Camp Manager's Diaries

WHY DID YOU COME HERE?

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We all spend a huge amount of time and energy trying to make our camps look smarter and more luxurious. We spend hours agonising over thread counts for linen and the particular shade of beige for the scatter cushions.

We have photographers fret over perfect exposures and worried helpers tweak the positioning of highly polished glassware for that award-winning image. We get glossy ads in pricey magazines and yards of editorial about the wonders of each particular camp to woo the prospective guest to rest their heads on our ever softer pillows.

High definition pictures of bored leopards, lions yawning (or is that a Metro Goldwin roar) and sleepy crocodiles sunning themselves on the mud bank are meant to lure you into our somewhat unreal oasis of luxury.

So I often ask the question “Why did you decide to come here?”

The initial reasons vary from a childhood dream, often tempered by a Christmas viewing of the ‘Born Free’ adventure, to a bucket list desire to visit Hemingway’s playground, or a simple love of Africa and a desire to return to the ‘big skies and big cats’.

The final choice is almost inevitably made on a friend or the agent’s recommendation to a place that they have been to and loved. The website or other travellers reviews might seal the deal but it’s the personal experience that counts. Although creature comforts are a pleasure – any fool can be uncomfortable – it’s sometimes the less than perfectly manicured moments that are more memorable. A disrupted game drive to give the vet a lift across across the plains to a wounded animal.

Getting back to camp late and hot after realising the day has passed by too fast with too much to see. Midnight rumblings of an elephant’s tummy outside the room. And sometimes the unexpected friendships that develop in good company.

Any these will make one camp stand out amongst the kaleidoscope of equally lovely places and are what make an ever ever-increasing number of people come back to Elsa’s.

Hope to see you soon.

Philip & Charlie

 

 

Delicacies at Elsa’s Kopje

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One of the joys of the trade we practice is meeting such a variety of people, from all walks of life, from all continents, beliefs, backgrounds and racial origins.

One of the first questions we always ask is, ‘any particular dietary restrictions, allergies or preferences?’

Certain continents seem to have far more intolerances than others do and gluten-free, lactose-resistant vegetarian menus have become the norm. Consequently, the good old-fashioned Italianesque menus that we are known for become somewhat of a challenge!

A delightful Australian girl told me earnestly that she was vegetarian but could eat eggs… so long as they were vegetarian eggs. Visions of vampire-drooling chickens spun through my imagination. When I inadvertently asked where she thought I might find vegetarian eggs 200 kilometres away from any civilised shopping, I was curtly told, “The vegetarian supermarket!”

Allergies can be more of a problem, and the sweet young thing that said she ‘didn’t do peanuts’ gave us a fright when she started going into anaphylactic shock at 4.00 in the afternoon. Everyone else in the lodge knows you do not break a leg after four, as that’s the cut-off time for the air rescue plane to get into Elsa’s. Great team work and nifty flying by the local charter company got her to Nanyuki hospital in time for her to recover without treatment.

Preferences are very personal and although we sometimes have to change the menus to include Elsa’s Layer Cake (chocolate. biscuit and cream with more chocolate and cream) or Lemon Meringue Pie which is heavenly! I was gently teasing a Norwegian guest about the Scandinavian predilection for buried dead fish when he told me about his own preference for pickled polar bear penis. For once I was speechless…

Bon appetit,

Philip & Charlie

Building Works at Elsa’s Kopje

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Building is a passion. Or at least it helps if it is.

Building in a lodge or anywhere the hospitality trade allows one the luxury of creativity and attention to the wackiest of detail but by the nature of the beast it has deadlines and that just gives it all a little more punch.

What starts as a gentle idea to ‘just push out that wall and give us a little more room’ very soon turns into ‘we might as well replace the floor while we are doing it’ and at that point ‘it seems silly to be doing all this work without rewiring it too’. While we are about it, we should give it all a lick of paint and sand and oil the floors.

Oh! And shall we alter the roof on the bar while all the carpenters are there?!

In addition, we have the general maintenance from a busy but never quite busy enough season that has passed.

We have twelve rooms in the lodge and then there are three main public rooms with two kitchens and eight storerooms, two pantries, 21 toilets in 14 bathrooms. Three maintenance rooms, a cooler room, freezer room, generator room, paint store, waste room, crockery and office stores. The list goes on and on…

The four inverters feed and are fed by 20 batteries, two generators and a smattering of solar panels and each of the cottages has its solar water heater too.

Add to the five game viewing cars the transfer vehicle, the staff 4×4 pickup and the venerable thirty-year-old Bedford truck that has been in daily use since it was bought second hand well before the lodge was built.

There is a fair amount of wear and tear to keep up to date and polished before you, the gentle reader and reason for all of this, can sip a ‘Gin & Tonic’ on the front veranda of your room.

So almost half the general staff go home, the builders move in and anyone left behind is pressed into carting sand and mixing paint. The days start as usual with the sun peeping over the horizon at six but before too long the merry thud of hammers and the whistling of carpenters ring out over the plains.

Its time for our gentle rains and the wild flowers spring out of the dust to cover the park in colour. Its breeding time and the herds are full of young. The old truck carts sand and thatch, the game cars pull trailers of rock. The Bar men twist the thatching into place and the sous chefs mix cement.

Will it all be ready when we re-open in June? Who knows but we are pretty sure that when you settle into crisp white cotton sheets after a steaming bath and turn out the polished bed light the sweat and tears of getting it all ready for a new season will be just a dream.

Sleep well, tomorrow brings a new day of wonder as Meru unfolds another year of excitement joy and the never-ending fascination of what is just round the corner…

Come and see for yourself!

Philip & Charlie

Africa’s Finest…

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Out of choice we prefer to run what is called these days a “green” or at least reasonably socially responsible camp. Mostly this is a deal of common sense combined with a clean and tidy operation.

Hardly earth shattering stuff but as more and more people share the same ethos, it becomes more and more important.

Game Drive in Meru National Park, Kenya
Game Drive in Meru National Park, Kenya

We were happy to welcome a couple of guests who seemed to have a more than superficial interest in the ‘back of house’ goings on at camp and I am always happy to show interested guests how it all works.

Colin Bell and David Bristow later told me that although many African safari lodges and camps sell themselves as being eco-friendly they had found that some merely “green wash” the nuts and bolts of responsible management.

In 2013, the two released “Africa’s Finest”, a comprehensive guide of the 50 finest, most eco-friendly accommodations throughout sub-Saharan Africa, the Seychelles and Madagascar.

Africas Finest Book Cover
Africas Finest Book Cover

The pair had spent two years visiting over 1,000 properties, before narrowing it down to 170 finalists. They then invited nine environmental specialists to travel with them for another two years, as they extensively evaluated those properties. Each property was also graded on a scale of ten, based on operation, conservation, and community effort.

It shouldn’t have come as such a surprise when we found we were at the top end of the best in Kenya. This is what they had to say about us:

As the sole lodge in Meru National Park, Elsa’s Kopje reduced its environmental footprint by running on LED and energy saving bulbs, solar power and dead or renewably sourced wood for timber. Elsa’s Kopje also supports local schools; in the past year alone the camp raised $10,000 to support the 340 children and teachers at Ura Gate primary school through textbooks and school repairs.

Students at Ura Gate receiving school books by Elsa's Kopje Guide
Students at Ura Gate receiving school books by Elsa's Kopje Guide

Winner of the Good Safari Guide’s ‘Best Safari Property in Africa‘ Elsa’s Kopje is renowned for being one of the most elegant lodges in Africa, with an award winning design with stunning views from every room, Elsa’s Kopje is almost invisible. It blends into the rocky crags of the hillside and every sumptuous cottage is the ultimate ‘room-with-a-view’.

and that’s what they said…come and see for yourself.

Phil & Charlie

The Surrender of the Power Beast at Elsa’s Kopje…

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I should have spotted him sooner…

The Harley Davidson t-shirt on the 250 pound frame and a telephoto as long as my arm should have warned me.

It was about 4.30 in the afternoon and all the guests were out on the plains when we noticed that all power was ‘out’ on the southern end of camp.

‘AC overload’ was the cryptic message on the inverter monitor, but where exactly was the over load?

It was the “power beast”. A fitting that housed multiple chargers for the gangs of iPads, iPhones and iDontknow what else’s that supported this barrage of Canons and Sony cams and his lady wife’s laptops, yes both of them that all needed to drink deep each evening of our electrical supply.

The plug socket itself had melted with the combined load and the regulator had taken over to trip the system before worse befell but we had to explain this with the tact of modern day Kissinger and somehow spread the load.

The multiples of a full camp are the 26 times table. 26 times two beers at lunchtime and two more at ‘sundowner’s’ mean 104 bottles have to be as cold as only someone born in Arkansas can need. 26 towels at the swimming pool and 26 for the evening shower keep the 4.8 kilo washing machine running however many cycles that is!

More than that, are the 26 times however many slightly out of focus 6MB images of departing antelope or snoozing lion that have to wing their way through the ether to waiting family in mid America. Today’s appliances are just too efficient for Derek’s new wifi system that gets clogged daily with animalia.

But that’s the inside story! Outside the plains are dry and dusty, the roads hard and bumpy but the success and wonder of each days sightings makes short work of any discomforts.

Guests excited tales of identifying the lion prides and following the huge herds of Elephant and always much to my surprise sightings of water buffalos far from their Indian habitat delight everyone and make it all so satisfying.

Do we ever get bored of it? Not yet, we haven’t had time!

Phil & Charlie

ELSA’S KOPJE WINS AGAIN!

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Elsa’s Kopje accolades continue to grow, with our spectacular lodge winning one of Andrew Harper’s coveted Reader’s Choice Awards, listing Elsa’s Kopje as one of the world’s 20 best safari lodges!

The latest in a string of award wins, readers once again found Elsa’s Kopje’s combination of character, elegance, blissful solitude, unique design and superb wildlife to be an award-winning mix.

To further the celebrations, Cheli & Peacock’s Elephant Pepper Camp won this years’ Eco Warrior Award as Best Tented Camp in Kenya, recognizing its exceptional achievements in responsible and sustainable tourism!

Elephant Pepper Camp is one of only eight camps in Kenya to have been awarded “Gold Level” Eco Rating by the internationally recognised organisation Eco Tourism Kenya. The camp achieves environmental best practice by combining old fashioned safari camp know-how with the latest technology, leaving a minimal footprint. Almost invisible under the Elephant Pepper trees with completely removable tent structures, the camp relies entirely on solar power and uses only LED lighting.

Since 2011 Cheli & Peacock and it’s collection of properties have won 5 Eco Warrior Awards in various categories, including Eco Enterprise of the Year 2011 & 2012 and we are delighted to add yet another trophy to our ‘Hall of Fame’!

The Eco Warrior Awards are organized by Ecotourism Kenya, founded in 1996 as the first Ecotourism Society worldwide! The awards gala held on 24th September 2013 was also the ideal occasion to kick off The International Ecotourism and Sustainable Tourism Conference which is proudly hosted in Nairobi over the next 4 days, bringing together over 500 professionals from around the world!

We congratulate the entire staff of Elsa’s Kopje and Elephant Pepper Camp and of course the Cheli & Peacock Community Trust Team!

The most beautiful time of the year…

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Elsa’s Kopje is open all through the year. Its open all year long for a very good reason…

Being on the Equator and relatively low there are no huge extremes of climate. Being on the edge of the Northern Frontier District even our rains, which can be spectacular, are short lived.

Even so, we are often asked, ‘Which is the nicest month to come?’

We have worked all over East Africa and been lucky enough to visit lots of other amazing places all over the world. Without exception I can always answer, irrespective of where we are, September!

It’s the ‘Indian summer’, the gentle time, the time of soft light and tender dawn. The last of the summer but long before the winter. Hot sunny days and cooling evenings. It doesn’t matter if you are in the Alps or the Apennines it’s a lovely time of year.

Meru is just the same.

Game drives at Elsa's Kopje
Game drives at Elsa's Kopje

The summer madness is over, the kids are back at school and its time for gentle game drives in the cool of the morning, keeping by the rivers in the dust of noon and crisp clear evenings to let your sundowners wash away the heat of the day.

Come and see for yourself,

Phil & Charlie

 

Familiar faces at Elsa’s Kopje…

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There some times seem few advantages to clocking up the extra years but as someone pointed out it’s a privilege denied to many.

Phili & Charlie alongside Elsa's infinity pool
Phili & Charlie alongside Elsa's infinity pool

After nearly 5 years in Meru Park we have the advantage of meeting many old friends again and sometimes again and again!

Friends and animals gain a certain familiarity with repeated meetings and it’s always a pleasure to renew these friendships.

As with humans the animals continue to recreate their gene pools and it is a constant delight to meet the offspring or hear of their prowess.

This month Brendan and Jeannette return and are amazed and excited to see the increase and multiplication of the animals they have returned to see again. Particularly they enjoyed seeing the 13 offspring of the Ostrich pair on the Kindani plain behind the lodge, all of who have survived the two-year interval since they first saw them as an improbable brood of fluffy chicks fresh out of the eggs.

Kelly and Johan who almost live here are arriving next week for their yearly sojourn and will be pleased to see ‘The Old Lady’. Who, immediately recognisable from her long disused collar, surprised us all last year by producing a bonny bouncing lion cub boy despite her 13 years of age.

He at a year is our homegrown ambassador to “World Lion Day” and a teenage irritation to the eight older members of the pride.

Come and visit soon,

Phil & Charlie

Bush babies, hornbill chicks and a startling night-time encounter

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Most of us who live at Elsa’s work on a rotation basis – about 8 weeks ‘on’ and then 2 or 3 ‘off’ and it works very well.  Sometimes we take a little longer away and coming back is more of a change.  So we thought we’d better bring you up to date with our longer-term residents’ news.

The genet cats who liked to have a bowl of milk in the Managers’ cottage most evenings were not to be seen and I wondered what had caused this rejection until I met the bushy tailed mongoose who has obviously turfed them off the patch and comes most nights ‘after lights out’ to see what’s on offer.

Mr Scruff – the rather disreputable hornbill who lives around the reception – has released his wife from her confinement together with a fine example of young hornbill manhood and all three are happy to come for the odd worm from the worm farm in the office.

The fish in the pond by the bar (tilapia Niloticus) were thriving on their morning slice of toast until a cormorant discovered an easy and rather delicious addition to the Elsa’s menu and now spends quite a lot of time by the ‘pool with a view’.   I can’t say I blame him.

The much photographed bush babies in the tree on the hill have two new companions in the form of a pair of dikdik who seem happy to lie on the sand in the shade and hardly stir when the shiny game vehicles go past on their daily outings.

Lucy, our Relief Manager, got some amazing images of both the resident leopard and a curious porcupine with the night camera by the swimming pool.  Alex, the Head Waiter, had an unusual visitor when he pottered out in his pyjamas late one night –  I can’t think which would be more disturbing, the hyena or Alex in his pyjamas?!

There’s lots going on at Elsa’s that not everyone gets to hear about …

Phil & Charlie

Welcome!

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Welcome to the new Elsa’s Kopje website, we will be sharing with you news from camp, including special wildlife sightings and exciting happenings in the conservancy. Best wishes Philip and Charlie.

Diary Archive