INSPIRATION

From grape to glass: unveiling the charms of South Africa's wine regions

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When the email inviting me to Shompole Wilderness landed in my inbox, I confess to a flicker of doubt. This remote corner of Kenya, geographically intriguing as it was, was initially off my travel radar. Unbeknownst to me, this invitation was the key to one of the most adventurous experiences I'd ever have. Nestled on the banks of the life-giving Ewaso Nyiro River, Shompole Wilderness offers a unique escape. Owned and managed by the du Toit family – Johann, Samantha, and their children Seyia and Taru – the camp is an exclusive-use haven for travellers seeking adventure and connection. The six spacious tents provide a comfortable respite after a day of exploration. Shompole sits on community land, harmoniously integrated with the Shompole Conservancy. This pristine bushland, stretching over a vast 250,000 acres, is a crucial wildlife corridor, watched over by the majestic Nguruman escarpment.

The journey to this hidden gem was a scenic one. Five hours earlier, we'd descended Corner Baridi, enjoying a smooth ride towards Magadi Town, nestled at the southwest edge of Kenya's Rift Valley. At the barrier of Tata Chemicals Magadi Limited, the gateway to Shompole and Olkirimatian Conservancies, we met our host Johann, who guided us to camp. Dust swirled around us as our vehicle rumbled along the deserted tracks for what seemed like an eternity. No other vehicles or signs of life interrupted the vastness of the landscape. Then, with a sudden stop, Johann brought the journey to an abrupt halt. We had arrived. Five Maasai gentlemen greeted us with warm smiles and glasses of refreshing fruit juice. "Welcome to Shompole," they chimed, and with that, our adventure began.

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Kayaking and Tubing 

Our first taste of adventure came with a choice – kayaking or tubing down the Ewaso Nyiro River. Kayaking? Nah, tubing sounded way more relaxing! Except, here I was, wedged in the center of a black inner tube, staring down at the murky brown water with a growing panic. Maybe the kayak wasn't such a bad idea after all. Johann patiently explained how to use our arms as oars, but my attempts were hilariously futile. I'd forget left from right, sending the tube spinning in circles. The current, my mischievous accomplice, gleefully took me on its own scenic tour.  But hey, what it lacked in grace, it made up for in laughter! My kayaking friends, clearly having the time of their lives, kept swooping in, using their paddles to nudge me back on course. Their delighted shrieks and my panicked flailing created a symphony of aquatic chaos. It was the most hilariously out-of-control fun I'd had in the water in ages. 

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Nature Walk and Sundwoner

As the sun dipped below the horizon, painting the sky in fiery hues, we embarked on an evening nature walk with Johann. His keen eyes pointed out hidden wonders – a dung beetle rolling a ball almost twice its size and a pair of dik diks watching us from the bushes. We walked past towering termite mounds, some even human height. Reaching our sundowner spot, we were greeted by a crackling bonfire, a welcome sight after the day's adventures. Comfortable seating awaited, perfectly positioned to capture the breathtaking spectacle of the sunset. As the stars emerged, we sipped refreshing drinks and enjoyed delicious appetizers.  

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Game watching 

Back at camp and after a delicious dinner, Johann announced that there was a vehicle and guide available for anyone who wanted to head out on a night game drive. Those of us who took up the offer reported lion sightings by the river! Shompole offers an underground hide overlooking a man-made waterhole for those seeking a unique perspective. Equipped with beds and amenities, this hide allows guests to spend the night observing the parade of wildlife including wildebeest, giraffes, and zebras drawn to the water.

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Walking with Baboons

Our guide, Sisco from the Lale'nok Research Centre, led us on a fascinating walk, following a troop of Olive baboons. As Sisco dropped fascinating facts about their social lives, we observed a heartwarming scene – a baby clinging to its mother's belly while a playful teenager groomed another. Fun fact:  a male baboon can gauge a female's receptiveness by the shade of pink on her rear end! Back at camp, we learned that Samantha runs the Lale'nok Centre, dedicated to researching all types of wildlife in this remarkable ecosystem. It also turns out baboons aren't fans of the red color, which reminds them of conflicts with the Maasai. So, for optimal baboon encounters, ditch the red! 

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Birding

Upon reaching the TATA gate, a breathtaking sight greeted us. Lake Magadi, a vast expanse painted a vibrant pink, teemed with flocks of lesser flamingos. This dazzling introduction was just a taste of the incredible birding awaiting us at Shompole. The Ewaso Nyiro River pulsed with life, attracting a variety of riverine birds. During walks around the camp, we spotted even more feathered friends, from the yellow-billed stork and hamerkop to the augur buzzard and the secretary bird. Shompole is a true paradise for bird lovers, with the avian life a constant source of wonder. 

My stay at Shompole Wilderness etched itself onto my memory with indelible strokes. From the adrenaline rush of tubing down the Ewaso Nyiro to the thrill of following a troop of baboons, every moment was a treasure. If the invitation ever lands in my inbox again, the answer is a resounding yes – twice over! Shompole is an escape unlike any other, and I can't wait to return and lose myself in its magic once more.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 Article by Sarah Mwangi

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