ADVANTAGES OF STAYING IN THE MARA CONSERVANCIES

The Maasai people have occupied the savannah grasslands of Southern Kenya for centuries. Their lifestyle and their warriors (morans) have kept the rangelands free from settlement by other communities, and the Maasai people’s taboo against eating wild animals, combined with 2 rainy seasons a year have allowed the wildlife to flourish.

In the early days of tourism in Kenya (1960s), the Maasai Mara National Reserve was established in these lands, where visitors could come and photograph the teeming masses of wildlife. Keekorok Lodge was the first lodge to be built in the Reserve, allowing visitors to overnight in the Reserve.

In 1968, the Land Act was passed, establishing Group Ranches in the greater Mara ecosystem, where large tracts of land adjacent to the Reserve, were allocated to local communities who were supposed to manage the number of cattle on the land, and earn revenue from beef production and the sale of cattle.

This led to huge increases in livestock numbers and consequently over grazing of the land. Now there was pressure to subdivide the land further and issue title deeds to individual owners. This was done in some areas, but there was a concern that this would lead to the loss of wildlife habitat.

Therefore, some Maasai leaders came together with private sector investors to create conservancies along the borders of the Reserve, with strict guidelines on their management.

So what does this mean for the tourist visiting the Mara? These are the advantages of staying in the conservancies:

  • Low density tourism is practiced with the formula of one tent per 700 acres, with a limit of 12 tents per camp so the conservancies are much less crowded
  • There is no human settlement, homestead or livestock boma in the conservancy, so it is a purely wildlife viewing experience.
  • Only 5 vehicles are permitted per wildlife sighting putting less pressure on the individual animal and giving you excellent sightings.
  • No tree cutting, cultivation or ploughing is allowed in the conservancies so as to allow the land to regenerate so you are staying in a pure wilderness.
  • There is virtually no poaching in the Conservancies.
  • There is more emphasis on the safari experience with qualified Maasai guides holding KPSGA certification (Kenya Professional Safari Guides Association).
  • Camps use eco-friendly solutions like solar energy, sewage management, refuse disposal etc, all of which are certified by Eco Tourism Kenya
  • There is a high density of wildlife in the conservancies with the highest concentration of lions in Africa.
  • Day visitors are not allowed into the conservancies for game drives so you will not find crowds of minivans during your game drives.
  • In addition to game drives, you can do guided walks, bush meals and night game drives, all of which are not possible in the main Reserve.
  • Off road driving is allowed in the conservancies, thus allowing you to get closer to the game.
  • You can still visit the main Reserve for game drives as most camps include a full day visit to the Mara Reserve during the migration season
  • As most of the staff working in the Camps are recruited from the local Maasai tribes, you will have daily contact with them, thus adding a cultural element to your stay.

ROAD VERSUS AIR TRAVEL

There are 2 basic ways to travel within East Africa – by road in either a minivan, or a 4WD vehicle, and by air – aircrafts normally used are Caravans, Twin Otters or Dash.

So why should you choose one over the other? Let’s find out the advantages and disadvantages.

Road Safari

Advantages

  • Allows you to observe the culture of the country as you can see how the the local people live, trade and work.
  • You are able to appreciate the scenery unfolding around you.
  • Allows you to interact with the local people, when you stop along the way.
  • It is pocket friendly if you are travelling in a group of more than 4 persons.
  • It brings to mind, the adventure and romance of safari.
  • Allows more time for bonding, especially if travelling with family or a group of friends.
  • You can carry more baggage than on the flight

Disadvantages

  • Strict speed limits are observed so the journey can get long and tedious.
  • The condition of the roads is not the best, so the ride is bumpy.
  • Travelling with your children can get difficult due to the length of time spent in the restriction of the vehicle.
  • The costs of travelling by vehicle in East Africa can be quite high, if you are less than 4 persons.
  • As it takes longer to reach your destination, you may be tired on arrival and not in the mood for further activity.
  • Travel is difficult in extreme rain, and/or stormy weather

Air Travel

Advantages

  • A quick and efficient way of getting around the country – most places are within an hour’s flight away or 90 minutes away
  • Not tiring so you arrive at your destination fresh and ready for adventure
  • Game drives are done in Camp vehicles which are open vehicles, with driver/guides who are based in the area so are very familiar with the fauna in the area
  • Quite affordable, especially if travelling solo or in a group of less than 4 persons
  • The aircrafts are very comfortable with complete access to the pilots
  • You can fly through floods and storms
  • Allows you to visit more places in a shorter span of time
  • As check in time is an hour prior to departure, there is more flexibility in travelling to and from the airport

Disadvantages

  • Many people feel nervous about flying in smaller planes
  • Baggage is restricted to 15 kgs per person, in soft, squashy bags
  • You cannot see much of the scenery nor can you interact with the local people.

SPENDING TIME IN NAIROBI

Kenya gets many visitors from abroad, most of whom are safari enthusiasts, though the country is now attracting lots of business people and investors. A large number of visitors also come to visit family.

Most visitors tend to skip Nairobi, viewing it as just another big city, with lots of frantic traffic, noise and congestion. A few business visitors will visit the Nairobi National Park in between meetings, but on the whole the charms of the city are largely ignored.

And Nairobi does have its fair share of charm. With good planning, you can get to see a completely different side of Nairobi, which you probably didn’t know existed.

Nairobi has many other eateries and places of interest, however here, we have listed down our favorites, hoping to entice you to spend a couple of nights in Nairobi, getting to feel the vibe of the city.

We haven’t included any safari related activities as we are saving that for another time!

Early mornings at:

  • Karura Forest – Located within the city, there are marked 5kms, 10kms & 15kms trails for walking and cycling. You can also visit the waterfalls, or simply park yourself on a bench and listen to the morning birdsong.

Breakfasts at:

  • River Café – Located within Karura Forest grounds, this open air café has fantastic views of the forest with soft jazz music playing in the background
  • Le Grenier a Pain – Little known French bakery & restaurant in a quiet suburb of Westlands, serving authentic French pastries and delectable coffees.

Visits to:

  • Kitengela Hot Glass Factory – Watch artisans blow hot glass into small & large objects such as beads, vases, champagne flutes and even chandeliers. Create your own masterpiece. You will also have the opportunity to purchase items from the factory if you so wish.
  • Kazuri Beads Factory – Visit the factory that provides employment to disadvantaged Kenyans, making top quality hand-made & hand-painted ceramic jewelery and pottery.
  • Maasai Markets – These street style markets are where you can buy souvenirs of your visit to Kenya. There’s a Maasai Market daily, in different shopping malls, depending on the day of the week. This is definitely a place to bargain and collect colorful trinkets, gifts and souvenirs.
  • Utamaduni – Unlike the Maasai Market that moves, Utamaduni is an old Kikuyu house converted into 18 shops with diverse African crafts, antiques and art. Here, bargaining may not be encouraged and credit card payments are accepted. Staff are on hand to assist with packing and/or shipping arrangements if required.
  • Nairobi National Museum – The Museum houses celebrated collections of Kenya’s History, Nature, Culture and Contemporary Art. Adjacent to the Museum is the Snake Park where you can see varieties of these reptiles.

Lunch/dinner (Thursdays – Sundays) at:

  • Cultiva Farm – A seasonal restaurant based on the farm to fork principle – the menu is changed almost every week. Serving delicious fusion food & drinks, largely undiscovered by Nairobi’s populace.
  • Chez Sonia – This is mostly a wine bar with many different private/hidden indoor & outdoor seating areas. Charcuterie & cheese boards, duck pate, burrata are then norm, but they have a pop up kitchen every once in a while.

Lunch/dinner (daily) at:

  • The Wine Shop – Set in a lovely garden, with ample indoor & outdoor seating space – it gets busy, so reservations are recommended. This is also primarily a wine bar with larger meal portions.
  • Boho Eatery – Set in a quirky outdoorsy area, Boho Eatery is a café, restaurant and cocktail bar. Interesting meals like shiitake & tofu dumplings, mushroom poke, shakshuka and tostones among other dishes can be found on their menu.
Boho eatery
  • Nyama Mama – With 4 different locations around the city, they call themselves an unpretentious, fun, modern day African diner. Fusion food dishes include Chapatti wraps, Mama’s stews, Ugali fries, Mandazi doughnut and Mama’s choma tray.
  • Hashmi BBQ – Closed on Tuesdays & Fridays lunch time, but open for dinner daily except Tuesdays. This is a family favorite, get your hands wrist deep into poussin fries, chicken chooza and kebabs. It’s one of those places where you should skip breakfast (or lunch if you’re going there for dinner). Tasty food, most people eat and leave, to allow other diners waiting outside. No reservations are made here, first come first served.

Sundowners at:

  • Inti – a Nikkei experience. Undoubtedly, this has to be one of the best views of Nairobi. Watching the evening traffic while sipping on your Pisco cocktail, is somewhat soothing from so high up. Nibble on appetizers that could include ceviche, Tiradito or your choice of sushi from the extensive menu
INTI – a Nikkei experience

RHINO HAVEN

Just 4 hours drive from Nairobi, is the privately owned Solio Game Reserve. Home to large numbers of white rhino, the Reserve was initially focused on the breeding of the endangered black rhino, but has now succeeded in the breeding of white rhinos.

Driving down was a comfortable drive, and we arrived at the lodge in time for lunch. Lunch was served outside on the lawn deck and comprised of fresh salads with a pasta dish, followed by delectable cheeses and crackers. All this was accompanied by a glass of chilled rose.

After lunch we retired to our rooms where we spent some time admiring the view from the floor-to-ceiling windows. Then it was time to go out and see the rhinos. We began with a walk outside the Reserve for about 45 minutes, before entering the Reserve for a drive.

Rhinos, rhinos and more rhinos…we saw them in large numbers as we drove through the Reserve. Our vehicle was modified to have seats fitted on the roof, giving us an unobstructed 360 degree view.

At around 6 pm, we came upon a large pride of lions (about 27 to 30), feeding on the fresh carcass of a giraffe. We stopped a few feet away from them and settled down to watch. Lots of grunting and crunching sounds rent the air and we were totally surrounded by lions – one young male was stretching himself on a tree right beside me, and there were lions lying in the grass close to the vehicle.

As the sun had begun to set, this made for a charged atmosphere that had us glued to our seats, while feeling very vulnerable at the same time as we were completely exposed, and night was falling rapidly.

Then the lions began to quarrel amongst themselves and an old male lion began growling and roaring at two young male lions who had come closer to feed. The roaring grew louder and then the old male swatted his huge paw at one of the younger lions and the younger lions came bounding towards us – we were all spooked. This was definitely out of our comfort zone.

Our driver/guide, Ole, bless him, chose this moment to ask us if he could pass us our sundowners….a resounding NO from all of us put paid to that idea. We spent another 10 – 15 minutes there until it became too dark to see, and then headed back to the lodge. You can imagine what the topic of conversation was over pre dinner drinks.

Dinner was served in the dining room – the meals at Solio are very well prepared with good vegetarian options should you require, and a great wine list.

Taking a shower is a real treat as the shower heads are huge and it feels like you are standing under a waterfall. The shower area is large, and is fronted by glass on the garden side, so you can shower with a view of the gardens. There is a free standing bathtub should you wish to indulge, with a fireplace next to it – this fire is lit on request.

The lounge area next to the sleeping area also has a fireplace where the fire is lit in the evening, and lends a cosy air to the room. The beds are super comfortable and we spent a very relaxed night.

Morning game drives don’t start at the crack of dawn as in other parks and reserves, but at the more civilized hour of 8 am. On our morning game drive, we saw again, huge groups of rhino, and we went back to visit the lions – there was a lone lion feeding on the carcass with the rest of the pride sprawled in the long grass around.

The highlight of the morning game drive was a bush breakfast set up right next to the rhinos….who were very curious about us and kept coming closer to look at these strange creatures.

Later that day, we went for a horseride outside the Reserve. This lasted about 45 minutes and the horses were quite amenable except for one spot where 2 of the horses were bitten by tsetse flies and wanted to bolt.

On the day of departure, we had breakfast at the lodge and as one of our party was celebrating a birthday, the manager Ava, graciously arranged for a birthday celebration complete with cake and singing and dancing.

Ava also, very generously, sent us off with packed lunches and gifts for the ladies – the lunches came in very handy.

For anyone wishing to interact closely with rhinos…Solio is the place to be!!!

3 TOP TRAVEL PICKS FOR 2019

We still have 4 months of travel left in 2019, and I wanted to share with you, my top picks for the remainder of the year.

Suspended in mid air

ANGAMA MARA LODGE, MAASAI MARA GAME RESERVE

From your first stay at Angama Mara, it will become your ‘home away from home’. Right from the enthusiastically warm welcome from all the staff when you arrive at Camp (this is a tradition at the Camp), to the wonderfully caring hospitality during your stay, the outstanding cuisine and lovely, spacious tents with unparalleled views of the Mara Triangle below, the Angama Mara experience is outstandingly unique and memorable. Angama takes its name from the Swahili word meaning suspended in mid-air….we take it to mean ‘between heaven and earth’.

In addition to enjoying game drives with your experienced guide in the Mara Triangle below, you can also enjoy guided walks across the plains and in the forest with a Maasai naturalist. A speciality of Angama is their shamba lunch – wander through their one acre kitchen garden, also known as a shamba, pick vegetables of your choice, and enjoy a shamba-to-table lunch, with the vegetables you picked presented as fresh salads and supplemented with loaves of bread, local cheeses and chilled rose wine….all this under the shade of towering moth trees, with panoramic views of the Mara Triangle below.

Visit the Garden of Remembrance and spend a few quiet moment in the chapel, built in the loving memory of the founder, Steve Fitzgerald.

For budding photographers, the Camp has a photography studio on hand, as well as a shop onsite selling some unusual items, including beadwork done by Maasai women on site.

If celebrating an anniversary, the Camp offers intimate picnics for two, on the crest of the kopje which features in the ‘Out of Africa’ movie poster.

OL DONYO LODGE, CHYULU HILLS

Located in the majestic Chyulu Hills, the lodge offers a truly exceptional escape from the mundanity of life. Fly into the airstrip located just minutes from the lodge, and within a short while, you might find yourself in one of the unique features of the lodge – an underground hide located in front of the waterhole. The waterhole is always frequented by game, mostly elephants and you could choose to see them from this vantage point or from the deck of your room, or even while lazing in your plunge pool located on your room deck.

The lodge offers some exciting activities ranging from horseriding on the plains, to exploring the lava tube caves in the hills, guided bush walks, bush meals and day & night game drives in the conservancy. The cuisine at the lodge is top notch (with different settings for each meal) and after a wonderful lunch, refresh yourself by taking a dip in the plunge pool.

You could also choose to spend a romantic night under the stars….!

Last but not least, every room comes equipped with a pair of binoculars and a professional camera body and lens kit for complimentary use. However, if your guide is Jackson Lemunge, be warned….he will not permit you to take photographs on auto mode.

BARAZA RESORT & SPA, ZANZIBAR

For most people, Zanzibar is an exotic destination evoking scents of incense, cloves and other spices. Staying at the Baraza Resort & Spa allows you to enjoy all this, in 5 star accommodations. Located on the south east coast of the island and within an hour’s drive from the airport, and consisting of one and two bedroom villas, the resort offers unparalleled standards of luxury on the island. The experience here is truly 5 star with services and facilities elevated to an extremely professional standard. All villas come complete with their own plunge pools, walk in dressing rooms and a large terrace.

The cuisine here is influenced by Arabic, Indian, Persian, Asian and Swahili flavours, with local spices also used. Using the hotel as a base, you can explore Stone Town and Forodhani Park, Prison Island, spice plantations and Jozani forest among other attractions. Alternatively enjoy the Frangipani Spa with it’s lap pool with underwater music and therapists from Thailand, Bali and India. Or indulge in the vast array of watersport offered at the hotel.

48 HOURS IN THE CHYULU HILLS

Chyulu Hills….magical, mystical Chyulu Hills, located between the Amboseli and Tsavo ecosystems. I have always wanted to visit the high-end Ol Donyo Lodge, situated deep in the Chyulus and when the opportunity presented itself at the end of January, I grabbed it with both hands.

Having heard so much about the lodge and the numerous activities one can enjoy there, I knew that I was in for a fun filled, adventure stay. Most importantly myself, and other visitors to the lodge are contributing to the conservation of this magnificently wild area and its animals.

3 magnificent bulls at the waterhole

Getting there was a breeze – a 35 minute flight with Safarilink Airlines early in the morning got us to the Ol Donyo airstrip by 8.30 am, ready for our adventures. Our guide, Jackson (instrumental in getting us to visit the lodge) met us at the lodge and escorted us to the hide, where three large elephants were waiting to greet us. Although we were extremely close to them, and they knew we were there, the elephants were calm and enjoying the cool water at the waterhole. All the water used at the lodge, is filtered and routed to the waterhole for the use of the game that visits the waterhole.

The lodge has 2 hides, one on ground level and one below ground and both offer excellent photographic opportunities. Jackson, being an excellent photographer, also offered us some very valuable tips.

Ground level hide

The managers at the lodge, Abby & Edward, although quite new, are extremely competent and run a very tight ship….nothing escapes Abby’s eagle eye, and they are always on hand to greet every arrival at the lodge, be it new arrivals or guests just arriving from a game drive.

The rooms were a wonderful surprise – each of the suites and villas has it’s own plunge pool overlooking the plains, and a rooftop terrace with ‘star beds’ which can be set up for you.

Plunge pools overlooking the plains

Two of us in the group were given the loan of a professional Canon Camera each (normally inclusive when you pay for exclusive hire of the vehicle), and we whiled away the hours before lunch learning how to use the camera, hopefully getting some wonderful shots of the wildlife below.

Lunch was served in the pool house – a selection of fresh, delicious salads and a delectable dessert and cheese board. Drinks are inclusive at the lodge so while everyone enjoyed a chilled glass of rose wine, I opted for the fashionable Hendricks G & T.

A dip in the pool after lunch, and off we went on our first game drive. We came across lots of plains game, no cats unfortunately, and settled down, drinks in hand, for our first sundowner in the Chyulus. Driving back to the lodge in the early evening, the lodge radioed Jackson to advise him of lions at the waterhole – unfortunately we missed them as they had already left the waterhole by the time we arrived. A quick shower and then dinner served in the wine cellar – a veritable treat.

All of us decided to sleep out on the ‘star beds’ that night, as the stars were particularly bright in the night sky. Lanterns, candles and an open sky awaited us after dinner, but I am ashamed to say that I promptly fell into such a deep slumber, that not only did I miss out on the stars, but also on all the animal noises during the night.

Next day, early wake up call and off we went to the Ride Kenya Stables, to meet the team headed by John & Paul. After being fitted out with chaps and helmets, we mounted our horses and were given brief instructions on how to handle the horse. It did look a little intimidating at first but we soon got the hang of it.

Back in the vehicle, we drove out to the plains where we met up with the horses and set off on a gentle walk on the plains. It was a blissful 60 minutes….walking quietly on the plains, game in sight, with the iconic Mt Kilimanjaro in the foreground.

Soon it was time for a well deserved breakfast under some shady trees, and then back on the horses for the return journey. Jackson picked us up midway and then received an alert from the lodge that a black rhino had been spotted on the plains. There was pandemonium – this was the first time a black rhino had been spotted here in 20 years and everyone wanted to be a part of this historic occasion. All the staff from the lodge came out in the vehicle and we were there too (actually we were just a total of 3 vehicles which indicates how unspoilt this area is) but the shy creature retired into some bushes. We tried getting photos of the rhino but the high temperatures were creating a haze which was showing up on the photos. Big Life Foundation‘s Craig Miller came to see the rhino as well, accompanied by his dog, and it was a very exciting and charged 30 – 45 minutes trying to get a glimpse of the rhino in the distance.

Back to the lodge for another delicious lunch, followed by a dip in the pool and then onto our next big adventure – going into the one of the lava tube caves that crisscross the Chyulu Hills. The Chyulu Hills has the deepest known lava tube cave in the world, and one of the caves, the Upper Leviathan Cave has been measured at 11.15 km – one of the world’s longest caves.

Getting there took us about 45 minutes by car and then a short hike to the entrance of the cave. We were accompanied by a Maasai veteran carrying a rifle and a wicked short knife, and despite having only one eye, was said to be an expert marksman.

Descending into the cool, dark depths of the cave was like entering a another world. There were trees growing out of the lava, and the silent, eerie depths were home to many bats. Thankfully one did not feel claustorphobic as the cave was large and most times you could see open sky at both ends. We came across a few birds but no snakes or other reptiles, though we were all so focused on where we were putting our feet, that we may have missed a few. There were sections where the only way to get down was on the seat of your pants.

Coming out into the fresh, open air has never felt better, and we had to celebrate with the obligatory sundowner, this time the spirit of choice being Musgrave Gin.

Back at the lodge, I decided to try the outdoor shower in our suite, which I dubbed “Star Shower” , after which we had dinner by the pool….truly a magical setting! As everyone was knackered after the day’s events, and we had an early start in the morning, we all decided to sleep indoors – good choice as the beds were super comfy and conducive to a good night’s rest.

Our last breakfast at the lodge, goodbyes to Abby, Edward and the staff with promises to return and then Jackson whisked us off to the airstrip. No sooner had we arrived, when we saw the lights of the Safarilink plane coming in to land. No byes for Jackson…for him it was ‘see you soon’ and then a wonderfully smooth flight back to the city.

I do think I will need a stint at the coast to recover from all that activity.

THE NGORONGORO CRATER LODGE

The last time I visited the Ngorongoro Crater, I stayed at the Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge, and as we were on our way down to the crater floor, we passed a very imposing entrance. When I enquired of my driver as to the lodge contained within, he whispered to me in a reverent hush that it was the Ngorongoro Crater Lodge owned by & Beyond. From this, I got an indication that this was not your ordinary ‘run of the mill’ type of accommodation, and decided that I had to see it for myself one day. After all, they say seeing is believing.

From the time we drove in through the imposing entrance, everything was just perfect. As we drove into the lodge, we were directed to the ‘South Camp”. I could see strange looking buildings shaped like twin huts with a chimney at the end, grouped together. The murram road leading to our camp, the lush vegetation all around us and the swirling mist, all combined to give us a feeling of adventure and excitement.

As soon as the vehicle came to a halt, we were given an extremely warm welcome by our camp manager Ali, and butler, yes our very own butler Nemes. Concerned that we were tired after our drive from Nairobi, they insisted that the check in formalities be done in the comfort of our room.

What a surprise awaited us when we opened the door to our room! Who knew such luxury existed behind the simple door? Chandeliers, raw silk curtains, velveteen bedspreads, fresh roses almost everywhere, exotic smelling lotions and shampoo in elegant glass bottles, a superbly placed bathtub with a view of the crater floor, and not forgetting the loo with its own view of the crater floor.

ng crater 2

A blazing fire was lit for us, and some delicious goodies were placed there to tempt our palates. Some sherry before dinner? ………….no problem! A decanter of sherry and some crystal glasses should you wish to indulge. We were pampered and spoilt rotten.

The butler sends a Maasai guard to escort you to dinner at the time you request, and serves up a delicious 4 course dinner. The dining room was magnificent too…raw silk curtains, elegant period furniture, gold motifs on the ceiling and should you wish to visit the washroom during dinner, you are in for a surprise! Located in a separate building, the washrooms are linked by a cozy lounge area….again, lots of silk, crystal, and lovely smelling soaps and lotions.

While you are enjoying dinner, busy hands are restoring the pristine appearance of your bathroom – replacing bath & hand towels, turning down your bed, and warming your nightclothes in the electric blanket. I can’t tell you what a treat it was to come in from the raw, cold wind outside, to a roaring fire and warm nightwear.

We spent a blissful night, heads resting on fluffy pillows, and encased in warmth. You morning wake up call comes with the yummiest, crunchiest homemade biscuits.

After breakfast, we explored our surroundings. There is a view of the crater from every corner and angle of the room. and the room opens out into a terrace that gives you a magnificent view of the crater floor. Plump cushions are on hand, should you wish to relax on the terrace.

ng crater 1

The day was spent on the crater floor, looking for game. Come lunch time, and I was feeling really sorry for all those people not staying at the Ngorongoro Crater Lodge. All they had a was a picnic lunch box with a sandwich, boiled egg, fruits etc. Us?….well we had a picnic table with chairs, a veritable feast spread out on the table…potato salad, green vegetable salad, chicken salad, pasta salad, tomato salad, fresh bread, drinks, cheese and crackers and to round it off, hot tea or coffee with cookies. Need I say more?

Returning to the lodge, we visited Tree Camp, a must for honeymooners. All in all, it was a memorable stay and I left the lodge with many a backward glance, and sighs of regret that I could not extend my stay.

WASINI ISLAND

On all my trips to the Kenyan coast, I have always seen posters advertising Wasini Island and have heard such rave reviews , that I thought, what better way to judge it than to visit it myself? That’s how I found myself sitting on the Wasini Island bus at the ungodly hour of 7.30 am being transported to Shimoni. We arrived Shimoni at around 9 am, and were briefed on the day’s events, over a hot & welcome cup of coffee. All the non-divers, of which I was one, were herded into a majestic dhow and off we set.

The sail was unfurled, but as the day was overcast and the sea quite choppy, it had to be tied down again. Oh well!! It gave our male passengers an opportunity to flex their muscles and feel part of the crew.

On we sailed, being fed fruit juices, water and watermelon (don’t worry the dhow boasts a proper marine toilet), for about an hour during which time the sun, I am happy to report, came out, flooding the sky with a brilliant hue, and we passed the twin islands of Mpunguti wa Juu and Mpunguti wa Chini. Everyone on board was excited, anticipating a beautiful day ahead. We anxiously searched the sea for dolphins, but saw no sign of these elusive creatures.

wasini_islandctuise_00

Later, we arrived at the designated snorkeling site. Those who were trying the fun dive remained on board, whereas those going for a snorkel hopped into the smaller boat and were rowed across to the sandbar.

The captain of the dhow accompanied us, much to my relief, and was going around making sure everyone was okay. I put on my mask to see if it was ok, and all of a sudden, claustrophobia set in. There was no way I was going into deep water with that! However, according to the captain…that was not on! With the help of a tube around my waist, he guided me and a few others, into much deeper waters. All I can say is that I am truly grateful to him as I would have missed out on a whole other world down there. Plants of every color, tropical fish of brilliant hues- all waving gently in the current. It was magnificent and I could have spent hours looking in on this wonderful world.

Alas, we only spent a little over an hour there, during which time I got to spend a little time sunbathing on the sandbar. The pristine sand, the sound of the waves lapping at the shore, and the call of the birds, not forgetting the heat of the sun, all served to soothe my spirits. Truly a beautiful place to relax. En route to Wasini Island, we spotted 2 dolphins. Just our luck, they belonged to a species which is extremely shy. The pair kept appearing but were too quick to capture on film. Well, I’ll just have to go back.

Lunch was served at Wasini Island. Getting off the dhow into the smaller boat was ok, but then you had to get off the boat and wade through the sea to get to the shore. Lunch – having heard so much about this, I was eagerly awaiting this and was not disappointed. I was ravenous after the day’s activities and began wolfing down the fried coconut strips and fish bites. Big mistake as this was followed by a whole pile of crab. The waiter, very kindly, showed us how to crack the crab and dip it in the ginger sauce. This was heaven for crab lovers, witnessed by the loud sounds of cracking coming from all the tables. This heavenly dish was followed by barbecued fish (a whole fish to yourself) in a coconut sauce with chapatis and rice. Then came some fruit, and finally to round off the meal, some delicious kahawa (spiced coffee) and sesame seed balls.

Who could move after such a meal? So, I took the easiest option after lunch..snoozing on day beds laid out overlooking the ocean. As soon as my head hit the fat, plump cushion, I was off in dreamland, lulled by the fresh breeze coming in from the sea, while others engaged in various activities like walks and a visit to the village.

Reluctantly I dragged myself away from my secluded spot at 5 pm, and made my way to shore, to board the boat. This was a little tricky as the tide was in, but I was soon safely aboard the dhow. A run to Shimoni and then we boarded the bus for the trip back to the hotel. For those interested in the Shimoni caves, a visit was made on our return to Shimoni. This is where the slaves were held during the days of the slave trade, and you can see the iron chains and other paraphernalia related to this. As I get claustrophobic in small, dark places I decided to give it a miss.

As we drove back to our hotel in Diani, I looked around at the different nationalities present on the bus. Everyone had made friends and were busy discussing the wonderful things they saw and did that day. With a contented sigh, I settled back in my seat. I had finally done Wasini!!

More Fun at Ol Pejeta Rhino Conservancy

The Ol Pejeta Rhino Conservancy is only a 3 hour drive from Nairobi and has a number of excitingly different activities you can partake of, making this a fun conservancy to visit & enjoy. Most of the activities listed below are available at a cost.

Game drives

The traditional way to view game works very well here in the Conservancy as they have 90,000 acres of land filled with wildlife like elephant, lion, hyena, wild dog, buffalo, cheetah, rhino and tons of plains game. The best time for this activity is in the early morning before breakfast, and evenings after sundowners, though game drives are available throughout the day, and at nights too, after an early dinner.DSC_0572

Visiting the Endangered Species Boma

Three of the world’s last 7 remaining northern white rhinos live in Ol Pejeta Conservancy, in this boma, and you can have the opportunity to meet 2 of these rhinos up close and personal (visits to the famous rhino Sudan have been restricted due to health reasons). Listen to their amazing story from the keepers who attend to them 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The timing for this activity is 0830 hours and 1600 hours.

Bush Walk

Walking in the African bush is a magical experience which awakens all 5 senses. Explore the conservancy with an experienced armed ranger who will share with you his expertise on the flora and fauna of the Conservancy. Learn to identify different animal tracks and spoors as you follow in the footsteps of the animals living in the African bush. The activity is available between 0630 – 0830 hours and 1530 – 1730 hours.

Dog tracking

Ol Pejeta Conservancy has a highly trained anti-poaching canine unit which is open to visitors at 0830 hours daily. Interact with the dog keepers and test the dog’s ability to sniff you out by hiding in the nearby bush, while the bloodhounds are let loose on your trail.DSC_0409

Riding with rhinos

In addition to visiting the northern white rhino in the Endangered Species Boma, you can also ride within this area on Ol Pejeta safari horses. The enclosure is predator free and you will encounter herds of Grevy’s zebra, Jackson’s hartebeest and many other species including southern white rhino and a variety of plains game. Finish off the ride with tea and cake at Morani’s restaurant. This activity is available at 1000 hours and 1500 hours, but is only open to experienced riders.

Behind the scenes chimps

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The Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary is the only place to see chimps in Kenya, and here, you will get to visit them during their feeding time. Watch the discipline which they exercise during feeding, and also the interactions with each other within their enclosures. This activity is available between 1200 – 1300 hours and 1630 – 1800 hours.

Morani Information Centre

Visit this centre which is named after Morani the rhino who used to live near the centre. Learn about the different wildlife species on the Conservancy, from anatomy to behaviour to habitat. Finally explore the converted rhino transport crate to understand what a rhino may feel like when it is being moved. The Centre is open daily from 0900 to 1700 hours and is free to visit.

 

5 TIPS FOR PLANNING YOUR HOLIDAY

Taking a long holiday requires some planning and forethought as you will be away from the comforts of your home for a while, and any mistakes made in the planning and execution of the trip are likely to be magnified. Proper planning will allow you to obtain the maximum benefit from your trip. To help with your planning, I have identified 3 articles that offer sage advice on travel planning.

The first article is from Tripwolf – Common travel planning mistakes, where some common planning mistakes are highlighted.

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The 2nd report comes from US News – Travel where the writer offers 6 Simple Tips for planning your first international trip. .

 

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The 3rd article can be found on Traveller – 11 Mistakes every first time traveller makes. Here the writer advises on how to avoid making these mistakes.

 

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From my experience in planning holidays for my clients, I would suggest keeping in mind these 5 tips when planning a long trip.

  • Trying to do too many things in one trip – leave yourself some flexibility to be able to do things on the spur of the moment. Also give yourself some time to discover the authenticity of the destination by spending time with locals and not rushing around.
  • Research the best season to visit your chosen destination – also don’t forget to check out any holidays, festivals or special events that may impact your stay.
  • Ensure you have the right vaccinations well in advance – some vaccinations have a long incubation period so taking them early ensures you don’t have to delay your trip.
  • Packing too much– you will probably end up wearing only half of what you take so pack conservatively. Also don’t purchase clothes and accessories specially for the trip as this would be an unecessary expense. Leave space in your suitcase for souvenirs.
  • Venture beyond the guidebook – guidebooks are meant to be used a guide and not a bible on the attractions of the destination. Strike out on your own to discover the hidden gems on your trip.

Follow these 5 simple tips for a great stress free holiday.

Shaheen Therani is an experienced East African Tour Operator who runs a successful tour company, Wild Destinations. She is currently taking the Social Media Specialization Course from Coursera and North Western University. You can follow her on @WildDestination,  https://www.facebook.com/wilddestinationsafrica/  and https://ke.linkedin.com/in/shaheen-therani-32a6b520 .