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Stories from the Kenyan bush

February 28th 2014 - Lentorre Lodge - the first month!

(All of the photos taken this month were on the iphone so excuse the poor quality…)

nothing but wild africa all roundLentorre is the name of a nearby spring which flows all year round and is a popular destination for all the wildlife in the area. It is also the name of our brand new 16 bed luxury lodge

Wow, what a project – on the surface, taking over the management of Lentorre Lodge seemed simple enough. All we had to do was get the place ship shape before our booking agents and ground handlers come to visit in mid-March… six weeks seemed a realistic figure. And then we began writing our "to do" lists…. Re-tile all of the plunge pools, add canvas "windows" to each room, build an office and shop, dig soak pits, sort out the drastic erosion issues, rebuild the entrance road, build a bar, prepare the gardens, sort out the camp wiring and electricity, the list seemed to go on and on… and then we discovered that the phone signal was virtually non-existent which meant even the simplest question or request meant jumping in our Landover and driving for thirty minutes just to find a signal strong enough to send a text message or, if we were lucky, an email!

Such challenges would be overwhelming but thankfully the camp is blessed with incredibly hard working and cheerful staff and so, day by day, work goes on and the list is gradually shrinking… but that doesn't take into account the other, unforeseen, challenges.

ElephantThe first Monday that we were alone in camp the tractor disappeared. Our tractor driver, who doubles as our pool attendant, had gone out to drop one of the builders in the nearby town as he wasn't feeling well. (It turns out the guy had a spot of internal bleeding after jumping into a wheelbarrow when he discovered a snake in a pile of stones!) Anyway, the tractor driver should have been back in camp the night before but by 10am on Monday there was still no sign of him and he wasn't picking up his phone. So I set out in search of him, totally convinced that already the staff were trying to test the new managers. After an hour and a half of searching, visiting his home, and generally wandering around the group ranch looking for our little blue tractor, we found him wandering down the road! (You can hardly call a bush path in the middle of no-where a road, but that's what the government classifies it as!)

View from the Dining RoomHe took us to where the tractor was, stationary and silent, in the middle of the bush! It seems it had not been serviced since it was bought two years previously, the diesel filter was clogged with dirt and grim, the battery was missing and it was a miracle that it ran at all. We did the best that we could using the tools in my car (the camp didn't even have a tool box!) and after push starting the tractor, it came back to life. Only now was I beginning to understand the obstacles that the staff had had to deal with for the last few months!

The next few days went well and the smaller projects developed quickly. We employed some local Maasai to build a road and new access to the lodge and it was during this exercise that I realised how hard working the local villagers were. The directors and I calculated that it would take approximately two weeks to build the access road. Six days later I drove the Land Rover down the road for the first time! This can do attitude really impressed me and the guys were rewarded with more work around camp. Even when we suggested that they cut poles to help stem the erosion in front of the guides' rooms, they asked one or two sensible questions and just got to it, even though it meant they were clinging to the cliff face like mountain goats!

Flooded riverAt the end of our first full week in camp the rains arrived with a vengeance. I love African rainstorms as they are so powerful, but I am always a little apprehensive as I have lost lodges during floods in the past and know all too well how destructive water can be! Although the rains in Kenya don't normally fall in February, a cyclone over Madagascar had created a strange weather pattern and so, for three days and nights, it rained! As well as turning the bush green almost overnight, the rains also turned the roads into muddy rivers. This made for fun driving in the Land Rover, but also created a big headache for us as we had a supply Canter coming to camp with an urgent delivery of building materials and foodstuffs. Anticipating problems, I arranged for the tractor and half of the camp staff to come with me to meet the lorry. I went on ahead and met the lorry, already stuck in mud less than one kilometre off the main group ranch road. After pushing him out of the mud three or four times, using the bulbar on the Land Rover, the over enthusiastic driver managed to get the lorry properly stuck.

Puncture repairI had expected the tractor to be with us by now and went back to look for him. The poor tractor driver was having a nightmare morning. First he had had diesel filter problems again (there was hopefully a new diesel filter on the lorry!) and then, after making a temporary repair, he had then acquired a puncture! After all of these obstacles, and more rain, we eventually had no alternative but to off load the lorry and ferry everything to camp on the tractor, which turned an arduous task into a three day project!

Colobus monkey By and large the month of February has really flown by. We have implemented new ideas, refined existing procedures and had to deal with a never ending stream of visits from the local community, all coming to check up on camp, say and introduce themselves and recommend that we hire a relative or buy goods from them or something of the sort. It seems such a friendly community and everyone is always smiling and it certainly makes life a little bit more pleasant for us.

Wild dogEven the wildlife is getting more relaxed. We frequently have zebra, impala and giraffe around camp and the other night, whilst relaxing in the bath sipping on some wine, Kara and I were treated to a visit from three wild dogs who came to drink at the water hole just 50 metres from our room! Between this, the sightings of elephants and Colobus monkeys in the forest nearby and the nightly noises of lions, hyenas and leopards, makes us realise what a wonderful paradise Lentorre Lodge is!