We arrived at the Amboseli Porini Camp after a long drive from Nairobi. The last hour or so had been a bumpy one on the dirt roads of the bush plains. Despite the rattled bones, we were excited and all smiles. It had been an amazing drive as well, with a landscape ranging from urban to mountainous, alternating with vast plains where cattle grazed and wildlife roamed. Verdant green at times, mostly it had been arid dry. We stopped for a toilet break at a roadside cafe. On the menu was chicken, they said. I had guessed as much from the fresh-plucked feathers fluttering from the kitchen I passed on my way to the dark washroom in the back. We pressed on as "lunch would be served at the camp". Once deep in bushland, a giraffe suddenly appeared on the track. It stared at us just as surprised as we were to see him.
The camp looked so inviting, I instantly wanted to stay forever. Private, spacious and well-furnished canvas tents (each with its own verandah and en-suite bathroom) stood scattered around the bush. The mess tent was furnished with lounge sets, wooden dining tables and chairs, and a buffet for drinks. An open and airy camp, with a spot dedicated for evening camp fires and another to swing leisurely listening to the birds. And birds do abound in this area. In all colors and plumage, they chip and chirp all day long.
Lunch was served at the big, square dark-wood table outdoors in the shade of umbrellas. We sat down and met some other people staying at this tented camp. A chilled avocado soup came. Made with Kenyan avocados that had been allowed to ripen properly (unlike the ones I get here in Dubai). I could taste the full flavor of a beautiful ripe avocado. Prepared with fresh lemon juice and simple seasoning it turned out a delicious and refreshing summer soup (it was hot in the Amboseli).
The main lunch was buffet style. Carrot salad, beet salad, tomato salad, couscous salad, and grilled pork with a light tomato-based sauce. For dessert a baked custard pie with orange sauce. The standard for bush camp food was set. Similar feasts would be ready for us at game drive picnics and evening dinners. Butternut soup, fresh cream of broccoli, beef stew, roast chicken, grilled chicken sandwiches (the chef baked his own bread), cakes and pies. Nutritious, balanced, and tasty. I went looking for the chef. I wanted to see that kitchen.
What I found was a camp kitchen: the real thing. Under a canvas tent was a large preparation table surrounded by a stove, a fridge, a sink, and racks with pots, pans, and other kitchen utensils. Just outside the tent was a three-tiered oven. It ran on charcoal (some of which was scooped with care from the remains of a campfire). Across was another open tent with several sinks and tables. For dishwashing. And then: the charcoal chiller. A shed covered with a thick layer of charcoal. The charcoal is watered until soaked in the morning. The soaked charcoals provide a layer of isolation that keeps the inside of the shed cool throughout the day. I peeked inside, and sure enough it was a properly chilled pantry full of fresh vegetables and fruits. I vaguely picked up that they also used ground coffee pulp to make charcoal, but I was distracted by the chef sticking a strawberry cake into the charcoal-heated oven.
On a visit to a nearby Maasai village, we were introduced to the "Maasai Fridge" (it was said jokingly). A Maasai lady was cleaning a large calebash, or bottle gourd. Using a hot coal on a stick, she scraped it meticulously along the inside of the calebash. This method seals the inside and sterilizes the bottle gourd. Once ready for use, the narrow opening goes over the cow's teat and the warm milk goes straight into the "fridge". Sealed off at the top, the milk will keep for three days inside the bottle gourd.
A young Maasai warrior lives on a diet of milk, meat and blood, our guide told me. Milk is also used to make ugali, a corn-based staple similar to polenta. Cooked thick enough to roll into small balls between your fingers, it is perfect to mop up sauce from your plate.
We stayed only two nights at the Amboseli Porini Camp as we moved on to another Porini camp in the Maasai Mara. We saw the greenhouses where flowers are grown, Kenya's big export product. Came down the escarpment on a road built by Italian prisoners of war in the 40s. Crossed the Great Rift Valley. And arrived at the Mara Porini Camp just in time for a light lunch of various salads and a quiche. The feast of tasty and healthy food continued. A picnic lunch on the high plains of the Mara, after we saw a leopard flex its muscles coming down the tree where it had been sleeping. Sundowner nibbles with lions chasing something uncomfortably close by. Fresh pineapple crumble for dessert. I tip my hat to those camp kitchen cooks!
|the hot water tank|