Liz Gilbert, the Kenya-based creator of the Shompole Collection, shares her favorite discoveries from her extensive travels through Africa.
You have documented the Maasai for years. What were the highlights of this experience for you?
Living and traveling with the Maasai took me from the role of spectator/journalist and allowed me to be part of a natural African world that had been elusive during my years in cities and covering conflicts as a photojournalist. I camped in villages, traveled across thousands of miles of bush and documented intimate ceremonies that occur only once every seven years in Maasai culture. From watching thousands of warriors march into manhood in the Loita Hills, to witnessing a young bride fall in love on her wedding day, to sharing barbeques of roasted goat with old men and camping between two roaring prides of lions north of Serengeti, I feel so lucky to have seen and known that changing world.
Where have your travels taken you in Africa?
I search the markets of Cairo for stone; the heart of Nairobi for gold and organic materials; Ethiopia for silver, amber and old coins; West Africa for textile and pattern; Maasailand, Turkana, and up Isiolo way for design ideas; the shores of lake Turkana for fossils?really we go anywhere and find inspiration everywhere.
What are some of your other favorite safari lodges?
For adventurers passing through Addis Ababa, a night listening to traditional music in the clubs, drinking local beer and eating dollops of stew on njera pancake is a must. The best hotel in Addis is the Sheraton, but for character I recommend the Finfine?at least for a meal. It?s the oldest hotel in Addis and probably has never been renovated once in its long life but it is full of creaky charm. There?s buffet at lunch that won?t quit. If you make it up to Harar, listen for the hyena charmer at night and go help him feed the animals outside the city walls. In Zanzibar, Emerson & Green has old-world style and the rooftop setting for dinner is lovely. My favorite boutique hotel beyond Kenya is actually in Luxor and is called Al Moudira. A brilliant Lebanese woman designed, built and hand painted every room. It is a masterpiece.
What are some of your other favorite places in Kenya?
Shompole remains the leader in combining luxury, conservation and community, but there are wonderful tented camps that I recommend in East Africa and also hotels at the coast that are very unique. Serian Camp in the Maasai Mara is fantastic and the best place to stay if you are going on a game safari in the park. In Shela, Peponi?s is the gold standard but if you want to get away from hotels, the best house to rent in Shela is Dhow House. In Naivasha, the most beautiful home anywhere in Kenya is Hippo Point and Anthony finished a lodge in Maasailand in 2010 called Olarro that is very special and promises to do for conservation and communities what Shompole did.
Photos courtesy of Serain Camp, Al Moudira and Hippo Point
What advice do you have for travelers who are visiting Africa?
My philosophy when traveling has always been to simply let go and submit to the will of the road. Be open-minded, be respectful of other cultures, and don?t be afraid to jump in, experience new worlds and be changed by those experiences. That, after all, is the purpose of traveling.
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