Tom, the manager at Castel Mara has eyes that smile before his lips part. By the time he shakes your hand, you know how welcome you are to the Siana Conservancy; where Castel Mara and other camps are located. A true son of the soil.
The Maasai community near the Mara have preserved their land to create a wildlife corridor and for grazing their livestock. Located on the other side of yet another well known conservancy the Mara Naboisho, Siana conservancy covers an area of 35,000 acres split by River Sekenani and flanked by 2 hills to the east and west, creating a valley. In addition, a fresh natural spring attracts animals throughout the year, moreso in the drier months.
If there’s one thing you need to remember about Siana Conservancy, it is that it is an important migration corridor for elephants who take leave from the Mara when the wildbeest migration causes too much noise and stampede in the main reserve. Some of the herds that migrate through Siana have as many as 200 jumbos.
Getting to the Mara by road was once a spine rattling journey that needed a proper 4×4 vehicle and possibly painkillers. Now, you will zoom there in your city car, on a smooth straight road that is an absolute joy to drive on.
Just before you get to the River Sekenani bridge, there is a petrol station called 331 on your left where you should turn off. The signs will direct you straight to the camp on a short drive of about 1.5km. In no time you are in the lush Siana Valley, surrounded by nothing but beautiful nature.
Castel Mara welcomes you to a cosy all wood club house with a direct view of the natural springs visited by animals. Castel Mara’s slogan “In partnership with nature” rings most true here. The warm welcome by the camp staff will make you feel at home instantly and have you at ease the moment you get there. But that is just the start.
The camp has a total of 5 luxury tents in twin, double and triple configurations. Spacious, well appointed tents set in the midst of the indigenous trees, totally in one with nature. Inside the tents, expect fantastic comforts. From the comfy beds with extremely soft linen to the rainfall showers with hot water to the double vanity, everything just works!
Oh, did I say that they have mains power at the camp? Well you don’t have to deal with the limited power supply or lights out at 11 pm like most wilderness camps.
Cue Saitoti. The man who makes sure that the meals taste as good as they look at Castel Mara. Being so close to the Mara with elephants strolling right by the camp does not mean that you won’t get to eat a juicy pepper steak or first class pasta primavera if Saitoti has anything to do with it.
The dining area is set in the clubhouse most times, but they do have the occasional bush dinner and breakfast in the thickets right by the camp. When they told me at the bush breakfast spot that there’s a resident leopard that watches from the trees, I didn’t know if I should be scared or thrilled as I sat there. Either way Saitoti delivered with the breakfast. We had more thrills later at dinner time when they guided us to another spot much deeper into the bush to an open spot where we sat by a large fire and got fed yet again.
Then we sat by the fire talking about this and that, drinking whitecaps with nothing but sounds of the wilderness all around us. The cacophony of insects is magnificent out there at night alongside the squeals, growls, roars, screams, honks and grunts from the other residents of the Mara. The sensory experience is incredible. Food, fire, wilderness sounds, stars in the sky…
On some other days, Maasai warriors do their famous dance by the fire and guests get to join in and attempt the jump and neck moves that the maasai do so gracefully. For us, this was not to be a night of dancing but one for conversations while slowly feeding the fire until the clock was nearing midnight.
There’s more to do around the camp like nature walks, sundowners and the village visit. The highlight of the Castel Mara experience has to be wildlife encounters. Shall we in the next article?