Tuesday, August 12, 2014


The Mara Serena Safari Lodge in the Maasai Mara region of Kenya was one of our favorite accommodations, and it certainly has one of the most interesting histories of the places where we stayed. 
We loved these signs that gave us our precise location on the planet.
The architecture of the lodge mimics the traditional round, modular shape of the Maasai manyatta, or home, which is usually made from mud and manure. (I think they skipped the manure part at the Mara Serena.)
We were greeted as a rafiki (friend) by our hosts:
The front hall, unlike a manyatta, was light and airy, and embellished with wonderful African designs.

No, it's not a light fixture made of golf clubs, but one ornamented with traditional Maasai walking sticks. A Maasai man never goes anywhere without his stick.
This woodcarving could be 21st century art, or it could be based on an ancient African design:
The Mara could be seen straight ahead from the front door through a huge glass window:
The sweeping view looks like a mural, doesn't it?
There were dozens of fun touches:
Photo by J. Mirau
Looking back towards the main entrance:
A rather exotic location for a swimming pool:
In a feat of impressive strength, the porters picked up our heavy bags and carried them to our rooms on their shoulders:
View of the rooms from the back:
The soft, rolling lines of the main lodge were repeated in our "huts":
. . . and the view from our bedroom window was just as striking as the one in the lodge:
Our balcony was a great place to sit with binoculars or a telephoto lens:
. . . and watch the impala herd out on the savannah:
A bonus (according to my husband) was that the room came with its own friendly resident gecko sitting motionless on the wall, waiting for a bug to come by:
After unpacking our bags, we went outside to take a walk on the grounds:
A trail just beyond our room led us up the hill towards a viewpoint. Along the way, we caught sight of this beauty, an agama lizard:

He reminded me a lot of this guy:
As is so common in the animal kingdom, however, his wife just didn't measure up to his flamboyance:
As we continued up the dirt path, we were greeted several times by rock hyraxes who watched our movements carefully, like fussy old people peeking through the curtains at strangers in the neighborhood:
While they look a bit like guinea pigs or marmots, their closest living relative is actually an ELEPHANT!
Along with the animals, the vegetation at the lodge was photo-worthy:
Ouch! Not what I would consider a good spot to go during a game of hide-and-seek:
At the top of the short trail we came upon a nice bench and table, although to me the table looked a little too much like a sacrificial altar:
. . . especially with that skull propped up on the ledge:
The Mara Serena Lodge is part of the 31-strong Serena Hotel chain developed by the Aga Khan and, according to a friend of ours, named for his daughter Zahra (or Serena in English).

"Aga Khan" is a title used to refer to the Imam, or Muslim religious leader or chief, of the 15 million Nizari Ismailis, a branch of Shia Islam that emphasizes the use of reason, the importance of pluralism or diversity, and social justice. The Aga Khan claims to be a direct descendant of Muhammad through Muhammad's cousin Ali, who married Muhammad's daughter Fatima.  The Aga Khan is revered by the Ismailis as incapable of sin and carrier of the light of God.

His Highness Aga Khan IV, the
current leader. Picture from here
The current Aga Khan, Prince Karim Al Husseini, has presided since being designated for that position at age 20 in 1957. He is a British citizen who was born in Switzerland, spent much of his youth in Nairobi, and graduated from Harvard two years after being named Aga Khan. His primary residence is in Northern France, although he owns estates all over the world. He is worth anywhere from one to three billion US dollars, money that comes from partly from tithing paid by his followers, as well as from his shrewd business decisions.

Our guide Steven told us that the Aga Khan has invested heavily in Kenya--hospitals, banks, and a media corporation. He has done the same in Tanzania and Uganda and is very respected by East Africans.

In addition to his for-profit businesses, which include several hotel chains and a very successful race horse breeding enterprise, he is known for his impressive charity work, spending up to $600 million a year mostly in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. Some of his goals are to reduce poverty, create better schools, advance the status of women, promote Islamic art and architecture, improve the environment, provide health and education resources, restore historic sites, develop rural areas, promote tourism, and stimulate the private sectors of developing economies by providing microfinancing. He also seeks to improve understanding of Islam and advocate for world peace. He's just an average guy, right?

Anyway, the Aga Khan personally chose the spectacular location for one of his Serena hotels, and I have to say that he has a pretty good eye.

One dramatic incident occurred at this hotel that my husband and I aren't likely to forget. After our early morning drive on our second day in Maasai Mara, we went back to our room for a bit of rest and relaxation. We opened the screenless balcony door to enjoy the fresh African air, and while Bob read/dozed on the bed, I went into the bathroom to wash out some clothing in the sink. All of the sudden I heard Bob crashing off the bed and yelling, "YOU GET OUT OF HERE!" I ran into the bedroom just in time to see two large baboons jumping off the table about four feet from the bed:
. . . and leaping out the window. When we had come back to the room, I had put my camera and iPad on that table, along with a bright pink package of Wet Wipes. Luckily, the thieves went for the crinkly pink package, which is what one of them had in his paws as they escaped.
Not too far from our room, the burglar stopped to examine his loot. He peeled back the seal and picked at the wet wipes. Disgusted, he discarded his lackluster prize, and he and his accomplice went in search of better loot.
Later that evening we saw one of the lodge porters walking around behind our rooms with a gun in his hands (always wary of wild animals, those Africans). He was looking for the shoe that the baboons had stolen from another guest's room. I guess we were pretty lucky that all we lost was our Wet Wipes!

No post on a lodge is complete without a photo of the food, which was especially good at the Mara Serena:
We also enjoyed the entertainment in the lobby, a talented young musician playing (who would have guessed it?) John Denver tunes, "This Land Is Your Land," and his favorite, "Know When to Hold 'Em":
All of it--the room, the walk, the view, the food, the music, even the monkeys--was just about perfect.


  1. Nice overview of a wonderful place. Of all the places we stayed, this was my favorite. I would love to go back. How about it?

  2. What a fun lodge! It has a sophisticated Dr. Seuss-ishness about it. Love that visiting baboon story.