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Archive for November, 2009

Day 23: Journey’s End Nov 30


On my last day in Kenya, I spent several hours sitting in the shade of coconut palms fringing the coastal beach south of Mombasa observing a constant stream of human and animal activity: fisherman, hawkers, acrobats and jugglers, camel drivers, and the curious local monkeys.


Three men dressed in the traditional crimson garb of the central Maasai Mara plains walking down the beach caught my attention since they were obviously far from home and quite out of place. They paused long enough for me to capture their ethereal image in the shimmering noonday light. We were literally at land’s end. I was at my journey’s end and I wondered if they were too.

It was time to go home.

I had scaled high hurdles just to get to Kenya.

Was it worth it? Heck yeah! Would I do it again? Well, . . . let me check my Wish List.  The Spice Islands of Zanzibar, the Seychelles, Mauritus and Reunion – all islands off the east coast of Africa. And I know there are even more extraordinary experiences awaiting in Botswana.

Every serious traveler has a Travel Wish List. What’s on yours for 2010?

If you’d like to be added to my private invitation list for future getaways, e-mail me:

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Day 22: Coconut Mocktail Nov 27

Turn around 180 degrees for an expansive view of a beach that seems as wide as it is long. Diani Beach stretches out to waves coming in from the Indian Ocean beckoning you into the warm water. The sand is firm and perfect for jogging but there’s little activity at this time of day. That will soon change.









The beach bar is just opening for business. A vendor is setting up racks of sarongs. A man strolls by with hand-woven hats. Another with bags for sale.

2007_1107kenya0337A hotel attendant walked by. Could he get me anything?, he inquired. Some of the resorts in the South Pacific offer fresh coconuts. I asked if they had any, not realizing that a staff member would be dispatched to climb a palm tree and fetch me a fresh green drinking nut. It was quickly sliced open and handed to me with a straw inserted. A perfectly refreshing coconut mocktail.


2007_1107kenya03221And then I met the resident colobus monkeys – inquisitive, mischievious and completely fearless. They alone provided hours of free entertainment. They would walk right up, look over you and your belongings and perhaps abscond with a small item left unattended.


My only regret is that I have only 1 day and 1 night here. Barely 24 hours, enough time to look around but not really do much.

I had brought a stck of small bills, 5s, 10’s, some 1’s, for tips. Both camps had staff gratuity boxes and driver/guides were given tips directly. Some companies offer ultra all-inclusive trips. Gratuities were not expected in that case.

I had a little money left. I was leaving the next day and I knew I would have some time at the airport. I wandered into the duty free store to grab some gifts and souvenirs. At the check-out counter, the cashier informed me that credit cards were NOT accepted, only cash. On the way back to the gate, I finally noticed the ATM machine with a very, very long line. How had I not seen that before? Now it made sense to me. Strcitly cash and carry.

I would arrive home with less than $10 U.S.

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Day 21: Sands of Nomad Nov 25

Well, you know, The Sea Goddess must always gravitate to the sea.  Another short  flight from the Masai Mara takes us to a small airport near the coast, just south of the port city of Mombasa. 

I can feel the difference in the humidity. I can almost smell the sea salt. There is ocean nearby.

ocean front rooms

ocean front rooms

I promised you interesting places with character. No generic chain hotels. A few minutes drive brings us to the Sands at Nomad boutique hotel on Diani Beach. As we wind up the driveway through the coastal forest, our first view of the traditonal Swahili architecture is quite striking. 

This hotel is small but full service. It offers a pool and jacuzzis, a pool bar, a beach bar, an alfresco restaurant , a spa, a dive shop and internet center. It had been several days since I was last able to check e-mail. The computers were very popular with the guests and seemed to always be in use.

interior view of suite

interior view of suite

The accommodations consist of rooms, suites and bungalows dressed in hand carved mahogany furniture and Swahili objets d’art,  the inspriation of designer and local artist Mario Scianna.

All the units are air-conditioned and I noticed mosquito netting for the first time on this trip. I wasn’t sure if it was for purely decorative or practical puroses until I found it lowered at night by the invisible housekeeping staff.

The beach front bungalows were all occupied so I was unable to get the manager to let me take a peak. Judging by the exotic exterior: the unusual domed shape, the thatched roofing and the curtained patio daybed, I’m sure it was equally lovely inside.

Throughout my journey, I had met many more European than North American travelers. Of course, it’s a much shorter trip for them. I was also fascinated to learn that most Americans rarely venture out to this part of Kenya for a coastal safari. Whereas British, German, French and Italian tourists frequently come for some R&R with sun, sand and sea.

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Day 20: Mass Exodus Nov 24

Tourists from around the globe visit in the summer months to view the annual wildebeest migration from the Serengeti Plains in neighboring Tanzania. Millions of wildebeest move north in search of food during the months of June through September. Tagging along in the visual food chain are zebras, lions, cheetahs and hyenas.




As the thundering herd  crosses the Mara river, there are other dangers: hippos lying on the river bank or submerged in the water. And then there are the 18-20 foot long crocodiles seen here doing a little lazy sunbathing. Our guide made sure we were at a safe distance – on the opposite bank.

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Day 19: Hello Kitty Nov 23

2007_1107Kenya0209Wildlife photographer, Lisa Asch and wildlife artist, Peter Blackwell, both long time friends of professional hunter and filmmaker Alex Walker, radioed our driver with the location of a family of cheetahs.


Our driver was very skilled at knowing how to get just close enough to staidfy the humans but not too close to disturb the wildlife. Time always seemed to stand still when we were observing wildlife. We could just sit there for hours. But another driver called to respectfully request a turn for his guests and we quietly retreated, grateful for the rare opportunity.

We did pass other safari vehicles from the numerous other camps in the  Masai Mara but we never felt crowded. In some national parks in Africa, animals get completely surounded by vehicles, including mini buses and I have even heard, full size buses. We didn’t see this type of mass tourism and frankly, it would have ruined the experience.


Our driver/guide had tried for two days to find a leopard but it proved elusive on this trip as did the rhino. I would just have to come back.

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Day 18: Big Cat Country Nov 21

2007_1107Kenya0246We sat perfectly still. Not a sound except for the clicking of cameras. We all held our breath as the loiness loped casually in our direction. She walked from right to left directly in front of our 4×4 vehicle.


I had a sudden random thought.  We were only a few feet away. I wondered if she eaten recently or if she would suddenly leap at one of us. A single quick graceful pounce is all it would have required.
Fortunately, we were together in a group, not out here solo. Safety in numbers, I like to think.


She continued on her way, not taking any interest in us. We remembered to breathe again.

Our driver knew the location of 2 lionesses with several young cubs. We sat only yards away watching these energetic little bundles of fur playfully tumbling over rocks, each other and their mothers for well over an hour. Another delightful surprise. We reluctantly left when the light was completely lost.


Do you see one mother sitting behind the rocks?
Hint: look for the back of her head between the cubs.

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Day 17: Hunter’s Lodge Nov 20

We find ourselves at a distinctively different type of tented accommodation here at Serian Camp in the Maasai Mara region. This is a seasonal wilderness camp with a much more rugged and rustic and masculine feeling since it was designed by owner, Alex Walker, big game hunter turned conservationist.

2007_1107kenya0124Eight marquee-style tents are spaced well apart and tucked into the vegetation along the banks of the Mara River. Each is constructed on a raised platform with hardwood poles and heavy canvas. Furniture is minimal with a bed, a clothing cupboard and  small desk inside and directors chairs outside on the veranda.


2007_1107kenya0129You have to unzip the entrance, step out through the opening and go traipsing along the deck with your flashlight or solar lantern to your facilities at night. The open-air bathroom is to one side with a shower and flush toilet plus the luxury of a long and deep bathtub.  The acting manager offered 2 personal recommendations: drawing a hot bubble bath and watching the sun rise while sipping your morning (wake up call) hot chocolate.


There are 3 new larger units with interior bath on the opposite side of the river accessed by a suspension bridge. These tents are on the river bank at ground level, only a few yards from the resident hippos in the water looking back at YOU!

2007_1107kenya0141You will hear them grunting loudly, especially at night when they come lumbering up onto the banks. This presents one of the few real dangers. It’s important to know NOT to take a stroll around the  grounds without your personal Maasai guard who is posted outside at all times. Since my tent was isolated at the end of a long dirt path, I accepted the escort to and from the main lodge.

 Later, when I returned from dinner and slipped underneath the covers, I discovered that someone had thoughtfully placed a hot water bottle between the sheets. I found it cozy and comforting considering there is no electricity and no heat in these units.

I awoke several times during the night and listened to the animal noises outside in the darkness.

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Day 16: School’s In Nov 19

I was still getting over my severe disappointment from yesterday. I had anticipated the visit to a Maasai village for weeks and it had fallen short of the accounts I had read. I asked the managers at the Serian Camp more about it after we returned. The village had been chosen based on proximity, not the quality of the experience.

Today’s visit to the regional Maasai school would prove to be completely different and a delightful surprise. It would turn out to be the true highlight of the entire trip!

We would be delivering a donation of school supplies to the principal to distribute in turn to the staff. I had imagined that we would drop off the gift and continue on our way. But he proudly insisted that we tour the school, visiting the classrooms and students who would ultimately receive those items.

We were graciously ushered in and formally introduced room by room to the teachers and their students who all understood English. (In case you hadn’t already figured it out from previous references, this is another vestige of British colonialism). They inquired about where we had come from. It hadn’t occurred to me that we would be interesting to them as foreign visitors.


I was startled to see approximately 100 uniformed first and second graders squeezed 3 or 4 to a desk in one room with 2 teachers. They giggled with delight as I took their photos and showed them the digital images. I thought about these little tykes walking, often barefoot, several miles each day to and from school from their villages. They could easily encounter animals much larger than they were.


Global philanthropy has become a very important concept in world travel. There are opportunities to connect with people in more personal and meaningful ways through participation in community projects, school donations and conservation efforts in many countries today. Volunteer vacations are another increasingly popular way to travel and make a contribution.

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Day 15: Local Color Nov 18

Another time-saving flight and we are landing at the Wilson airstrip in the Maasai Mara Game Reserve to the southwest.

The Maasai Mara offers the greatest concentration and diversity of wildlife in Kenya. But first, let’s sidetrack for a cultural safari. The local Maasai are a handsome people – tall, slender and elegant. They are known for their distinctive woven red fabrics and elaborate beaded jewelry. Their beautiful ebony skin and brightly colored attire contrast sharply with the dusky earth tones of the surrounding savannah.

It is possible to visit a Maasai village or manyatta with a guide contingent on the permission of the chief. The settlement is comprised of a circle of rounded huts made from a framework of sticks packed with dung.  These are low structures with several small unadorned rooms inside for family members and perhaps a small calf.

2007_1107kenya0263Women from the tribe welcome visitors with song. Next,  young men demonstrate their strength and agility with a jumping ritual. The Maasai are traditionally herdsmen with cattle being their source of food, status and wealth. The cattle are brought into the center at night to protect them from predators.

Outside the compound, another circle has been set up with a huge assortment of handicrafts displayed on hand woven cloths: intricately beaded bracelets and necklaces,  hand woven siskal baskets, wood carvings of indigenous animals. 

I hope you brought some cash with you today. Remember the economy here operates on cash, not credit. Greenbacks are most welcome as are European currencies. But be sure to inquire about the prices before you scoop up an armful of souvenirs and gifts. I witnessed one traveler make this mistake. She had a severe case of sticker shock when the total came to over $200 U.S.!  That’s two hundred, not twenty. These were very expensive trinkets. An interesting negotiation ensued.


My impression is that this particular village has become accustomed to a steady stream of foreigners. One of the chief’s sons gave us a rather cursory tour and answered our questions but quickly led us to the shopping opportunity. I know that cash flow has far reaching benefits for local residents in these areas. However, this village seemed a little jaded from perhaps too much superficial contact.

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Day 14: Bush Breakfast Nov 17

6 a.m. The day is just waking. It is still and quiet and calm. The warm rays of the African sun welcome you into another day of safari adventure. I hear  a soft knocking. The butler with morning tea, as promised.

As soon as we’re ready, it’s off into the bush for an early morning game run in the crisp, cool air. A light jacket or sweater is needed now but it will be quickly discarded as the day progresses. The dew is quickly disappearing as we depart in search of wildlife. Herds of zebra and families of lanky giraffe, our  familiar friends from yesterday. Animals are converging on the waterhole and predators are already on the prowl.

I should also mention that several other types of touring are available. A game drive is conducted with open-top vehicular transport. A bush walk is on foot at ground level and a very different pace. You can view flora and fauna at your leisure but you must have an armed guide with you for safety. You may also elect to go on a horse or camel safari. (I discussed elephant trekking with the smaller Asian elephant on Day 22 of my Thailand Virtual Tour on October 28). For a panoramic aerial view of this spectacular terrain, a balloon safari can be arranged.


Driving back to the camp, we suddenly turn and find ourselves at the river bank where a surprise awaits us – the staff has set up tables and chairs and brought a hearty English breakfast out to us. We have  a full selection of  fresh fruit and juices, hot beverages, eggs to order, breakfast meats, toast with jams, pancakes, basically anything we could desire has been transported out to the bush for our al fresco breakfast. And there’s plenty of time to enjoy the view, the meal and the company.


We will also have another game drive this afternoon. Tomorrow, it is time to leave and journey on to the next location. I wish I had just one more day here.