i­mal a foot­print as pos­si­ble,

all 10 of the suites – as well as the main lodge area, the of­fice and even the kitchen – are housed in these bil­low­ing tents, all ar­ranged to take in the views of the plains in front of them as well as pass­ing breezes. This is no camp­ing hol­i­day, how­ever, and were it not for zip­ping open your door in the morn­ing, you could be for­given for think­ing you were in an el­e­gant ho­tel suite. Wooden floors, en­velop­ing queen­sized

beds, and fully kit­ted out bath­rooms en­sure that you’ll never think of a “tent” in the same way again!

Wilde­beest are crea­tures of habit – so much so that the herds use the same 13 places to cross the Mara River ev­ery year. Sev­eral of these are lo­cated very close to the camp, mak­ing this the ideal base dur­ing mi­gra­tion season. In fact, the staff have sto­ries of gi­gan­tic herds bar­relling

right through the camp, much to the amaze­ment of the guests lucky enough to wit­ness it.

Even out­side of mi­gra­tion season, there is much to see. Twitch­ers will be kept busy tick­ing “lif­ers” off their lists, while even the com­mon birds – like the yel­lowthroated long claw, Euro­pean rollers and au­gur buz­zards – add colour to any game drive. Black-backed jack­als were cu­ri­ous

on­look­ers as we pic­nicked in the shade of the trees, clink­ing our G & Ts and feast­ing on sal­ads, roasted plan­tains and steak. Gi­raffe, buf­falo and herds of ele­phants are com­mon here, and the male of the species of per­haps East Africa’s most iconic an­te­lope, the topi, can often be seen sil­hou­et­ted against the sky, stand­ing proudly atop of a ter­mite mound, in a pose that can­not say any­thing other than: “Look at me!”

The staff at Kaskaz couldn’t be more dif­fer­ent from the vain topi. Yet you can’t help but marvel at their sheer en­joy­ment as they dance and sing – some­thing that seems to hap­pen reg­u­larly and spon­ta­neously here! For wel­comes and good­byes, or just to cel­e­brate an­other glo­ri­ous African sun­set – it is clear that the staff here love their jobs, and it’s hard not to feel part of the fam­ily when their hos­pi­tal­ity ex­tends to invit­ing often rhythm-chal­lenged guests to join in!

Songs of wel­come also await you at Nasikia Camps’ new­est – and most lux­u­ri­ous – ad­di­tion, Eh­lane Plains. A short flight on one of Air Ex­cel’s small planes – each be­decked with dif­fer­ent brightly coloured tail feath­ers – will take you from the Ko­ga­tende Airstrip to Seronera Air­port. The air­port is the jump­ing-off point for ex­plor­ing the cen­tral Serengeti, and as such is usu­ally a hive of fren­zied ac­tiv­ity. This is why it was a wel­come relief to be met with glasses of cham­pagne and some of Eh­lane’s fa­mous cho­co­late brown­ies by Donna Dug­gan, who started the tour op­er­a­tor Maa­sai Wan­der­ings and its hos­pi­tal­ity arm, Nasikia Camps, with her late hus­band Naseeb “Nas” Mfi­nanga.

THE RE­AL­I­SA­TION OF A

VERY SPE­CIAL DREAM

Donna, who is orig­i­nally from Aus­tralia, moved to Tan­za­nia to nurse in the lo­cal hos­pi­tals, but in­stead of head­ing back home after her ten­ure was up, her life took an un­ex­pected turn when she met and fell in love with her neigh­bour, Nas. His was a real rags-to-riches story. Although he had to leave school to be­come a hawker to sup­port his fam­ily, he be­come well known in Arusha for his gift of the gab and sheer like­abil­ity. To­gether with Donna, he used his knowl­edge of the Serengeti and his won­der­ful abil­ity to make con­nec­tions with peo­ple to start a small tour op­er­at­ing busi­ness, Maa­sai Wan­der­ings. Later, they set up Nasikia Camps, which has grown to such an ex­tent that their port­fo­lio now con­sists of one mo­bile camp and four per­ma­nent ones, with three more on the way.

Trag­i­cally, last year, while work­ing on Eh­lane Plains, Nas passed away. The camp was to be their flag­ship and was a spe­cial pas­sion project for Nas, who had planned vir­tu­ally ev­ery de­tail, from the de­sign of the rooms, to the type of fur­ni­ture they would house. Though dev­as­tated by his death, Donna and her fam­ily of over 200 staff knew that, come what may, Nas’ dream for Eh­lane would come to fruition. Com­pleted in Fe­bru­ary, the camp now stands as a tes­ta­ment to the amaz­ing man be­hind it, and the fam­ily who built it.

THE ISO­LA­TION OF THE

EASTERN SERENGETI

Like Kaskaz, Eh­lane Plains is lo­cated in an­other cor­ner of the Serengeti that un­til re­cently was a “no-go” area – this time due to a now com­pleted cat re­search project. Eh­lane Plains was one of the first camps to nab a spot in this eastern part of the park, and it is a relief to em­brace the bliss­ful feel­ing of iso­la­tion the fur­ther you drive from Seronera. The lo­ca­tion of the camp plays off this “mid­dle of nowhere” feel­ing, as its ap­pear­ance be­low as you crest a hill comes as a won­der­fully un­ex­pected sur­prise.

As too, does the de­sign of the camp it­self. The tents here have a de­cid­edly Be­douin qual­ity about them, while lat­tice work in the bath­rooms and wood-backed show­ers re­mind one both of a Zanz­ibari beach ho­tel and a Scan­di­na­vian sauna – an odd-sound­ing com­bi­na­tion, but one that works. The tents are po­si­tioned so that when your early morn­ing cof­fee is de­liv­ered, and your tent flap lifted, you can snug­gle in bed and watch the sun rise over the hori­zon. For an even more unim­peded view, three of the tents also boast stargazer plat­forms, where you can choose to spend the night un­der the in­cred­i­ble starry skies.

The camp’s “crazy chef”, so called be­cause of his high en­ergy and pen­chant for som­er­saults, en­sures that ev­ery meal in the ro­man­ti­cally draped din­ing room will leave guests with happy tum­mies and taste buds. After­noons spent in the lounge, read­ing bird books, play­ing tra­di­tional Tan­za­nian games, or sim­ply en­joy­ing the view are punc­tu­ated only by the gen­tle at­ten­tions of the staff, who are al­ways on hand to pour you a cup of cof­fee or a glass of wine.

A glass of wine and a game drive are also good bed­fel­lows, par­tic­u­larly after a suc­cess­ful af­ter­noon of spot­ting a pride of lions sprawled on one of the many rocky out­crops that rise from the plains in this part of the Serengeti. A toast to the com­ple­tion of Eh­lane brings good luck as we see a lone leop­ard stalk­ing the dusk on our way back to camp.

It is not often that one gets to see a dream come true in such in­tri­cate de­tail as the re­al­i­sa­tion of Nas’ vi­sion for Eh­lane Plains. But per­haps more im­pres­sive than the camp it­self is the beau­ti­ful feel­ing of “umoja” (unity) shown by all the staff at Nasikia Camps. “Nasikia” means “I hear” or “I feel” in Swahili, and that is just what a trip to these camps is all about – be­ing part of a fam­ily, of hear­ing its sto­ries and those of the Serengeti, of fall­ing in love with Tan­za­nia, and of feel­ing a sense of those out­stretched wings – not to hide this ex­pe­ri­ence from the world, but rather to share it with more peo­ple, more mem­bers of the fam­ily.

For more in­for­ma­tion, please visit www.nasiki­a­camps.com.

The warmth of the staff at Kaskaz Mara Camp, adds to the homely feel­ing of stay­ing here.

With a com­i­cally full, round tummy, an af­ter­noon nap is def­i­nitely re­quired!

The tents at Kaskaz Mara Camp look out to­wards a hill-cov­ered hori­zon and plains often fre­quented by game.

The ac­com­mo­da­tion here is the height of “tent chic”.

Spon­ta­neous singing and danc­ing are the or­der of the day at Nasikia Camps. After all, why wouldn’t you sing if you lived in such a beau­ti­ful place?

As Nasikia Camps’ flag­ship prop­erty, Eh­lane Plains is full of won­der­ful touches and at­ten­tion to de­tail.

The tents at Eh­lane Plains have a dis­tinctly ro­man­tic feel.

The Mar­tial ea­gle, wings posed al­most in a self-em­brace

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