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Starry Nights

Created by: Aleema Noormohamed

It was that time to go out again… on a safari. Being Kenyan, I felt lucky to have been to so many places already, and yet I had never run out of places to visit in my country.  The next stop in my adventure series was Loisaba.

I’d heard about these so called star beds in Loisaba. I had seen photographs, but the concept didn’t make sense. I had all sorts of questions and no satisfying answers. Even when the salesperson told me, “we roll your bed outside,” it meant nothing.

I finally decided it was time to put the mystery of the star beds to rest, so I took a flight out to Loisaba. Upon arrival, my guide welcomed me with a big smile on his face, loaded the vehicle with my rucksack and drove us into the wild, leaving a trail of dust behind. Loisaba was 61,000 acres of private wilderness bush, where conservation and sustainability were the norm.

We got to the site and the manager welcomed us with cold drinks and took us to the lounge for a briefing. The setup was very basic, but the view was spectacular. A panorama of utter savannah, with nothing to interrupt my view. I couldn’t see any rooms and started wondering if “star beds” literally meant a bed set outside by the campfire.

Finally, my curiosity was satisfied. The guide walked us down a path alongside thorn trees, and suddenly on my left, I saw the top of a thatched roof. As we turned the bend, our lodgings came into view. I had to tilt my head back as I took in my “room” – it was a structure sitting about six or seven meters above ground on wooden stilts.  A steep wooden stairway lead up to it. My mind was still taking in this supposedly “amazing” place. The view was great, but I wasn’t yet sure about my star bed – as far as I could see, there wasn’t any bed or place to gaze at the stars for that matter (Note:  it was about 1 p.m.). I followed my guide up the stairs and watched him unhook the “door” to my room – the door was about 2.5 feet high off the ground and looked more like a small barrier to ensure a toddler doesn't fall down the stairs. As I finally stepped onto the deck of my room, the meaning of a star bed started making sense.  

The deck I was standing on was open air. There wasn’t anything separating the inside from the outside of the room. The whole structure was open on one side.  Inside the room was a king size bed (set up on wheels), a basic luggage rack, a sink, and just around the bend, an open air bucket shower and toilet. My guide told me that they would roll the bed onto the deck in the evening. I was still trying to understand how I was going to sleep out in the open; I love adventure and I have visited many places, but this was completely new to me.  I had never been in a situation where I would be exposed in the wilderness, a thought that was a little disconcerting.

After the tour of the rooms, we sat down for a simple lunch. In the late afternoon, we set off on a game drive – the land was arid, with a recurrent spread of cacti and thorn trees. The grevy's zebra were in plenty and our guide tracked a pride of lions. We parked on a hill to enjoy our sundowners (drinks and snacks). Refreshing, calm and peaceful, Loisaba seemed to awaken every sense. It felt like a magical forest that we couldn’t help but touch, smell and drink in. It was a place reserved for the mind, body and soul.

In the distance, we could see something trotting toward us. Our guide looked through his binoculars and exclaimed, “I don’t believe this! Wild dogs!” I got excited.Wild dogs are an endangered species and were thought to be extinct in the region for many years. I have encountered wild dogs only twice during my safari adventures – both times in Ol Pejeta. We jumped into our 4x4 and followed the trotting animals across the valley that separated us. Suddenly, we lost sight of them, but our driver seemed to know what he was doing as he kept winding in and around the bush heading in a specific direction. He wasn’t following any radio calls, nor was he fiddling with his antenna. He was going on gut. This, in itself, was an adrenaline rush.

We finally crossed the valley and came up on the wild dogs. The entire pack (I counted more than 15) was zig-zagging around our vehicle as it hunted for its prey. We were the only guests there, so the entire show was happening just for us. A sudden burst of speed and energy took over the pack and they sped off into the distance. Moments later, they returned with a hare that was shared between them. What a fantastic species!

As night started to fall, we returned to camp. It was only on the drive back, once the excitement of seeing wild dogs had faded, that I realized how magnificent the sky looked, dotted with millions of stars. I was awe-struck. A sky like that could only be seen from a place that hadn’t been polluted with smoke and lights. At camp, we had our dinner and walked back to our rooms. Once I climbed onto the deck, I suddenly understood the full meaning of what a “star bed” was. There were lanterns scattered around the hut and the bed had been rolled onto the deck. I climbed in, laid back and looked up. I was going to be sleeping under the stars – literally.  This was one of the most spectacular wildlife experiences I had ever had. And it was only the first day of my trip.

The next morning, the sun gently stirred me from my sleep as the bed was facing the eastern horizon. My wakeup call was unfolding brilliance. I couldn’t remember the last time I had felt so relaxed and at peace, feeling the morning sun warm the core of my being.

The day began with a dip in the pool to cool down from the dazzling mid morning heat at the Loisaba Cottages. Later on, we opted to explore the bush on ATVs, an activity designed to support the educational trust in Loisaba (just one element of the wider Loisaba project). I was given a helmet and told to go crazy - as long as I stayed on the trail. My adrenaline pumping, I couldn’t believe how exhilarating it was to take myself on my own adventure in the African wilderness. Even though the ATV wasn’t quiet, the animals around me didn’t seem to mind. They continued on with their day as if nothing of interest had happened and I continued down the path like a giddy school girl ready for more adventure.

Even though the second night turned cloudy, I decided to keep the star bed on the deck. If it rained, it would have just been another type of adventure. But it didn’t.  Instead, in the middle of the night, the clouds parted to reveal yet another magical starlit night.

All photos were provided by Aleema Noormohamed.

January 10, 2017

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