When going on an African safari, there’s a lot of pre-planning. Many things have to be arranged. Visas, vaccinations, anti-malaria medication, and of course proper packing. Fortunately, as we booked our plans with Natural Habitats, they sent us detailed instructions and guides on everything we needed to do and exactly how to do it. We traveled in August to observe the Great Migration, where every year enormous wildebeest herds over a million strong, travel from Tanzania to Masai Mara in Kenya and back. It was for some of us, our first visit first in Africa. So, when we flew out to Nairobi Airport, via Amsterdam, we hoped we were prepared, but we didn’t quite know what to expect in terms of accommodations.
It was thus to our happy surprise, that the Natural Habitat team (who met us at the airport with our own personal hostess), drove us to the House of Waine. This is a small, elegant, boutique hotel situated on 2.5 manicured acres of grounds and includes a pool. The decoration and ambience, we all agreed, felt like something out of a story by Hemingway. It set the tone for a trip that would eclipse all our hopes, not only for wildlife spotting, but also for the comfort and luxury. We stayed in well furnished, individual tents, with flushing toilets, where bucket showers could be ordered on schedule. For meals, we dined on a table set with white linen and drank from good wine goblets with local crafted art for centerpieces. The food was uniformly excellent. Far better than any of us ate at home. My mother has celiac’s disease and needed gluten free cuisine which has often been a problem in the U.S., but she never had the slightest difficulty during our eight day trip, spread out at two different camp sites.
Indeed, the staff to visitors ratio was so high, and the service so exceptional, we felt almost guilty at points. But as our most excellent guide, Isaac, pointed out (when I once argued perhaps I shouldn’t get one of the staff to do some task for me), this type of service creates employment within the local community. Camp personnel, were often from local villages. And Natural Habitat donates millions of dollars each year to conservation efforts in the area.
Since the majority of our trip was spent riding along in jeeps trying to spot animals, I’m not going to do an itemized itinerary of our days as I have in recounting past trips. In Kenya, the days seemed to blend together as one, but with vivid experiences. Thompson gazelles running across the grasslands. Picnic meals with views of zebras. Wildebeests as far the eye could see walking in perfect formation. Having a glass of wine around a campfire in the Bush, at sunset only to be serenaded by local Mara villagers. Watching two elephants have a serious political dispute over the fruits of a date tree. The night sky filled with endless stars and seeing the Southern Cross. Cheetahs preying on a carcass, their faces red with blood. Lion cubs pouncing on one another. Giant families of Giraffes grazing on acacia trees. And a hundred more sights as well. All of them fantastic and memorable. The last day we flew out of Masai Mara park and spent the day at another luxurious hotel in Nairobi while awaiting our flights out of the country. As everyone said fond farewells to each other, the prevailing sentiment was going back to ordinary life would be such a comedown.
Top photo Bigstock: Zebra mingle with thousands of wildebeest on the banks of the Mara River during the great migration. In the Masai Mara, Kenya. Every year 1.5 million wildebeest make the trek from Tanzania to Kenya