Way Out of Africa
The Great Rift Valley Lodge
by David Bristow
The Great Rift Valley is a perplexing place, and always has been. People have lived here since there were people, and pre-humans (as well as the ancestors of the great apes) before that. The rifting created great troughs where water collected, and the volcanoes that accompanied the faulting spewed out wonderfully fertile soils. It was all anyone, or any animal, could ask for.
In times not long past the Maasai were masters of the Rift, or Eastern Rift – there is also a Western or Albertine Rift – but colonial land grabs and later political intrigues have wrenched much of it away. This they wholly resented and it has led to explosive tensions and conflict, often within modern conservation areas.
Today the main Rift Valley region of Kenya is an all too real African scenario, where the burgeoning human population pushes up against wildlife areas and national parks struggle to retain their authority. And beyond all this it is not hard to see why the old colonials fell so hard for the place.
Out of Africa
Karen Blixen did not live near the Rift Valley, but the excellent film based on her superb book was filmed largely around Lake Naivasha. Crescent Island, a private estate in the lake, was used as the primary location. Across the lake on its western shore lies Elsamere, the last home of Joy Adamson. Today it is a small lodge and museum dedicated to the Adamsons, the Born Free story and all the other incredible stories – and animals – of their lives.
She and husband George (her third) led bursting and adventurous lives, with more exploits than you could reasonably fit into 10 or more books, and several films. Joy was variously described as lascivious, neurotic and worse, and in the end it was her irascibility that was her undoing: the cook, with a machete, in the bedroom. George came to grief in a hail of bullets from Somali Shifta bandits when he went to the aid of a group of tourists who had been ambushed in Kora National Park where he lived with his lions.
The Great Rift
Joy was probably all the things said of her. One thing was certain: when this Austrian vamp set her sights on a man, he was a goner. All of them remarkable men! But then ordinary people seldom lead extraordinary lives and it took an exceptional woman to live the “born free” story. And for that she needed an equally strong partner, which she found in the tough-as-old-camel-leather hunter turned conservationist.
George had started out trading goats in Kenya’s harsh northern territory. He then turned hunter, then park ranger, always living a rough life in the roughest of places. When they married Joy fitted right in. But he was rock solid and she was flighty and so their ways parted. Her vices were mainly men while his were whisky and his ever-constant pipe. Still they remained bound to the end by the spirits of the animals they lived with, none more so than Elsa.
A Lodge With A View
For the past five days and nights (nights mainly, since Roger, Pat and I have been up an hour before sunrise most days headed for Hell’s Gate, Lake Naivasha, Lake Nakuru National Park and various other places of the Rift) I’ve been looking out of my chalet at the Great Rift Valley Lodge (and golf resort). The view is more than generous, and across the lake is the looming 3,000-m Mount Longodot and somewhere in the haze is Elsamere.
The lodge – more like a country, or bush, resort – is by far the best place to stay. Everything about the place has impressed us way beyond expectations. Golfers are expected to avoid hitting the zebras.
If you have the beat of Africa in your heart and its waters in your veins, you need to visit the Great Rift Valley. And if you do then you need to stay at this lodge. Everything about the area seems to vibrate with the essence of all that is wonderful and untamed, both wildlife and human, about the continent. And if you do, a visit to Elsamere should be high up on your itinerary: it will give you new eyes with which to see the place. The documentary they show on the lives of the Adamsons – much of it George’s “home” movies – is likely bring out deeper feelings than you bargained for.
Great Rift Valley