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Sleep under the stars in Kenya

TIME : 2016/2/23 14:43:59

Sleep under the stars in Kenya

Want to sleep under the stars in style? Lizzie Matthews sees the constellations without the camping on a stellar trip to central Kenya

This was minimalism in the extreme.

I sank back onto the four-poster bed and surveyed the room once more – and I mean ‘room’ in the loosest sense of the word. Furniture was limited to a pair of unlit oil lamps; where you might expect walls and windows, there was nothing but an inky expanse of black from which echoed the howls and rustles of the African night.

A ceiling was out of the question. Instead, there was a canopy of stars that would keep me wide-eyed for hours – after all, when you’ve got the biggest show in the galaxy  above your bed it seems churlish to go to sleep.

I was, essentially, camping – albeit with crisp linen and a four-poster. Stationed on a stilted wooden platform on top of a rocky hillside, my bed looked out over Kenya’s wild Laikipia Plateau, where giraffe lollop and lion prowl between the long grasses and wiry acacia trees.

The two sets of ‘star beds’ – one positioned on the banks of the Ewaso N’giro River, the other high on the plateau – are part of a joint venture between the nearby luxury lodge of Loisaba and the communities that live in the area. A team of Samburu and Laikipiak Maasai warriors run the remote star bed sites with relaxed, if somewhat eccentric, efficiency. Hot water in your shower is acquired by hollering loudly up the hill and hoping someone hears you; mealtimes are unorthodox affairs with dishes served whenever they are ready, pudding sometimes arriving before the main course.

This casual charm only adds to the experience – the local warriors are the perfect hosts, and it seems only fitting that you’re in their care while you’re a guest in their home territory.

Wearing scarlet dress and intricate hair-do’s, the Samburu and Laikipiak Maasai made a formidable team as they strode down the track to meet me. Ladelia, an enthusiastic warrior whose singing could constantly be heard echoing across the plateau, led me to my ‘room’. Climbing a ladder we emerged onto the wooden platform that looked out over plains and hills saturated with the evening light. Below, a group of elephants were taking a sundowner at a  conveniently placed waterhole.

And then there was the bed...

Asubstantial four-poster on wheels, surveying the whole scene from its perfect vantage-point. A thatched roof covered the back third of the platform, under which the bed could be wheeled should the heavens open.

Following the elephants’ example, I grabbed a G&T and sat by the campfire with Ladelia, chatting about his responsibilities as a warrior. After a three-course dinner (in the right order) he led me back to my platform, striding silently through the pitch-black night as I struggled behind with my fading torch.

Having said goodnight to Ladelia, I decided to throw caution to the wind and removed all the mosquito nets from the bed. I had hardly seen a bug all evening and I didn’t want anything, not even a thin veil of gauze, to impede my view of the stars. PJs on, I leapt into the bed excitedly, tucked myself in and looked up.

Then the clouds rolled in.

Within a matter of seconds, the entire night sky was filled with a thick, nebulous bank of grey. The more I stared at it, desperately willing it to go and inhabit some other patch of Kenyan sky, the more it became clear that this cloud wasn’t going to shift for anyone.

There was nothing for it but to turn my attention to the sounds of the night –  imagining what was out there just beyond my platform. The tiniest snap of a twig or a nearby growl, and my eyes flicked wide open, mind in overdrive, wondering whether a lion would be able to jump ten feet, or if a hyena could negotiate a ladder.

Eventually I relaxed into the African soundtrack and felt my eyes close. The comical call of a nearby night duck having a lengthy, and rather tedious, dialogue with another night duck finally sent me off to sleep.

It was three in the morning when I suddenly woke up, a cool breeze rustling my hair. I scrabbled around desperately for my glasses and squinted into the brightness above, blinking up at the galaxy’s finest. The clouds had retreated to reveal the pale glow of the Milky Way oozing across the night sky, while bigger stars flashed defiantly and others streaked with blazing tails through the constellations.

I reached for the Guide to the Night Sky that had been left by the side of the bed and, by torchlight, tried to make sense of the diagrams of dots that bore little resemblance to the beauty above me. I closed the book a few minutes later. This was not the time for Latin names and science talk. Frankly, I didn’t care what I was looking at. This was the view I had come for and it entertained me till the blush of dawn crept over the hills at my feet. I might not have got much kip but it was the best night’s sleep I’ve ever had.