Some minutes past 8am, I alight a matatu at Kimana town, in Oloitokitok, Kajiado county. It takes me a few seconds to spot my ride to the heart of Amboseli (or Empusel as the locals call it), a four-wheel drive vehicle.
The vehicle is branded Ol Tukai Lodge and that is my destination. We drive towards Oloitokitok town and then turn right towards Amboseli National Park. As we enter the park, the cloud of dust following us indicates the level of thirst the plain savanna is having.
Old trees have long called it a day, as herds of impala graze lazily along the way, nibbling the sprouting acacia trees. The driver, Diwan Singh, tells me of the terrible salt that is “eating the vegetation”, how destructive the elephants have become and how skinny the rest of the wildlife has become, thanks to the ravaging drought. Before long, we arrive at the lodge.
It is not any other day at the beautiful facility, as East African Safari Classic Rally is happening and the place has been designated as the service bay for the rally cars. The place is a beehive of activities.
Diwan ushers me towards the reception and we promise to catch up later. Kennedy Were, the lodge’s general manager, meets me at the reception. After exchanging pleasantries he asks me how hungry I am.
I reply, “I am starving!” all to a wry laughter from him. One of the receptionists then leads my way to the restaurant. The dining room features an intricately designed sisal tapestry by a local artist, and the welcoming aroma from the buffet blocks all other senses. After a half-hour-battle with knives and forks, my plate is clear and I sip my apple juice as I gaze towards the open fields.
From a distance, you can see a number of wild animals. From zebras to herds of elephants making their way to a nearby swampy oasis. I take it all in before deciding to explore my surroundings. The Elephant Bar is situated between the lounge and the dining room. Above it is a roof-level deck, which offers a splendid panorama of the marshlands and Mt Kilimanjaro.
While standing there, I remember something that has been annoyingly disturbing me. Then like an open floodgate, it all clicks. This is where Nameless did the video for his song Inspire Me!
A lush garden invites you to the swimming pool, and with the sun now blazing down on us, dipping oneself in the water seems like a good idea. I mentally vote against it as I head back towards the lobby where huge canvases hang. Most of them bear the tusked animals to be found in the area. As I wheel around to see who knows me, I am surprised to bump into media personality Eddie Kimani.
He is busy shuffling between the makeshift media and business centres. Given his love for rallying, it’s no brainier why he is here. “This is one of the best places I have worked at. The locals here are friendly, the weather is perfect and the property is a gem.
There are 80 luxury chalet-style twin rooms, all with an uninterrupted view of the wetlands or Kilimanjaro,” Were tells me as we chat at the garden. To accommodate physically challenged guests, two rooms have been designed according to EU standards, he informs me. There are four main packages offered; the road package, the air package, the conference package and the wedding package.
Each package has it’s own price, but different for residents and non-residents. Here, boredom is a mysterious word. For bird lovers, bird-watching needs are taken care of, given that Ol Tukai is home to more than 400 species of birds.
In the evening after game drives, troupes of Maasai morans entertain guests. At Ol Tukai (Maasai for palm trees), conference facilities are the best. Each conference room can accommodate up to 200 delegates and special seating arrangements can be done upon request. The lodge also offers WiFi services and there is an interdenominational chapel for spiritual care.
Suddenly, there is an increased level of activity outside as rally cars start streaming-in. With my attention now captured by the turbo-charged engine noises, my talk with Were ends prematurely, but with a promise of coming back to the garden for more chitchat.
Outside locals and staff are busy taking selfies with the drivers and their cars. I ask Were how crazy it was logistically to accommodate the whole racing team, to which he says: “We are always prepared for it. The event is biennial and we are always looking forward towards this sporting occasion!”