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Interview with a warrior: meet Lepayon from Saruni Samburu

What is it really like being a Samburu warrior guide?



Travel Writer
Published on

15 Jan 2019

Updated on

09 Oct 2020

Lepayon From Saruni Samburu

I'd never met a real life warrior before, and to be honest I was a bit nervous. My husband and I were heading off on a Kenya safari with Saruni Samburu, where we'd be spending several days in the company of a warrior guide. I imagined I'd feel rather awed in his presence and be all tongue-tied and giggly, which is never my best look. Yet I needn't have worried. As our tiny bush plane came into land at the Kalama Airstrip I spotted my first warriors, dressed splendidly in red and yellow, waiting to greet us. One of them was Lepayon. It took less than a minute for me to realise that he wasn't intimidating in the slightest, and after he'd kindly loaded our bags onto the safari vehicle we were soon chatting away like old friends. Turns out he's actually one of the friendliest and most genuine people we've ever met on our travels, and has a great sense of humour as well as being super knowledgeable when it came to the wildlife and landscapes of Samburu. The perfect safari host!

Fascinated by his life as a Samburu warrior guide, I decided to find out more...

Heather And Lepayon At The Samburu Airstrip
Lepayon with Heather from Far & Wild at the Kalama Airstrip

What do you love most about your job?

I like each and every new day as you never know what it will bring. Sharing the animals, and interacting or socialising with guests is what I love.

Samburu Guide Lepayon From Saruni
Saruni  Samburu  Game  Drive
Samburu game drive
Lepayon In The Samburu
Credit: Kellie Netherwood

Tell us about your typical day as a guide at Saruni Samburu

Every day might be different depending on the requests from the guests, but a typical day might look like this. My day starts at around 4 a.m. when I come up to the kitchen to prepare the picnic box for the morning’s excursion that includes a breakfast in the bush. At 6 a.m. I meet the guests and we proceed for a game drive that includes the breakfast at a scenic spot, returning to camp at around 11:30 a.m. in time for lunch. Depending on the guests I might head out for another drive at 3 or 5 p.m. where we also incorporate the sunset with some sundowners. Once I return back to camp at 7:30 p.m. I will also host my guests at the dinner table before going to bed at 10 p.m.

Bush Breakfast Along The River At Saruni Samburu
The best way to start the day - bush breakfasts in Samburu by the Ewaso Nyiro river

Have you ever been scared out in the bush?

Yes. I was still a tracker and I was with my colleague down by the Saruni watering hole when a very big bull elephant stormed us and chased us for about 100m. I think I was more scared that day than the guests.

Saruni  Samburu  Elephants
Elephants at the Saruni Samburu waterhole
Samburu Guides Lepayon On The Right
Lepayon out guiding

What has been your most memorable wildlife encounter?

A scene that I have witnessed was of a big family of elephants that crossed the Ewaso Nyiro River. The river was in full flow so one of the babies got stuck in the middle of the river and was not able to go forwards or backwards. As the rest of the family kept going the mother tried to help the baby but when she realised she couldn't do it by herself, she let out this soft rumble that made the rest of the family stop and turn back towards her – but only to observe. The next minute she let out an almighty rumble that made the rest of the family run back to her to come and help in the rescue effort. Even though this scene had a happy ending, very few of my colleagues believe me when I tell this story.

Elephants In Samburu National Reserve
Elephants in Samburu

Is there a best time of year to visit Samburu?

I love April as we just have, or are about to receive some rains. The landscape then undergoes a transformation to green, the elephants migrate back into the area and the place looks like paradise.

Kalama Conservancy Saruni Samburu
The Kalama Conservancy, which borders the Samburu National Reserve
The View Of Samburuland From Saruni Samburu
View of Samburuland after the rains

How do you spend your days off?

I balance my days off by looking after my livestock, but also spending some time with the younger warriors out in the bush. This will continue until the next handing over ceremony where the duties will be passed to the next generation.

Is it difficult to balance the traditional way of life with the modern way of life in Samburu?

In certain areas of our culture and with certain people it becomes difficult but for me, with my colleagues and our families it is not really hard. We all want to keep our cultures and we keep it alive even when I am not working but back at home as well.

Saruni  Samburu  Tribe
Members of the Samburu tribe

What’s the funniest thing you’ve ever been asked?

I get asked many funny things by guests! One of the funniest though was when I came across a pack of Wild Dogs and I started to point this out to the guests. The guests then asked me why I would point out dogs to them, as they only want to see cats. I tried to explain to them the immensity of the sighting but they just said that they have enough wild dogs back home and asked me to leave and find them cats!

African Wild Dog In Front Of Saruni Samburu
Wild dogs in front of the lodge
Gerenuk Saruni Samburu
Gerenuk - one of the Samburu Special Five
Leopard Sighting In The Samburu
A Samburu leopard

What’s your favourite animal?

Elephant. They are friendly, big, social, have good memories and excellent parental care. They are special in that they help each other just like humans do. They also take care of their sick and mourn their dying and dead. Very human-like.

If you'd like to visit Saruni Samubur and spend time out on safari with amazing guides like Lepayon (you might even meet the man himself!), then give us a ring on 01768 603 715. Meeting the warriors is often popular on a Kenya family safari holiday too!

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