Monday, November 23, 2009

Kenya's Tana Delta

October 11 2009

Late the previous night, we had arrived at Delta Dunes Lodge in near darkness. So it was only the next morning that we could find our bearings, realizing that we were in a very special place. Delta Dunes consists of 7 huge split-level rooms hugging a massive coastal dune with views over the Tana Delta estuary and the Indian Ocean. My room was very breezy, which was very welcome at this time of the year - it was quite hot. Some of the rooms are a long way up the hill, with many steep steps to be negotiated. The all-wood constructed rooms are lit day and night with mains power. It is a rustic but magnificent lodge, the rooms reminding me somewhat of Ras Kutani just south of Dar Es Salaam in Tanzania. We made very good use of the fabulous pool as well.

A portion of the lounge at Delta Dunes Camp in the Tana Delta

The bar at Delta Dunes camp. Plenty of 'baridi' Tuskers behind there somewhere

Delta Dunes' communal dining table. None of us went to bed early after dinner

Over the three days at Delta Dunes, the food was consistently well-prepared and delicious. It included seafood (fresh fish and prawns), lots of fresh fruit, lentils, vegetarian samoosas, delicious homemade coconut sorbet, and even a vegan chocolate cake!

Warren and the Delta Dunes chef with a very nice barracuda

Fresh fish for dinner

Another look at the impressive main course

Delta Dunes is certainly not for everyone - these steps (and more) have to be negotiated to get to the rooms

A view from the lounge area

Another view of the lagoon in front of camp

Getting ready for a boating excursion at Delta Dunes

Heading out

The rest of the crew in the back of the boat

Activities at Delta Dunes are very diverse including windsurfing (beach sailing), on a massively wide beach at low tide. Fishing is good too, as our group leader Warren found out soon enough when he landed a very nice barracuda of about 30 lbs, caught on live bait.

Livestock at an Orma village on the Tana Delta

One of the highlights of our stay at Delta Dunes was a visit to a nearby Orma village. It was a novel experience for several of us: enjoying sweet chai in one of the villagers' homes is not something we do every day. We spent some time in the tiny school building, where a single teacher was doing his best with 40 children in two groups. The number of very young children was noticeable: one of the young mothers was only 22, but had already had five children.

We were thrilled to observe a group of Orma women dancing, their colorful native dress making it quite a spectacle. Soon enough one of the members of our group, Sheena, was right in there too dancing with them, a beautiful smile lighting up her face.

We came away from the village visit with a very good feeling. Despite the obvious hardship and signs of poverty, all the children were happy and seemingly content. We never felt uncomfortable or patronizing - and it was in every way a very authentic, honest experience.

A couple of Orma children

All the village children were keen to pose for the camera

Big smiles all round

An Orma family group

A cattle enclosure at the Orma village

Future cattle owner, Tana Delta Kenya

A group of Orma women were dancing rhythmically close to the school

Inside the one-room schoolhouse building, the teacher was working on some basic math

Soon enough, the Orma women had invited Sheena to join them in the dance

Everybody was having a lot of fun!

An Orma woman and child

On a fresh water Tana River trip, I saw hundreds of crocodiles. They were on the banks, in the water, everywhere. This is a highly recommended outing for anyone wanting to see crocodiles and hippo

There were tiny crocodiles, intermediate ones and massive ones

And none of them enjoyed our approach

Mostly though I was trying to get some photographs of birds in flight

Some of the birds, like these Yellowbilled Storks, were rather far away

Even so they look so much better in flight than when sitting down

Skimmers are amongst my favorite birds so I was happy to get several shots of them

Superficially the African Skimmer looks a lot like the Black Skimmer of North America

And the African Fish Eagle looks a lot like the Bald Eagle

Pied Kingfishers are not difficult to photograph when they are perched. Not very exciting either

Much more fun trying to get them in focus while in flight

Very tricky though, with such rapid wingbeats

Spurwinged Lapwing are somewhat easier due to their slower flight

Even when in full flight a reasonably fast shutter speed arrests the movement

I was particularly pleased with my tern photograph. Nice wing angle!

On our last day in the Delta, I edited a few photographs and then went for a 5-mile run at a nice pace along the Indian Ocean shoreline with the tide coming in. Definitely a rave run! We enjoyed a great brunch at 1000A including fresh fruit, porridge, sweet rolls, muesli, toast, and for the omnivores eggs to order with sausage, bacon etc. If you could manage, there were some beans and a mixed green salad as well.

That afternoon, we took a 45-minute flight from Malindi to Nairobi. That was after some shopping in Malindi (Shakir's in old town is a good spot for kikois and kangas) and a light lunch at an Italian restaurant. We arrived in Nairobi at 17h45 and got stuck in some horrendous traffic, finally getting to our hotel - the Tribe - after 90 minutes of frustration. The Tribe is an impressive ultra-modern hotel near the United Nations headquarters and the large US Embassy. The room wasn't huge but perfectly good with a shower, climate control, multi-channel HD TV and wireless internet.

A little later that evening, we enjoyed a superb dinner at the Lord Errol restaurant, where we thanked our hosts Liberty Africa, said our goodbyes and started thinking about going home, or going on to other parts of East Africa. The next day I would be heading up to Samburu in northern Kenya for the first time.


Pippa413 said...

The local people of the Tana Delta region have reported that Tamsin Corcoran-Brennan, owner/operator of the Delta Dunes lodge is a squatter on the land she runs her business on. Tamsin has ruthlessly tried to sabotage any potential development in the area that could bring the local people opportunity and economic stability. It is known that the residents of the Tana Delta have less than 5% employment and are desperately poor. Tamsin wants to rob them of any potential future because she is afraid of how it will affect her business. A business she built on land she doesn’t own and doesn’t pay rent for. The people of the Tana Delta deserve better than this!

Bert said...

I will be sure to take this up with Tamsin to get her side of the story.

Kirsty Smith said...

Sorry Bert, I have just come across your blog post and thought how lovely it was and brilliant to share on our social media platforms, when I saw the comment left by 'Pippa' at the bottom. I have worked for Tamsin for nearly 4 years now including a year in the Tana Delta with the Pokomo and Orma communities and the conservation area we run. 'Pippa' was in fact a fabricated person which a Biofuels company (who shall remain nameless so as not to dredge up all that awful slander against the lodge they manufactured) as we were helping the community secure their land for themselves. It was in fact the biofuels company 'land grabbing' and taking the land out from under their feet. All very complicated, but I can assure you we have enjoyed and still do enjoy a very close relationship with the community in the lower tana delta, and 'Pippa' was an attempt to sabotage our reputation, and bookings! Can you imagine the damage they did by writing such nonsense to all our agents? After all the hard work we (the lodge and the community) had put in to the lodge and securing the conservancy. Would the Orma women of Darge village dance and greet you and I the way they do if we were robbing them? Or because we had just finished construction on their nursery school, hmmm. I am happy to talk this over further with you, as we would love to welcome you to Delta Dunes again one day, it is still as gorgeous as your lovely pictures portrayed it to be! Kind regards, Kirsty