Kenya: I had a tent in Africa

And it had a shower, a loo and waiter service. Lucy Gillmore goes on safari in a style to suit any modern-day adventurer

Two girls, 10 men, great ratio. As we stepped out of the four-wheel drive, a smart, khaki-clad attendant rushed forward with cool, damp face-cloths, while another hovered with a tray of cocktails. Lined up to greet us were our butler, barman, waiter, cook and guards. In the African bush, there's camping, and then there's camping, it seems. This was the kind that came with a full staff and flushing loo.

Two girls, 10 men, great ratio. As we stepped out of the four-wheel drive, a smart, khaki-clad attendant rushed forward with cool, damp face-cloths, while another hovered with a tray of cocktails. Lined up to greet us were our butler, barman, waiter, cook and guards. In the African bush, there's camping, and then there's camping, it seems. This was the kind that came with a full staff and flushing loo.

"If you have any laundry, just put it in that basket and Gilbert will take care of it," said Stephen, our guide, gesturing towards a corner of the tent. From the outside it was all dark-green army style. Inside it was positively Hemingwayesque, with ornate, dark wooden furniture, beds bearing crisp, white linen sheets, and handwoven rugs scattered across the floor. It was also three times the size of my bedroom at home. Behind a partition, the bathroom came complete with vanity unit, Imperial Leather soap and proper flush toilet. Another door lead to the shower cubicle.

We had flown in from Nairobi that morning, the tiny Cessna hiccuping from air pocket to air pocket. The African bush spread out below us, a bleached land of ragged thorn trees and treacherous-looking ravines. We bumped down on the makeshift landing strip, a red stretch of earth. Giraffe and zebra wandered past as a four-wheel drive screeched up in a cloud of dust to meet us. This is how it used to be done by the Karen Blixens, the Beryl Markhams, the Ernest Hemingways. Now it is left to Hollywood moguls and millionaires to recreate that bygone era. Mobile tented safaris – a throwback to the days of the great white hunters, along with small, permanent camps and private lodges – today provide vital revenue for a growing number of farms across Kenya. Some ranches have started to band together, marketing themselves as an alternative to the mass tourism found in many national parks. Lewa Downs, a private cattle ranch and wildlife conservancy covering 55,000 acres in the northern foothills of Mount Kenya, is one of 14 properties that now make up Kenyan Portfolios. Exclusivity, of course, comes at a price: from around £300 per person per night for a mobile safari, which is what the average Kenyan earns in four months. But then you do get your own personal slice of African bush.

"I had a farm in Africa." As a pick-up truck full of Labradors bowled past, the head-scarved woman inside (Mrs Craig), waving to us, I toyed with the opening line of Karen Blixen's Out of Africa. The farm has been in the Craig family since cattle ranching began in 1924. Her two sons now specialise in tourism and farming. There is a lodge with eight bungalows and a concession for one tented camp.

After unpacking, we stepped outside on to our verandah and flopped into a couple of director's chairs beneath the spreading branches of the gnarled acacia trees. A wide sweep of parched grassland, trampled and golden, spread out before us. From behind, a figure in a smart waistcoast and crisply pressed trousers approached, bearing a tray with two enormous glasses of ice-cold beer.

Lunch was three courses – with silver service – followed by a siesta and then an afternoon game drive. One rare black rhino and too many elephant, giraffe, zebra and impala to mention later, we headed back to camp and the crackling campfire. Kips, our barman, knocked up two perfect gin and tonics served with ice and lemon in cut-glass crystal. Over a candlelit dinner, Stephen regaled us with stories of decadence in the wild, while Kips kept our glasses topped up and Gilbert turned down our beds, slipping hot-water bottles beneath the sheets.

The one luxury you don't get on a mobile safari is a lie-in. "If Danny DeVito can get up at six, so can you," we were told. Bill Gates didn't complain either, apparently. Bumping along a dirt track on an early morning game drive, we were getting hungrier by the minute when Stephen suddenly pulled up beside a river. Down among the trees was a table laid with a bright check cloth and fine bone china. Kips was grinning from ear to ear as he produced a full English breakfast, seemingly from nowhere. Behind a hedge a makeshift kitchen had been set up. Philip, our cook, was standing over a charcoal fire, a tall white chef's hat perched on his head. At Lewa you rarely see another human being. However, walking is not permitted outside the camp and the only option, if you don't fancy the horse riding on offer at the lodge, is a four-wheel drive safari. To really get a taste of the bush you need to leave the vehicle behind. Our second camp, Lolldaiga, was another private ranch two hours away, up in the hills, where you can do just that.

Toby, all floppy blonde hair and big gun, looking like a Denys Finch Hatton, met us at the gate with Male, a young Samburu warrior. Lolldaiga covers an area of immense diversity with rolling parkland, woods and scrubland and vast expanses of semi-desert. Lolldaiga is very much a working farm and here, unlike at Lewa, camping is the only option.

As we set off in single file through the valley, the grass crackling underfoot, Toby pointed out everything from lion prints to buffalo dung. Squatting in the dust and talking in hushed tones he brought the bush alive. In his rucksack was a packed lunch – tablecloth, china and crystal glasses.

Camels, brought down from the northern deserts, are traditionally used by the Samburu tribesmen as pack animals. Camel safaris are a departure from the more traditional four-wheel drive, horseback and walking options, and can be arranged for just a day or two in Lolldaiga or in the Samburu desert further north for four or five days. You sleep under the stars in traditional fly tents, riding and walking (the lolloping gait isn't the most comfortable for long periods of time) during the day. And what you don't know about camels at the end of it, from the length of their eyelashes to the fact that they cry real tears when one of the herd dies, isn't worth knowing.

Rising at sunrise the sight that greeted us as we staggered blearily from our tent was magical; three camels with bright cloth saddles lying regally in the grass, their Samburu keepers majestic beside them swathed in rich red robes.

The tribesmen walked beside us while Toby strode ahead with his rifle. Giraffe and zebra, curious, galloped through the trees just ahead of us. As the sun climbed in the sky, the heat grew intense. We stopped for breakfast perched on some rocks in the shade; the sun baking down on the round, red hills.

"So any Danny DeVito or Bill Gates stories?"

"No, but I had to scour Nairobi for Oreo cookies and M&Ms before Kenny Rogers arrived."

In the late afternoon we stopped off at a lookout point by the memorial to Harry Hinde, who settled the property in the early 1900s. A cooler full of drinks appeared as the sun started to set. As we sipped the obligatory gin and tonics, his grandson, Robert Wells, appeared over the hill, walking his two dogs. He had grown up in England but after his grandfather's death moved to Kenya to save the farm from being sold. Cracking open a beer, he chatted to us in the twilight about his hopes for the ranch. Looking out over the plain, at the land that had become a part of the Hinde family over the last century, the Out of Africa fantasy was complete.

Lucy Gillmore travelled with Abercrombie & Kent (0845 0700 611, www.abercrombiekent.co.uk). The price for a seven-night trip including three nights at Lewa Downs and three nights at Lolldaiga Hills, international and internal flights and private transfers costs from £3,795 per person

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Sport
There were mass celebrations across Argentina as the country's national team reached their first World Cup final for 24 years
transfersOne of the men to suffer cardiac arrest was 16 years old
Life and Style
life“What is it like being a girl?” was the question on the lips of one inquisitive Reddit user this week
News
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
Life and Style
beauty
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
transfers
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

News
Detail of the dress made entirely of loom bands
news
Sport
German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the worldwide Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer debut
film
News
peopleMario Balotelli poses with 'shotgun' in controversial Instagram pic
News
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Sport
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Sport
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight
tv
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Sport
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
News
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
people
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
tech
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
tech
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Sales Manager (Fashion and Jewellery), Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Volunteer Digital Marketing Trustee needed

    Voluntary, reasonable expenses reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: Are you keen on...

    Java Swing Developer - Hounslow - £33K to £45K

    £33000 - £45000 per annum + 8% Bonus, pension: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: ...

    Corporate Events Sales Manager, Marlow,Buckinghamshire

    £30K- £40K pa + Commision £10K + Benefits: Charter Selection: Rapidly expandin...

    Day In a Page

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

    Why did we stop eating whelks?

    Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice