Camp Olonana Sanctuary Retreat…Our final review…

For interior and exterior photos of our tents, veranda, and the grounds, please see our post from October 10, 2013.
It was hard to say goodbye to the staff at Camp Olonana Sanctuary Retreat after the extraordinary stay and safari.

The lodge was an invited place for us to sit, sip beverages and post our photos and stories. With no Internet access in the tents but available at no charge in the lodge, we spent most of our limited spare time in here.

The library in the lodge also had a fire going each night creating a warm environment.

The dining room’s ambiance was easy going and welcoming.

The lounge area in the lodge was a short distance from the dining room provided a homey feel, eased us into a relaxed state after a busy day on safari.  Notice the beaded plate decorations, most likely handmade by the local Maasia.

One evening, as we were busy posting after dinner, the staff and guests began dancing around the lodge to celebrate a couple’s anniversary. It was an intimate group with no more than 16 guests on-site while we were there. (The camp holds a maximum of 28 guests). With a little prodding from the staff, we joined in the line.

The singing and laughter filled the air as all of the diners stood up to dance.

The tables were always set with the local flair.

When the cost to dine in a restaurant, stay in a hotel, resort, or, in this case, a safari camp exceeds one’s preferences and budget, there’s an expectation of perfection that is rarely achieved in the finest of establishments.

After all, the unexpected is to be expected, whether it’s dust on a window sill, a lack of fresh towels, or an inexperienced server fumbling a food order, perfection is unrealistic.

 Windblown, with hat hair, at dinner each evening we wore our daytime safari clothes, feeling too tired to change. Also, arriving from safari between 6:30 and 7:00 pm, food was more important than fresh clothing.
And yet, us humans lie in wait, with the best of intentions, to observe wrongdoing that may potentially burst that bubble of expectation. Then we think or say, “Ah, that wasn’t worth it, for the extra money we paid.”
When we began our travels almost one year ago, we mutually agreed that we’d temper our expectations in order to have the best possible outcome without whining, complaining, or looking for compensation to offset an infraction, except in the rarest of cases. 
The gift shop had a wide array of souvenirs and gifts, none of which we purchased with no room in our bags as we continue on our world travels.
More gifts and souvenirs in the gift shop.

There were jackets, hats, and clothing in the shop.

Outside the gift shop was a Maasai shopping area, displaying the many well made and colorful items typical of the Maasai.
For example, when we had little to no running water during our first week in Belize, giving us no alternative but to leave, we did ask and expect a refund for the unused portion of time that we’d paid in advance. It never came.
Again in Belize at our new location, a lovely oceanfront resort, the steps collapsed under our feet causing us both to fall resulting in injuries taking weeks to heal, we asked for nothing. 
On the second night at camp as we were finishing up yet another safari, Anderson took what appeared to be a new route back over unpaved bush areas.  Bouncing about, we all giggled over the new route wondering why we were taking this route. With the gates to the reserve locking at 6:30 pm, we were late getting out. We’d assumed this new route was a way around going through the gates. Instead, suddenly we saw this campfire, to be surprised by everyone at camp, all guests and most staff were awaiting our arrival that tonight was the ritual “dinner in the bush” a total surprise for the 6 of us.

 The Maasai villagers were in attendance to sing and dance before or dinner as we all sat in a half-moon of comfortable chairs, enjoying appetizers and beverages, sharing our various safari stories. 
The well built and maintained property had wooden steps to our unit that had deteriorated due to the close proximity to the ocean with the raging heat and humidity, unnoticeable to the eye under normal inspection.  Management was very concerned about our injuries and asked what they could do for us. We asked only that the steps be repaired immediately, which was completed the next day. 
In the US, this may have resulted in an ambulance ride and a potential lawsuit. In Belize at our remote location, a treacherous four-hour car ride to a medical facility prevented us from seeking medical care when we knew we had no broken bones.  We’d decided to wait and see how we felt in a few days. It wasn’t easy but in time with self-care, we healed.
Look at my plate at the “bush dinner!” It was exciting to know that most of the meat and vegetables were within my dietary constraints, all prepared to perfection, seasoned with local spices. Once again, great job Chef Ambrose!
Taking these experiences with us, confirmed our notion that optimism and a pleasant attitude would serve us well, even if the servers do not. (No pun intended).
When booking our expensive ($5000 for two, all-inclusive) three day stay and safari at Camp Olonana Sanctuary Retreat, once again, we tempered our expectations. If our tent was clean and comfortable, if the WiFi was working, if the meals complied with my restrictive diet (which information I’d sent in advance by email), if the staff was friendly and helpful and, if we saw most of The Big Five, we’d be happy.
After the bush dinner, we posed for a photo, although after a day on safari, I hardly felt photo-ready. Tom’s face was sunburned from the almost 8 hours we spent on safari that day, exposed to the elements, loving every minute.  We couldn’t wait to put our clothing in the dirty laundry hamper to be washed, dried, and folded to perfection that was returned to our tent the same evening.  This service was included in the all-inclusive pricing.
Little did we know that literally every aspect of this safari experience at Camp Olonana Sanctuary Retreats including activities, meals, and accommodations far surpassing even our wildest dreams of perfection. 
They had it down to a science to not only include the systematic flow for each guest from event to event, location to location, but they excelled by adding a unique personal touch never to be found in any facility of any type thus far in our travels, if not in our lives.
In minutes upon our arrival, every staff member knew our names. Within an hour they knew our preferences, our preferred drinks, our unique needs, and special requirements.
My salad at dinner on the second night was drizzled with an olive oil balsamic dressing Chef Ambrose made for me.  It was divine.
Knowing we were writers with considerable electronic equipment, they’d set up a power source in our tent available around the clock, although outlets, normally were turned off most of the time, only leaving lights working. This consideration meant the world to us, especially with the necessity of recharging our cameras and computers.
The staff seamlessly and discretely observed ours and the other guest’s actions and comments with the hope of discovering a way to further enhance our stay.  This was unique. From William, the booking rep; Joseph, our tent attendant; Ambrose, the chef;  Conscientious Concierge Christine; restaurant server, Philip. and of course, our guide Anderson, the service was impeccable.
Tom’s appetizer was a creamy mushroom sauce atop a slice of buttery toasted homemade
French bread, topped with an over-medium free-range egg. He moaned while eating it. Yeah, I know, an occasional piece of bread crosses his lips when dining out, never at “home.” The next morning at breakfast on our last day, Chef Ambrose explained when making our omelets, that I could top my omelet with this creamy mushroom sauce which was made with real cream, not flour. Then, I knew why Tom was moaning over this appetizer!
With no phones in the luxuriously designed and spacious tents, a personal visit from staff informed us of any events or event changes. Communication was imminent and well-spoken, always friendly, and warm.
The grounds were spotless, the vegetation prolific. An eco-friendly environment with multiple systems in place to save energy costs and wastefulness, Camp Olonana Sanctuary Retreat had a few bugs, few mosquitoes, and no refuse or clutter to attract them. 
On the first night, we both had the same entrée, a grilled sirloin steak atop a medley of sautéed vegetables. Tender, cooked exactly as requested, this steak required only a butter knife to cut it. Neither of us had appetizers or dessert that evening after having had lunch earlier in the day upon arrival.
At night, there were guards to escort us to our tents, a fairly long but refreshing walk from the lodge.  Holding flashlights, they led the way, expressing interest in the quality of our stay.  Never for one moment, did we feel unsafe, not at the camp or on safari. The utmost precaution was exercised at all times, leaving enough freedom for creativity and challenge.
The food? As fine as any upscale restaurant, but made fresh each meal using produce from their garden, grass-fed meats, and freshly caught fish. Nothing was spared in the careful and creative presentation as was in the finest use of local spices to enhance flavors. 
This was Tom’s dinner on the last night, pork chops piled high atop a pile of sautéed vegetables, fresh green beans, and baby corn.
Chef Ambrose went overboard in ensuring my meals were safely within the range of my restricted diet while ensuring that I never felt my meal was inferior in any manner to that being served to Tom or other guests. (He splurges when we’re out, eats as I do when we’re cooking).
As for the safari itself, what more can I say that we haven’t already said in these many prior posts?  Anderson? A gift from the safari Gods! If we’d have made a list of what we’d expect in a perfect safari, we’d have short-changed ourselves. We got so much more.
My dinner was a cheese stuffed chicken breast, atop a bed of sautéed vegetables with fresh green beans with a chicken-based flour-less reduction sauce to die for. I removed the baby corn to a separate unused plate. I had forgotten to tell Chef Ambrose that I can’t eat corn, knowing it wouldn’t cause a problem for me having been on the plate to be removed.  Had it been a gluten-based item, I would have required an entirely new plate of food. With gluten intolerance, the smallest spec on a plate can result in a serious reaction which Chef Ambrose was well aware.
From the fluffy pillows and soft blankets on our seats in the Land Cruiser to the ice-cold cooler always filled to the brim with our preferred beverages, nothing could have been more to our liking. 
To Conscientious Concierge Christine greeting us each time, on time, as we returned from safari, handing each of us an iced cold, tightly rolled washcloth to wipe the dust from our hands and faces, to Anderson, not only providing a mind-blowing safari twice a day but to his obvious joy to take us out one more time.
My nightly dessert of fine cheese and Kenya is grown cashews and macadamia nuts. The night of the “bush dinner” Chef Ambrose had remembered to bring these items for my dessert, as the only guest in camp unable to eat the traditional desserts. Wow!

At night the sound of the hippos outside our tent as they languished in the Mara River was music to our ears.  The cool nights at 5000 feet above sea level, left us warmly wrapped in the finest of down comforters encased in high count Egyptian cotton sheets. 

The over-sized fluffy bath towels, the robes, and the organic toiletries for our use only added more luxury to our stay. The glass bottles of an ample supply of purified water was always at our fingertips. Joseph delivered fresh coffee to our tent early each morning to also serve as a subtle wake-up call for our 6:30 am safari time.

Tom’s homemade brownie dessert topped with a caramel sauce and dollop of real whipped cream. He said it was fabulous!

To simply say that we recommend Camp Olonana Sanctuary Retreat, does a disservice to those seeking this life-changing adventure. For many, a safari is a once in a lifetime experience with memories that will last forever. 

One must not take the risk of choosing anything less than an opportunity to fulfill that dream with the utmost of expectation, the utmost of amenities, the utmost of service, and to our surprise, the utmost of perfection.

One last photo as we drove away.  Goodbye Camp Olonana Sanctuary Retreat.
Thank you, Camp Olonana Sanctuary Retreat. Thank you for making this dream a reality. We still can’t wipe the smile off of our faces.
Note: Tomorrow, we’ll be wrapping up our final safari post with new photos, our return flight in yet a smaller single-engine plane, and some amazing scenery photos that Tom took using the little camera.
In the interim, more photos and stories are backed up as life continues on while living in Diani Beach, Kenya.  We’re looking forward to sharing these with you beginning on Saturday, October 19, 2013, at which time we’ll have exactly six weeks until we pack once again and make our way to Mpumalanga, South Africa.

Comments and responses Camp Olonana Sanctuary Retreat…Our final review…

  1. Anonymous

    Hi Jessica and Tom,

    Great posts and fabulous food. Sorry to focus on the food and eating habits of the Maasai when you have so much more of interest on your blog (like lions breeding); but, as a fellow low-carber, I can't help but follow-up with questions regarding the Maasai diet, health, and longevity. There have many claims about the health of these people, but others claim that their diets aren't all that pure anymore due to western influence. Did they tell you that meat, blood and milk was their only food source, or did you find that from research? Did you observe really old elders in the village? It sounds like a bunch of small villages (like you said four families in the one you visited). What about more modern villages? These folks didn't seem that tall. What were the average heights?

    Anyway, just looking for more on what you observed. You know I eat just like you, Jessica. Your influence on Tom has obviously served him well, although he goes off the reservation quite often :). Sort of perverse the way you report every time he eats something sugary. I love it!


  2. Anonymous

    What a fantastic review.
    In the lodge, I loved the yellow paint on the walls, it made the room so bright. I agree with you that it is well worth the expense when you are given such splendid service in every area. The food was presented so nicely and looked very yummy.
    You and Tom looked so cute in the picture after the bush dinner. You both look ready to burst with happiness!
    You have a great attitude about not expecting too much and not grumbling when things don't go your way. I think that is the only way to be when you are traveling as long as you are.
    Great pictures and great writing. It will be sad to not be on safari anymore. But I will revisit your sight again for all the beautiful animal pictures.

  3. Jessica

    Tim, there's certainly no problem for us focusing on the food and eating habits of the Maasi. Its one of my favorite topics as you can tell from reading here. I understand why you're wondering if their diets aren't that pure anymore. I do believe that the Maasi that move away from the tribes to big cities are exposed to the western influence.

    But this particular tribe, the only tribe we've met so far, has no available western food. There are no western restaurants in the Masai Mara and they don't have vehicles. It is a many hour drive to the closest big city, Nairobi. We've yet to see a fast food restaurant anywhere in Kenya after living here for 6 weeks or food that resembles fast food. When we went with Jeri, our landlord's wife to a lean-to outdoor eatery nearby, referred as their local fast food, it consisted of meats, grilled vegetables, no starch except a very soft whole wheat tortilla called a chapati. It was hard for me to resist the chapati more than anything I've seen here so far.

    The tribes people were thin; men, women and children but looked healthy and yes, we saw the older population there, moving around with gusto, not hunched over and feeble as we often see in our own cultures.

    Chief Richard told us that meat, blood and milk were their only food sources. He was the only "pudgy" tribes person we saw, mostly in the belly. Since he is responsible for all the dealings with the nearby camps for hosting their guests, I wouldn't be surprised if he's acquired a "Wheat Belly" as per Dr. William Davis from visiting the camps and perhaps being given bread or desserts. I surely didn't want to ask him why he was heavy and the others were not. Or, it may be expected that the chief is rotund as a sign of wealth and prosperity and he eats enormous amounts of the meat, blood and milk. We both know so well that even eating low carb foods, one can overeat and gain weight.

    As for their height, most of them appeared slightly shorter than US average but most likely that is genetic. We found many shorter cultures when in Europe than the Maasai tribe.

    Everything we stated in the post came directly from Chief Richard and our own observations, none from our own research. We chose not to research before writing in order not to influence our retelling of their story.

    Tom and I both chuckled over your comment about my reaction to Tom "going off the reservation quite often."
    He just can't totally free himself of the bread and dessert cravings. At least when we cook, which is most nights, there is never anything other than fresh vegetables, cheese, nuts and meats available.

    I hope I've answered your questions, Tim. If not, please write again or feel free to email. The low carb lifestyle has given me the life I only dreamed of having at my age of 65. I am eternally grateful for all the researchers, writers and bloggers that have been instrumental in helping me build this life through eating the right food: Gary Taubes, Dr. Wm Davis, Dr. Michael Eades, Jonathan Bailor (for whom I've done some stories for his site) and it goes on and on. There are hundreds more.

    Think about it. What did the caveman eat? Meat, blood and milk, some nuts, some berries. Guess there's a big message there for all of us. God or a higher power or Mother Nature (whatever one believes) never places a being into an environment where there is not an available food supply. This fact fascinates me.

    Are you a "Tim" that we know? We don't see your full name or email when you comment. If we don't know you, we now do and welcome you to stay in touch, even if its "just about the food!"

    Warmest regards,
    Jess & Tom

  4. Jessica

    Pat, we're so glad you enjoyed the review! It was fun writing it. We shared it with the management for Sanctuary Retreats and they may use some of our comments in their advertising and promotion. Share the love!

    I too feel a little sad that the safari stories are over and will often go back to look at the photos. Tom and I feel fortunate that we'll leave this as a legacy for our grandchildren and their grandchildren. Can you imagine being able to read a story and see photos of our ancestors when they traveled a few hundred years ago?

    Thanks again for all of your kind words and appreciated comments. I will never tire of hearing from you, hoping you don't tire of reading about our sometimes mundane days and night when we aren't on safari.

    With the final safari story today, we have many topics and photos backing up on my desktop to share beginning tomorrow.

    Have a wonderful weekend.

    Warmest regards,
    Jess & Tom

  5. Anonymous

    Jessica and Tom,

    This is the same Tim that commented about Lucca and my grandparents, when you first arrived in Italy. Yes, you answered all my questions about the Maasai, and I'm delighted with your answers. I can't seem to find your email address, but if you'd direct me to it, that would be helpful. I'm…semi retired. That means I can't quite get there even though I'm your age, Jessica (well, not quite, but my wife is). We do have a vacation house on the Central Coast in California where we spend as much time as possible. The rest of the time I'm a real estate broker and development consultant. Stay pretty busy working from both of my homes.

    Anyway, I check in most mornings to see what you're up to. Enjoy very much living vicariously through your adventures.


  6. Jessica

    Tim, of course, it's You! I clearly recall "chatting" with you online and so appreciated your comments then and now. My email is: jessicablyman[at]

    It's wonderful that you have two homes to enjoy in totally different environments. Diversity in our lives keep us young and our brains active.

    Feel free to email at any time so we can discuss LC in more detail.

    Keep doing so well in life and in your LC lifestyle. Thanks for writing back.

    Warmest regards,
    Jess & Tom

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