Grand Tours and
Safaris in Magical Kenya
"This congress has achieved its main objective, which is to enhance cooperation in the promotion and marketing of our African destinations in the United States of America. I believe it would be a great idea to have an umbrella tourism organization such as the Africa Travel Association that can supplement our promotion and marketing efforts in other tourist-generating markets such as Europe and Asia." Hon. Morris Dzoro, MP, Minister of Tourism and Wildlife, Kenya
As editors and publishers of Africa Travel Magazine, our recent 40-day stay in Magical Kenya was the grand finale of a two-year effort that will result in 3 new issues designed to shatter the media myths and set the record straight on Kenya's return to world prominence as a tourism superstar. Our photographic profiles of people, places and events are linked from the selections on the navigation bar at the top of each page. Like National Geographic, Africa Travel Magazine issues are "keepers, still in demand up to five years after publication date. This demand has been proven at our series of travel expos in the USA and Canada, some attracting up to 22,000 enthusiastic visitors. Africa Travel Magazine's exhibits anchor the Africa Section at shows across the USA and Canada starting the first week of January every year. Features from our new Showtime Edition, the Africa Yearbook, Air Highways to Africa, and Sports Tourism Edition are previewed on the ATA web site and following publication, complete issues will be available in downloadable pdf files. The opening capsules on this and succeeding pages are from visits to Kenya in May and June 2004 and 2005, the most recent of which included the ATA 30th World Congress.
Hell's Gate and the Great Rift Valley
Several things I loved best about the lodge is the panoramic view from the dining room, most especially the broad patio that overlooks the golf course, with Lake Naivasha on the horizon. From here we enjoyed several day trips. One was a cruise along the shores of Lake Naivasha, where we encountered hippos and a variety of waterfowl. We stayed at the Great Rift Valley Lodge, followed by two additional nights at one of the private golf course residences owned by the Mwangis. It was an unforgettable experience, and there's much more to come on this topic. Speedbird Travel and Safaris is in Nairobi's Westlands area. E-mail speedbird safaris
Service On Guard.
Stop and smell the
Lake Nakuru - Birds
Amboseli National Park
Minutes after our Kenya Airways jet touched down at Nairobi International Airport, following a cross-continent flight from Cameroon - - we were Amboseli bound. Spectacular sights on the route south included a panoramic 'passing parade,' with a backdrop of grassy fields and rolling hills covered with a blanket of lily white blossoms as far as the eye could see. In the foreground, every few miles stood Maasai herdsmen, alone or in pairs. From nine year olds to great grandfathers, they were guarding their mixed herds of cattle, sheep and goats. Clusters of wildlife mingled with the herd as we drew nearer to the park gates. One of the most enduring, endearing and colorfully garbed of African tribes, the Maasai culture has flourished since earliest times. Directly south of Nairobi in the shadow of the legendary, snowcapped Mount Kilimanjaro, Amboseli National Park was first on our list of Kenya's must-see attractions. The most compelling reason is its large concentrations and wide variety of wildlife. Little time was wasted in getting us out 'on Safari, " as no sooner than we checked in at the Amboseli Serena Safari Lodge, like Dr. Doolittle, we were off to see the animals.
The first Safari stop was at a nearby Maasai village, where we met and mingled with the chief and villagers; visiting their lodges, watching a fire-making demonstration, capturing some unique photos and bargaining for a seemingly endless selection of craft items. We ventured inside one of the dwellings, made entirely of indigenous materials, including dried elephant dung. This mixture keeps the homes cool in summer and protected from rain and biting winds in winter, as it has for generations.
At one point during our evening game drive from Serena's Amboseli Lodge, I was struck by the fact that you could look in every direction - 360 degrees -- and see some form of wildlife. A family of elephants on the horizon at 12 o'clock -- several frisky giraffes to the right - a herd of buffalo grazing on our left - and other grassland creatures bringing up the rear. George, our driver stopped for fifteen minutes as we watched two large Crested Cranes in attack mode. One was hopping about, spreading his wings and hunching his back defiantly as he approached a cobra, which lay by the side of the road totally unperturbed by all the cavorting and saber rattling.
On the Road
East African Wild
No Hollywood movie could ever match the real thing. In the theater of my mind, the most vivid image I have of the legendary Masai Mara, was standing like a sentinel, gazing out over the endless grasslands, while our 4wd ambled slowly along the trail. Spotting many varieties of wildlife and birds was quite a challenge. One could easily notice the larger and taller creatures milling about - giraffes, buffalo and elephants. But from our vantage point to the far horizon, I could just imagine how many thousand other creatures were hidden from human view. These denizens of the Masai Mara could leap and bound out of the tall grass at any moment -- wild boars, hyenas, graceful gazelles, a flock of guinea hens - you name it. Lions and cheetahs are prevalent, plus zebra, wildebeest, water-bucks, eland and topic. Above photo: View of Masai Mara from pool side at the Mara Serena Lodge.
In our two recent trips to Kenya, 12 months apart, we had the opportunity to enjoy the hospitality of the Mara Serena Lodge (top of page) on two separate occasions, and the second time we were pleased to meet Marlene Melton, an ATA tour operator form New York whose 19 guests were enjoying themselves to the limit. We also stayed at the Mara Sarova and Governor's Camp. Each location presented a different perspective on the Masai Mar as a perfect location of a safari. Being elusive, the wildlife might appear in greater numbers at one spot the first week, and move on to another grazing area the next. So when you go on a game driver, that's the chance you take.
In the Swahili language, an African Safari means a "journey," and this can involve each and every possible means of conveyance. Since launching Africa Travel Magazine a decade ago, Editor Jerry Bird and I have enjoyed a variety of safaris. For example, there was the highly popular "balloon safari," where our craft lifted off in the dusk at 5 am, skimming silently above the migrating herds, We then capped off the morning with a champagne brunch on the grassy plains. On several recent occasions, while touring East Africa, we joined an 'air safari," allowing us access to several distant locations in a few days. From balmy island beach resorts on the Indian Ocean islands, to different tented camps in the vast interior highlands, travel time was compressed into a few hours.
Masai Mara and Great Rift Valley
Kenya is often described as a cultural and geographical microcosm and the cradle of mankind, particularly where historians and geographers talk about the Rift Valley, one of the world's greatest wonders. That's why Kenya is such a popular movie site and the subject of so many classic and romantic novels. It's terrain stretches from the snowcapped peaks of Mount Kenya to the Indian Ocean islands, with their azure waters, coral reefs, teeming marine life and landscapes painted in a thousand shades of blue and green. Kenya's 50 or more ethnic groups add spice and another dimension to this diversity. Kenyans' renowned hospitality has been bringing visitors back for an encore since the 1800s. The Masai Mara, with its huge dramatic skies and panoramic views, is #1 of Kenya's game parks. Geographically, it extends from the Serengeti plains on the Tanzanian. In summer, migrating wildebeest, zebra and their entourage of followers, pour over the Tanzanian border, to create another magical sight one might call, " The greatest wildlife spectacle on earth." On the Mara River, one can take a waterborne safari to observe and photograph hippos, crocodiles, birds galore and wildlife of every description.
Life among the Maasai
We visited several authentic Maasai villages and marketplaces while in Kenya, and the hardest task was to resist spending a small fortune on the colorful arts and crafts in such abundant array. The Maasai are a major ethnic tribe of Kenya, whose members cherish and maintain their unique, nomadic culture and traditions, living in a natural environment, with mud thatched huts built from mud mixed with elephant or cow dung. A typical family dwelling can consist of an elder, with many wives and children, living together harmoniously. North Americans can learn much from these proud people, whose ancestors are said to have originated in North Africa. For more information on Kenya and the Maasai culture, be sure to order ATA's 30th Jubilee Yearbook, or visit www.africa-ata.org
It's hard to imagine how vast the annual migration is in peak season - usually summer our time. We spent two nights on the Masai Mara, the first stop was at the charming and hospitable Mara Sarova Tented Lodge, and our final overnight lodging was at the Mara Serena Lodge, perched on a forested hill overlooking the rolling, golden plains of the Masai Mara National Reserve. The day was spent on game drives through this natural Eden, tracking the lions and elephants and other denizens of the plains. By night, we experienced a sun downers evening, with campfires, Maasai dancing and bush dinners. Next morning we were awakened by a strange hissing sound, which caused some momentary concern. Looking out the window in the semidarkness, I discovered that it was the 'firing up' of a hot air balloon, that was about the load its guests for a predawn Safari.
Where Roses Bloom.
Our entire excursion, in and around Kenya, including the exciting safaris on the Amboseli and Masai Mara, was an experience that will last a lifetime. Even such seemingly small things as the scent of roses we encountered en route made an impact. As we passed Nyeri, we also learned that this beautiful agricultural and horticultural area was the final resting place of Lord Baden-Powell, who founded the Scout movement, which has helped millions of boys and girls get a good start in their teenage years, one of life's most challenging periods. Knowing this fact brought a flood of gratitude for the great man and his legacy. Our next trip's agenda will include a visit Baden-Powell's grave site, gardens and Paxtu cottage, which now houses a museum in his honor.
More about the Maasai
Here's what some current Kenya Tourist Board literature has to say about the Maasai culture: Linguistically, they are closest to the Bari of Sudan, with whom they share many customs, such as the shaving of women's heads. The Mara are divided into 12 separate geographical sections. Each section has its own territory. The Mara region is shared by three of these clans - the Siria, the Purko and the Loita - each having their own territory, dialect and customs. The Maasai are guided by a strong belief that they are the sole custodians of all the cattle on earth. This bond has led them into a largely nomadic way of life. All of the Maasai's needs are met by their cattle.
As a warrior, boys learn all the cultural practices, customary laws and responsibilities that they will require as elders. girls is very much of the hands of their parents who will choose a warrior from a respectable family outside their clan.
Despite their strong cultural beliefs and deep-rooted customs, the influence of other cultures and modern education have invariably let to a gradual erosion so some aspects of Maasai life. No one can completely escape the march of modern civilization. Many Maasai have moved away from the nomadic life to responsible positions in commerce and government (a Maasai heads the Kenyan Air Force, another manages a hotel) -- and despite the sophisticated lifestyle they may lead, many will happily head homewards dressed in designer clothes, only to emerge wearing shuka(a colorful piece of cloth), cow hide sandals and carrying a wooden club (orinka) - at ease with themselves and the world. The Kenya's Maasai are probably the most self-sufficient of all Kenyans. Today the Narok Maasai are custodians and managers of Africa's finest game reserve - the Masai Mara. They attract criticism - but only in Maasai land that we found wildlife in abundance and diversity of species. We should thank them for that.
Magic on the Big Screen
You can see "Magical Kenya" at your local theater, in the exciting movie Tomb Raiders II. Then you'll have some idea of why this country has been captivating generations of North American and world travelers. Africa Travel Magazine is going on the road again this summer and fall, to beat the drums for Kenya and other ATA member countries in North America and beyond.
Above photo: Mara Serena Lodge, overlooking one of the world's most spectacular wildlife reserves. Note how the unique exterior design reflects the East African culture. This same mode is featured throughout the lodge and surrounding grounds. Photo courtesy of Serena Hotels.
Nairobi in Bloom
Our two extended visits to Kenya were exactly one year apart. The first flight was across the continent from Cameroon with Kenya Airways, the second was from Seattle, via Los Angeles and London. One of our main impressions was the remarkable changes we saw in Nairobi in 12 months. First of all, the city streets, parks and boulevards had a more spruced up look, thanks to the new landscaping and creative street lighting program that is now fully underway, and an anti litter program in progress. Flower gardens were in bloom in the traffic circles, new lamp standards were sponsored by community conscious companies and life seemed brighter in many ways.
The longer we stayed, the more at home we felt. We discovered many great places to shop, from downtown and suburban malls to a variety of local craft markets in a park setting. One location we visited often and recommended to delegates was The Village Market (more on this exceptional complex later), Photos: Above- Windsor Hotel and Country Club with Nairobi skyline on the horizon. Right - the Nairobi Safari Club Hotel, our hosts on both visits to Kenya during this program.
The Orphans' Project:
Nairobi is indeed fortunate to have a National Park on its very doorstep. We visited the area often and took several hour one afternoon to visit an Elephant Orphanage inside the park and a Giraffe sanctuary nearby.
of the orphaned elephants, even though we have been at it
for a very long time, for us remains an ongoing learning
experience and a source of wonder, filled with moments of
joy and sadness, plus surprises on an almost daily basis.
This animal duplication of a Big Brother series is recorded
in the Keepers' Diary which is posted on the Trust's website
monthly and keeps the elephants many foster-parents
involved. Following the daily life of a newborn baby as it
passes through its fully milk dependent infancy, watching it
gradually grow through childhood, one gets to know each one
intimately as one follows its daily activities and
adventures. Friendships blossom and hit glitches, just as in
human society, joy and happiness as well as sadness and
grief at the loss of a loved one is evident, and one its
amazed by the outpouring of compassion and caring for those
younger or the less fortunate.
Famous Doors of Hospitality
Africa Travel Association's 30th World Congress in Nairobi,
Kenya our delegates and guests from North America, Africa
and beyond had a unique opportunity to experience the high
standards of quality and hospitality at Utalii College. The
occasion was a gala dinner, prepared and served by students
on the main campus at Utalii. Later in our 40 days of
travels, our editors met and interviewed Utalii graduates at
hotels and lodges throughout the country. Some of these
encounters are in our photo
During the past ten years with Africa Travel magazine, we
have enjoyed many opportunities to be served by Utalii grads
across the continent. There will be much more to come on
this exciting topic, and how you, your friends and family
can receive training at this exceptional learning
For a full month, during and following the ATA World Congress, the InterContinental was home. In fact, many observers were starting to think we were part of the staff. We are anxious to share some personal impressions- f and will do so soon. For now, here are some comments from the hotel web site. "Standing at the top of the upscale market, on the verge of the luxury segment, InterContinental is the leading international hotel brand serving the needs of the frequent business traveler. Nairobi. The city than shimmers in the heart of Kenya's Savannah. Just a few hours' drive from the very cradle of mankind, it is a modern, cosmopolitan home to people from every continent."
Mr. Roger Kacou, an ATA Director, is General Manager and Regional Vice President for Eastern Africa, responsible for Nairobi, Lusaka and Asmara InterContinental Hotels in his regional position. Mr. Roger Kacou is a holder of a Masters Degrees in Hotel Administration from Cornell University and Economics Science from Abidjan University. Mr. Kacou is a multi-lingual and speaks English, French and Spanish. He has been a keen participant in the Africa Travel Association and has worked very closely with ATA to assist in promoting tourism in Africa.
Nairobi's Historic Norfolk
Visiting Nairobi's Tudor style Norfolk Hotel is like taking a journey into British colonial history. Stopping for a Ken ya Tourist Board prearranged luncheon at this elegant hotel, we were greeted like royalty and seated at a pleasant, garden side table next to the main dining room, where we later shared a few pleasant moments with several of the staff who filled us in on the hotel's amazing story. Among the many offerings on the noon buffet menu, was a highly polished silver steamer, brimful with king-size prawns. Only on rare occasions do I take the time to photograph a meal in progress, but this was for the record. Another feast was presented on the dining room walls, where a gallery of black and white photographs portrays life in Kenya from the 1800s through to the 1950s. We could have stayed the entire day gazing at these unique images - and vow to return.
Mombasa's Magical Sands and Sparkling Sea
When the time came to choose a razzle dazzle, upbeat photo for the cover of Africa Travel Magazine's 30th World Congress Edition, the Kenya Coast fishing scene won hands down. In our vocabulary, it was a keeper! Talk about sensual appeal - one glance and you can smell the salty air, feel the rocking of the wooden dhow, the sun's warm rays and the kiss of a gentle sea breeze on your face. Quick now! Can't you just savor the steamy, succulent red lobster, fresh from the Indian Ocean. In the theater of the mind, that magical scene alone was sufficient bait for us to take off on what became an unforgettable visit to Mombasa. As it turned out many of our wishes and dreams for a pleasant, laid back coastal paradise were fulfilled. Kenya's Minister of Tourism and Wildlife, Hon. Morris Dzoro comes from the area, and informed us of his ministry's far reaching plans for Mombasa itself and other coastal centers. We would also be fortunate in spending some quality time with the Mombasa and Coast Tourism Association and many of its members individually.
From Nairobi by
Next to the Nairobi Station is a railway museum that contains all the secrets of this historic route, and outside in the yard are some living examples of the original steam engines and coaches that carried passengers across East Africa in their heyday. A large, ornate clock from the period with Roman numerals adorns the museum's outer wall. We bought a book that tells of the railway's birth, when it was known as the Uganda Railway and built using a seemingly endless supply of labor from Imperial India. There are blood-curdling tales of how hungry lions preyed on the workers and at one time seized a railway manager right off the train. The museum is open daily from 8.45 am to 6.45 p.m., including most public holidays. Besides the collection of steam locomotives and rolling stock, you will find many smaller exhibits and models on display. Since the Museum in Nairobi is still rail-connected, restored locomotives have easy access to the main line for working steam excursions.
One of the first things we learned is that the Kenya Railway runs on time. Shortly after our train pulled away from Nairobi Station, the dinner gong sounded and we joined the other passengers in the dining car. To our surprise, the metal dinner plates and white linen table cloths so common in Colonial times were still in use. No soda pop, peanuts or cold ham sandwiches for us. While both full course meals served aboard the train are included in the price, there is a reasonable charge for wine, beer or spirits. The dining car passengers were varied, some young girls at the opposite table were from Iceland visiting Africa for the first time; another guest whom we enjoyed talking to was a 90 year old many from Malindi, who was a Kenya Railway official back in the 1940s, We plan to visit him and listen to some great railway stories on our return to the coast, perhaps this fall. The view we observed during the evening meal was of Nairobi's outskirts, however the most memorable vistas along on the historic line went unseen, as the train passed through Tsavo National Park and other scenic areas while the passengers were tucked away in their cozy bunk beds.
We were lulled to sleep in no time by the train's vibration, with the rhythm of the wheels and a fresh breeze coming in from the open window. For added convenience, we had adjoining coaches, each with an, upper and lower berth. It's an ideal arrangement for families with small children. As a rail travel enthusiast I am watching the news carefully as talk of an impending sale is taking place. Someday soon, perhaps this coming year, a wise entrepreneur will discover the value of rail as a tourist attraction, His group will not only upgrade the services, food and facilities, but will add a day time schedule like the Rocky Mountaineer did in Western Canada. Its founder Peter Armstrong, a former bellhop, captured a segment of the Japanese market that no one had even considered at the time. Another great entrepreneurial example is Rohan Vos of Rovos Rail in Pretoria.
Read about Kenya's famous Olympic Athletes of the Century from our interview with Dr. Kipchoge Keino, head of Kenya's National Olympic Committee of Kenya (left). In addition to Hon. Morris Dzoro, Minister of Tourism and Wildlife, our interviews and visits included Kenya Tourist Board, Kenya Tour Operators Association, Mombasa and Coast Tourist Association, African Airlines Association, Kenya Airways, Kenya Ministry of Transport, Kenya Travel Agents Association, Kenya Chamber of Commerce, Kenya Wildlife Service, East Africa Wildlife Society, Mombasa Air Safaris, East African Auto Rally Village Market, The Standard Group and Kenya Civil Aviation Authority. We interviewed hoteliers, such as the Serena and Alliance group, New Stanley, Norfolk, Nyali Beach, Windsor, Kenya Comfort Hotel, InterContinental, Travelers, Holiday Inn, Sarova, Governors Camp and Nairobi Hilton. We experienced the magic of Utalli College in turning African students into ambassadors of hospitality around the world. These people and many others we met at the ATA 30th World Congress in Nairobi will be heard from in our Africa Travel Yearbook and future editions of Africa Travel Magazine.
Windsor Golf Hotel
The Norfolk was the base from which many great adventurers began their exploration of the region, making the hotel the place where the "safari" was born. This was where US President Roosevelt began his world famous safari in 1909 setting out from the front steps of the hotel into the wilderness.
Throughout the 20th century adventurers, the safari set, royalty, world leaders, statesmen and movie stars have all enjoyed the Norfolk's stylish ambiance and relaxed charm. Writers ranging from Hemingway and Elspeth Huxley to Kenya's most famous author, Karen Blixen, have all immortalized the hotel.
The town and later the modern city of Nairobi grew up around The Norfolk, which still has its own private tropical gardens. The hotel is still the traditional starting point for safaris and the Lord Delamere Terrace is modern Nairobi's most famous meeting place, where drinks and light meals are served continuously from morning until midnight.
The Norfolk offers accommodations in 168 ensuite rooms and suites, has three conference rooms, the largest seating 175 delegates, a heated outdoor swimming pool, health club with gym, sauna and steam room, beauty salon, book shop and gift shops. Room rates start at US$250 per room per night.
We have 100s of photos from ATA's 30th World Congress and tours, plus photo stories of world famous athletes such as Dr. Kipchoge Keino, head of Kenya's National Olympic Committee.
Amboseli lies immediately North West of Mt. Kilimanjaro, on the border with Tanzania. Amboseli was established as a reserve in 1968 and gazetted as a National Park in 1974. The Park covers 392 km2, and forms part of the much larger 3,000 Km2 Amboseli ecosystem. Large concentrations of wildlife occur here in the dry season, making Amboseli a popular tourist destination. It is surrounded by 6 communally owned group ranches. The National Park embodies 5 main wildlife habitats (open plains, acacia woodland, rocky thorn bush country, swamps and marshland) and covers part of a Pleistocene lake basin, now dry. Within this basin is a temporary lake, Lake Amboseli, that floods during years of heavy rainfall. Amboseli is famous
The Lodge: In harmony with nature, the Amboseli Serena Safari Lodge, being located in the center of Maasai territory, reflect the tribe's colorful culture in its architecture and interior design. (more to come)
The Crested Crane of Africa resembles a peacock and flies in wedge shaped formation during migration. Its animated courtship dance involves bowing and hopping about noisily while circling its partner. The cranes we saw at Amboseli performed a similar version to scare off, or at least impress the cobra.