Samatian Island

Editorial — January 2020
33 images

Airbnb Magazine

Photo Editor: Katie Dunn

*this series is two parts. view Part One – Samatian Island*

*this gallery is one of a two part series. view Part Two – Oak Island*

In early Fall 2019, I visited two different islands for story in the next issue of Airbnb Magazine. I spent a few dreamy days at each, documenting their place on earth and the unique adventure they offered. I experienced the islands as the tiny microcosms they are by taking interest in the place as its own locale – the plants and animals playing the most distinguished roles. The collective understanding that came from these trips, was the correlation between the amount of space around you and the distortion in perception of time. Environment informs everything, being in these places helped me appreciate that concept with more depth. Considering my undying love affair with water and it’s reverent qualities, being on these islands intensified my respect for distance.


Getting to Samatian was arduous – a fifteen hour flight, six hours in a taxi with my driver Robert, and one wooden canoe at the edge of Lake Borego in the Rift Valley. I arrived to the water just as dusk had fallen. Everything was shrouded in the darkness, save for my red headlamp and faint moonlight illuminating the trees coming out of the water…I had been told that plenty of crocodiles and hippos enjoyed the shallows of the the shore here.

On the island, I spent four lovely days with the Whitey Family staying present with the light, observing passing storm systems, and visiting (and revisiting) every corner on the island I could reach. A bird watchers paradise, you can canoe around the perimeter of the island in an hour and not see the same bird twice – King Fishers, Spotted Morning Thrush, Cormorants, Weavers, Fish Eagles – there’s also the resident eagle owl Woo, who appears often throughout the day checking in on activity on the island. Then, there’s the noticeable sections of the day, broken up not by meals, but by changes in temperature and wind – the morning with a light breeze and incessant critter chatter, the afternoon going completely still and quiet in the air with the lake turning to glass, stretching out and reflecting the large sky above.

The family has been heavily involved in local politics concerning land conservation and the poaching of endangered species for generations. Ten years ago, a heard of Rothschilds Giraffes was moved to a neighboring island (now called Giraffe Island) to deter poachers from reaching them, watched after by locals of a tribe who have occupied this part of the Valley for thousands of years. This situation has become more complicated with time as the waters of Lake Borego have risen some forty feet in the last decade, limiting the giraffes territory, as well as claiming multiple structures on Samatian Island including Caro Whitey’s childhood home (now home to a few large crocodiles who can be seen sun bathing in the doorways).

I returned from this particular trip with an acute awareness of the limitless interconnection of animals and people across time and a rekindled love of places with zero light pollution. From an elevated point in the middle of a flat plain, it’s a perfect theater to witness the natural spectacle of nature and time. No two weather patterns can ever be the same, nor can the light.

Thank you to Editor Katie Dunn, the Whitey Families, and all the people who shared these journeys with me.