The Train to Tsavo

Taking the train to Tsavo seemed like such a neat idea that we decided to test it out for ourselves. We opted to begin from Mombasa and end up in Nairobi, with a night’s stay at the exclusive Finch Hattons Camp in Tsavo West National Park.

Getting a booking on the train was super easy as this is done online and is quite straightforward. The only possible issue one may have is the only mode of payment is by MPESA (mobile money) for which a local SIM is required.

Once your tickets are booked, you have the option of going to your nearest terminus and getting the tickets printed, or waiting until the day itself to print them at the terminus. We opted for the former which made things a whole lot easier. In order to print out the tickets, you will need the confirmation number, as well as the mobile number used to pay for them.

As the train departs Mombasa at 8 am, we needed to get an early start (6am) as driving through the city in the morning traffic can be quite frustrating, but thankfully as it was a Saturday, traffic was light and we arrived at the train terminus in Miritini at 7 am.

First up was a security check where all the bags were lined up, and sniffer dogs run through the line. Following this, the bags went through the security scanner. Take note that passengers are not permitted to carry alcohol on the train.

After the scanning was done, we entered the terminus building, and our bags went through another security scanner, before we arrived at the departure lounge. We had to wait until the platform was opened for boarding, which was quick and easy as the hostesses on board were there to help and everything is clearly marked.

Travelling 1st class, the seats are all arranged facing forward like on the plane, with 2 seats on either side of a central aisle. Economy class has 2 seats facing forward and 2 seats facing backwards. All seats have tray tables and lots of leg room. In addition, 1st class passengers are given a bottle of water and pack of biscuits.

Baggage has to go overhead, however these rails are quite high up so if your bags are heavy, you may need to step on the seats, or ask for assistance. Heavier bags have to be stored next to the toilets.

The journey was quite uneventful with the train going at speeds of between 100 – 110 km per hour. There was a refreshment cart coming through every so often, the cleaning crew for the toilets, and the hostesses also passing through the cabin on a regular basis.

Before arrival at every station, notice is given of the approach, the exact time the train will stop (normally 3 – 4 minutes) and as this is repeated several times, you have enough time to get your bags and wait at the exit to disembark. Surprisingly for Kenya, the train is exactly on time to depart as well as to arrive at every station.

On arrival at Mtito Andei station, we were pleasantly surprised to find Julius, our driver/guide from Finch Hattons, waiting for us just at the exit door. After loading the vehicle and paying for our park fees, we were off.

Tsavo West National Park is a huge park with few roads so oftentimes it is difficult to spot game, but the scenery more than made up for this. As we entered from the Chyulu gate, we passed over the lava flow, which came from one of the volcanoes in the hills, about 200 years ago. At that time, the local people thought that the devil was emerging from the ground and gave it the name Shaitani, meaning the devil. The name has stuck and today the Shaitani lava flow extends as far as 50 sq km, covered in parts with strangler figs, but we did see some vegetation struggling to get through.

The drive to the Camp takes about an hour and a half, by which time we were so ready for lunch. This delightful meal was served outdoors, in a beautiful setting. The Camp itself consists of 17 tented suites built overlooking various waterholes that have emerged from the natural springs nearby. Each suite has an indoor and outdoor shower, as well as a bathtub, offering you a range of bathing options.

They have a swimming pool, a gym, and a spa with a hammam and a lap pool. Yoga sessions are held on the deck, though this will attract an extra charge if you are booked only on full board.

The lap pool looked so inviting in the shimmering heat, that we just had to have a quick swim before our afternoon game drive, and it was well worth it.

Our game drive was a little disappointing as we didn’t see much – just a few zebras, although Julius did try hard to spot some game. At sundown we stopped next to the hippo pool where we enjoyed a cup of tea, before returning to Camp.

Dinner that night was a real treat – dinner had been organized on the rooftop under a star studded sky…absolutely perfect. The staff advised us that all guests are given the opportunity to enjoy dinner on the rooftop at least once during their stay.

On our way back to the tent, our ‘askari’ (guard) advised us to wake up at 6 am to catch the hippos in the waterhole outside our tent.

Our morning tea was brought in so unobtrusively that I might have slept though it, had I not awakened to see the hippos. Sadly, there were no hippos in sight, and so after breakfast we departed reluctantly. A word to the wise – if you enjoy your drinks, then opt for the all inclusive package at the Camp as the drink charges were exorbitant.

Julius got us to the terminus in time for our train back to Nairobi. This time, there was only two security checks for the bags, and we had exactly 4 minutes to board the train.

Again, the journey was uneventful, until we got to Athi River where some of our fellow passengers got a little excited and noisy. Their excitable chatter and bantering took us till the end of our journey and the disembarkation was quite orderly and smooth.

All in all, I found the whole experience to be quite relaxing and a wonderful way to experience the country and its amazing people and places.

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.

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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.

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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.

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.

Holiday

 

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

 

Medina Palms

 

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 .

 

Cooking up a storm at Angama Mara

 

Persian Pilau, Puris & Indian Omelettes, Parathas, Chicken Curry, Kulfi, Nankhatais,

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Potato Curry, Kuku Paka….these were the order of the day at the luxurious Angama Mara Camp, at the beginning of the last week in April. The Camp’s sparkling, sterile kitchens were a hive of activity – chopping, baking, whisking, basting, frying and best of all, tasting.

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My sister and I were at Angama Mara, to teach their chefs the proper way to cook Indian food, courtesy of our gracious host, Nicky Fitzgerald. So , do we own a restaurant in Nairobi, or entertain a lot, cooking for maybe 50 to 60 people at a go? Neither is true….we are actually tour operators who love food. So how did this invitation to teach Angama’s chefs come about? Fate played a very big hand here, and it really is true that you need to be in the right place at the right time for things to happen.

Late last month in March, my sister was on the flight back from Serian Camp in the Mara, and Nicky happened to be on the same flight . Nicky heard my sister saying she was a tour operator, and as my sister was talking about the different camps and lodges, Nicky was all ears. As they flew over Angama Mara, they began to talk about the Camp, introductions were made  and my sister found out that Nicky was the owner of the Camp. That  short  45 minute flight was literally the start of it all …..

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Enter Kate (Nicky’s daughter) and myself…we were both at Wilson airport to meet our people and after the introductions were done, Kate began to talk to her mum about a recipe book they were compiling, using dishes they had introduced at the Camp. My curiosity was piqued and on hearing about the project, I offered to help them with Indian dishes, if required.

Nicky took us up on our offer, and we flew down to Angama Mara for a fantastic stay of 2 nights in late April. I have never worked in a Camp kitchen before (always being on the other end, as a guest) and it was so much fun. Collins, the head chef, has a superbly talented team, and I soon had them chopping & peeling away – they always rushed to do my bidding.

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Nicky was there, recording every step of the process, and finally, everyone got to taste the finished product. The management staff would pop in every now & again – I think the smells coming from the kitchen were so tantalizing that they couldn’t resist coming in.

We were treated like one of the family, and we all sat down together for meals, and sampled the Indian dishes made that day. Even some lucky guests were treated to some of the delicacies and now Angama Mara has a genuine Indian breakfast  special on its menu.

Of course, Nicky & Collins made sure we took some time out to enjoy game drives and a game walk  –  the driver Moses, and guide Fred, who looked after us were great and we had a memorable time.

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Angama Mara is truly special in that they have anticipated any need you may have, and taken care of it, and I have never felt so pampered at any other place in the Mara. Behind all of this, is the magnanimous spirit of Nicky Fitzgerald who truly wants her guests to be comfortable  – even going as far as to get her chefs to learn Indian cooking for the benefit of her Indian guests.

I will miss the cooks at Angama Mara, right from Joseph who handled all my preparations in advance, to Corry who picked up the techniques of naan, parathas and puris so quickly, to Irene who fries the best onions, Katana who used to finish all the food, not forgetting John who made a fantastic Indian omelette for breakfast on the last day.

Collins, Shannon, Tyler and Nicky are like family now, and I for one, can’t wait to go back to Angama Mara, hopefully with new recipes in tow.

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10 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT AN AFRICAN SAFARI

  1. Accommodation

Kicheche-Valley-2012-92

Although you may be booked to stay in a luxury Camp or Lodge, the accommodation will not be like staying in a city hotel. This does not mean that you have to ‘rough it’, but do take note that most Camps do not have airconditioning. A lot of the Camps don’t have proper shower facilities but use ‘safari showers’ – a contraption where water is filled in a canvas bag which is then hoisted up and fitted with a shower nozzle. Also a lot of Camps do not have running water in the individual tents, or even 24 hours electricity. However, all this serves to bring you closer to nature and you will enjoy your safari even more.

  1. Driving there

paws vehicle

If taking a road safari, the ride is likely to be bumpy and not very comfortable, as you will be travelling in a 4WD safari vehicle, more suited to savanna grasslands than tarmac roads.

  1. Flying there

airkenya

Flying to the various game parks and reserves is an awesome experience, but do know that if travelling in East Africa, these small planes can make upto 3 stops before landing at your airstrip. This is to drop off and pick up passengers from other Camps & Lodges, and is true for the return journey as well. If you are nervous about flying in smaller aircraft, you need to check on this to take this into consideration.

  1. Mobile reception

mobile internet

Most places in the bush have poor cell phone reception, so more often than not, you will not be able to upload pictures and other digital data. In extreme cases, even calling out is difficult and you may need to stand in a certain spot to capture the elusive signal, just to make a phone call. Once you are out on a game drive, the reception seems to get better.

  1. Bugs, bugs and more bugs

dungbeetle

There will be bugs in your room, your bathroom and your vehicle, as well as the dining and reception areas of the Camp/Lodge. If going on a walk, you will be accosted by flies, mosquitoes and all sorts of flying insects. Well, this is Africa ….so get used to them.

  1. Food, glorious food

You will never go hungry on safari – there is an abundance of food, starting from the early morning cookie with your wake up tea/coffee, to the breakfast buffet, salad lunches, decadent afternoon teas, sundowner nibbles, and delicious dinner menus. Your day is filled with fresh, tasty and yummy cuisine.

  1. Early starts

Being on safari means waking up before dawn and leaving your tent as the sun starts to show in the sky. However, don’t worry….you won’t be sent out without sustenance as early morning tea/coffee is served in your tent before you leave for your early morning game drive, or balloon safari.

  1. Rest room stops

There are no toilets on game drives which could last upto 4 hours, and the only alternative is to use the bush. Don’t forget to carry spare tissues and practice your squats beforehand. If you are squeamish about going in the bush, try to restrict your fluid intake until you are back at the Camp/Lodge.

  1. Extremes of weather

aws-the-nest-early-morning-tea

You may be exposed to extreme weather conditions, ranging from chilly early mornings on morning game drives and balloon safaris where you will need a light jacket or sweater, or gloriously hot, sunny late mornings and early afternoons, where even a t-shirt is an intrusion. Temperatures will drop at sunset, so if heading out for a night game, don’t forget the blankets, Maasai or otherwise. The key to comfort here, is layering.

  1. Hydration

Drop Falling into Water

It is very easy to slip into a routine where drinking water does not play a role, especially in Camps & Lodges where soft drinks, beers, wines and spirits are included in the cost. But do remember to keep hydrated as this will prevent illnesses that come about due to dehydration.

 

Take these 10 things into consideration for your African safari, and get ready for an epic safari!

 

 

5 TIPS FOR GORILLA TREKKING

A gorilla trekking safari in Rwanda is an unforgettable experience, and to ensure success on your trek, we have crossed all the Ts and dotted the Is for you…here is a list of great tips for a successful gorilla trek.

Dress for success

Be prepared for muddy trails and changeable weather so dress in layers, ensuring that the outermost layer is rain proof as rainstorms can happen at any time.  Opt for long pants rather than shorts, and tuck pants in socks to avoid ants (it is common to find red ants along the trail).

Your footwear needs to cover your ankles as you may have to wade through ankle deep mud, so get a pair of high hiking boots with good traction. Wear gloves to protect you from insects and the nettles and also to help grip the vegetation. Carry some insect repellant.

gorilla trekking

Carry some food & water

Once you enter the park, there is no place to buy food or water so make sure you carry some snacks (i.e energy bars) and water in a small backpack. Some treks last well into the afternoon so you will need some snacks to keep you going.

 

Communicate your fitness level to your guide

Rwanda is situated on a high altitude (1500 m above sea level), and the hike can take you to over 3000m. The treks are anything from an hour to over 8 hours so communicate your level of fitness to the guide to ensure you are placed in the right group. This will avoid you slowing down the group and struggling to keep up. Having said that, expect a long hike so be in the best physical shape you can be before the trip. Most people ask to trek to the Susa group as this is the group that Dian Fossey studied, but it is the most difficult one to trek to.

Mapendano 1

Hire a porter

Porters can be found at the trek starting point and you can hire one for about US$ 10. Not only will they carry your bag, but they will help you navigate the steep & slippery slopes.

 

Ensure your camera is ready

Flash photography is not permitted as it disturbs the gorillas to make sure you know how to turn this off. Understand your camera well so as to give you the best pictures possible – photos of gorillas in the forest tend to turn out dark due to underexposure, so you need to shoot with a high ISO. Carry your camera equipment in a waterproof bag to avoid it getting wet.

camera

Now that you have everything in place, you can comfortably book your gorilla safari.