Cottar’s 1920s Safari Camp, Maasai Mara

Reminiscent of Out of Africa (25 - 28 June 2014)
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After leaving Lewa, we continued our journey in a small propeller plane to Maasai Mara (or Masai Mara). Upon arrival, we met our guide Ken Kinoti, a really friendly jovial guy. Once he introduced himself to us, and helped us with the luggage on board, we were each given a Cottars Camp water flask, which will be our water bottle for the next few days – a great souvenir to remember the trip. We were already impressed at this point, we couldn’t wait to see how the lodging will look like, somehow we had great vibes about it.

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Ken also introduced us to his assistant guide – Lesasai, from the Maasai Mara tribe who works with the Cottars Camp guides and is a ‘spotter’ due to his fantastic eyesight, definitely required especially in spotting those elusive leopards which we didn’t get a chance to see in Lewa. We were rather amused as he stood up almost immediately after the jeep set off and started spotting for animals. Ken was explaining to us that the philosophy of Cottar’s Camp is only about conservation but also about embracing the community and culture, and hence the camp has many local Maasai people that work with them, which I think is wonderful, as over the next few days, we got to become friends with Lesasi.

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As the ride to Cottar’s Camp from our airstrip was almost 2 hours away, it was almost like a short game drive on the way there. I must say, there were a lot more animals spotted here as compared to Lewa, immediately after we drove off, we saw a high density of zebras, elephants, lions, you name it we saw it. Here the landscape was rather different, it was much greener compared to the drier landscape we saw in Lewa. Pretty spectacular, sigh! I will share more of that in my next post on our game drives in Maasai Mara. If you didn’t know, I also found out on this trip that Maasai Mara is the Seventh Natural Wonder of the World known for it’s wildebeest migration.

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After a rather nice morning game drive of seeing so many animals including the rather interesting looking wildebeest (my first time seeing them!) we entered the Cottar’s Camp area, which felt really exclusive, it was pretty close to the Serengeti border.

We were greeted by a whole team of Cottar’s staff, after which we were brought to the main mess tent which really felt like it just came off a movie set of Out of Africa. Sprawling over 6000 acres in the Maasai Mara reserve, it truly embraced the spirit and essence of what safari was back in those days. The main tent had a gorgeous colonial setting, with a large living room and dining room set up, it felt like a throwback to visiting Africa back in the 1920s on a glam set, complete with silverware, a gramophone and other interesting vintage artifacts.

It was pretty enlightening and inspiring as I read on one of the walls the history of each generation of the Cottar’s family starting from the first man – Charles Cottar who moved to Africa in 1909, starting the business in 1919 and how the business has grown and withstood the test of time through five generations. I think it’s pretty amazing for someone to have come to Africa from America back in those days, and having managed and sustained this business through 5 generations, I could sense the true passion and love every generation have for this country. It will be great if one of Calvin’s kids can continue this legacy.

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Reading the history of the 5 generations of Cottar’s men.

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Resident cat of Cottar’s Camp, somehow reminds me of Garfield!

They also have a souvenir shop aptly called Dapper Flapper 1920s shop, love the ring of it. Here, they have display many of the local crafts made by the Maasai and local community ranging from the colorful blankets worn by the Maasai people to beaded handicrafts and carved wooden salad spoons.

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Inside Dapper Flapper 1920s shop.

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Enjoying my first lunch in Cottar’s Camp.

After filling our tummies with a nice healthy lunch and their homemade cheesecake, we were brought by the Maasai guides to our tents. JC, Y and I shared a gorgeous tent called Swara. Cottar’s Camp has 10 tents in total over its sprawling site, so it feels very exclusive and we never really hear or see our neighbours at all. What’s exciting is beyond our tent in the green fields are animals, like zebras, antelopes and sometimes cheetahs roam them at night. Hence, we always have to be escorted by the Maasai guide after the sun sets for safety reasons.

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The room was rather large and had a nice cosy atmosphere, with the 2 four poster beds – a large queen size bed and a smaller single bed, it was perfect for the 3 of us. I couldn’t help but jump into the bed for a quick rest. I loved how all the toilets in the tents even the common toilet near the main mess tent, had the nostalgic touch typical of what one might see back in the 1920s. The whole site has generators to power heated water, but yes having been ‘trained’ well in Lewa, we were pretty efficient in our daily bathing so as not to waste energy.

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Once it reached sun down, the staff would come in for turndown service and tuck in a hot water bottle in our bed as well, which was pretty essential, as the weather in Maasai Mara was more chilly than in Lewa.

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Our dinners in Cottar’s Camp would range from a BBQ night on our first day to more formal sit down dinners on the next 2 nights. They had a rather convivial atmosphere and hence we also had a chance to get to know some of the other guests over wine and good food. I also liked the rather interesting quotes we see on the menu every night, a nice touch. Occasionally depending on our game drives, we might have breakfast or lunch in the camp, otherwise we had it outside in true safari picnic style.

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Breakfast in the morning.

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Afternoon tea in the living area.

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A sample of a dinner menu on one of the nights.

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Sirloin steak with chickpeas

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Set up for BBQ night.

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Indulged in two rounds of their local fried rice and BBQ meats.

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Homemade cake with a treble sign.

On one of the days, WT, Y and I decided to try a classic bush bath, which they set up outside WT’s tent. We thought it be pretty fun to experience a typical safari bath. It’s pretty amazing how hot the water was and stayed so hot for that 30 mins that we were inside the ‘bathtubs’ made of very strong canvas material – it was comparable to the heat of the Japan hot springs.

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The staff ferrying water from WT’s toilet and pouring into the canvas bath.

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On one of the evenings, Calvin Cottar invited us to have drinks up in the Cottar’s Private Homestead, a beautiful private home which Calvin designed closely, and all the materials was sourced locally and built by local builders. As it wasn’t occupied, we had a chance to take a look at the private home and lounge around in there. I loved the dramatic triangular roofs which complemented the amazing landscape view. The house sprawls over a cascading landscape and has a beautiful infinity pool, equipped with 5 ensuite bedrooms, large dining and living area and a kitchen, over 3 floors. Once we arrived, we were brought around for a tour of the place.

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Living area with a cosy warm fireplace.

We also saw some of Calvin’s father’s and grandfather’s ‘trophy heads’ from the yesteryears, which hang proudly in the living room wall.

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One of the nicest bedrooms in the house.

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I also noticed a lot of interesting art around the house by local artists including these almost life-sized giraffe and ostrich made from beaten metal, made by local Nairobi artists. Y is so excited about it, she’s asked Calvin if they can make bears, be a great addition to our home if they can make them.

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It was pretty serene sitting out in the balcony of the house, the group of us enjoying gin and tonic – they do a mean one here, a definite must order. It was pretty insightful chatting with Calvin and understanding about his way of life and living here. To top it off, seeing the sun set from this location was simply breathtaking.

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Calvin Cottar having a drink and chatting with us.

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View of the amazing sunset from Cottar’s Homestead.

After dinners, we would sometimes sit around the campfire and chat with Ken with the Maasai guides keeping us safe. In the dark background, there are all kinds of animals including cheetahs walking around, we really saw them when they shined the torchlight into the background. Thank goodness none came into our room. It’s surreal how close we are living to the natural environment of the Maasai Reserve.

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It was really hard to say goodbye to this place, I wished I could stay here for another week at least. My favourite thing to do was always to sit outside our room and read a book. That’s me below just sitting around in the big open habitat which becomes the animals’ habitat once night falls.

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I would highly recommend for anyone thinking of coming to Kenya to visit Maasai Mara and definitely stay at Cottar’s 1920’s Safari Camp. The hospitality of the staff was top notch and thoughtful. Most of all, I felt thankful that I had a chance to stay at a safari camp operated by the oldest established safari family in Africa. Y and I could not leave without leaving some of our heartfelt thoughts in their guest book, and yes please don’t laugh at my sad attempt at drawing a giraffe, I really tried!

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See my earlier post on the package quoted by Cheli and Peacock which includes Cottar’s 1920s Safari Camp.

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