The Sweet Water tented camp in Kenya’s Ol Pajeta conservancy was amazing and unforgettable. This private reserve amidst Savanna grasslands and riverine forests has an interesting history. The Prince of Wales had stayed there sometime in the first decade of the 20th century ( I forget the precise year) when it belonged to someone by the name of Seeger Bastard. Sweet Waters was also sometime owned by the Saudi billionaire Adnan Khashoggi.
Arriving at lunchtime, we headed straight for the glass walled dining room overlooking scrub forest outside. Competing for attention with the wonderful food on the buffet tables were the wild animals wandering in for their afternoon drink – boar, zebra, deer… I practically dropped my passion fruit tart at the amazing sight of a giraffe ambling towards the waterhole with the awkward grace of a dinosaur, squatting and craning its long neck forward to drink. I discover that these poor gangling giants don’t enjoy a good night’s rest like we do- they must sleep standing up!
The unique chimpanzee orphanage is a project of the famous conservationist Jane Goodall. These appealing creatures are not native to Kenya- they have been rescued from the crossfire of a civil war in Burundi or from distressing captivity. Their tales are heartrending, but it is heartwarming to watch the bonds that have been forged between these orphans in the sanctuary. At the time of our visit, many of them lovingly groomed one another. They respond to their names- Socrates, Jojo, Raponzee etc.
Later on, our game drive took in the varied wildlife of the reserve- giraffes, zebra, black rhino, white rhino, Grant’s gazelles, impalas, otters, hornbills. Ol Pajeta has a unique Wildlife-Livestock integration program, using controlled cattle grazing as an ecological tool to rejuvenate the grasslands.
The conservation of the rhino, I remember was an area of particular focus I observed on the trip. It makes particular sense since the horrifying smuggling of rhino horn puts it right among the top items of global contraband trade, with flourishing syndicates that operate between Africa and the Far East. Time Magazine’s cover story was a horrifying eye opener which demands concerted action to arrest an appalling and ongoing tragedy .
The tented experience was cozy and comfortable. The interiors of the tent were very well appointed. It was an inimitable experience watching the animals coming in for their nightly drinks of water as we ourselves savoured creamy sips of the African Amarula liqueur.
Visiting destinations like this is both joyful and painfully poignant. Yes, you feel good that within the confines of a limited conservation enclave the right attitudes exist, but their very existence implies the evil of poaching elsewhere. From far away and many years after that trip, I hope that the waters have remained literally( not always guaranteed in the era of climate change) and symbolically sweet for the rhino and all the beautiful creatures I encountered, that wildlife everywhere may survive the machinations of human avarice and appetites.