I have just returned at the weekend from a two week Kenyan holiday and thought I might just share some of my experiences.
First of all I might address my security concerns. On arriving in Kenya I have to say that I was very wary, I planned to sleep with a knife under my pillow but have to say within minutes I was at ease and never once thereafter felt unsafe, I actually felt quite foolish that I had taken my penknife and put it securely away. We were well looked after by our tour company, more on that later, and the Nairobi mall we visited was security checked at had armed guards on all the doors. Kenya has suffered a loss of tourism of late according to all I asked but I would urge people to reconsider changing their plans to visit Kenya. I was majorly excited to hear a lion roaring outside my tent one evening; we were also visited by monkeys, zebras and a rouge hippo in the camps at night, all quietly shooed away by the Maasai guards on duty each night.
One night was spent at the southern sun hotel as a pit stop and it was very comfortable and the breakfast the night morning was fabulous.
2 nights at the world famous Giraffe manor were everything I had dreamed about. The service was fantastic, food fabulous and one of the nicest hotels I have ever stayed in.
Then onwards for a 12 day safari…………I researched long and hard to find a tour company that would meet our needs. For me eco-tourism was very important and in a country that has major water conservation problems it was essential that no baths or pools were available and the camps have as little impact as possible on the environment and that the wildlife we saw was in as natural environment as possible i.e. not surrounded and stressed by dozens of jeeps.
The tour company we used was Gamewatchers and we visited their 4 Porini camps in different conservancies and I will review these later. The decision was the perfect one for us. I loved the conservancies. For all but two days we were lucky enough to not see another vehicle all day. The time of year was also perfect as high season had not yet kicked off and many of the days we did not have to share a jeep. Porini delivered in all areas including seeing the big 5! We had rain for half a day only, and in fact during this time saw more wildlife!
In Ol Pejeta conservancy we were blown away by the Rhinos, how fabulous. In one day we saw 22 rhinos with no difficulty, including the black, southern white and northern white.
The guides used by Gamewatchers are all Maasai warriors whose depth of knowledge was immense and vastly superior to some other guides we met who were from all over Kenya. Each vehicle had both a driver and a guide, many other companies seemed to have only a driver. Gamewatchers jeeps were by far the best and most appropriate vehicles used on any of the conservancies we visited.
The eco-camping continued as we took bucket showers to order, all water and electricity generated by solar panels, there are no generators and the camps are not permanently constructed to have little impact on the environment. Yet the tents were huge, comfortable, clean, bug free (this is a big deal for me) hot water bottles warmed up the beds at night. Filtered water was provided in all the rooms in glass bottles to cut down on the plastic variety. All in all the camps provided that perfect balance of comfort with understated elegance and eco-friendliness.
Food was lovely, all you could need for breakfast including a lovely bowl of porridge to start the day. 3 courses for lunch and dinner, no choices available but the chef did always check on food requirements at each camp. My birthday cake specially made was so lovely and as the Maasai danced and sang to me I was made to feel very special indeed.
From Rhino camp we visited Amboseli where the hundreds of elephants on the plains blew me away, then the Ol Kinyei conservancy where we saw many hundreds of animals including lions and giraffes and lastly the Porini Lion Camp on the Olare Orok Conservancy where within 30 minutes we had seen 4 lions, 3 cheetahs and a leopard!
One day we travelled into the Mara main reserve and despite a great day of a balloon ride and lunch by the river with hundreds of hippos I was quite upset by the sight of 15 jeeps surrounding a cheetah trying to drag a kill to her cubs and being blocked on all sides by vehicles. I refused to let our driver get close and asked instead to leave the area, the cheetah was getting really stressed and was trying to leave the kill behind. I know little of the regulations as regards game viewing but this scene to me was so wrong and everything we had been trying to avoid.
On the many occasions where we were lucky enough to be the only viewers of private moments including a mother cheetah nursing cubs, mating lions and vultures fighting over a zebra carcass I basically stuck to a 10minute rule as I felt privileged to view these moments but felt that any longer would have been intrusive. One lady at one of our camps basically stalked certain animals all day, following them for hours and setting up camp almost beside them for photographing, I just felt this was wrong, there has to be a balance.
One thing I absolutely loved about the Gamewatchers experience was the impact the company has had on the local community. We talked to many local people and we were delighted that the policy is to employ people as part of the conservancy agreement from the local community and they were very proud to be associated with Gamewatchers. In one camp there were 32 staff, all from the local villages. Drivers, guides, cooks alike, all treated the same. We saw with our own eyes the school, clinics and water wells built with money from the company for the local community. The village elders we met proudly showed us their village and livestock.
We were delighted with the majority of the company we met through most of the camps, various Americans, some Mexicans, Norwegian, Brits and Indians, all were delightful. Seems however not everyone had done the dos and don’ts like we had however and I had to smile and offer advice on 3 consecutive nights when ladies were telling me they had a suitcase full of lollipops and bubble gum for children who have no access to dental care! Oh one won’t hurt them was their reply on all 3 occasions….really? Only one per visitor per day = tooth decay!
I was just a little perturbed by the lack of sensitivity to smoking, some people even lighting up in the mess tent one evening forcing my husband to leave and go to bed. One gent stopped and lit a cigar at every jeep stop. These were really minor points but evidence of the lack of research on safari etiquette.
This was a once in a lifetime experience for me, it was well researched and met all my expectations. The Kenyan people as expected have smiles as wide as the Mara, so proud, so friendly and so very eager to help
From someone who absolutely hates flying, is a little high maintenance, likes designer shoes, hates ALL bugs and never goes out without make up on all I can say is that a holiday involving 12 flights, ugly old boots, no hairdryer or make up for 2 weeks in a country with hundreds of bugs was a dream I will never forget. Thank you Kenya!