Destinations | The Reconnoisseur

A Kenyan ranch house with a colourful past

Ask them to tell you about the scantily-clad lady and the canoe

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A Kenyan ranch house with a colourful past

March 07 2011
Rachel Howard

Winging it on safari is not something I’d recommend unless you’re an old Africa hand. But sometimes badly laid plans have brilliantly unexpected outcomes.

We’d driven from Nairobi to the Ol Pejeta Conservancy on an impulse and in slight desperation booked a night at the unpromising Sweetwaters Tented Camp. But on our evening game drive, a procession of giraffes led us to a low-slung ranch house in a remote corner of the reserve. We wandered into a colonial-style living room where a log fire was blazing. It was such an irresistible setting for a G&T that we immediately settled in – and ended up staying the night.

We had the whole place to ourselves, and the delightful staff outnumbered us 6:4. It was only when we noticed the set of winches on the dining room ceiling that Ol Pejeta’s colourful past was revealed. Apparently, the contraption was once used to lower a canoe containing a lady clothed in little but amuses bouches onto the dining table. That was during Adnan Khashoggi’s tenure in the 1970s.

Legend has is that Khashoggi lost the place to Tiny Rowland in repyament of a gambling debt, but his former hideaway remains a paean to hedonism. The “his” and “hers” master suites come with orgy-sized beds and bathtubs big enough for six. In these surroundings, booking a massage seemed like asking for trouble.

The nightlife was amazing, too: tracking wildlife at 2am is a thrilling way to spend the evening. But some of the most fascinating game viewing was from the wicker armchairs on the veranda. Marabou storks paraded stiffly across the lawn with Mount Kenya as a backdrop, while a pair of colobus monkeys crouched on the roof, poised to pounce on our breakfast.

See also

Nairobi, Camping, Safaris