A whiff of fragrant rosemary, familiar aromas of savoury lamb, and sweet distinctive smells of caramelized vegetables – all comforting scents and fond culinary memories that sometimes I find myself reliving from my recent visit to Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya.
No, these were not memories from a gorgeous city hotel, but rather were those of Ol Pejeta Bush Camp, a boutique traditional tented camp, home to one of the most beautiful dining room views looking on to the banks of the Ewaso Nyiro River, deep in the 90,000 acre not-for-profit wildlife conservancy, between the foothills of the Aberdares and Mount Kenya, and sits on the Equator.
In the airy dining tent, Alex Hunter, owner of Ol Pejeta Bush Camp, welcomes his guests for lunch.
“I trained as a chef,” he reminisces. It shows. The lunch spread of Cumin Roasted Beets and Butternut Squash, Lamb Casserole, a rustic Baked Cauliflower in Tomato Sauce, fragrant homemade Focaccia With Olives and Rosemary, Penne Casserole with Tomato Sauce topped with slices of tomato and dusted with parmesan, and a simple yet flavourful Green Spring Beans and Coriander salad was obviously curated by someone who has a passion for combining flavours and featuring locally-sourced produce. On the table are scattered bottles of homemade chilli oils and sauces. Chilli peppers with various ratings on the Scoville scale marinate happily in alcohol, lime juice and herbs. Fresh, simple and flavourful – one of the best meals I’ve ever had whilst visiting a bush camp in Kenya, and I’ve been to many.
Past the dining and mess tents where guests can browse through a collection of books and sink into sofas, a path leads to the rooms – in this case tents – through thick bush and usually past a curious yet docile resident buffalo named Russell.
“Russell, as in one night a guest heard a rustle – so we called him Russell,” explains Hunter, who has recently added two more tents to the property, bringing the total to seven, all situated along the river.
You tend to overlook much of what there is to see and do in the country you call home, so the chance to be a tourist in your own backyard is a great way to reconnect.
As well as its prime position in the conservancy next to the Ewaso Nyiro River, Ol Pejeta Bush Camp is also only a few minutes away from accessing the many activities available at Ol Pejeta Conservancy. Visitors to the conservancy can go on a guided bush walk to view game from an unique perspective by foot, track lions with experienced researchers that monitor the population of the cats in the conservancy, visit the famous blind black rhino Baraka, take a walk in the Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary that the famous primatologist Jane Goodall helped open, and even learn about how the conservancy is able to successfully integrate wildlife and livestock before heading back to camp for a refreshing shower, a roaring camp fire, a cup of steaming coffee and to animated tales of the day’s highlights. Dinner is ready just in time and a date with the nocturnal animals on a night game drive is also on the menu if you wish.
I am greeted by a sweeping view of the river, barely made visible by the early morning light, which stream through gaps in the clouds. At the mess tent, a light snack, Kenyan tea and coffee await. The sun quickly rises over the horizon and first light picks its way through the haze, painting the sky fiery colours. The furtive silhouettes of water buffalo stand guard across the flowing river – mornings at Ol Pejeta Bush Camp mean waking up to an incredible view, a well-loved tradition for those that have been visiting the camp for the last 8 years.
Feeling unphased by the recent security concerns in Kenya, Maureen from Grimsby UK, was visiting the camp for the tenth time. “I’ve been to many camps and lodges, but this one definitely has a unique charm,” shares Maureen. “I’ve been to Tanzania as well, but Kenyans just always are so friendly and are always smiling.”
There’s an unmistakeable down-to-earth bush air to this camp, but that’s not to say it isn’t friendly for those that have an affinity for the finer things in life. Hot showers, luxurious organic soaps, stunning food, gumboots for rainy days, and even a discreet location – perfect for a getaway. Built entirely on an eco-friendly design, the temporary structures keep the camp’s environmental impact as low as possible.
My short ‘staycation’ – holiday within your city or region – at Ol Pejeta Bush Camp was painfully short. While it may not have the size or facilities of a chain hotel, I enjoyed my tented camp experience for its intimate setting and plush down-to-earth interiors.
You tend to overlook much of what there is to see and do in the country you call home, so the chance to be a tourist in your own backyard is a great way to reconnect. All it takes is a bit of foraging and sometimes you can find a gem in the midst of your home. And if you don’t live in Kenya, you have even more to catch up on, especially if you head to Ol Pejeta Conservancy.