Monday, September 10, 2012

Escape from Nairobi: Swara Plains

We've been in Nairobi for a little over a month now, and last weekend we were itching to swap the concrete jungle for the bush, car fumes for fresh air and noisy streets for calm quiet countryside. A bunch of friends were going to a music festival out of town, but we headed in the opposite direction and found the Swara Plains about 35kms out of Nairobi on the road to Mombasa.

Swara Plains is a camp with banda (hut) style accommodation but all the mod cons like hot showers, electricity, a bar and a restaurant that offered three course meals three times a day. Its owners run cattle on the property and after the government passed laws about protecting wildlife the family stopped hunting the game and offered accommodation and guided tours instead. There are no large predators on the property, so one of the key draw cards is being able to freely walk about the reserve stalking giraffe, zebra, warthogs, wildebeest and other game.

We thought we'd be spending the weekend with the support cast from The Lion King, but when we arrived we were promptly adopted by Riri, Spaku, Coke and Max, the local feline and canine tenants at the camp. We downed our bags and decided to find some giraffe that we spotted on the way in and our new hosts Spaku, Riri and Coke decided to accompany us on our afternoon foot safari. 

We followed the track and soon enough we were wating a family of giraffe nibble their leafy dinners, buzzards were finding their places in the acacia trees for the night and a family of warthog ran through the long grass. It was exactly what we were after - quiet, peaceful, clean air and sunshine. Our canine guide Spaku took great pains to point out the wildlife to us by chasing the giraffes and spooking out a group of quail in the grass. 

We were pretty amazed that Riri the kitten followed us the whole way as well, she seemed to enjoy lying on her back wherever our feet would tread - I think I stomped on her at least 3 times! She also made for a handy Simba moment right on sunset. 

There are a number of waterholes on the property, and once you're tired of lazing about the camp reading eating and sleeping, you can simply strike out on a dirt path and soon enough you're disturbing a herd of eland or staring at a dozen stripey zebra bums. When watching game on foot, they see you from far off and keep a safe distance between us and them the whole time. Having a hyperactive dog at our heels didn't help much either but we enjoyed Spaku's company the next morning on our second walking safari, she'd dash into the bush and spook out sleepy gazelle laying up in the tall grass.

During our meals in the restaurant (the food was terrific by the way) we would sit and watch a troop of monkeys slowly infiltrate the camp like ninjas to a rival dojo. There was always something happening around the camp whether it was monkeys in the trees, incredible sunbirds bathing in the pond or a squirrel making a quick dash and grab for something to eat. It was perfect just to be around so much wildlife for a few days respite from the big smoke.

On Saturday afternoon we sneaked out of camp (no offence Spaku!) and actually did about a 10km hike around the property, we just picked a track and started walking. It was fantastic to be out in the scrub, miles from anywhere and to be enveloped in the busyness of a different kind of life out on the Swara Plains.

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