I’m sitting in the mess tent at Sarara looking at a Cottar family scrapbook, put together by Pat, Calvin’s mother, when Tim casually says, “Here comes Ian.”
He means Ian Craig, the godfather of Kenyan community wildlife conservancies, who is flying in—from Nairobi? Or Lewa? I’m not quite sure—to have lunch with us today. Evidently the deal is that when a guest flies in, they buzz the camp to let them know they’re here and then a safari vehicle is sent to pick them up at the nearby airstrip.
So we’ve just been buzzed.
According to Tim, Piers (who runs Saraha and who I still haven’t met) will pick Ian up. So we busy ourselves by getting out our cameras and recording equipments and making sure everything works and is fully charged. And then Ian and Piers sweep in like Lawrence of Arabia and his boy entering the officer’s bar in Cairo after taking Aqaba from the Turks.
“I’d…like…a…lemonade,” Ian says.
I shuffle over to where Piers is standing, introduce myself, and tell him how much we’re enjoying our stay at Sarara and how very, very sorry I am that we didn’t get here in time to join him for lunch the other day.
Piers nods, says nothing, and moves away.
Well. I think that went particularly well.
At lunch, I sit at the one end of the table, Piers at the other—like mom and dad. Between us is about ten feet and ten other people. Was it Piers idea to sit as far away from me as possible? Hard to say. Anyway, Ian Craig has decided to sit on my right so we can have a nice little conversation over the pasta salad and fresh fruit. Just to get things going, I mention to him, as I’m passing him the pasta bowl, that I understand that one of the reasons he started Sarara was because he’d seen a couple of elephants being slaughtered by shifta.
“Ten, actually,” he says.
“No…” Dramatic pause. “Ten elephants.”
Ah. Can you imagine? He’s camping not far from here and in the middle of the night shifta with AK47s mow down ten elephants, hack up their heads to get at the tusks, and flee leaving tons of bloodied elephant corpses behind them. That must have been nasty.
Then he asks me a few questions about this expedition we’re on to follow in the footsteps of Osa and Martin Johnson. “My mum supplied them with ox wagons and supplies out of Larisoro (near Archer’s Post),” he says. “I remember her talking about them. She thought the woman, in particular, was quite remarkable.”
He tells me that the Northern Rangelands Trust, which is the NGO that facilitates the development of community-led conservation initiatives in Northern Kenya, like Lewa and Sarara, would like to get something going up by Lake Paradise but haven’t been able to make anything work. He’s wondering if perhaps Calvin, after he takes us up there, might be interested in doing something similar to his camp in the Mara. Wouldn’t that be great?
“Every time I go to Marsabit it’s just a massive surprise—in a good way,” says Ian. “There’s still this great paradise in the middle of the desert. It’s a beautiful, beautiful place. The trees, the forest—it’s all the same as when Martin and Osa were there. I think you’ll be quite amazed.”
And then he excuses himself from the table, has a word or two with Calvin, and leaves hurriedly with Piers. Like T. E. Lawrence headed for Damascus, off to conquer more enemies in the desert.