YOU can’t go far wrong with a safari holiday in Kenya at this time of year. The who’s who of the animal kingdom migrate in their millions from the Serengeti in Tanzania through to fresh pastures of the Masai Mara.
Tourists flock from all over the world to watch one of nature’s most awesome spectacles unfold from the comfort of their luxurious, air-conditioned 4 x 4’s. But there is another way.
Welcome to Tassia
My wife and I are keen hikers, so we wanted a slightly different transport approach to safaris and Tassia Lodge, perched high up in the sparse dry-lands of Laikipia in Northern Kenya, came highly recommended.
Tassia has a refreshing approach to the usual safari holiday, in that everything is seen and experienced by foot. Indeed the only time we got the chance to view the wildlife via motorized transport was the two hour trip from Lewa airstrip to Tassia itself.
Antonia Hall and Martin Wheeler started this adventure four years ago, sleeping under the stars whilst working all hours with little financial or material resource in developing Tassia Lodge to the impressive structure it is today. The emphasis is on enhancing and educating both tourists and local communities alike on eco-tourism. The Tassia project is a partnership between Martin, his father and Antonia working closely together with the Lekurruki tribe, many of whom work at the lodge.
Driving to the lodge we could see the effects of the terrible drought that has affected Northern Kenya over the last three years. Dry riverbeds, scorched earth and searing heat were ever present.
We were warmly greeted by Martin and could immediately see the close rapport that he and Antonia have with the Masai.
Martin was born and bred in Lewa and has spent most of his life in the Kenyan bush. Sitting in the attractive surroundings of the lounge, with awesome views of the rocky savannah in all directions, it was obvious how much work Martin and Antonia have put in to making Tassia happen.
We were shown to our hut which was idyllically located on the edge of the Mokogodo escarpment with glorious panoramas stretching across the Northern Frontier District towards Samburu and the sacred ‘Blood’ mountain.
The bandas are beautifully put together with a deliciously comfortable sofa-bed primed for a siesta and a welcome breeze whistling through our thatched room. The entire complex has a curtain-free policy and is open air meaning that you awake and go to bed with the unique sounds of the African wild as a constant companion.
Safari by foot
On our first evening, Martin took us out for a wildlife walk. Watching Martin glide through the bush, ever attentive and almost cat-like, was an experience in itself. All we could do was keep up, desperately trying not to make too much noise and failing miserably as twigs and branches were crunched underfoot. There was ample wildlife around, water buck, kudu, zebras and Baboons continually crossing our path.
Martin all the while kept up a breathless commentary about this extraordinary habitat and its tenants. Antonia and Simon, an expert tracker in his own right, met us in the valley’s dry riverbed with a thirst quenching drinks cabinet just as the heavens opened for some rarely seen rain.
Meet the Masai
So much of Tassia is about the relationship between the Masai, Martin and Antonia. They treat the staff like their brothers and sisters, not as employees. If only all work conditions could be the same.
We had the chance to get a real insight into everyday Masai life on two further foot excursions.
First we were taken on a hugely entertaining but informative tour of the caves around Tassia, learning about the last cave people, who only up until recently ventured out into the villages.
The Masai are resourceful people. This was further illustrated when spending some time with many of the staff’s families in Ngongoni village above Tassia. It was a humbling experience learning about the daily battle to keep predators out of camp and the critical search for water. Their homes are simple but immaculate with maize on the boil and the frenzied sound of bees hugging to empty jerry cans in a desperate search to find moisture. The smoke dominates the interior and escapes through a small hole in the roof but most of the villagers have fearful eye swellings due to the constant exposure. Goats are their livelihood and they are guarded ferociously by the elders. With understandable caution the kids approached us, fascinated by my camera and after a couple of self-portraits the poses really started to come out. The relationship between elders and kids was special to witness with constant laughter and songs aplenty. An undoubtedly tough life and yet the Masai move with the times, demonstrated by the fact that most of the grown-ups have mobile phones and can process mobile payments.
Tassia is a very real African story of starting from nothing and creating something very special. Martin, Antonia and the local community have worked so hard to bring Tassia right to the top of safari destinations to experience.
Walking in and amongst one ofAfrica’s most fascinating wildernesses and being so well looked after by Antonia and her sumptuous food, completed a perfect few days for us.
To find out more about Tassia Lodge, visit Tassiasafaris.com