WORDS Steve Mitchell IMAGES Paris Brummer PRODUCTION Annemarie Meinjtes
Leave no trace they said – not one. And that’s precisely what the remarkable new Angama Safari Camp, a roving wildlife encampment in Kenya’s legendary Maasai Mara, has managed to accomplish.
The scene is well documented: your senses are heightened, and the hair on the back of your neck prickles as an unmistakable lion’s roar seems to come from just a few paces away. Only a thin sheet of canvas separates you from certain, primitive demise.
As you lie awake, the roars slowly dissipate and the song of early birds fills the air, soon to be replaced by the irrepressible sound of thousands of wild beasts, their hooves thundering across the African plains. And just like that, another dawn breaks over Kenya’s Maasai Mara, home to the greatest wildlife spectacle in the world.
Combining the raw wildness of Africa with the luxuries of 21st-century camping – could there be a more romantic adventure? From the start, the aim of the new Angama Safari Camp was to exceed the expectations of the discerning modern-day traveller, combining total exclusivity and privacy with unwavering respect for the fragile environment.
The answer lies in the very definition of safari, which means “to journey” in Swahili. The word takes us back to the 1920s and ’30s, when, with Herculean logistics, sprawling camps in the middle of nowhere were set up “just for me”. To deliver such an experience in today’s world, the Angama team sat down with Jan Allan of Canvas By Design, Nairobi’s master tentmaker. Jan has been solving design and engineering problems since he was a child, and understands how exacting the brand is about putting their guests’ needs first.
Slowly, the solutions emerged: interchangeable poles, flexibility and adaptability where possible, a compromise here (a vanity without plumbing) and a challenge to solve there (what would an Angama safari be without red Fermob rocking chairs?). And at the heart of all the logistics is a Tetris-fundi’s delight: a 16-ton truck converted to spec and fondly named Big Bertha, in which everything can be moved from place to place.
With the framework in place, VISI’s own Annemarie Meintjes set to work on the interiors. Together with Alison Mitchell, she lovingly sourced items from as far afield as France and Cape Town, all of which were shipped to and stored in Nairobi.
Another problem-solver extraordinaire was Dom Matthews, because every piece of canvas needs a bag, every glass needs a padded crate, and everything needs to be made to measure. And all of this took place under the watchful eye of hospitality legend Nicky Fitzgerald, developing the 61st property of her extensive career. John Vogel designed the furniture, managing to stay true to the aesthetic while ensuring that every elegant item he created could be flat-packed. In keeping with the overall look, John’s signature weaves form the headboards and mirror backings.
The final result is a movable camp that is built to last, yet treads lightly. All you need – but nothing more – is here, and pure simplicity is at the heart of its sophistication. But all of these efforts notwithstanding, the real magic is not in the stuff. It’s in the place. It’s in the people. It’s the Kenyans themselves who make the Maasai Mara the quintessential safari destination, and who bring Angama Safari Camp to life with their love of being of service to others, and with their grace.