Cycling with the Wild Things of Kenya

No matter how many times I get on a bicycle and head out on city streets or country roads or mountains trails, it is always Einstein I see. With his big lawless mop of white hair and his goofy “spent too much time in the lab” smile. And I hear his words about how cycling is just like life. “To keep your balance, you must keep moving,” the great physicist said.

It’s useful advice should you ever forget how to ride a bicycle, or, simply, how to do life. How to keep your balance in the continuous play.

You truly feel this balance when you’ve conquered something, like incline after incline, and when the smooth ride of the flats leads into a fast and glorious downward soar. It’s a feeling that is all the stronger when out in the wilderness, in big sky country like Kenya’s Chyulu Hills at ol Donyo Lodge.

Here, vast stretches of uninterrupted land surround you in every direction. Wild animals roam beside cattle and their Maasai herders – cheetah and lion, wildebeest and elephant.

Perhaps the most profound part about getting on that bicycle in a wild terrain like this is knowing that animals are out and about, while you move among them on two wheels.

The joy is in being closer to the land – as compared to game drives – and in finding yourself looking up at a journey of giraffe only metres away from where you stand. Because, needless to say, you will have to stop at some point and just take it all in.

The joy is in being able to move your body, your legs, and to feel not merely like a bystander, an onlooker, but a player, a member.

Our guides knew just where to lead us, along the sandy paths in the flat scrubland. We followed them to a giant boulder beside a thick canopy of trees (definitely a good place for a big cat, considering the bones scattered below) to catch the last rays of the day shining through an unruly swathe of clouds that looked for a moment like wild-haired Einstein staring right back at us, reminding us. Keep going, never give up.

The guides knew where to find the magic but they also knew how to keep us safe. In addition to that, it is said that due to decades of Maasai roaming the plains and living in and around the wilderness here, the predators have become used to people – used to knowing that they should stay away. On foot, they recognise us, but climb on a horse or into a game vehicle and watch the dynamics change.

We all ride for different reasons – some of us simply for exercise, for fitness, and some for that intense feeling of being alive. Alive among lions, giraffe and zebra, well that’s even better.

Discover more about ol Donyo Lodge in Kenya here and in our blog, 10 Questions with ol Donyo Lodge’s Jackson Lemunge.


For the Women of Africa, For the Women of the World

Above: North Island, Seychelles

On our travels, there have been so many men and women that have arrived seemingly out of the blue and stepped right into our hearts as though they were there all along. They arrive and never leave.

Today is about the women we’ve met. The phenomenal women that make an occasion like International Women’s Day such an obvious day to embrace. It feels, oceans and mountains away from those women, as though they are all here with us right now, smiling their big warm smiles, linking arms around shoulders in a show of that “We got this” strength and support.

Above: ol Donyo Lodge, Kenya

The women we’ve met have been in some of the most remote and wild parts of Africa, but also in the cities, in the boardrooms. We have walked together, talked together, we have cried and laughed and understood. We have shared in endless meals, in our homes, in restaurants, out on riverbanks and under infinite starry skies. We have sat with lions and shared in the “don’t make me look” fear and the “wait, let’s stay longer” excitement of Africa.

Above: Julia Geffers of Relais & Châteaux and Shan Varty of Londolozi Private Game Reserve

We have cycled across the Damaraland Desert of Namibia and the Maasai plains in Kenya. We have canoed with hippos and crocodiles on the Zambezi and sailed rough and calm seas together, in the kind of way that bonds you for life.

Some have battled the worst of life, only to emerge more in love with the best of life. Together, we have been quiet and loud, with children, families, lovers, and alone. We have given and we have received.

Above: 20 Degres Sud, Mauritius

In our travels, we see women across the great stretch of land and ocean embodying the words of Rudyard Kipling in his great poem, If, but instead of a man and a son, they make us desperate to rewrite our own version, to extend it to the truth of what it means to be a women…

“If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Woman, my daughter!”

Above: Annie-Claude Bergonzoli, Director of Relais & Châteaux Africa and the Indian Ocean, at Mara Plains Camp, Kenya

In the women of Africa, the women living, loving or working here or those simply passing through, we have seen the greatest examples of spirit, persistence, love, community and a great joy for life, for all of life.

It is all of these women, the women seen and the women unseen, the women heard and the women not heard, that we celebrate and hold close today, that we honour for all they have shown us and all that they are. Happy International Women’s Day!

Above: Hoby de Foucault at Anjajavy le Lodge, Madagascar

Above: Exec Chef, Anna Ridgewell at Londolozi Private Game Reserve

Above: ol Donyo Lodge, Kenya

Above: The Cellars-Hohenort, Cape Town

Above: Jill Wagner, Great Plains Conservation

Above: Tanja von Arnim, Delaire Graff Estate, Cape Winelands

Above: Adine & Lente Roode of Camp Jabulani, South Africa

Above: Tina Aponte at Royal Chundu, Zambia

Above: Beverly Joubert of Great Plains Conservation, in Botswana (Zarafa Camp and Duba Plains Camp)

Above: Sophie Vaillant, Esiweni Luxury Safari Lodge, South Africa

Above: Ellerman House, Cape Town

What’s More Beautiful Than Making People Happy With Food?

“Food is a beautiful way for people to connect and build relationships. What’s more beautiful than making people happy with food?” These are the words of the new Head Chef at Johannesburg’s AtholPlace Hotel & Villa. A chef whose cuisine we can’t wait to savour. But until then, we’re getting acquainted in another way.

Read more about Omar Koenen in the Q&A below.

Meet Omar – Q&A

You have been cooking professionally for over ten years – how did you get started?

In Holland, I got my first break by securing a weekend job in a restaurant when I was 15 years old! This experience nurtured my interest in food and encouraged me to go to culinary school and work towards my professional qualification which I received when I was 19.

Being a professional chef is very demanding – share some of your experiences with us:

In top rated professional kitchens the hours are long – 17 hour days – six days a week. The work can be physically demanding as I’m on feet all day in a hot kitchen. But having the opportunity to work in Bib Gourmand and Michelin star establishments is really a thrill! As part of a team I was able to learn something new each day. That’s exciting!

Tell us about your journey bringing you to South Africa?

Travel is a great way to rejuvenate one’s soul! I needed a break from Europe and decided to visit Cape Town for a holiday. I fell in love with my wife and South Africa and the rest is history.

What is your favourite part of the job?

Having the opportunity to work in amazing establishments and create my own menus is a real privilege… this is really gives me a chance to express myself in the kitchen. I must say I generate a huge amount of pleasure from serving guests amazing food. Food is a beautiful way for people to connect and build relationships. My motto is, What’s more beautiful than making people happy with food?

Working  in Europe under brilliant chefs, you have a classical training. How do you combine your foundations with new thinking?

I believe nothing beats a brilliant culinary education. This sets the foundation for one’s future career. But new ideas and taste experiences are exciting and I’m always looking for innovation in food. I love Asian food and enjoy exploring all those flavour combinations and since learning about curries from colleagues in Cape Town I’ve become obsessed with creating the perfect curry.

Which ingredients are your favourites?

South Africa has amazing, fresh, local produce available and I believe in seasonal food. I get very excited about fresh local seafood-  like scallops, langoustines and crayfish. I also have a soft spot for micro-greens and edible flowers. They really elevate a dish.

What is your vision for AtholPlace Hotel & Villa?

I’m really excited to be living and working in the biggest city in Africa – Johannesburg has a special energy which I’m tapping into. My goal is to work alongside the established team at AtholPlace and share my food philosophy – which is food and cooking equals love. I’m totally motivated to bring my enthusiasm and experience to this new kitchen and develop new ideas alongside my team. Morukuru is all about family and I’m blessed to be welcomed into this five star family.