Dr. Wolfgang Thome hasn’t been to central Amboseli in two decades. As he finally makes a return, he notes a great change where there once was a dessert and dust to a green oasis. Follow him as he discovers Amboseli Serena Safari Lodge and the initiatives to rehabilitate and conserve the environment.
It was my first return to Amboseli central for at least two decades though I had stayed several times in recent years on adjoining conservancies and taken game drives into the park. In the 1980’s the park faced desertification, when it was turning into a dustbowl, apart from the shrinking swamp areas in those days.
Notable therefore were the subsequent conservation efforts to increase tree coverage in the core area of the park and the Amboseli Serena Lodge, if I remember right, was the catalyst of re-afforestation in the park. Others have since followed suit, very commendable of course, but the credit must go to Serena’s foresight and active support which saw over 1.2 million trees planted over the past twenty five years. This Herculean effort though has born rich fruits as the immediate neighborhood of the lodge is now once again embedded in an acacia forest, providing shade and a habitat for birds and monkeys, though larger game are kept out by the electric fence. This is to both protect the guests as well as prevent raids on young trees by elephant, giraffes and other game attracted by the lush leaves.
This forest cover makes the lodge, which sits on 8 hectares of land, a cool oasis in an otherwise hot environment.
The main terrace overlooks the water hole where day and night game comes to drink, at times in peaceful coexistence and at times with all the drama tourists on their African safari hope for when predators take down their prey in front of dozens of pairs of eyes and clicking cameras.
The lodge presented itself very well and showed evidence of high standards of upkeep with not a fault found during my all too short stay. Check in was a swift affair, as all the information provided at booking was reflected on the mandatory registration form, requiring only my signature to get my key. Picture ID’s are required to ascertain a guest’s identity, but that is now a global requirement and no longer unique to Kenya.
A cold welcome drink was proffered (and a second and third glass for this thirsty traveller too without the staff batting an eyelid) as were cold scented towels. These were most welcome to cool off the face and wipe down sweat and dust.
What followed was a briefing on the do’s and don’ts which even for old hands, is an important element to understand the specifics of any lodge or tented camp before staff then escorted me to my room where I found my bags already in situ.
The suite I booked fulfilled all my expectations, a large and very complete sitting room, a bedroom with king sized bed, a walk in wardrobe, my own secluded terrace and a large bathroom including a jacuzzi bath. It never fails to amaze me that bathrooms in many lodges are actually larger than those found even in five star city hotels but I was not complaining except perhaps for the fact that I travel alone and had no one to share this luxury with. A range of high quality amenities, soaps, shampoos, gels and other bathroom essentials were placed in the bathroom, and replenished as were the towels changed when I returned in the evening from my dinner.
I could not fault the staff of the lodge in any aspect and Manager Herman Mwasaghua’s team excelled and was ready to be at my beck and call throughout my stay. From the reception to the pool attendant to the gardening staff and the askaris and from the room stewards to the dining room waiters, it showed that the staff knew they were there for their guests, all of them extending cheerful greetings, all keen to please.
The lodge is a mirror image of the way the Maasai build their own manyattas but of course refined in a way only the best architects and designers can conjure up. Artefacts, wall hangings and Maasai paraphernalia are on display everywhere and even the wall murals reflect the Maasai theme wherever I looked.
The food, all meals in fact, was not just well presented on the buffets, where in particular for lunch and dinner a wide variety of dishes leaves no taste bud wanting, but of excellent quality too. An active cooking station rounded up the very positive picture the F&B operation provided.
The swimming pool water was crystal clear, towels neatly folded on the sun chairs and it only took a request at the reception and I was given a member of staff to take me around the lodge, including the normally off limit back of house areas. I was keen to see what the green credentials of the lodge were made of and again was not disappointed as the latest technology in using renewable energy sources had been installed.
Amboseli Serena is a large lodge, with nearly 100 rooms, but the layout and design of the accommodation units together with extensive lounge, terrace and restaurant spaces, make the place even at full house – the lodge was fully booked when I stayed there – never seem like a mad house but it retained its tranquility (apart perhaps from the shouts of ‘awesome’ by some excited tourists watching elephant wade into the water hole).
Another great safari experience and full marks to Serena for remaining the best in their class!
In closing, on my request I was able to plant an acacia tree adding to the 1.2 plus million planted by staff and guests and I can only encourage visitors to Amboseli Serena to ask the reception to arrange for a tree planting session.