Game on

Stay at the cen­tre of the ac­tion in the Maa­sai Mara

The Daily Telegraph - Telegraph Magazine - - The Cut Travel - Francesca Syz

OF THE MANY up­mar­ket ecolodges dot­ted about Kenya’s game re­serves, only one is owned and op­er­ated by the lo­cal tribe upon whose land it stands, pro­vid­ing em­ploy­ment and to­tal profit share for the com­mu­nity.

In 1996, fol­low­ing an ap­proach from neigh­bour­ing Lewa Wildlife Con­ser­vancy (where the Duke of Cam­bridge spent part of his gap year), the Il Lakip­iak Maa­sai com­mu­nity fin­ished build­ing the lodge, which over­looks 16,500 hectares of pre­served land.

To­day, there are six rooms at Il Ng­wesi, each hewn out of wooden beams and de­lib­er­ately left open to take in the spec­tac­u­lar views. It is par­tic­u­larly de­light­ful to take a morn­ing shower while eye­ing the retic­u­lated gi­raffes and ele­phants gathered around a nearby wa­ter­ing hole.

On ar­rival, vis­i­tors are greeted by the en­tire com­mu­nity, and in the even­ing there is singing and danc­ing, where the Maa­sai leap sev­eral feet off the ground.

The tribe’s name trans­lates roughly to ‘peo­ple of wildlife’ and the Il Ng­wesi tour guides pos­sess un­par­al­leled knowl­edge of the lo­cal flora and fauna. We took a walk­ing tour through the sur­round­ing bush flanked by great flocks of roam­ing vul­turine guinea fowl and past steam­ing piles of rhino dung, fol­lowed by sun­down­ers in the bush. But the best part of all comes at the very end of the day: ly­ing in bed, safe un­der the stars, hear­ing a lion’s roar elec­trify the val­ley below. — Joe Shute

A FINE COM­PLE­MENT to Il Ng­wesi would be to spend a few days in Mara House, one of three ‘bush houses’ avail­able to rent in the Mara North Con­ser­vancy of the Maa­sai Mara. It’s an un­usual op­tion, and the ad­van­tages of hav­ing your own house are ob­vi­ous. You also have a guide at your dis­posal all day, which makes ev­ery­thing more flex­i­ble. After our morn­ing game drive, we ended up spend­ing five hours fol­low­ing a chee­tah and her three cubs, a rare treat.

The game sight­ings at the Mara are spec­tac­u­lar – the wide open plains host herds of ele­phant and gi­raffe, and clusters of wilde­beest hav­ing morn­ing con­fer­ence in the shadow of the aca­cia trees. We also had pro­lific lion sight­ings, at one point com­ing across a pride of 11 snooz­ing un­der the bushes. A pri­vate chef pro­vides de­light­ful meals, packed lunches or break­fasts to eat off the roof of the Land Rover while tak­ing a break from track­ing li­ons. On our last day we had a pop-up lunch on a pic­nic ta­ble over­look­ing a spec­tac­u­lar view of the Siria es­carp­ment.

Per­fect for an elab­o­rate cel­e­bra­tion, Mara, Aca­cia and Topi House each sleep six, and Mara House has a glo­ri­ous ve­randa over­look­ing a small wa­ter­ing hole, as well as a pool and bar­be­cue area, shaded by a gi­ant yel­low fever tree. One af­ter­noon an enor­mous eland wan­dered down the steps, took a ca­sual drink from the pool and started grazing on the pot plants. He’s a friend of the fam­ily, ap­par­ently. — Jes­samy Calkin

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