High atop a camel’s back is a unique vantage point from which to view Africa’s most beautiful places. Sandi Sotis and Kathy Overman recently got this perspective on an Ujuzi safari in Kenya. While staying at Samburu Intrepids, a permanent tented camp nestled in the gorgeous grasslands and riverine forests of Samburu National Reserve, they went on a camel ride led by residents of the neighboring village.
With Samburu warriors guiding their camels, they crossed the shallow Ewaso Ng’iro River (also spelled “Uaso Nyiro”) and made a short visit to the village. “The $20 ticket was certainly worth the 20 to 25 minute ride over the river to the village and back,” says Sandi. “It was one if the highlights of the vacation.”
The proceeds from the camel ride support community projects like building and maintaining the village children’s school.
The rugged hills and undulating plains of Samburu and Shaba National Reserves in Kenya offer the quintessential safari experience. Here, the iconic acacia trees are plentiful and provide sustenance for giraffes, elephants and a long-necked gazelles called gerenuks. Euphorbias (the Eastern Hemisphere’s answer to the cactus) also dot the landscape.
With a mix of arid grassland, riverine forest and swamp, Samburu and Shaba offer opportunities to see many different kinds of wildlife, including elephants, reticulated giraffes, leopards, cheetahs, lions, Somali ostriches, hyenas, countless antelope and gazelle species, and more. In Shaba, small herds of fine-striped Grevy’s zebras – the largest and most endangered of the three zebra species – can often be found grazing in the sun or cooling off with refreshing dust baths.
Both parks lie on the banks of the Ewaso Ng’iro (Nyiro) River, which flows through the middle of this area. Although its name means “muddy water” in the local language, it is a vital source of life for the resident animals and humans. Elephants and vervet monkeys play on its shady banks and crocodiles patrol the waters in search of suitable prey.
Nearby villages offer the opportunity to interact with local Samburu, cousins of the Maasai who traditionally raise goats and sheep for their livelihood. Many customs and dress are similar and, although the languages are different, they can often understand each other with a little effort. The Samburu are known for being very fast and dynamic talkers, and for their bright and plentiful beadwork.
Several tented camps in Samburu offer visitors fresh air and close access to wildlife without sacrificing comfort. Most tents are permanent, having wooden floors that are raised off the ground; fully plumbed bathrooms with hot and cold water, showers, sinks and flush toilets; and outlets for charging cell phones and camera batteries. Shaba features a lodge with stone buildings, a large swimming pool, fish ponds and views of the river.
Activities in the parks include game drives, bird watching, cultural activities and raft trips.
I’ve been back from Kenya for over a month and am still enjoying remembering the beautiful scenery, the very friendly people, and the incredible wildlife. My photos make it seem like yesterday.
One of my favorite memories is meeting Francis, a Samburu warrior (and college graduate) in Samburu National Reserve. We were staying at Samburu Intrepids Tented Camp and since it was the rainy season, we were the only guests at the lodge. The camp offers presentations on wildlife and culture every evening, and Francis was our presenter. His degree is in wildlife management, and he was presenting on the cats of Samburu. While the presentation was fun and informative, what I most enjoyed was our conversation before and after it.
When Francis walked in, I knew immediately he was our presenter. He was dressed head-to-toe in traditional clothing, including a red-and-white kikoy (sarong) and countless arm bracelets, necklaces and headbands. He jingled when he walked. I introduced myself and and asked him what his name was. He paused and gave me his Samburu name, which was so long it almost made me dizzy to hear it. Then he said, “or you could call me Francis.” I let out a breath of relief.
The Samburu are considered cousins of the Maasai. The customs and dress are similar and apparently they can speak to each other in their separate dialects but understand each other. The Samburu are known for being very fast and dynamic talkers, which proved to be true of Francis.
It’s so interesting to learn how other people live. In our discussion after his presentation, Francis explained that when Samburu boys become warriors at 15, not only are they circumcised, but they are asked to leave their family home and live in the bush with their peers. “A little campout isn’t such a bad thing,” you may be thinking – but they leave for years. They may live in the city for a while if they go to college, but otherwise they live in the bush with their friends until they get married in their late 20s, at which point their status moves from “warrior” to “elder.”
Now, they’re not banned from the community. Francis told us that he often goes to visit his parents and younger siblings. He just doesn’t eat or sleep there. And even though one might expect a few pangs of hunger and some wistfulness for good home cooking when he watches his mom prepare a meal for her younger kids, he says he doesn’t feel that way at all. The act of not eating with them reminds him of his stage in life, and that he has the wherewithal to take care himself. That ability is something to celebrate.
Above the clothing and customs, the strongest sense I left with is the immense pride that Francis had in his way of life. He wouldn’t trade it for the world!
I think this is one of the best parts about an African safari – that it is such a different experience in so many ways from other destinations that it really does create a memory for a lifetime.