Exactly where I wanted to stay in Kenya

The staff of Voi Wildlife Lodge were wonderful when I arrived with my nausea. They took care of my bag at reception, brought me a hot towelette, and offered fresh fruit juice before showing me to a comfortable chair where I could watch wildlife while I waited. Didn’t matter that I wasn’t even staying there. The pools looked clean, the food would have appealed to me if I hadn’t been so barfacious, and the complex seemed well kept and organized. They give jobs to locals and help visitors encounter that part of Kenya, and I don’t judge anyone for wanting to stay there.

But when I walked down the spotless corridor to sit in the comfortable chairs where polite and attentive waiters brought me everything I asked for…my skin was crawling.

I felt like a colonialist. Like I had just flown in on my private jet. I didn’t want polished mahogany, spotless linens, and international amenities. Granted “authenticity” is a fiction, at best an oversimplification that inevitably ignores someone, but….couldn’t I get a little bit closer?


Thank goodness for social media. A friend of a friend told me about Kivuli Camp in the Rukinga Wildlife Sanctuary, run by the Tsavo Conservancy and affiliated with Wildlife Works. Oh my. But what would it be like?


Getting there from Voi was easy, a few minutes on the good highway then half an hour-ish on a dirt road within the sanctuary. Granted, it could have been twice that, since I have no sense of time on the best of days, but that’s particularly true when we’re suddenly on a safari. Buffalo watched us pass, dik diks startled down among the lower leaves, and a couple sleepy giraffes didn’t seem at all bothered by our little hatchback cruising by.

The camp was spotless and well kept, the huts were comfortable and curving paths between the buildings made everything as private as half-wire huts can be, and a some of the panoply of birds stopped by from time to time. (My favorite were the Eurasian rollers. So blue!)


The much larger Tsavo East and Tsavo West parks form a C shape, and the smaller (at merely 100,000 hectares) Rukinga fits within the arch, forming a vital piece of the elephant migration corridor between the two and the lower Serengeti, so it was no surprise that we saw so many animals on our game drive, including Julian. Only the food poisoning I brought with me kept us from hiking the Kizima Hills but the relaxing afternoon was much appreciated.

We were the only tourists but a cadre of rangers in training from surrounding countries was there to learn the craft that will preserve the wildlife, landscapes, and their own lives in the brutal world of poaching and poverty. Training all day, their laughter would ring across the camp in the evenings, and mealtimes were a delight as we sat down at trestle tables together.


Voi Wildlife Lodge was swell, but Kivuli was the right choice for me.