The pioneers of Naboisho
A repeat guest is the coveted “gold award” in the tourism industry. Of all the possible safari destinations out there, and the multitude of accommodation choices within each, that a guest should decide to come back instead of trying something new speaks volumes about the experience achieved. For Marilyn and Jeff, what they found in the Asilia experience removed any further guesswork from their future decision-making process. As Marilyn put it, “Let’s spend money on what we love”.
Jeff enjoying a simple bush breakfast during their first visit to the Mara Naboisho Conservancy in 2011.
Fourteen days after Naboisho Camp first opened its doors on 1 June 2011, Marilyn and Jeff arrived, the first official guests to experience this new venture in the then recently founded Mara Naboisho Conservancy. Despite the camp being officially open, there was only 1 guest tent fully operational at this stage, as the finishing touches were still being applied to the rest of the camp. They occupied Tent 1, something which would become a tradition over the years to come.
“It was most remarkable, the nearest we got to being pioneers”
For Marilyn and Jeff, their journey to Naboisho began in the neighbouring Masai Mara, where they stayed at Rekero Camp. It was through the BBC’s Big Cat Diary that they first heard about Rekero Camp and the Maasai guide, Jackson Looseyia. At this point, Jackson was based in Rekero, and the camp was still owned and operated by the Beaton family. However, a tented camp was still a little too adventurous for this couple, and it was only when they learned that there were flushing toilets in the en suite bathrooms that they decided to give it a go. From that point onwards, they moved away from staying in larger lodges, opting for the authenticity of the experience offered by the likes of Rekero. On one of their subsequent visits in 2010, they were informed of the pending partnership with Asilia Africa, as well as the formation of an exciting new project on the eastern border of the Masai Mara – the Mara Naboisho Conservancy. Long before any public announcements were being made of this new venture, Marilyn and Jeff had already booked their space in Tent 1 at Naboisho Camp.
Marilyn and Jeff, the first official guests to stay in Naboisho Camp.
Being the safari enthusiasts that they already were, they had developed their preferences and knew what they liked when it came to their safari experience. On arrival in the Naboisho Conservancy, they were met by a guide in an open sided Land Cruiser. For Marilyn and Jeff, the cool air of the mornings and evenings made an open vehicle an uncomfortable experience and something they preferred to avoid. Camp Managers, Helen and Roelof, were on hand to welcome them into Naboisho and, when asking if everything was to their liking so far, Marilyn requested a closed vehicle instead of the open one. That afternoon, when they arrived for their game drive, they found Jackson Looseyia waiting for them alongside a closed vehicle – much to their delight. While the camp may not have been fully completed at the time of their arrival, the bar was already being set for the standard of service to be expected in Naboisho.
Jackson Looseyia, guiding Marilyn and Jeff in 2011.
The conservancy experience
The Mara Naboisho Conservancy was still in its infancy when Marilyn and Jeff visited for the first time all those years ago. Road networks had not yet been properly established, cattle herders were still grazing within some zones that were meant to be dedicated to wildlife, and the wildlife in the conservancy was still skittish. However, even after only a year of existence, the wildlife offering was already looking positive with a large pride of lion numbering over 20 individuals, and herds of elephant up to 80 members strong. Marilyn fondly remembers encountering a herd of elephant this size on her first visit to the conservancy in 2011 and enjoying the absolute privilege of spending two hours alone with them, with no other vehicles or tourists in sight. Since then, the conservancy has gone from strength to strength, consistently improving from a wildlife perspective, to become the acclaimed wildlife viewing destination that it is today.
“Naboisho is now a world class wildlife experience where, in a two-hour game drive, you can see leopard, lion, cheetah, elephant and buffalo. It has been a remarkable journey and we are proud to see the new Naboisho Camp further cementing our relationship with the people and wildlife of the Mara Naboisho Conservancy.”
Gerard Beaton – Asilia Operations Director
A guest tent, converted into a temporary dining space, as the main lounge and dining area was not yet complete.
Over the years
Much like the journey of development and consistent improvement of the Mara Naboisho Conservancy, so too has Naboisho Camp been on its own journey over the past 12 years. The camp originally opened with eight guest tents, of which one was a family tent. The outdoor bucket showers were a feature of the bathrooms from the outset, but the indoor shower was initially also bucket-fed. The basins had cold water on tap from a storage tank outside the bathroom, while hot water was provided daily in a thermos flask. The main lounge and dining area was not yet completed at the time the camp opened in June 2011, resulting in a guest tent being temporarily converted to fulfil the purpose for the first six weeks of operation. In 2014, an additional family unit was added to the camp, taking the total camp size up to 9 tents, and a year later in 2015, charging points were added to the tents and the bathroom interiors received full plumbing with hot and cold running water. The outdoor showers remained bucket-fed, a throwback to the authentic safari experience of old. In 2019, the camp received a dramatic upgrade with the addition of a swimming pool and a beautiful pool side lounge. Complete with a fireplace for the cooler evenings, this lounge serves as a comfortable spot in which to relax during the day or makes for a romantic private dining location when special occasions need to be celebrated. Marilyn and Jeff recall being sceptical at first about the swimming pool development, expressing concerns about its impact on feel of the camp, but now agree that it is a beautiful and welcome addition to Naboisho.
The perfect spot in which to relax when not exploring the Mara Naboisho Conservancy.
In June 2022, almost 11 years to the day since they first visited Naboisho, Marilyn and Jeff returned for their 12th visit to the camp to celebrate a particularly special occasion – their golden wedding anniversary. For them, a return to Naboisho Camp is like reuniting with long lost friends, involving hugs all round and extended catch up sessions. Marilyn describes the camp as possessing a sort of magnetism, something that keeps drawing them back year after year, so it seemed appropriate that this should be the location for celebrating their prestigious milestone. Helen and Roelof were once again there to welcome them, a closed safari vehicle was reserved for their use, and Tent 1 (now commonly referred to as “Jeff & Marilyn’s”) was ready and waiting. To mark the occasion, a special surprise sundowner had been prepared, featuring the new mobile Refreshment Ranger, or “Gin Wagon” as Jeff called it, complete with a variety of snacks to be enjoyed alongside a private campfire on the plains of the Mara Naboisho Conservancy. A traditional Enkarewa was commissioned by Asilia, created by the talented ladies at the Maa Trust, and presented to Marilyn as a gift. This beautiful, beaded necklace symbolises the coming together and commitment of two households in the union of marriage, making it an appropriate gift to celebrate a 50-year wedding anniversary.
Marilyn and Jeff, celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary in the Mara Naboisho Conservancy in 2022.
Time for change
Ahead of the 2023 season, Naboisho went through an extensive refurbishment, completely rebuilding the guest tents to upgrade the quality of their offering, making the interiors lighter and more spacious, and providing a more refined experience. Not to be outdone, the main lounge and dining area received a new floor, two additional fireplaces, and a new wraparound deck. All interior furnishings and lighting fixtures have been refreshed, to create an environment that is comfortable, homely, and welcoming, without compromising on the feel, or “magnetism”, that Naboisho is known for. Jeff and Marilyn will be enjoying their 16th Asilia safari in November 2023, taking the opportunity to return to Naboisho (and Rekero) to experience the upgraded camp. They admitted to feeling a little nervous about how the new camp may look but are looking forward to returning – as they always do. “It’s exciting because we know the basic surroundings and the people, but the accommodation experience will be new.”
The new guest tents are light and spacious, offering elevated views of the Naboisho valley.
When asked for their key advice to safari goers, they delivered two very simple but profoundly accurate suggestions. Firstly, “Don’t have an agenda, just go out and look”. When we focus on trying to see a specific species, we close ourselves off to so much of everything else that is going on around us. There is an abundance of biodiversity to be enjoyed and the Asilia guides hold an absolute wealth of knowledge, so rather let them point out everything they see and share their expertise for a deeper and more immersive experience. Secondly, “Don’t spend all your time looking through a view finder or at your phone, rather be in the moment”. For first time safari goers this is more easily said than done, as the new experience is something that you’ll want to capture and record, but perhaps it’s about balance and simply being cognisant of the moment and your surroundings instead of trying to perfectly capture its digital likeness. Remember to pause, take a breath, and absorb the experience.
With special thanks to Marilyn and Jeff. 12 Naboisho visits, 16 Asilia safaris.
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