When I think of Sabache, I think of the night that could have been. Friends visiting from the States invited us to join them on a trip to northern Kenya. We had heard many good things about Sabache, a community-run budget camp in the shadow of Mt Ololokwe, and started to enquire. I contacted reservations and arranged for our two-night stay. All done. Nothing more to do. Or so I thought.
Dusk was approaching when we arrived at Sabache – Google maps took us a bit off course – and the staff greeted our two families in a friendly enough matter. The niggling worry began when they showed my husband and I, and our three children, to our room – a large tented dormitory at the back of the camp with basic single wooden beds, some with nets, some without.
This didn’t seem right, but nevertheless, we went to have a quick look at where our friends were staying – it was the most beautifully situated of the ensuite safari tents, overlooking a gorge with its own verandah. But, wait! Hadn’t we booked at the same time? Weren’t we paying the same price? Hadn’t we asked for a safari tent, too? Why did we end up with a DORM?
My efforts to explain all this to management fell on deaf ears. The tents were all taken, they said, and we hadn’t booked. But I HAD, I cried (almost, ok, actually in tears at this point), look at my emails, I said. Problem was, I had liaised with an offsite reservations department based somewhere outside of Kenya, and between them and the lodge, the booking had apparently got lost. As it happened, there was one tent available, the beleaguered manager explained, but the guests, a family of five just like us, still hadn’t arrived. But it’s late, and they’re not here, I began, couldn’t we…? Nope.
Defeated, we sloped off to our camp bunks, our friends to their lovely double bed and a view. My mood was somewhat improved come morning, although it was on the verge of deteriorating when I learned that the guests in the one empty tent never did arrive the previous evening.
At which point the young female manager paused. Could the other guests, she said tentatively, have been you?
Oh God, no. I cast my mind back to my booking. I had used my maiden name to make it as – much to my husband’s dismay – my email, my passport, my bank cards, all of them remain in my maiden name. When we arrived at Sabache, we gave them our married name – and somehow none of us made the connection.
Despite that inauspicious start, Sabache did grow on me. The lodge sits in a thoroughly beautiful location overlooking the Matthews Range, quintessentially northern Kenya, and we were quickly moved into our new family tent. The Samburu guides kept us entertained with learning how to make fire and take part in makeshift games. The food was simple, tasty fare - perhaps a little too simple for my husband, who maintains a long-standing aversion to beans.
And if you are travelling as a large group, then I must confess that the dorm is actually very decent, and the beds perfectly comfortable. Looking at another guest’s photo of the dorm online to remind myself of how it looked, I thought, “Gosh, that’s really quite lovely.” I guess it’s all about one’s expectations.
I don’t like to think of myself as someone who can only stay in luxury places. After all, as a gap year traveller in India, I saw my share of manky mattresses speckled with blood – presumably from bedbugs – and worse. Sometimes I was lucky to have a bed at all. As I have got older, my expectations have risen, but sadly I don’t have the salary to match my now-exacting standards. So I’m perpetually on the hunt for lovely and quirky places that don’t break the bank. Of which Kamboyo Guest House is one.
The Kenya Wildlife Service has a variety of accommodation, varying quite substantially in standard, probably dependent on the tourism traffic it receives. In Rumo, for instance, a little-visited national park in Western Kenya, the house is so dingy and run-down that I’d have to be pretty desperate to stay there. But I was very pleasantly surprised when we decided to stay at Kamboyo (sometimes called Komboyo), a former warden’s home, in Tsavo West.
First off, its location. It boasts its very own watering hole, frequented by large and small game alike. Secondly, it is airy and spacious with four bedrooms, sleeping nine, and has a remarkably inviting dining / sitting area with log fires in the evening. Another bonus, in my view, is that it’s just 10 minutes from the Mtito Andei gate, so after a long drive there isn’t much further to go.
We have stayed here on several occasions in the past few years, most recently last month on the way back from the coast. It has its downsides – the mosquito nets and frames are flimsy and barely fit for purpose; its kitchen is a little difficult to work with thanks to a lack of small pots and a fridge that doesn’t close; and at certain times of year, the insects can be a nuisance.
But it’s terrific value for money – Ksh 15,000 a night, easily sleeping two families – and has a very convivial communal area and is a superb sundowner spot in its own right. Book through KWS reservations.
Tel: 0726 610 533
About the Author
I'm a former travel magazine editor, focused on Kenya, before which I covered news in Africa and beyond. These days, I travel with my kids.