RETURN TO KENYA
Leora Rothschild | A Family Safari
After a long dry spell (thank you COVID), I was able to take my family back to Africa for a family safari.
I will admit that I did feel a little concern that there was so much hype and excitement about our family safari that it could have led to disappointment. Well, let me just say that none of us were really that excited to come home after our three-week adventure…and here is why:
We flew Emirates. Just a great airline – the staff are just wonderful, the food was good and of course, the seats were very spacious. We flew coach class. I was just happy to be on a flight! I think I would have even flown in the baggage compartment at that stage😊.
On arrival we were met planeside (as all our clients are) and shuffled past the crowds. Our visas and passports were sorted super-quickly and before we knew it we had our bags and were stepping out of the airport into Nairobi. Holding onto each of my girls’ hands, we lifted our hands to the air and did a little arrival dance – woo hoo, we made it! After all the nonsense with paperwork, filling out this and that, COVID this and COVID that, we were finally here… and it felt SO DARN good.
We spent our first night in the little neighborhood of Karen at Eden Hotel – a small boutique property; a little funky in style with huge four-poster beds, extremely comfortable, and a large bathtub with Epsom salts to soak away the jetlag. Next morning refreshed we headed to the Giraffe Center to kiss a giraffe or two (they quickly told me “no kissing”, something about COVID or something – yep, that again – but I had already plastered my lips on one and it felt so great to be so close to the Rothschild Giraffe once again).
The Maasai Mara
First stop of our family safari was the Mara and House in the Wild. In the wild it certainly is: our little cottages sat on a bend of the Mara River, so in the mornings I could sit quietly on the deck watching and listening to the wildlife awaken – it was honestly magical. Our stay here was outstanding. With our fabulous guide we got to see so much game, we spent time with Tarquin (one of the owners) – that was a lot of fun – and our friends from Nairobi flew up for a night. We enjoyed spectacular sundowners, the most delicious food (now I wish I had bought their cookbook – guess I will have to pop back to get it!). It was one of those places I could have stayed for a week and not been bored. It’s all here: the game, the culture, the black and white rhino and you can even play a little tennis if your pants are starting to feel a little tight from the overindulgence!
We proceeded to the Naibosho Reserve within the Mara for our next stop at Mara Nyika. Owned by Great Plains Conservation, this property lacks nothing. In the Relais & Chateaux family, they are true to their accolades. Food was amazing, staff and our guide were just over the top and the game in this area was also magical. One afternoon I lay in the best ever bubble bath overlooking the plains, with zebra, wildebeest and giraffe all in my view, bubbles in hand – I could have spent another week! I also got to enjoy a massage on the deck. I actually tried the masseur at every camp I went to. Just one of those perks of the job you could say 😉.
Our last camp in the Mara was Mara Bushtops. Our family suite had a constant flow of zebra passing by, again we had a bath on our deck and one night the girls spent a few hours in the bath under the star-studded sky. In the daytime, they have a separate recreational area that you get to by golf cart (no one walks; just a week before our arrival a lion took down a zebra right on the path leading to the recreational area). The swimming pool is magnificent, with views onto the plains, then they have two spa rooms for massage, a sauna, steam room and cold plunge pool.
This is the perfect place to come to at the end of your family safari to unwind, relax, and drink good wine (their cellar is fully stocked with impressive wine from around the world). The food is off the menu, which is extensive, and in addition, they always have a special of the day. Game viewing is either on their private property, where we enjoyed fancy sundowners (bar, log fire and delicious appetizers), or in the Mara National Park. We experienced a buffalo being taken down by eight lions; not something I would like to witness again, but that was a first for me and wow it was crazy. Shaylee (12, who celebrated her 13th birthday on the trip) closed her eyes and blocked her ears – it was a tough one to experience.
Samburu & the Laikipia Reserve
We left the Mara behind and headed to the Laikipia Reserve for the next leg of our family safari. First stop: Samburu Saruni Camp to see the ‘Samburu Special Five’.
Saruni Camp is an interesting property – sparse, barren and dry. The area is famous for the unique wildlife species found only in this area such as Gerenuk, the Reticulated giraffe, the Somali ostrich, the Grevy’s zebra, and the Beisa oryx – the special five. We saw them all on our first game drive in the national park.
Saruni is located on a private conservancy adjoining the Samburu National Park so our days were spent game viewing on both the private reserve as well as in the park, which was a bit busier with tourists. We enjoyed incredible guided walks here and they have a great ranger program for children. Their chef is Italian, so as you can imagine, we were fed very well, and one night we were treated to a beautiful star gazing lesson. The rooms are quite a distance from the main lodge so we definitely got our exercise in and enjoyed afternoons around and in the cool infinity pool.
Just when I thought the views could not get any better there was Lodo Springs! Loisaba Lodo, our next lodge, had probably the best view of all the properties we stayed at on our family safari, perched high on the ridge overlooking the plains. Food was amazing, and our guide took us on a very cool bike ride, passing a variety of plains game. The swimming pool was icy cold but we swam and enjoyed the infinite views, the amazing service, and our luxurious suite (all four of us in one room, with interesting décor, design and style).
Ol Pejeta & Kicheche
From here our driver took us to Ol Pejeta and Kicheche Camp. This small tented camp is rustic in style. We visited the chimp sanctuary, which is something you do when you are here but I personally felt not necessary, and it was hard to see the chimps. They are a bit shy and tend to stay in the bushes. Post-COVID, they don’t feed them when tourists are around so all in all I am not sure this is something that is a must-do. We then went to visit the last two northern white rhino – frankly, they looked just like any other rhino, though it was still wonderful to see these critically-endangered animals being so well cared for and protected. We did enjoy getting close to Baraka (a blind black rhino); we got to touch him and that was very special. The game was good at this reserve, and our guide was excellent, and we enjoyed some good sightings of a pack of hyena interacting with each other.
After a bit of a longer drive we arrived at Segera Retreat. Simply nothing not to love about this place; it’s an oasis in the middle of nowhere. Complete perfection. The accommodations vary from two-person lodges up to houses that can accommodate a small family together. What they do really well here is keeping each party of guests separate, so for those looking for complete privacy this is your place. Meals are prepared especially for your family group and they feed you very well, plus they will remember if you like something and it will be there next time – you will not have to ask twice.
We spent a night in the “Bird Nest” – that was amazing. We had a private wine tasting with one of the managers and learned so much about wines, how they are made and the complications of the wine industry – it was fascinating. We had a tour and lesson on how they grow their veggies, and where they grow them, we went to the compost garden, we sampled things directly out of the ground, met the “Rangers” from an upcoming documentary (can’t talk about that yet until the movie comes out, suffice it to say it’s going to be amazing). We took the tracker dogs out to experience how they track down poachers, enjoyed a deluxe spa treatment, sat on the balcony watching wildlife quietly walk by in the early hours of the morning and spotted a leopard – no kidding. We wanted for nothing and were treated like kings and queens. I cried when we left. I wanted to stay so desperately – why did we have to leave?
Our family safari ended in Tsavo at Ithumba. It is here where the Sheldrick orphaned elephants are released. A privileged few may come here to spend time with them to observe and learn and get close to these incredible beings. I loved watching how the orphaned elephants interact so naturally with the wild elephants it was fascinating. I loved how one of the elephants that had been released after rehabilitation (for some that can be years after first arrival, some just tiny babies) still comes daily to the stockades to see the familiar faces that brought them up, cared for them, and loved them.
These same elephants now bring their babies back to show their handlers what a good job they themselves are doing. I loved the story about how one of the elephants (who we met) after being released ended up in a fight with a wild elephant and how the others all brought the injured one back to the stockades the very next day to the handlers for help. I loved observing the handlers care so diligently for these massive, beautiful, sometimes intimidating beings. This was an incredible, very special way to learn about elephants and such a beautiful way to end the three weeks of our family safari.
As our charter flight lifted off the dirt airstrip I emotionally fell apart. This was it; our final flight, three weeks on a family safari so magical I have no words to fully describe it. On safari you naturally tend to move around a lot – it’s how you get to experience different regions, terrain and cultures.
Along your journey, there are so many emotions you experience but because you are constantly on the go you don’t always have the space to process them. I was now able to sit back and reflect on the past few weeks with no interruption, just the hum of the aircraft as I waved frantically out the small window to our guide, wondering when I would see him again.
And so over the next few months and years, I will look forward to watching how this family safari shapes my girls’ lives, I know they felt a sadness leaving as I did (as I always do). While they have been fortunate enough to travel many times to Africa, my sense is that this time it was very different for both of them.
Asante Sana Kenya – we hope to be back soon x