Nomad Tanzania’s safari lodge takes you one step further into Africa, into the wide beauty of the Serengeti plains, the animal scents and roar of a beast, in high style. In this vast flat wilderness, there is one boulder-strewn hill and along the seam sits Lamai, a discreet eyrie for the traveller who has a sense of the intrepid, is curious about the truly wild and ready to pay for something extraordinary.
I envisage the people behind Lamai as posh Brits brought up in East Africa, lean men, their wives clear-eyed, tousled-haired beauties bathing babies in buckets, spirited and classy. They know Africa and they know the greatest comforts of English country homes, and they’ve brought it all together. There is much talk of the mess, spear-bearing askari, and gin and tonics. Lamai is bewilderingly relaxed and stylish, as near to being in a tent in the middle of the Serengeti hunting grounds, yet cushioned in comfort. There are no door keys, just wooden latches, strangely relaxing, and you wend your way to scattered villas through dusty paths along the boulders. Inside your light, airy home, you lie on the most downy of beds, with pillows like clouds, drifts of satin smooth sheets, a soft white muslin between you and the wide views of Africa, a front seat on the widest sunset in the world.
There are so many thoughtful touches, but nothing unnecessary. Walls are white plaster with bare wood poles framing the windows and a cream sheep skin on the floorboards. I write this at a white wood desk, a glass decanter of fresh water set upon it, the Serengeti bared before me. A pack of extravagantly long postcards features a covetable series of animal photography, in black and white of course, and they’ll post them, probably even write them if you wish. There’s a professional ornothologist’s checklist, beauty lotions and mosquito sprays. If you need anything – a designer Masai bracelet or a swimsuit for the pool – there’s a tasteful boutique, but no-one to pay; you just let them know when you leave.
At seven, a call and our coffee was being pushed through a box hatch in the wall. I opened my side, exchanging ‘‘habari gani, msuri sana’’ and Barak asked if I’d like to see a lion? I opened my door and above the foot path, not 50 feet away was a lioness. We watched each other for a few minutes, then she padded off followed by her lion. Barak tripped off with his empty tray. It is hard to understand, but Nomad bring you closer to the wild than you can imagine, yet they are clear it is safe. There are no signs cluttering the natural wood of the doors with beware of lions, let alone fire escape plans, and the rules are few – don’t leave your room between 7pm and 6am without an askari (a spear-carrying guard), and don’t run if you see a lion. Quite simply, we are not on their menu, we haven’t been for a millennia and they’re not keen to try us. This was a step into a rare wild world and a complete escape from our daily life; I think that is what a real holiday is about.
When we thought Lamai had achieved a zenith on the Serengeti, Nomad moved us to their rarest accommodation, Mkombe’s House, the only private house in the plains. Bring a party or family to share the four enormous bedrooms, deep baths, indoor and outdoor showers, two pools, cascade of terraces and open living room with roaring log fire. All is manned by a team of joyfully enthusiastic staff, who wrap towels, lift shades, bring iced drinks and announce three course dinners with ceremony. Having served our cognacs, they formed a trio and sang to all with romantic songs of nature’s love and of course, that old ditty, Jumbo, Jumbo Bwana!
Lying in our enormous double bed, we waited in the scented darkness for the sun to rise, listening as a lion bellowed and panted triumphant over its kill, loud enough to shake a leaf 10 kilometres away. Later, a zebra was found eviscerated beneath our room. Eventually dawn came, painting the horizon a soft pinkish hue, then like a switch as the sky turned golden, the lions silenced and the laughing doves and superb starlings took up the soundtrack. Light revealed impalas grazing and monkeys chasing beneath our terrace, wildebeest dotted across the plains like ants, cape buffalo silhouetted beneath a spreading acacia. This is even more magnificent when you take one further step into the wild, sleeping on the ‘‘star bed’’ set up on the terrace.
Service is full of Serengeti surprises. One evening we had cocktails on the highest rock they could find not occupied by lions, where we were accompanied up by gun-bearing rangers. We clambered over a ridge of stone to find Barak, bar set up, ready to mix our poison. He made me a Campari and orange, clinking in ice, handing out canapés, with nothing behind him but a fifty square mile view and a 200 foot fall. Breathtaking.
Our personal Nomad guide, Sammie, exuded a calm intelligence, but always ready to smile. He took us, with armed rangers again, on a walking safari, revealing bush craft of the Masai who squeeze the liquid from elephant dung for a nutritious drink, and felled trees elephants had stripped trees for bark, in turn bringing tasty green leaves in reach of the smallest impala. He revealed the two clawed foot prints of hyena, hollows made by aardvarks where leopards nest, a giraffe ‘‘pointing’’ in the distance, examining some danger. After two hours as the sun warmed, we spotted chairs set in the shade; breakfast was laid out on a clothed table, with fresh coffee. Stylish.
Days were filled with jeep safaris, and with refreshing interludes in our private pool. We passed herds of grazers, content in their mutual crowd of safety, and scanned river beds and rocks for rarer creatures, hugely rewarded as we found a leopard and a magnificent mating lion. Snake eagles carried off their prey, giraffes leaned down to kiss their young, majestic elephants dusted themselves with sand, adorable anxious babies beneath their legs, and everywhere bleached bones and desiccated hides, nothing ever removed or disturbed, just nature’s undeniable course revealed.
When you imagine there is no way you could enjoy the splendour of the Serengeti plains more, Nomad soar higher.
Lamai Serengeti and Mkombe’s House Lamai are created by Nomad. For more information, go to www.nomad-tanzania.com. The safari and Nomad stay was booked by Natural High on +44 (0) 1747 830950. Costs from USD 655 a night in low season to USD 1,130 in high season, plus park fees and internal flights. For more information, go to www.naturalhighsafaris.com.