At 3:30 AM one morning I awakened to the sounds of a waterbuck bellowing below our tent cabin in Kikoti Camp near Tarangire National Park in Tanzania. Kikoti is a wonderful combination of comfort and close to nature. Glamping, glamor camping, as some call it, is a wonderful experience and the Kikoti experience is first class.
We arrived at Kikoti after driving through Tarangire National Park, about an hour and a half out of Arusha. Tarangire is the land of tembo (elephants in Swahili) and
baobab, the upside down tree. The staff of Kikoti greeted us with a glass of fruit juice and a cold damp cloth to refresh us after our dusty journey. Alice, camp manager, quickly oriented us to safety practices and the camp schedule. Our first evening we showered quickly after our bags were delivered to our individual tents and settled around the campfire with Tusker beers in hand to enjoy a Maasai greeting dance.
Dinner soon followed with a tasty mix of meats and veggies in an open-sided dining room that looks out over the bush. Our journey through the park over the next couple of days gave us great safari memories with three leopards, four lions, a cheetah, hundreds of elephants, zebras, impala, waterbuck and beautiful birds that
included rollers, hornbills, finches and more. We experienced our best elephant day ever in five trips to Africa with more than 1,000 pachyderms scattered along the road near the great swamp. They were taking mud baths, eating the lush seasonal grass and mating. Young males made fake charges a few feet toward us with ears fanned forward. None posed a serious threat as they were three to six years old, rushing towards us, then backing up as if to say, “Whoops, too big for me.” Once a protective mom heard her young boy bellow at us and she charged over to be sure he was safe. It was a wonderful day in all ways.
That evening back at the camp we walked with Jacob, a bushman, David, a Meru tribesman, and a Maasai warrior carrying a gun. Jacob had his bow and four arrows, two laden with poison for more dangerous encounters. We walked two kilometers studying tracks and medicinal uses of trees interpreted by our guides. They grow up with nature, respect it, learn from it and willingly share their first-hand knowledge.
The tent cabins sit on large hardwood decks on stilts overlooking the park. Screened walls make it feel very open to breezes and sounds of wildlife. The bathroom behind the bedroom has a flush toilet, hot shower and two sinks, as good as any bathroom arrangement in a franchise hotel, except with much more local flavor in terms of the acacia wood trims and other small touches. A seating area and desk is included in the bedroom and an outside covered deck has two very comfy chairs with a table for morning coffee, which they bring when they give you a wake up call.
This fourth visit to Kikoti was shared with a group of friends and family. John, who tends bar and helps at meals remembers me from earlier visits so it feels like coming home to be here. The Maasai workers guide us back and forth from cabins in the evening to be sure we are safe from buffalo, waterbuck, and hyenas that routinely wander through the camp area. Gabriel, our skilled guide who traveled with us for ten days, told us of lion footprints found along the camp pathways while we were there. And that’s part of what makes a tent camp so charming. It’s built in wild places with very creative solutions for services. Many camps, Kikoti included, now get most of their electricity from solar panels, a step up from the generators of past times. They even have limited Internet access at the main office where you can recharge batteries and go online to check email.
When I was listening to waterbuck outside the tent early in the morning, I tried to remember the many African hotels, resorts and tent camps at which I have stayed. I can remember every single room, lodge and trail at the tent camps. The franchise lodges are a blur and I cannot remember their rooms. Tent camps create a richly
encoded experience in our brains because everything about them is singular, unique and usually thematically tied to the site. Our brains record those experiences in much greater complexity and we recall the places more easily. Tent camps are most definitely memory makers because they bring us closer to the outdoors and those sights, sounds, and smells that provide the backdrop for our brain recorders.
Wildlife sounds provided the music of the night as we stood on our front deck and marveled at the starlit sky with no area light interference, but the silence of the savannah is startling in its simple lack of people and machine noises. If you get to Tanzania, try to spend some quality time at Kikoti. It’s an experience not to be missed. -Tim Merriman