Mystical, Magical Kenya

Sunrise over Borana Ranch at Laragai House

By Mary Anne Been

Africa – for some it’s a fantastic adventure full of excitement and magic. For others it’s a time of reflection and an opportunity to discover something that couldn’t be found elsewhere. For me, Africa was a lifelong dream, somewhere I have dreamed of going since I was a young girl.

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I’ve imagined lions frolicking in the sunset on the savannah, and great birds nesting in the tall grass. For 37 years I have watched movies and shows, listened to stories of other people’s journeys, and imagined myself in their shoes. Then, I got the call to go. Jason and I excitedly packed our bags. We were going to Africa.

The Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, London

Our first stop was a layover in London. We were to spend the night and head out the next evening for Nairobi, Kenya. While in London, we decided to take advantage of the time we had there and see a show, have a great dinner out, and play tourist. Still filled with excitement about Africa, we were barely able to sleep that night, although I have to say the Mandarin Oriental in Hyde Park isn’t a bad place to be sleepless. Our room had a delightful view of Hyde Park, and we found out that the hotel was the location of the British royal couple’s reception dinner. All the royals from around the world were there, and from what we gathered, it was quite the party.

The next evening, we were shuttled off to Heathrow International airport and were checked in and boarding our flight to Nairobi. The anticipation of what was awaiting us was so overwhelming I could not close my eyes to sleep. Then, eight hours later, the voice of the captain informed us over the loudspeaker that we were beginning our descent into Nairobi.

Tribe Hotel, Nairobi

When I walked out of the airport, I made a mental note to be present and aware of every moment that I was in Africa. There wasn’t one thing I wanted to miss or forget. Cars, buses and the sound of hustle and bustle were everywhere. Nairobi is a busy city full of people moving from place to place, just like any other city in the world. We made our way to the Tribe Hotel, which was to be our home base for the length of our stay. The first night at the Tribe was a relaxing treat. We were shown to our room, and I went straight to the Kaya Spa, where I enjoyed an hour-long massage. After traveling for so long my body was sore and tired. The massage made all the difference. We had a wonderful meal and studied our next few days’ itinerary. We were to be on safari for four nights at three different safari camps in Northern Kenya and the Masai Mara. Tribe made for a very easy transition from flight to safari.

The children of Rotary Cura Orphanage

After a brief rest, we were invited by Tribe to visit the Rotary Cura Orphanage. I was a bit hesitant at first, but after some encouragement from Jason we were on our way. I thought it would be heartbreaking seeing children in an orphanage. I have two children, so it was difficult not to be emotional. We were greeted enthusiastically by the children at Cura, who sang us a fun, lighthearted song about life in Kenya and wanted to play and show us around. It brought tears to my eyes when they were singing to us. I couldn’t help but be touched by their sweetness. After talking with some of the children and seeing where they sleep, learn, and play, I realized how fortunate these children were to have Cura. Though not an ideal situation, they made the best of it. Many of the children at Cura are orphaned by parents who have died from AIDS or have families who can’t afford to care for them properly. Rotary Cura Orphanage makes sure all the children there are educated, have medical care, and are allowed to practice their religion.

Our Safarilink plane to Lewa Downs

Early the next morning, we boarded a small 16-passenger Safarilink plane and flew to Lewa Downs airport to meet up with our guide from Laragai House on Borana Ranch. I hate small planes, but Jason, being the daredevil that he is, asked the pilot if he could sit in the co-pilot seat to take photos. He also asked to affix his GoPro Camera to the windshield of the plane so he wouldn’t miss anything.

Landing at Lewa Downs on our way to Laragai House

It was like a scene out of an old movie. We approached a long dirt landing strip surrounded on all sides by tall yellow grass. At the side of the strip were two dark-green Land Rovers sitting next to a thatched-roof building. There was nothing else around for miles. I was in the Africa I have dreamed about my whole life.

The first game drive on our way to Laragai House

Llewellyn Dyer, our guide, met us at the plane with a smile and firm handshake. Before we knew it we were heading into our first game drive of the safari. I closed my eyes and breathed in the dusty warm air and reminded myself – I’m in Africa. We drove down elephant-gray dirt roads full of bumps and rocks while Llewellyn told us about the land we were driving through. Suddenly, to our right, two cheetahs were chasing an antelope through the grass. Llewellyn explained how rare it is to see cheetahs hunting together, and how it was even rarer to see it within the first 20 minutes of a game drive. Then my focus became broader, and I realized we were not just looking at cheetahs and antelope – elephants and zebras and eland were grazing along side all the excitement. As a first impression, it’s burned into my memory forever.

Rose and Anthony Dyer at their home on Borana Ranch

We were headed to the Borana Game Reserve, a 35,000-acre piece of land dedicated to ranching, farming, and wildlife preservation. The Borana Ranch is owned and run by the Dyer Family. The Dyers have an exciting and rich family history in Africa, reaching all the way back to 1920. Jason and I could have listened for days to Anthony and Rose Dyer’s stories of adventure and life in Africa, but unfortunately we only had a short time with them. However, we did get to enjoy a dinner with Michael and Niki Dyer.

Our room at Laragai House on Borana Ranch

Our next two nights were spent at Laragai House, a home on Borana Ranch owned by the Stephenson family. Upon arrival at Laragai House, we were greeted by the staff and shown to our room. Laragai House is quite large and can accommodate a group of 20 people. Our room was spacious and very romantic. We were fed a delicious curry fish lunch, and at 4 pm we were invited to tea.

Lions on Borana preparing for their evening hunt

It was going to be sundown soon, and Llewellyn thought it would be great to show us some lions. Seriously, we were on our way to visit a pride of lions. My heart almost jumped out of my chest – I couldn’t wait. We headed out and drove far. There was nothing around us for miles except for tall yellow grass, flat-topped trees, and a breeze. Even with no animals in sight, Africa is beautiful.

Slowly the truck came to a stop, and we were shushed and told to look to our right. There was nothing, then a tail flicked in the air and a female lion rolled onto her back to stretch. She peeked up over the grass, and oh my God, she was beautiful, with golden fur and round ears. Then out of nowhere, 11 more heads and bodies rose from the grass. How were they hiding right under our noses? These wonderful animals sat together for 30 minutes stretching, grooming each other, and playing, and paying absolutely no mind to us 20 feet away.

Male lion following his pride on Borana Ranch

Like the king that he is, the male lion with his dark brown mane rose from the back of the group to sit quietly and survey what all the other lions were doing. He stretched and yawned and sniffed the air, picking up the sent of everything and everyone around him. He fixed a long slow gaze toward us as if to decide whether we were threatening or not, and then followed the rest of the lions out for that evening’s hunt. That night, Jason and I spent quite a bit of time sitting by the fireplace in our room talking about our day’s adventures and what the next day would hold for us.

Horseback riding on Borana Ranch

We got up early and had breakfast on a lookout with a 180-degree view. What to do? We had so many choices for the day. Play tennis, go for a hike through the bush, visit a Masai village, picnics, massages, or take a horseback ride. We thought a horse back ride would be a great way to spend our day. Jason packed up his camera equipment and we drove over to meet our horses.

How many times can you say you’ve been 10 feet from wild zebra and giraffe? That is how close we were able to get to the animals while on horseback, remembering the entire time that this was not staged for our enjoyment. These animals are here, living and roaming, and it is their decision to let us join them or not. What a privilege.

The next morning we were back on board our Safarilink plane and heading out to our next safari camp. We landed on another small landing strip in the Masai Mara. We were warmly welcomed by the staff from Richard’s Camp and promptly whisked away. The Mara was a much different place than Borana. The views were full of flat land with tall yellow grass and trees. From the sky they looked like a landscape of leopard spots. Ironically enough, I asked what Mara meant and come to find out it means “spotted”.

Hippos in the river on our way to Richard’s Camp

Richard himself was at the camp with us and was so much fun. He shared his family’s story with us and told us about how Richard’s Camp came to be. On our way from the “airport,” we drove along, not completely aware of what was happening in the river below until we stopped and took a gander over the edge. There in the river were hippos. Not just a few – so many we couldn’t count them all. They were snorting and calling out to each other. These animals are unbelievably massive and there is nothing gentle about them. They appear to be gentle giants, but they are fast and aggressive with each other. The very large males stand up out of the water to show their size to the other males in the different pods floating along the river to make sure everyone knows where they belong. It’s quite an interesting show. Jason was completely fearless and ran down to the water’s edge to capture these giants on his camera. I ventured down to the shore of the river and watched.

Luxury tent at Richard’s Camp

Back in the truck, we drove through the Mara admiring its elegance. Arriving at Richard’s Camp, we were given a look around and shown to our luxury camping tents. I laughed at myself knowing what my friends at home were going to say. “You camped in tents while on safari?” I entertained the idea of telling them how I roughed it in the Mara and had to sleep in a tent with bugs and wild animals all around at night, but I couldn’t resist bragging about how incredible it is to luxury tent camp. There was a bit of roughing it, but for the most part it couldn’t have been more comfortable.

Outdoor tub at Richard’s Camp

The large canvas tents were equipped with running water and a working toilet. The décor was beautiful but still made us feel like we were out in the wilds of Africa. Then Richard asked a peculiar question. “Do you enjoy a tub?” “Well, yes. Why do you ask?” Then I saw the most romantic thing ever. Richard introduced me to their outdoor bathtub, completely private, but still outside. Later that night, after a fantastic meal, a hot bubble bath was drawn for me and was waiting by candlelight. Before my tub, Richard told us a story of an elephant that paid him a visit while he was in the tub. I wished that would have happened to me! After my lovely bath, I climbed into my bed and peacefully closed my eyes for a restful night’s sleep. Early the next morning, before the sun was up, there were some unidentifiable noises outside our tent. Come to find out we were paid a visit by the hippos from the river and a couple hyena. Wish I had looked outside.

Visiting a Masai Village / Masai Man with his cattle

After the hyena and hippos went through camp and before sunrise, I snuck out of our tent with camera in hand and met up with our guide, who was taking me to a nearby Masai village for a visit. We arrived as all of the women were emerging from their huts getting ready to do their morning routine and letting the cows out of their hold and ushering them over to be milked. One woman was thrilled to let me take a turn at milking her cow. The crying babies and little kids who were being woken up to greet the day were reminiscent of my own two at home, who I missed very much. It was fun to be surrounded by kids who wanted to play and laugh. The Masai men taught me how to start a fire by rubbing two sticks together. Believe it or not, I did it! They then did a ceremonial song and dance for me, for which I was very grateful. It was such a pleasure to meet and experience the Masai people.

Everything was an adventure, even breakfast. Richard arranged for us to have a “bush breakfast.” Our guide drove us out on the Mara where our breakfast was being prepared. Imagine driving slowly over a ridge and the first thing you see is a tree standing in the tall yellow-green grass. Then, as you drive closer, a table with a red tablecloth flapping in the breeze slowly appears. Perhaps it’s just me, but I think Africa has the ability to romance a person. We sat at breakfast in the wide-open space of the Masai Mara enjoying great conversation and a fabulous meal with the most fantastic view.

Our mountainside cottage at Saruni in Kenya’s Masai Mara

Later that day, we headed out to our next safari camp, Saruni, which was unique among all other safari camps. The cottages clustered in the hills of the Mara above the valley have scenic views and incredible ambiance. It was sweet – Jason and I had been booked in the Honeymoon Suite. We were told the room has the best view, and as we explored the room we realized why. From every room of the suite there were extraordinary views of the Mara Valley and the hills across from us where animals come to graze and get water every morning and evening. There is nothing like being serenaded by elephants at 10 pm or being greeted by an eland and a baby on the path to our room while walking back from sitting by the fire after dinner. Africa is unforgettable.

Jiko Restaurant at Tribe Hotel in Kenya

On the last leg of our African adventure, we spent two nights in Nairobi back at the Tribe Hotel. I loved this hotel. It was really comfortable, and even though it is a hotel, it had a very intimate feel. Jason and I had a great room and the hotel staff was very accommodating. I was ready for a fancy dinner out. We headed down stairs to Jiko, Tribe’s restaurant. The executive chef, Luca Molteni, is highly creative and employs an interesting fusion of Italian techniques combined with African flavors. It makes for one of the best menus we have ever tasted. He also has worked very hard to create a new BBQ technology called vapor grill. When the grill heats up, stored water vaporizes to tenderize the meat and create an even cooking surface. Chef Molteni uses locally sourced ingredients in his menu. We had a delightful meal and enjoyed the ambiance of the hotel very much.

Sadly, the next morning we finished our packing and got ready to head back to London and then to Los Angeles. We said goodbye to the staff we had met, checked out, and headed to the airport. On the plane, I took a deep breath and thought to myself that Africa is a place everyone needs to go once in his or her life.

The Bar Boulud of the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, London

Back in London, we once again stayed at the Mandarin Oriental in Hyde Park. We were exhausted, jet-lagged, and hungry, but we were eager to try out their restaurant, Bar Boulud. Acclaimed chef Daniel Boulud has created an extraordinary menu of classic French cuisine. The restaurant features charcuterie platters to die for, real French onion soup, and delicious steak tartar. We ate until we couldn’t eat any more! What a fantastic ending to such an incredible trip. As sad as we were to say goodbye, we were just as excited to come home and share our journey with everyone we know.

If you would like to plan a trip like this please see the links below:

Anastasia’s Africa

Tribe Hotel

Kaya Spa


Laragai House


Richard’s Camp


Mandarin Oriental, Hyde Park

Rotary Cura Orphanage