A late appearance at Sarara

The Sarara Camp in the Mathews Range of Northern Kenya.

There is a bit of tension when we finally arrive at Sarara Camp. It is dark, it is late, and we’ve interrupted the dinner of the camp’s host, Tim, a slim middle-aged man, dressed head to foot in khaki, whose pale delicate features remind me of photos I’ve seen of Denys Finch Hatton, the great white hunter played by Robert Redford in Out of Africa.

Denys Finch Hatton with Karen Blixen.

Tim is very nice, very gracious but, as we’re shaking off the dust of the long drive and accepting his offer of a cold Tusker, he makes it clear that they were expecting us hours ago.

“Piers canceled a meeting in Nairobi thinking you’d be joining him for lunch,” he says with a smile.

“Lunch?” I say, slightly amazed. “We had lunch in Nanyuki. There was no way we were ever going to make it here in time for lunch. Why would he think that?”

“Well,” says Tim, handing me a chilled mug of beer, which I can hardly wait to down, “that’s what he was told.”

“Well is he around?”

“He’s left for the evening,” Tim says.

Left? Left for where? We are in the middle of nowhere. Like almost all camps in Kenya, there’s a rough airstrip around here somewhere and I’m sure Piers, like everyone else in Kenya, flies his own plane. But does that mean he’s gone back to Nairobi? I’m hesitant to pursue this any further with Tim. Whoever’s feelings were upset they’ll just have to wait until tomorrow when, after some food and a good night’s sleep, we can sort this out.

“Do you think Piers might be able to join us for lunch tomorrow?” I ask Tim.

“Possibly,” he says mysteriously. “Ian Craig is flying in. He wants to meet you.”

Well this is something. Ian Craig is the godfather of a nascent conservancy movement in Kenya in which camps like Sarara are actually owned by the local tribal community, in this case the Il Ngwesi Samburu. It’s a very long story about how this how came about, but the short version is that in late 1989, Craig was camping out in the very spot where Sarara is now located when he and his gun bearer suddenly found themselves surrounded by AK47 gunfire. Hiding in the dense bush, they watched for over an hour as a team of shifta bandits from Somalia slaughtered an entire family of elephants, cutting out the tusks and leaving the bodies to rot in the sun.

Shocked by what he’d seen, Craig vowed to do what he could to save the rest of the wildlife that was being decimated by shifta in the Mathews Range and eventually came up with a plan to establish the Namunyak Wildlife Conservancy Trust, an area of 185,000 acres here in the Mathews Range, which is wholly owned by the local Samburu community and run by Piers Bastard—the gentleman who I seemed to have offended by not making it to Sarara in time for lunch.

Ah, well. We’ll get this all sorted out tomorrow, I’m sure.