I Fly Balloons
Joan Root, left, with Air Kenya pilot Doug Morey, and the author, Delta Willis, wearing pith helmets on their way to the Nairobi premiere of OUT OF AFRICA. photo credit: Sandy Price
In that sweet drift between waking and sleeping, I glimpse an African crowned crane dancing outside my bedroom. Wings spread, he bows, then pecks the window pane. So ends an afternoon nap, but I wake in a dreamy setting, on the shores of Kenya’s Lake Naivasha. Here time is warped, and if you thought THE LION KING was biblical: Welcome to Genesis. Late afternoon light renders this landscape Gauguin Green. Grass is neatly trimmed by hippo. I spy an antelope, a family of mongooses, lovebirds, but the crane superimposes himself, ready for his close-up. With a golden headdress, and the enthusiasm of the randy, the bird is splendidly confused.
“The crane is courting his own reflection in the window,” said my host. It was typical of Joan Root to merely state facts, with no aside on narcissism. “He’s been at this for some time,” her voice wavered when she added, apologetically, “I need to find him a mate.”
I raise a New Subject, pulling out maps to plot our safari north to the Mathews Range and Samburu Country. Joan Root would be my own personal David Attenborough, with unpublished insights on mammals, birds, botany. When I introduced evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould, by the end of dinner, the Harvard professor was asking her questions.
“I’m getting into grasses,” she told me after a stint in the Serengeti, where she kept a log of when certain plants came into seed, when species of antelope calved, how these coincided with the rains. “You could produce a beautiful book,” I encouraged her; “You’ve got the photos, and this is a great angle. Nice combination of art and science.”
“I’m not so ambitious.” Modest, retro (with eye glasses worthy of Daryl Hannah in STEEL MAGNOLIAS;) Joan’s career blossomed in the shadow of her mate. Alan Root had enough ambition for an entire round table at Elaine’s, and once at the celebrity hangout in New York, emitted the hoot of an Alpha male baboon. More…
Oria Douglas-Hamilton & Lake Naivasha
Imagine gliding among pelicans on Lake Naivasha in your own magical gondola. Music drifts out on the water as your own private musician gently plays his guitar. Tea is served with delectable brownies, and on your return cruise, the setting sun paints the horizon gold, while Mt. Longonot turns a darker shade of purple. Oria Douglas-Hamilton has transformed her parents’ home into a dreamy retreat, with enchanting rooms, truly fresh food from the farm; (I had the largest grapefruit I’ve ever seen for breakfast, plus the best yogurt-homemade.) This is a place to unwind, put your feet up, and feel at home in Africa. Birds are everywhere, and hippo saunter on shore at night to mow the lawn.
The last time I saw hippo at Lake Naivasha, they were silver blimps that glided beneath a full moon. It was New Year’s Eve, and a friend and I were walking from one lakeshore home to another, talking and giggling louder than usual, to warn the hippo that a couple of hominids were afoot, which sent them running in a meander that ended with splash after splash. Better than fireworks, in my view.
You have probably heard that hippo are the most dangerous animals in Africa, and this is why: They feel safer in the water, where they can submerge and hide.
Kuki Gallmann’s book was the inspiration for the movie starring Kim Basinger, which only tells half the story. Kuki established The Gallmann Memorial Foundation, with very innovative research projects into the medicinal uses of local wild sage, and an educational center for young students. Travelers who visit Kuki Gallmann’s ranch, located in Kenya’s Laikipia region, have a choice of several levels of accommodations. The Mukutan Retreat is located a mile above sea level and on the edge of the Great Rift Valley. It is named Mukutan or “meeting” after the Mukutan Gorge, where a series of canyons converge. Spacious guest cottages decorated by Kuki were featured in Architectural Digest, as were her designer Sultan tents at Makena’s Hills, with a view of Lake Baringo. Read about my recent visit with Kuki.
Kuki Gallmann still lives on the Ol Ari Nyiro ranch today, where she oversees conservation and educational projects, and continues to write other books. I Dreamed of Africa has been reprinted in 17 languages.
Order I Dreamed of Africa Today!
The Great Green, Growing Rift Valley
Laikipia, Kenya Laikipia, Land of Private Reserves
Karen, Kenya. Friends of Elephants
Lamu, Kenya Lamu Dhow Voyage By Moonlight
Langata, Giraffe Manor
Nairobi National Park Inside Nairobi National Park
Maasai Mara Reserve, Fresh Lobster in the Mara
If you want to see what Nairobi was like when the building of the railroad from Mombasa was halted by man-eating lions, order Peter Beard book “The End of the Game”