The Skies of the Amboseli

A chandelier is a loud statement. Of opulence, sophistication, class, dreams, hopes, goals, you name it.

A chandelier speaks more words than an entire set of Italian leather furniture or stainless steel cutlery. When you walk into a hotel lobby, or a home, or even one part of a home, the chandelier screams something about the people who built it. It tells you about their hopes and dreams, about what they think about how high, and how lofty, their dreams are.

The choice of a chandelier tells more about a person than that person tells about themselves in all the years it hangs there. It says what they treasure, what they value, and what they want the people who experience that room for years to come feel. Since it hangs there long after they die, unless they built the house on a road reserve, it carries with it a history of the men and women who made it, and those who bought it.

Think of the sky as nature’s roof, and the stars as the twinkling lights of the universe’s chandelier. Its connections are far off, distant and dark, but the glittering light of the small sky bulbs shines day and night. The stars are always there, hiding behind the glare of the sun as it shines brighter than all its brothers. They flicker in the distance, day and night, cloudless night or crystal clear night, and have brought many a man and woman home on a cold night. Its led sailors home after years on the unforgiving seas, and when the sun set in the sandy, punishing deserts, helped lost caravans see beyond the murderous mirages.

If the stars are nature’s glittering pendants, then the universe wants for those who view them to dream of light years and to wish upon shooting stars. If they are the little flickering beacons in the night sky, with meteor showers being a form of renewal, a glitch in the system.

For this year’s Geminid Meteor Shower, which happens every mid-December as the parent asteroid orbits around this planet we call home, I went deep into the Amboseli, to the Amboseli Serena Safari Lodge. The good guys from Travelling Telescope, the nerds Chu and his wife, had this brilliant set up for sky gazers to watch the night sky. One was a planetarium, an air-filled dome with a projector inside that simulates the sky. At some point, we were on April 27th, 2067 on Jupiter, and we were all dizzy. It was 4:41 pm on that dark Wednesday 52 years from now, and a lot had changed in the night sky. One wonders about the earth below.

Once the sun set and the rains subsided, we all trooped into the pitch darkness, following the infrared light strapped around Chu’s head. Without light pollution, and with a drink in hand served, in the dark, by the awesome wait staff from Serena’s Kiboko Bar, the star counting began.

Lying on a pool chair in the complete darkness of the Amboseli National Park, but within the fenced borders of the Serena Lodge, is, at first, a tad bit scary. The hyenas cackle in the distance as they scavenge, using the pitch darkness to feed and torment. The mosquitoes are especially nasty but because nature is fair, so are the bats that are hunting them. When they fly, their silhouette against the starlight looks like Batman’s children experimenting with their logos. But ten minutes in and once the Geminid Shower peaks, all other senses become numb.

The one toy I fell in love with was not even the magnificent telescope but the laser pointer. Its a small device, like those hand-held torches, that you switch on and knock at the back. It emits this stunning laser light that looks like it points all the way to the stars. Chu claims it doesn’t, I think it does. But he swears if you point it into the human eye, yours or anyone else’s, you can forget seeing through that eye. It is an awesome toy for pointing at the night sky, like what you do with that pointer on a projector. Someone screamed shooting star, and all laser pointer shenanigans ended and we all went into a deathly silence, only broken by news of another sighting.

27 shooting stars later, or 25, as half the sky-watching community was on some form of drink stronger than water, a few light clouds sneaked into the view. Then a few heavy more, and before long Kilimanjaro’s torrents were back in full swing. My theory is that someone did not pour enough libation for the gods of the Kilimanjaro, and the brief interlude was the brief time the owners of this house gave for weary, star-hungry travelers to relish the view of the magic of pendants of the universe.

The Amboseli Serena Safari Lodge has a different set of chandeliers, rows upon rows of calabashes hanging from the room. Some are bored at the bottom and carved on the sides with little nondescript patterns. A wire is then passed through their necks and bulbs through their open bases. They meet in the middle, and the calabash chandelier hangs from the ceiling as a compelling story of the culture that influenced whoever designed this experience. Some on the lobby are draped in red cloth, appearing at night like romantic lanterns calling lost souls home, to where red roses still have meaning.

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The calabash chandeliers of the Serena Lodge are tweaks of the traditional Maasai hut. The single hut in a Manyatta is a work of genius, carved over generations and borrowed from (and given to) other communities. A simple hut made from sticks and dung into a small round hut and then painted with red ochre to give it a smooth, stunning exterior finish. The entrance was an elaborate arch of black sticks, all upstanding and tied to vertical rows sticks. The designers of this lodge in the wild went to painstaking detail to replicate the manyattas of the Maasai of the Amboseli, who fought dust in the hot season and floods in the dry season, into a modern experience. They succeeded, playing at the desire we all have to find a place called home.

Owaahh, 2015.

One story is good,

till Another is told.