Having worked with Nicky and Steve for quite a few years in a past lifetime, I was delighted to be part of this new and exciting challenge of building a lodge high above Kenya’s Maasai Mara.
Nine months ago we sat down as a team in Johannesburg around a food-laden table in the Fitz’s house (when have you ever known Nicky Fitzgerald not to feed a person?) and we began to plan our utopian safari lodge! Our uber-chic, maybe even award-winning, operational masterpiece. How simple. Haven’t we done this a few times before? All we needed was ‘The Perfect Tent’, ‘The Perfect Guest Area’ and the ‘Perfect Back of House’ or as we like to call it, ‘The Heart of House’.
We drew pictures of our planned spaces. We planned in minute detail the cupboard that would house the vacuum cleaner. The staff accommodation was colour coordinated; the stores – how many shelves… 20 cubits by 20 cubits; the laundry – how many washing-lines, pegs, baskets, bags for undies would we need? We planned and sketched and talked. Then we measured the spaces with a scale ruler. What is the diameter of the base of a beer glass? How many would we need? And then we talked some more.
We went into the garden and used the hosepipe to form the walls of the tent just to be 100% sure that we had not overlooked anything. We wanted to get right into the minds of our guests and ‘feel’ the space. We pegged out the best place for the bath, the vanity, the desk and the loo. We spent at least an hour (read full day) deciding on which side of the loo it would be best to hang the loo roll holder? It must, at the very least, be easy to reach. On that at least we all agreed. We debated at length which side of the bath the reading light should be mounted. Must the door open to the left or the right? What is the ‘AHA’ moment when our guest steps into the tent for the first time? We walked the vegetable garden. We decided the shape of the pool. Must it have lines on the bottom so that you can swim a length without knocking your head into the end of the pool? How deep would the lily pond be at the back of the guest area? We pretended to be jogging on our make-believe treadmill in the fitness room. Where should we place the water bottle? Is it chilled or served at room temperature? What wall should have the mirror to reflect the scenery back into the fitness room? On and on it went until there was not an idea left to be had.
Then we visited the site.
When I saw that breathtaking view for the first time all my plans were dashed. Who needs a tent? Just sit here and look at the Mara … every animal perfectly visible to the naked eye. Surrounded by vegetation whose shape shifts as the light dances from leaf to leaf. Clouds rollicking in the heavens above you while they change colour as the sun sets or a thunderstorm playing itself out before your eyes on the plains of the Mara below. Just bring out the best champagne and a blanket – like that picnic scene in the Out of Africa movie.
Bloody bastard hell! Just too beautiful to describe. I lay down on Robert Redford’s makeshift ‘grave’ and wept…