We started our day off with a morning safari drive in Shaba, where the air was fragrant from the scent of wildflowers and the animals were out enjoying the cool weather. Early in our drive, we spotted several reticulated giraffes, as well as jackals, dikdik (antelope about the size of rat terriers), gerenut (also known as giraffe gazelles because of their long necks), and several bird species, including hornbills, guinea hens, bee-eaters and starlings.
When we reached the top of a hill, we stopped to admire the view and noticed some movement among the acacia tree’s shadows in the far distance. Through our binoculars we could identify those shadows as a large herd of oryx and, more notably, about a dozen rare Grevy’s zebras. We moved closer to the herds to get a better view. Grevy’s zebras have large ears and such fine stripes that they almost look gray from a distance. They have a smaller range than the Burchell’s zebra (also known as Grant’s zebra), which are widespread through much of Kenya. Once the zebras realized we were only there for a look and meant no harm, they returned to their morning routine of grazing and taking dust baths. It was thrilling to watch them up close.
After our morning drive, we headed for Samburu National Park. Just a few kilometers away from Shaba, Samburu boasts many large game, including elephants, giraffes, leopards, cheetahs, lions, Somali ostriches, and more. There are several tented camps in the park. These lodges offer visitors fresh air and close access to wildlife without sacrificing comfort. Tents usually have wooden, stone or concrete floors that are raised off the ground; fully plumbed bathrooms with showers, sinks and flush toilets; and outlets for charging cell phones and camera batteries. (Since electricity in most tented camps runs on generators, it is often turned off while guests are asleep or away on safari during the day.)
We first took a tour of Elephant Bedroom, a tented camp on the Ewaso Nyiro River. As we walked in, we could see a herd of elephants grazing on the opposite shore. Elephant Bedroom is a lodge for the traveler who wants lodgings that feel connected to the local culture but also have all the amenities that Westerners are used to. Most of the tents are permanent, with hardwood floors that are raised off the ground, front decks from which to view the river, and plunge pools. Decorations reflect the influence of the local Samburu culture, right down to the bathrobes and slippers, which are the same bright red that the Samburus prefer for much of their traditional clothing.
We then stopped at Larsen’s, a larger tented camp with a beautiful pool, massage tent, colonial-style furnishings, and all-inclusive food and drink, as well as complimentary laundering for four pieces of clothing per guest each day. The lodge offers evening dances, as well as plenty of daytime entertainment in the form of the resident vervet monkeys.
We then went deeper into the reserve to check into our lodge, Samburu Intrepid Tented Camp. After a delicious four-course lunch and a brief rainshower, we went out for a late afternoon game drive. The rain had drive many of the animals into hiding, but we still saw plenty of colorful birds and enjoyed the lush green landscape.
Just as we were about to head back to our lodge, my sister-in-law Tamara spotted a white tail twitching in the grass. “Cat!” she said, and our driver, Muli, stopped the Land Cruiser. The rest of us saw the tail disappear into the brush and answered, “No, that must be a monkey.”
Tamara was proven correct when the cat – a beautiful leopard – leaped out of the grass and up into the canopy of an acacia tree. It seemed very relaxed and pleased with itself, ignoring us and any animals of prey in the vicinity, so we concluded it must have had a good dinner recently.
When we got back, we were treated to a fascinating talk about the cats of Samburu and the Samburu culture by Frances, a member of the local Samburu tribe who studied wildlife ecology from the University of Nairobi. The lodge offers talks about wildlife and cultural topics every night and also has a nature center where visitors can learn more about the local wildlife.