Exploring Finch Hattons

At Finch Hattons Luxury Camp in the Tsavo, a crocodile tries to kill Muthuri, Dan Kiptoo falls off a bed, and a thousand hills come alive.

At sunrise, the thousand hills of Chyulu litter as far as the eye can see on one side. On the other, the twin peaks of the stunning Mount Kilimanjaro are at their clearest.

For twenty minutes, as the sun first starts as a spark, and then a thought, and then an idea, and then a word, a sentence, a stanza, and a song, everything feels surreal. We are standing on this platform, as the day breaks.

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I’m in Finch Hattons Luxury Camp, in Tsavo West. My blessers for the trip are Magical Kenya, so Dan Kiptoo, the photographer who hides online as 99th Sense, Safina Hoffman, his photography director for this trip, and the blesser’s blesser, Muthuri Kinyamu, and I are on two nights of luxury and photography.

By the end of this trip, Dan Kiptoo will be summoned by the spirits of his athletic ancestors, and he will fall off a bed as he dreams he’s winning a marathon. Muthuri and Safina will almost become crocodile dinner, saved only by Muthuri’s fervent shrieking. That man will live a long time.

***

At Finch Hattons Luxury Camp, I am intrigued by an odd leather and wood reading table. The writing platform is a sunken middle, and the shelves are made of leather. I learn later that it was modelled on Karen Blixen’s odd, immaculate tastes of leather, wood and canvas.

The modern Finch Hattons is a luxury oasis with 30 tented suites, 2 family suites and one presidential suite. In this dry wilderness of Tsavo West, the area around the camp is lush. An underground spring keeps the party going, and there are ponds outside the dining area, and several of the suites.

The suites are elaborate safari tents that open up to these natural pools of water with elaborate stretches of floating algae.

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From the moment you see one, all that comes to mind is sitting on that wooden deck, with a glass in one hand and a pipe in the other, and forget how nasty 2016 has been. There have been some highlights to the year, and here, sitting under a cathedral thatch ceiling, you’ll find them in the haystack. Sitting there in the Tsavo wild, or driving out to the sundowner spot to eat peanuts and banter, it’ll all come together. Time passes. Always.

On the edge of one of these ponds, a crocodile called Jemimah will try to snap off Muthuri’s left leg. To be fair I think Jemimah slides back into the water because she’s more scared of Muthuri’s shrieking than anything else.

Dramatisation of Muthuri's reaction.

Dramatisation of Muthuri’s reaction.

In one of those exquisite family suites, Dan Kiptoo will dream that he’s in a race, and not wanting to disappoint his ancestors, he will make the final 100m push and fall off the bed. He still won’t stop running for about 60 seconds.

The lamp that Dan thought marked the finishing line.

The lamp that Dan thought marked the finishing line.

Finch Hattons is named after Karen’s most famous love interest, a dashing member of a dying gentry called Denys Finch Hattons. Finch Hattons, explorer, game hunter, soldier, frontiersman, and pilot, is more famous for his romantic escapades with gorgeous, intelligent, and interesting women. He’s lesser known for the fact that his plane fell off the sky in Voi, because the women he loved kept him alive in their books. In them he was the ultimate adrenaline junkie, a generous and caring lover, but one who loved the wild, and its smells and beasts, more than he could ever love them.

Karen Blixen’s reading table smells of adventure. It’s a replica actually, from those made for the 1986 movie Out of Africa. Still, I can see her leaning on one, her Danish frame stoic as she wrote letters and perhaps, started the earliest drafts of what became “I had a farm in Africa at the foot of the Ngong Hills.” Where she took breaks from escapades in the wild with Finch Hattons, and also, realized that he would never love her as much as he loved the Tsavo.

Situated 235kms from Nairobi and 425km from Mombasa, the luxury camp named for Finch isn’t just about his romances. It’s also about his falling in love with the Tsavo, her unadulterated wilderness, and her majestic beasts. Originally a hunter, he gave the gun up for a camera and became one of Kenya’s earliest conservationists.

Like most frontier men of his time, he first arrived in Kenya to farm. His Eldoret experiment failed miserably, sold he sold the farm in 1910. Then he went hunting.

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Finch and Karen met in 1918 but their whirlwind romance began seven years later. In Out of Africa, Karen never says they were in love, but she doesn’t need to. She portrays him as a philosopher-king version of the wilderness, a force enamored with the outside, and fascinated with life.

Five years later, in 1930, he started dating Beryl Markham, known as the first pilot to fly from England to North America non-stop, and the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic from East to West. In May 1931, Finch-Hatton’s Gypsy Moth biplane plunged into the ground outside of Voi aerodome killing him and Kamau, a member of his staff.

Beryl also wrote about Finch, in 1942, in a book titled West in the Night.

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At sunset, the sundowner spot is a mix of a dry breeze and picturesque end of a long day in 2016. The beer helps, of course, but sitting here in the wild, in its openness and nothingness, there’s peace. There’s a certain kind of silence and tranquility you can only find here.

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Finch Hattons Rate Card [Link]

All Images by Dan Kiptoo, 99th Sense. Check out his Instagram Page here [Link]

Owaahh, 2016

One story is good,

till Another is told.