It was a powerful and slightly schizophrenic experience walking into Angama Mara for the first time. I had spent a year flying around a 3D digital model of the space, and finally being there was like jumping into that model and living in it. The schizophrenia came from all the conflicting emotions. I was torn between criticism, complements, optimism, pessimism, pride, fulfillment and enjoyment. As a young architect it was the first time that everything finally came together and made sense. My life has a meaning beyond paper now!
When I arrived I jumped straight out of the Land Cruiser into the lodge’s guest areas. You approach these over a lily dotted reflection pond on axis with an insanely expansive view of the Maasai Mara Game Reserve. When entering you are squeezed between two juxtaposed experiences – one of a sensitively carved out architectural space, which is cozy and welcoming, and the other of an all-encompassing view which is expansive and free. It was the magic that existed between these two spaces that completely captivated me. The service, the people, the food, the hospitality, the activities and the adventure completely blew me away. I realized that I was finally living the dream.
It was four days of seamlessly and effortlessly flowing from one experience to the next. Everyday started with a wakeup call from Robert (the world’s greatest butler) and a double espresso of Kenyan coffee, which makes Redbull look like sparkling water.
Apart from the entire trip blowing my mind there were some solid highlights.
The first day kicked off with a walk with Fred, one of the Angama Mara’s Maasai naturalists. He took us into the bush surrounding the lodge and down the river valley towards the famous Out of Africa kopje. Asking about lions, leopards and basically every dangerous scenario that could possibly happen, Fred laughed and explained growing up here as a Maasai warrior he knew pretty much everything about this corner of Africa. He reassured me that most animals (including lions) are scared of the Maasai when they are dressed in traditional dress. Lions scared of men? This is about the time I realized the Maasai mean serious business. The walk’s highlight was stumbling along an Ant Highway that was about 50 metres long complete with mini ant versions of on-ramps, off-ramps, from 6 lane to 4 lane traffic and I am sure I even saw a tollgate. At Fred’s advice, we licked the back of the African giant brown ant that tasted exactly like sour worm sweets, minus the sugar I guess. We walked past a tree completely encapsulated in silk spun by millions of caterpillars. It was like something out of a Tim Burton movie.
Another extreme highlight was a killer sunrise balloon flight. It’s impossible to capture this experience in words – something that has to be experienced personally. To glide along the tree canopy metres above animals peeking into their secret world is something I will never forget. At one point we passed by a vulture’s nest at eye level, a very surreal experience. The Mara has a density of animals like no other game reserve I have ever been to. It’s like God’s own African zoo. On an afternoon game drive, and I promise I am not exaggerating, we saw lions eating a impala kill, a baby hyena playing in a river, a mother crocodile sharing a zebra with her kids, leopards mating in a tree by the road side and even a troop of baboons chasing a leopard across the plains, all the while learning about the animals and their habits from our expert guide Daniel. The Mara Triangle is quite simply Africa saturated – and it was not even Migration season.
On Day Three, after fully indulging in all the luxuries offered in abundance at Angama Mara and having eaten one too many of the ‘best burgers in the Mara’, guilt set in a little and I headed to the Pavilion for a spot of anti-eating. The Fitness Room faces directly onto a vista of the Mara’s plains. This combined with the reflective mirror at the rear of the room, creates a feeling of running in the clouds. Another dreamlike experience, and surely one of the best runs around. After beating the guilt on the treadmill I lay by the poolside for the rest of the afternoon blown away by how the shadows constantly play and paint the building. The relationship between sun and building creates a perfect harmony.
The whole journey of the Angama Mara project has been amazing in every sense – from conceptual sketches to enjoying gin and tonics inside the finished building. To see the ideas materialize into reality and to experience the hospitality firsthand is priceless. It is this that was the real star of my stay. Angama Mara allows you to jump headlong into a safari holiday with all the comfort and charm that I have always experienced when travelling with the Fitzgeralds. It’s a project that will I will miss but I hope to spend some more time there soon. Thanks Nicky and Steve Fitzgerald for allowing me to be part of a project that will leave a longstanding legacy. I am very proud to have been part of this. Angama Mara has been my most enjoyable and productive two year relationship so far, by a long way actually. The project has been an extremely formative chapter in my life and I look back at the whole experience fondly. It has been defined by challenges, steep learning curves and friendships all culminating in extreme pride and happiness.
A Postscript from Maestro Rech: We had the best game drive ever … there you go, I said it. We saw more animal encounters in a morning than I have ever witnessed. I am sort of pinching myself because we lived at the Ngorongoro Crater, then there was Mombo, the Okavango and Zambia, with the odd visit to the Serengeti. Could this be possible? Yes, that is exactly what happened. The view and location of the camp is amazing, somehow the experience is simpler and less cluttered than other lodges. Fewer safari vehicles about, less trees blocking view, easy access with the airstrip super close. The interiors are fantastic. Les, Matt and I love what Annemarie and the Angama Team have done. So modern and yet so Maasai. The shop and workshop has distilled the workers’ environment to a fashion statement. Beautifully packaged. The staff is outstanding. The architecture is powerful and delightful. The monolithic structures emerging and reflecting on the water coupled with the grey-green steel frame interacting with the wooden shingle cone at arrival set the tone for the sophisticated experience that unfolds on all levels. Simplicity and play of light through pergola make the Pavilion one of my favourites. The choice of Fermob furnishings on the decks gives the lodge such a current feel – a new way of being in the bush, with old values. There is always a sense that the things that count have been taken care of, and the amateur pitfalls have been avoided.