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Then and Now

Guest #1. That’s me. I was fortunate to visit Ishara during its soft opening, just before New Year’s 2022—with a family of friends and joy in our hearts. In a phrase, we were blown away: by the luxury, the detailed thoughtfulness, the location, and the adventure. Even prior to Ishara’s first day.

I’m writing this, having recently returned from my second Ishara safari experience, in November 2023. I didn’t think anything could top my epic experience in 2021—but it did. Let’s talk about some of the changes and updates made since that time.

A staff to call our own
Amos, our safari guide, came to retrieve my partner Asher and me at Olkiombo landing strip 10 minutes from Ishara. Excitement mounting, we rode in the open breeze to Ishara and a suspension bridge that traverses the Talek River, whose banks serve as home to a number of resident hippos, giraffes, and baboons. On the other end of the crossing: a surprise in the form of a traditional welcome by Maasai warriors and the smiling faces of the Ishara staff.

Note: these were our Ishara staff members: our own personal team comprising server, room attendant, guard, experiences creator, professional photographer, and spa therapist, amongst others. Initially, I was perplexed; Ishara’s safari experience bears a promise of solitude, complete with the kind of seamless white glove service that waits in the wings, there when you need them. So why the introductions?

As our stay went on, I realised: the intros simply represent a deepening in the Ishara vision. For example, our room attendant, Evelyn, went out of her way to learn how we like our scenic outdoor bubble baths (Piping hot or warm? Tangerine or rosemary scented?), or our turndown service (hot water bottle for me, extra pillows for Asher).

Our cheeky server, Rolex, quickly picked up on my love for tropical flavours—so that I was never without a fresh passion fruit spritzer (no ice, edible flower garnish). Our barista, Amani, learned Asher’s preferences for his java (flat white with whole milk). Chef Isaac made us the eggs we adored at 5:00 am or after our morning game drive (soft-scrambled with sage, chopped mushrooms, cream). Judy, the camp naturalist and host, handed us each a gently warmed towelette to freshen up on our return.

We learned names and built friendships, reaching far beyond our visit. The people of Ishara discovered our journey to this moment, and I discovered theirs. And I’ll never forget them.

From shooting to editing: lifetime photo lessons
Let’s be honest: one of the best parts of any vacation is taking photos to share with friends and family. On safari, this gets amplified: we are all eager for close-ups of lion cubs and action videos of grazing elephant to post to our Instagram and wow the folks back home.

For me, Ishara 2.0 took me from total beginner to able amateur photographer—thanks to the resort’s partnership with Canon, which hadn’t yet been rolled out when I was last there, and their resident professionals.

First, a bit of background. On our last trip, the five of us visitors were proudly snapping away on our iPhones—that is, until we caught sight of the far more sophisticated photos taken by Altaf Jiwa, Ishara’s Director of Marketing, with his 400mm Canon telephoto lens. That same day, I purchased a Canon camera online (EOS R6)—and brought it with me on this trip.

Since its opening in 2022, Ishara has hired not one but three resident photographers. The first, a Nairobian named Eric, gave me an unforgettable (and speedy!) primer on how to shoot wildlife. Moving or still. Looming or microscopic. Out in the open or hidden by foliage. We covered it all. He broke down every crucial tactic in the simplest of terms so that in a mere three hours, I went from novice to knowing how to shoot the most awe-inspiring photos of my life.

The next day, Eric went a step further by teaching me how to choose from yesterday’s haul and identify which photos to discard, which to ignore, and which to edit. When you’re faced with 20 seeming duplicates, this is a surprisingly nuanced and useful skill! We went back over ambient lighting—and he encouraged me to shoot in multiples to decrease the chances that a stray leaf, an out-of-focus eyelid, or a micro-movement would mar my shot. From there, we went over Adobe Lightroom, Eric’s preferred image processing software. Once my photos were looking their best, Ishara helped me transfer them to my devices for sharing on Instagram—and print a few of them for framing around my house—precious memories from the Masai Mara, immortalised for all to see.

An emphasis on unforgettable experiences
One day just before sunset, Amos was taking us home when he made a light u-turn and came to a stop in front of an enormous Balanite tree. ‘Ooh, a sundowner,’ I thought—then immediately found it strange that he’d chosen a spot occupied by others. I glimpsed some lounge chairs. Bakers cooking from a pizza oven. A bartender manning a full cocktail bar.

‘That’s odd,’ I thought. Ishara values privacy so much that it doesn’t even combine guest groups in the same Land Cruiser. ‘Why are we stopping at a place where others are sundowning?’

Little did I know. The hustle and bustle of this vista was all for us. The lounge chairs afforded us multiple vistas while we munched on custom pizzas. Eric was on hand to memorialise the occasion.

The following night, Asher and I were having dinner when we heard tribal singing. A line of Maasai warriors made their undulating way into the dining tent and I sat back, excited to see the look on the new guests’ faces as they received their traditional greeting. Suddenly, the warriors bypassed their table and began to surround ours. Around and around they went—and we basked in the attention, mystified. After their dance, the camp manager, Stephen, a Maasai himself, made a little speech. He welcomed Asher as an honorary warrior, bestowing a chieftain’s staff. Judy handed me a length of bright red traditional fabric, and welcomed me into their family. They then carted out a delicious cake — gifting us with an unforgettable tenth anniversary celebration. As I began to thank them, my voice broke. I was overcome with gratitude.

Lavish experiences continued happening throughout our week. An open-air breakfast served by Ishara’s own waterhole, complete with an omelette bar against a backdrop of hippos. A ‘Shamba’-style lunch served in the resort’s lush aeroponic garden. Gazing at the night sky upon the Starbed, high above the tree canopy. Refreshing spa treatments. Exercising at Ishara’s ridiculously ambient gym. Taking a dip in the beautifully mosaiced infinity pool. I felt rejuvenated.

A zest for life
Most of all, Ishara is about heart. Everywhere I looked, every step I took, I saw stories and heard echoes of the people and wildlife that spent time on these very walkways. In contrast to my late 2021 trip, the place now teems with stories. Of people: multiple wedding proposals made, family reunions relished, visits of celebrities and royalty alike. Of wildlife: from lively lion politics (who’s in, who’s out) to new ecologies, nocturnal sounds to the miraculous journey of the tiny zebra foal that swam to her mother past a crocodile death trap. Ishara has played witness to families and communities and survival in all their glory: wild and tame, human and otherwise.

Our last day felt uncommonly tragic. But the excitement hanging in the air each day of our visit told me this was only the beginning. I could feel incredible new things for Ishara coming on the horizon.

I am excited to continue following the journey—and to discover what new experiences Ishara and the Masai Mara have waiting. I hope to see you there.

Photo credits: Eric Averdung, Imara Njeri, Japheth Supeyo

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