Back in April 2018, I boarded a plane bound for Nairobi.
I am surprised I actually remember anything about it, as I was walking around in complete disbelief, in a dream like daze…
You see, for years, I have dreamed of travelling to Africa and watching herds of wild elephants. It was always my biggest wish, to be in the presence of a fully grown, adult, male African, elephant, as there is nothing greater, stronger or more impressive, to walk our planet. But, dreams are dreams and I honestly, never thought I would find myself with a packed suitcase, walking around Bangkok airport, very impatiently waiting to check in for a flight to Nairobi!
Travelling with me was my ten year old daughter, Hope and very dear friend Anna. We giggled and chatted non stop, at the airport and on the plane – Im not sure which one of us was more excited!!
The flight was perfect and then BAAM – all of a sudden we had landed!!
This was my first time ever visiting Africa, but I know it will not be my last! I have fallen so deeply in love. In love with a country, in love with it’s people, in love with it’s diverse and rich wildlife, in love with the culture, the food, even the weather – I have fallen completely in love with the colours of Kenya.
It has taken me until now, (mid September), to be able to sit down and put the entire experience in to words. Still, people are asking me how my trip was, and I still, shake my head, get tears in my eyes and manage to muster the words, ‘It was incredible’. The truth is, that just doesn’t do it justice. This trip to Kenya was, from start to finish, the most inspiring, moving and meaningful trip I have ever been on. Every moment, from the picturesque sunrises, to the stunning sunsets, were full of breath taking beauty. I have never experience so much kindness and been made to feel so welcome. I was humbled and honoured, all at the same time.
We stayed at the atmospheric Ol Tukai Lodge, within the boundaries of Amboseli National Park. – http://www.oltukailodge.com/ The staff here were just the loveliest people, with most welcoming smiles. Staying within the park, meant we were constantly surrounded by wildlife. From the cheeky and persistent vervet monkeys, to the wide variety of birds, elephants, hippos, frogs, baboons, hogs, gazelle – we saw it all!
Two of my dearest friends, An and Eric, have established an eco tourism company and we were treated to exclusive drives around Amboseli with them. An’s passion for the wildife is contagious and Eric’s deep knowledge, respect and understanding of his homeland is nothing short of inspiring. These two make the perfect team and we were so proud to be driven around by them, getting intimate glimpses of the elephant families, that have become like friends to An and Eric. Their company is called Elephant Garden Safaris – https://www.elephantgardensafaris.com/
If you are planning on going to Kenya and want a truly ethical, personal and exquisite experience, they are the ones you should contact.
Our time in Kenya was filled with so many stand out moments. One of them was meeting the legendary conservationist, Cynthia Moss and enjoying afternoon tea with her at the Amboseli Trust for Elephants research camp. We chatted like we were long lost friends, shared elephant stories and discussed the different issues elephants faced in our relevant countries. Cynthia’s smile and energy resonates. I was overwhelmed by her warmth and generousity and I didnt want the afternoon to end! Please be sure to follow their important work – https://www.elephanttrust.org/
Another woman I was so thrilled to finally meet, was Angela Sheldrick, CEO of The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.
We visited the DSWT orphanage in Nairobi and I was left feeling endlessly grateful for the work of everyone there, but also so desperately heartbroken. The orphanage was caring for 29 tiny orphaned elephants when we visited. We were able to stand behind a fence and watch 28 of them, drink their morning bottle of milk, play in the mud puddles and slowly learn the skills that are imperative to their eventual re release back in to the wild. There was one orphan that we were told was still too weak and traumatised to join the others and when Edwin, the head keeper shared this with us, I felt the burn of emotionally fuelled tears filling my eyes.
All the orphans there are survivors. They are also victims. Some of them are there as a result of drought or falling down wells. Most of them are there, because their mothers, sisters and brothers, were murdered in front of their very eyes, for their incisor teeth – more commonly known as tusks.
Even though I am an avid advocate for a complete ban on ivory and have never engaged in the trade, I still cant help but feel deeply guilty when I watched these innocent and beautiful beings at the orphanage. I walked away thinking about what more I could, in my little pocket of the world, in Thailand, could do, to protect the elephants of Africa…
Hope and I decided to foster two of the babies. My calf was Ekensha. Ekensha is a victim of poaching and she was born on the 18th February – the same day that my darling Boon Lott was born! Ekensha was discovered by the rescue team with a snare almost severing her trunk. After a three hour surgery to repair the damage and almost 100 stitches, Ekensha, despite being heavily sedated, pulled out the stitches that were hold her truck together! Over the next few months, Ekensha’s wound began to heal and she has now been left with a small hole a third of the way up her trunk. This does not hold her back one bit and I was impressed by her confidence, playfulness and determination to live. I had already fallen in love with her when I first set eyes on her. I couldnt stop watching her walk around the mud area, cheekily spraying mud over everyone. When Edwin shared her story, my heart jerked and I knew she was the one for me. Then, when I read that she shared the same birthday as Boon Lott, I smiled through tears and thought about how the Universe works in the most amazing ways.
Hope decided to foster sweet, little, Kiasa. Rescued by the DSWT team, when she was just six months old, Kiasa was found separated from her herd, but protected by two adult bull elephants. At six months, Kiasa was still milk dependant and despite the bulls best efforts to break branches for her to feed on, she would not have survived without intervention.
I was interested to know why Kiasa’s story had touched Hope more than the others. When I asked her, Hope replied that family are the ones who stand by you, no matter what… This is one of our house mantras and even though we share these words amongst each other, almost daily at BLES, I was left speechless. Moved, once again, to tears, by the true beauty of her words, we walked together, holding hands, through the gardens of the orphanage. Earlier that morning, as we were getting ready to leave the hotel, Hope reached for two red roses that had been given to her the night before. She asked me if I thought it would be ok for her to bring the roses to DSWT and lay them down for the late, Dr Dame Daphne Sheldrick, who had sadly passed away 10 days before our visit. Hope’s compassion and understanding for others, never fails to amaze me, but I was stunned by her thoughtfulness and empathy.
Over recent years, Dr Dame Daphne and I had been in regular contact with each other. When our bull Seedor Gam passed away and then days later, my best friend of 12 years, Stud, Daphne wrote me a letter, offering her condolences and support. That letter is still on my wall and I will treasure it always.
As we were watching the orphans getting settled for the night in their stables, I heard a voice behind me. I turned and there stood Angela, Daphne’s daughter. We stood and talked for a very long time about her mother, our children, our passion for wildlife… I am not sure if I can fully express how much it meant to me that Angela took time out of her busy day, at what must have been such a painful and difficult time for her, to talk with me.
DSWT – https://www.sheldrickwildlifetrust.org/index.asp will forever have my support. They are on the frontline and creating significant change. I am eternally grateful for, and to them.
I could honestly write on and on about the many memories I am so blessed to now hold in my heart. Through my trip to Kenya, my family circle has grown and for that, I owe four people, in particular, a very special thank you…
Anna, An, Eric and my darling, Hope… Asante- sana for creating these memories with me… XxXxX