Did I tell you about the time I slept in 007’s bed?

When you’re flying to the Quirimbas for a long weekend, you expect something pretty special. A decent beach, world-class deep sea-fishing, and an ocean glittering with phosphorescence were vaguely on my wishlist, but when the manager of Vamizi Island asked “Did you know you’re sleeping in James Bond’s bed?” my trip was propelled into a whole different league.

Vamizi Island Dhow

Vamizi Island Dhow

Her statement threw me into disarray- my best Bond girl bikini was lost, forever looping the baggage carousels of Nairobi airport, and my experience in Aston Martin driving was limited. As I wondered if I could finish learning to fly a plane before dinner so I’d have something to discuss with the world’s most famous secret agent, I was kidnapped and whisked off to the far end of Vamizi Island for a remote beach picnic. After a lengthy lunch-and-champagne-fuelled snooze, we were hailed aboard Vamizi’s fishing boat for an afternoon of deep sea fishing. And while I still hadn’t met Bond, the sun and the sea and the speedboat were doing a pretty good job of setting a suitably glamorous scene.

A few hours later I waded ashore for cocktails, triumphantly bearing the 50lb tuna I’d reeled in that afternoon. Moments later, it appeared alongside my sundowner as sashimi. If this didn’t impress 007, nothing would. But where was the great man?

“Oh,” said the manager “Daniel Craig stayed here a few days ago, but he’s gone now. You’re sleeping in his room- you didn’t think…?”

Alex stayed at Vamizi Island Lodge and was very impressed, in spite of her deep and abiding disappointment in failing to meet 007. Vamizi has 6 exclusive private villas available to hire which Extraordinary Africa can book for you, please contact us for more information.

Christian, a remarkable lion

Africa is full of big animals, big characters and big landscapes. It’s where you’ll find the world’s largest land mammal, legendary explorers and the Great Rift Valley. Yet even amongst such well known, if not always illustrious company, some stories stand out. One is that of Christian the lion.

Christian’s was no mere common or garden lion. His story begins as a young cub in Harrods. In 1969, he was spotted by John Rendall and Anthony “Ace” Bourke who bought Christian and swept him home to Chelsea, where he lived in the basement beneath their furniture shop. He took walks in a local garden, and charmed visitors to John and Ace’s furniture shop.

Born FreeHowever, dear Christian, though a remarkable lion, was becoming rather large, and began to startle visitors to the furniture store. Fortunately, two such visitors included actors Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna who’d recently starred in Born Free- the true story of Elsa, the orphaned lioness raised by George and Joy Adamson.

And so Christian moved from the King’s Road to the wilds of Northern Kenya (via a stint in the Traver’s country garden). He was released from George Adamson’s camp at Kora, far from the dangers posed by hunters, tourists, or local villagers. However, Christian still had wild lions to contend with who resented the male interloper smoothing in on their territory. He formed an alliance with “Boy” (a semi-tame male who’d starred in Born Free), and eventually became the head of his own pride. He left George’s camp for longer and longer periods of time, until he was seen for the last time, headed in the direction of Meru National Park.

.And while it seems elephants may never forget, lions too must have a long memory. For when Ace and John returned to Kora, there was Christian, running up for what looks remarkably like a bear hug. Or should that be a lion hug?

The man-eating lions of Tsavo

The British Government began building a railway at vast expense in the face of significant local hostility. Yet despite huge practical obstacles and opposition in parliament the plan soldiered on. Sound familiar?

Yet this was 1896. Building what later became known as the “Lunatic Express”, the British colonial Government in Kenya stuck unrelentingly to their plan. A railway from the Kenyan port of Mombasa to Uganda, was required, and a railway there would be. Even one that included a siding next to the High Commissioner’s mansion so he could head out on hunting parties in privacy. (Thank you Wikipedia, please let that be true). Attacks by local tribesmen, malaria, and huge geographical obstacles wouldn’t get in the way.

Lion on safari in Africa

Lions, not man-eaters. As far as we know.

In 1898 the railway workers hit an obstacle. They needed to build a bridge over the Tsavo River. While building bridges by day was hard work, by night the worker’s camp was troubled by something far more terrifying. Two maneless lions, later known as the Ghost and the Darkness, were killing and eating the Indian railway workers. They built campfires to scare off the lions. They built thick thorny bomas in the style of the local Maasai to shelter their tents. The leader of the project, Lt. Col John Patterson hid out in a tree with his trusty Martini-Enfield rifle. But to no avail.

Hundreds of workers ran away in terror, but still the lions kept coming.  Eventually Patterson shot one huge lion, 9ft 8 from nose to tail. He escaped wounded and returned to camp to stalk Patterson, before eventually dying. It took 8 men to carry his body back to camp. 20 days later the second lion was shot. He was shot 9 times over 11 days before he was eventually killed. They were found to have eaten 10.5 and 24.2 humans respectively. (What happened to the other 0.3 of a person, we can’t possibly comment).

To this day there’s no answer as to what made the Tsavo lions man-eaters. It could’ve been that one was suffering from appalling toothache, than an outbreak of rinderpest meant they had no cattle to prey on, or that they’d grown used to the taste of human flesh by preying on slave caravans heading overland to the coast. The lions ended their days as rugs on Patterson’s floor, and can now be seen in the Chicago Field Museum.

** Please accept our apologies for any inaccuracies. Like all good campfire stories, we’ve told it to the best of our abilities, but we’re prepared to be corrected!

African titbits: the Cullinan Diamond

To be honest, I only read about the Cullinan Diamond for a quiz I was setting. Jewellery’s pretty to look at, but it doesn’t really hold the same fascination as watching an elephant for half an hour.  When I started reading about the Diamond however, I was sucked in by Wikipedia, passed through numerous anonymous websites and spat out the other end by the Daily Mail. I was fascinated.

The Cullinan Diamond was discovered in South Africa in 1905, and (according to the Daily Mail, though no other sources I can reference) was so implausibly large, it was nearly thrown out with the rubbish. The superintendent rescued it and recognised the diamond for what it was:  3,106 carats and thought to be the largest diamond ever discovered. In fact, a smooth fracture down one side suggests this is only a small portion of an even larger diamond.  The diamond was named after Sir Thomas Cullinan the owner of the mine, and purchased by the Transvaal Government for £150,000. They voted to send it to King Edward VII as a token of their loyalty, and although this was shortly after the end of the Boer war, this was mainly driven by the Boer population and opposed by English settlers.

The Cullinan Diamond was so valuable it had to be sent to London from South Africa by roundabout means. A parcel was ceremonially placed on a steamer ship in the captain’s safe, and guarded by detectives all of the way to London. Meanwhile the real diamond was sent in an unmarked box by normal post. The Cullinan Diamond was presented to the king, but without modern precision cutting tools, cutting it was another challenge. Eventually, Asscher and Co, after many months of studying the diamond, faced up to the task. Legend holds that Mr Asscher had a doctor and nurse on standby, and after breaking one blade successfully cut the diamond straight through. He then fainted clean away.

Today the Cullinan Diamond has been cut into 9 large stones (amongst them the Star of Africa), and numerous smaller ones, which form a significant part of the British crown jewels. Their value is priceless, but one estimate puts the combined value at well over £100 million in today’s prices.