What does one put on a playlist when travelling through Africa? Toto's ode to the continent is an obvious choice (though a bit on the nose), but so apt when you're bouncing off the clouds in Tanzania. Yes, there she is, Kilimanjaro, rising like Olympus above the Serengeti. Never mind the fact that you're not in the most comfortable of planes — the single-engined turboprop Cessna Grand Caravan — with an aisle that's so narrow, you have to suck in your gut and walk sideways to get to your seat. But the feeling of being that close to the highest mountain in Africa is definitely one to write home about — or possibly write a tune for.
Of course, Toto made a glaring error in the band's 1982 hit. The three peaks of Kilimanjaro don't actually rise about the Serengeti. It's almost 300km away, but it's one of the highlights when you're en route to Arusha, the safari capital of northern Tanzania. A 15-minute plane ride from this town lands you on the Lobo air strip, where andBeyond's trusty guides await with a pop-up bar. A gin and tonic at 10am? No one's judging.
In fact, bars seem to pop-up as you please while you make your way around andBeyond Klein's Camp 10,000-hectare concession that borders Tanzania's Serengeti and Kenya's Masai Mara National Parks. This was taken care of by guides Patita, Jeffrey and Grant — the former two are Maasai men themselves, recognisable by their distinct stretched earlobes. A semi-nomadic ethnic group that resides in Southern Kenya and Northern Tanzania, the Maasai are universally known for their shuka-wearing (the bright red traditional shawl), cattle-herding, blood-drinking ways. Patita fielded questions every other hour by our group's inquisitive and — for lack of a better word — unworldly minds: "Do you really drink cow's blood?", "Does the lion come by your hut at night?" and obviously, "Does it hurt when you do your ears like that?"
His answers? "Yes", "Sometimes", followed by a non-committal shrug. The questions don't really stop, even after we've arrived at our camp, perched on the edge of the Kuka Hills. The word "camp" is used loosely here. 10 stone cottages are spread out across the hill, populated with dense trees and shrub — the same ones elephants have been spotted snacking on. Yes, Klein's Camp has no electrical fences or borders to keep the animals out. While you can lock your hut, nothing separates you from the balcony to the vast plains below. Once, I saw a gazelle as I was making my way to breakfast. For better for worse, wildlife's literally at your doorstep. Of course, andBeyond has taken measures to ensure you're not too close for comfort — all guests must be escorted by security (armed with a spear) when night falls. Phew.
Your not-so-humble hut is outfitted with essentials for the great outdoors. But as cosy as it can be, you'd much rather spend your time outside, like at the main lounge perhaps, where a 360-degree view of Tanzania's plains leave you speechless. But the fun really starts once you set out for your first game drive. Just five minutes from the camp lie a mother zebra and her fowl, standing mere metres away. This is when Patita and Grant put their spidey senses on full display, clueing you in on animal behaviour. You watch, intently, as the ears of the mother zebra twitch to determine where the predatory sounds come from. This way, shared the guides, you'd know where to look for the king of the jungle yourself. Yes, Lion King realness was expected to be unleashed upon us, if we're lucky.
Even if Simba's pride doesn't walk your way, the sheer beauty of Klein's Camp's private concession astounds. Because the area it sits in doesn't technically fall under Serengeti rules, our guides could go off-road and even drive well into the night. A surprise dinner under the stars might just pop up, complete with bonfires, sing-a-long sessions (cue Kenyan pop classic 'Jambo Bwana') and a barbecue that boasts the best of Tanzanian cuisine.
But for a truly luxurious update, we recommend andBeyond's Bateleur Camp, a lodge at the foot of the Oloololo escarpment (the rim of the Great Rift Valley) in Kenya's Maasai Mara National Reserve that's been given more than a fresh coat of paint last April. This is glamping at its finest, where your room is in fact a tented suite, outfitted with contemporary smarts like USB and numerous power plugs, an outdoor shower and a clever use of glass to highlight and conceal. Imagine a Louis Vuitton trunk coming to life, with exotic fabrics, plush armchairs, Indiana Jones paraphernalia and of course, a gym in a bag — just in case 'fitspo' strikes. Then there's the expansive verandah, where — thankfully — a gated fence protects you from any predators lurking around.
In a game drive, fortune favours the patient, not the bold. Bateleur Camp's guide, Massek, knows this, as we waited patiently for a group of lionesses to plot their attack on the unsuspecting herd. All it takes is just one to be led astray before these femme fatales aim for execution. Meanwhile, you've scored front row seats in the jeep, making a mental note: Don't forget to breathe. Like a BBC documentary coming alive, the chase began.
You'll learn a lot from Massek — David Attenborough who? This is a guy who'll pick up poop from the floor to wax lyrical about its contributors, and who'll trace the Milky Way with his fingers as you both gaze into infinity and beyond. He'll pick out herbs en route, crushing them into the palms of your hands so you'll inhale the romance that this abundance of nature brings, as well as some natural insect repellent.
It's these very same hands that'll scramble eggs for you on the plains, hours before a cheetah-spotting drive. Similar to Klein's Camp and along andBeyond's vein of unforgettable, bespoke experiences, pop-up dining's the real treat here. We're not talking pre-packed sandwiches — eggs, bacon and other breakfast fare are prepared a la minute as your group huddle about a large tree for shade... before making sure there aren't any leopards, of course.
The Maasai community are undoubtedly the heart of andBeyond's success. Coupled with other staff who hail from neighbouring towns and countries, it's the people who make such a safari trip memorable. As a hospitality operator, andBeyond understands this, and has contributed to the local community by building water projects, supporting a clinic and organising visits to a village to understand and experience firsthand what life in the community is like.
If I could rewrite the wrongs of Toto's 'Africa', I'd drop some knowledge about the factoids I've learned throughout this trip, and coo about the contours of many a Maasai woman's face. I'll rewind the persistent calls of the grey-capped warbler, relive the fear that struck when a lioness strutted her stuff inches away from my jeep, and attempt to paint the hues of the Serengeti sunset. It's going to take a lot to drag me away from Tanzania and Kenya in the future, but if there's a helping hand to make this bittersweet farewell more comfortable, it'd be andBeyond.