Did you ever imagine youself walking up the side of the Rift Valley with just you and a Masai guide with just you, his knowledge of the bush and a spear between you and a lion or buffalo?
Since I was a child I had dreamed of such experiences, so eventually I booked myself on a 'Migration of the Herds Safari with the African Travel Specialists, located in Melbourne's Armadale.
Sanctuary Olonana was one of many wonderful lodges I experienced as part of this tour, but it truly was unique.
Sanctuary Olonana had been developed in partnership with the local Masai tribe. Not only did it offer some of the very best luxury tented camping in Kenya, it was also pretty much sustainable when it came to producing its own power and produce, not just for the resort, but also for the local Masai.
It was the one place I stayed in Kenya where the safe to drink bottled water was produced on site, after been sent through a five pond filtration system, having first been captured to help produce methane gas and dried cow dung briquettes for the local villages to cook with. I expected way less than this degree of sustainable development at home in Australia, much less in the wilds of Kenya. Water coming out of the final filtration reed bed is cleaner than when first taken from the river. It is finally either released back into the Masai river, or drunk by all at Olonana, including tourists and the Masai themselves.
Sanctuary Olonana is the most advanced eco lodge I have ever stayed at anywhere in the world. Not only does it produce its own power, cooking fuels and food, much effort is put into conserving and enhancing local species preservation, to ensure the elephants, rhino, giraffes and other animals will continue to enjoy ample species to feed on across the seasons. Effort is put into seed collection and plant propagation of rare species of acacias, euphorbias and more and guests can participate in this conservation and reforestation venture. Indeed once you plant a tree on the plains of the Mara, then it is said that tree will call you to return.
My tree, "the father and mother of the forest" is already calling me back. I want to return to walk along the Mara river, or up the side of the Rift Valley where the Olonana hills rise and look out across thoose gloriuos plains. I want to again try the palnts that prevent the Masai from suffering from thirst as they herd their cattle and goats far from water sources. I want to taste the fruits of the forest and learn more of the healing plants. I want to see if more cattle will respond to my whistle, despite the fact I look nothing like a Masai warrior.
I want to go on game drives where I meet a rare black rhino who obliges for a long photo session, or witness a family of hyenas as this season's pups laze, play and drink their mother's milk. I want to watch ancient matriarch elephants gently guard a new born calf inside a circle of older animals, or watch it wobble as its little legs and trunk only begin to manipulate themselves. I want to watch cheetahs guarding their recently caught prey as they dine, keeping a watchful eye out across the plains for animals likely to steal their hard won kill. Their muzzles are stained red with blood.
Returning to camp I would find Masai stories about those same animals typed up on my mosquito netted queen sized bed. or choose from a selection of non fiction gems about the animals, the Masai and even the history of Safari... if only I had more time I could have read each from cover to cover and select more in the Library, within the lodge.
Meanwhile I would stretch out on my verandah and peruse the opposite bank of the Mara for wildlife, whilst the sounds of the water rushing through the rapids would soon have me relaxed. Only a short walk along the path leading to the Lodge, hippos would be wallowing within the river. They were noisy. I was happy to enjoy watching them from the dining area and instead of their raucas grunts, have the soothing sounds of the rapids outside my tent.
Nowhere else have I ever experienced such a magnificent encounter with a blue vervet monkey, who gently joined me for at least half an hour and obliged with exhibiting the most photogenic of natural behaviours. She was not expecting, let alone pestering me for food, indeed she seemed as curious about me as I was about her. Nothing beats such wonderful interspecies encounters.
In between the wonderful scenery and animal encounters there were meals lovingly prepared by Big John and his team. All a la carte and exquisitely presented. I had not expected such exquisite food nor wines in Kenya, but here, was fare as good, if not better, than the very best you might expect in France or Italy, but often with a local twist.
All the staff at Sanctuary Olonana, from my personal valet and our security escorts, who kept us safe from wild animals at night, to our exceptional hosts and managers, the Masai naturalist and philanthropy manager, and our wonderful guides, whose knowledge of the animals, birds and eco system was impeccible. Everyone spoke excellent English and prided themselves on their eductional and industry achievements, which included several Kenyan and international ecotourism awards. Olonana cannot be faulted. Staying at Olanana is an experience difficult to exceed!
You will be treated as an individual traveller, not just a tourist and you will be enriched in your knowledge of humanity and our natural world as a result.
Sanctuary Olonana,is an experience not to be missed!