Its 5 weeks and counting to my trip to Kenya. From the day I stepped onto African soil ten years ago for my honeymoon, my heart was captured. I vowed to get back as soon as possible. Unfortunately, it is not until now, 10 years later for our anniversary, that my husband and I have been able to return. I won’t let that long gap happen again.
To book our safari camps, I quickly settled on Uncharted Outposts, a USA-based custom travel company specializing in vetting independently-owned camps and tailoring a custom itinerary for each of its clients. The minute I spoke to Erin Fredrichs on the phone I knew I was in the right hands. Not only was she able to answer every question I threw out at her but she prepared a comprehensive itinerary including stunning photography, details of the safari camps, shots to get (luckily I needed only boosters), and visa requirements.
Since Erin was embarking on a 3-week trip to inspect many of the camps recommended by Uncharted Outposts, I asked her to give me a review of two of her favorites (not to include Mara Plains or Sirikoi camps where I am staying at – I will be providing dispatches on both and other stops during my trip). Not only is she a great travel consultant but also a skilled writer and photographer – having a masters in photojournalism came in handy! Most of the photos here were taken by her – shockingly on her iPhone as her Canon camera broke mid-trip.
Erin, tell us about your trip to Tanzania and Kenya
I spent 3 weeks in Tanzania and Kenya in March for a company trip, sleeping in 19 different beds over 21 days and conducting site inspections of the different properties we send clients to in the two countries. Because of the duration of the trip and the number of locations I visited, it certainly felt like more of whirlwind than a vacations (as it should – it was a business trip after all). Luckily, the I was able to squeeze in several game drives and cultural visits and get a taste for what my clients experience on their East African Safaris.
Before I left, my colleagues insisted that Africa would get under my skin, saturate my dreams and leave me longing to go back. They were right. There aren’t words that can accurately describe the feeling of awe that overwhelm when watching a family of four cheetahs tumbling and playing with each other. Seeing the massive elephant herds, moving as unit, flapping their ears to warn us to back away from them (they’ve got a baby to protect) makes eyes pop out of heads not unlike they do in cartoons. And actually watching the elusive leopard after catching a glimpse of her tail and resigning myself to the fact that would be all I’d see of her, and then rounding a corner to see her sitting, as I she was just waiting to present her self to me … it was like a gift.
I got in touch with primal fear like I never have during a sleepless night with a lion roaring outside my tent. I was convinced it was waiting for me to move just so it could use it’s massive paw to tear apart the canvas and devour me. I laid there, promising the universe all sorts of unrealistic things (quit drinking? Really?) in return for my life. In the morning, the host at the property tried to convince me lions see tents as solid objects … not penetrable meal tickets and I’m sure she’s right, she’s the one that sleeps without walls, only mosquito netting, every night in this magical place – but still. That fear, that story, that’s nothing that can ever fully be understood, only experienced. Much like Kenya and Tanzania – how do you tell people to go, that it’s a place that will get into your heart and they’ll cherish every minute? It does, they will. Trust me.
What did you love?
So much to love … but hands above the rest were the properties in the northern reaches of both Kenya & Tanzania.
In the Northern Frontier of Kenya, I visited Ol Malo, a small family run property near nothing and no one. I arrived by car, was met by camels, rode as far as they could walk safely before disembarking and finishing the journey by foot, to the river, where a full picnic lunch (including pizza) was laid out in the shade of a massive acacia. We spent the day swimming in the river, lounging on the banks, listening to the Samburu people herd their goats with their jiggling bells navigate the rocky shore. That evening, Andrew Francombe, the son of Rocky and Colin Francombe who built Ol Malo 20 years ago, threw some beef on the barbeque from cows raised on the land and regaled my companions and I with stories of growing up in the bush. After the river and before dinner, we were introduced to his beautiful wife Chyulu, who didn’t need much convincing to join Andrew in a life at Ol Malo. They were married on the property only a year ago.
In the Northern Serengeti of Tanzania, I stayed at a new property called Lamai. Built into the kopje on the side of the hill, with expansive views of the Serengeti and the Masai Mara Reserve just across the Mara River (only 10 miles north), this property is stunning. Each individual cottage was built with minimal impact on the land. From the valley below, it’s nearly impossible to spot the lodge because of how it harmonizes with it’s surroundings. Each morning, as the sun rose, I laid in the bed, shrouded by mosquito netting and marveled at my good fortune … I wanted to fly out my family to join me and have had lengthy conversations with my fiancé on the merits of actually tying the knot at this place. It’s eloquent without being haughty, simple without being barren and purely African.
What didn’t you love?
Loved it all.
Don’t bother with driving from property to property. Roads are terrible.
What not to miss
Make a visit to The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust which is a haven for baby elephants orphaned from poaching – a horrific situation that is sadly increasing at a rate not seen for decades. Due to my hectic schedule, I was only able to pop in for the public feeding at 11 am. And despite sharing the moment with hundreds of other tourists, it was fantastic. The handlers were thorough and succinct in their ability to tell the routine of the lives and the stories of how the elephants came to be there. And the elephants, oh the elephants, like children have wonderful personalities and are just a pleasure to watch.
What to Skip
Nairobi proper. Just overcrowded and dirty.
Would you return/recommend it to a friend?
In a heartbeat, on a daily basis.
Images courtesy of Uncharted Outposts and Erin Fredrichs and not for reproduction.