I am riding a horse called Jeremy on the shoreline of Lake Elmentaita on a Monday morning. We are trying to make Monday great again!
We are on a walk, sometimes a trot. Jeremy is 8. He is brown and sturdy, and curious. He’s following Land Rover, his smaller mate, and behind him is Grey Wolf, a stunning stallion.
We are exploring Soysambu Conservancy on horseback.
About an hour before I met Jeremy, Lake Elmentaita Serena Camp laid out an elaborate lakeside breakfast. Lake Elmentaita is a calm, shallow, salt lake. In the horizon, a bloat of hippos seek refuge in its saline waters. Their usual home is a seasonal river, now a dry bank. On the other end, several pods of pelicans frolic on the lake’s waters, ignoring their neighbors, the flamingos. A small bird glides in the foreground, hunting with such elegance that it looks like a performance.
112 years ago, on a calm evening just like last night’s, Winston Churchill sat on this same shoreline. With him was the 3rd Baron Delamere, colonial settler extraordinaire and the founder of the ranch that this camp lies in. Between them, in a spit roast over a cackling fire, was a pig. Some distance away, the horses they’d used to get here waited.
60 years later, Jomo Kenyatta too sat somewhere on the shoreline, watching his travelling band of merry dancers with the backdrop of the lake. He died a month or so later.
Jeremy doesn’t care much about this history. He neighs when I go on and on about how his ancestors helped mine (broadly put) take over the world. He whispers into Land Rover’s snout as I tell him how cavalries were the coolest military units of all because horses are cool. He doesn’t get it when I share with him the fun fact that his height is measured in units called “hands.”
Jeremy doesn’t care. So I shut up and we went to the one thing he knows best, horsing around.
Think of it like the equivalent of a game drive, but on horseback. You mount a horse and walk, trot or gallop around Soysambu Conservancy. There are buffalo herds to see, lone buffaloes to avoid, Impalas to startle and waterbucks to play a staring game with.
Other than horseback riding, you can go on game drives around the conservancy, or to Lake Nakuru and Lake Bogoria. Or to Elmentaita badlands, Kariandusi, or Hyrax Hill, or all three.
One of the many things you can do at Lake Elmentaita Serena Camp itself is archery. It looks simple, at least on TV and in movies.
You load up an arrow, raise your bow, pull and release. With that you have participated in the national sport of the Kingdom of Bhutan. But there’s something they don’t tell you. The target is an advisory; there’s a green net behind that’s much easier to hit, especially if you are not particularly aiming at it. Ignore what the instructor says about missing arrows and “m”s on the scorecard, you are a winner. If this is what Cupid does for a living, then he must be a pretty good shot.
If you suck at archery, like me, you can go frolicking around on horseback. You can imagine yourself as a modern-day epic movie hero and heroine, exploring the wilderness of Soysambu on horseback together. In the evening, at the end of a long day of doing great heroic things, you will retire to a five-star tent with a queen-size bed that has a view of the waveless lake. It will feel like the 1920s again, a romantic setting in the middle of a virgin land.
Everything from the tent style, to the rugs, and to the brass finish makes it feel like an echo from a different time. The décor at the bar is vintage, and includes leather cases, an old typewriter and an old phone.
The photos and paintings are striking, but the ones that truly stand out were the ones marking the washrooms. One is an image of Lord Errol, and the other Diana, the woman who would become Lady Delamere. It’s a throwback to one of the most steamy and controversial love affairs of its time.
It hadn’t struck me up until we sat for dinner by the pool side that in the absence of artificial sounds, the only sounds in the background are water fountains. The rhythm of water flow is often so calming that your brain just embeds it into the natural sounds. Add the candles around the dinner table, and you have probably the most peaceful evening of your life.
I think about weird things on evenings like these. On this one I thought about a lake, a massive lake. At some point in history, Lake Nakuru and Lake Elmentaita were a single lake. It was still shallow, but expansive enough to make even Hyrax Hill a small island.
For the Maasai, Kenya’s original adventurers and explorers, this particular waterbody that survived was next to a dusty place. It was saline, so no one could drink from it. But it was home to hundreds of species of birds, often looking like pink and white tapestry embroidered into a serene sapphire lake. That was also the view the 3rd Baron Delamere saw in 1901, on his way from Somalia. In the next seven years he would move to and start farming on the land around the lake. He would host both Churchill and Theodore Roosevelt on it in the first few years. When he wasn’t playing host, he was struggling to tame Soysambu and make something of it.
There is a watering hole between Lake Elmentaita Serena Camp and the lake. In the evening, as the sun sets on the right and the rum sits in a glass on a table, the sight of animals trooping to drink is a sight to behold. I’ve seen it before, at Mountain Lodge and Kilaguni Serena, but this feels closer than ever. The fence separating me from the buffaloes and waterbucks is in a ditch, so you can’t see it unless you are standing over it.
It’s quiet, but for the sound of the animals scaring each other from the watering hole. There’s also the occasional hum of your phone vibrating with “mtarudi tu” tweets.
At some point in the evening, as it gets darker and the lake disappears, a lone guitar player will start singing somewhere in the background. His accompanying instruments will be fountains and the rhythm of the wind.
It’s only Monday.
**Lake Elmentaita Serena Camp isn’t a place you should enjoy alone. But if you must, then it’s just the right time to do it. The Serena hotel chain just waived Single Room Supplement [Link]. Simply, in the travel industry, it is more expensive to book a room alone than it would be per person if two people take a room. It’s build on the idea that the basic costs of a double room remain the same whether one or two people occupy it.
Without it, a night at any Serena now costs cheaper for an individual than it did before.
One story is good,
till Another is told.