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Kudu. Topi. Eland. Species soon to be learned. Onto the Mara, centerpiece of any inaugural Kenya safari. As our bush flight swooped like an eagle across blue skies, circling massive plains, we caught a glimpse of what was to come.

Feeling like a wide eyed kid at Christmas, I soaked up limitless views over the Masai Mara National Reserve. Scanning dazzles of zebra, harems of impala, herds of gazelle, seemingly walking about aimlessly, but probably, purposefully, I wondered if the animal kingdom is as curious about humans as we are in their midst. Perhaps the advantage is ours to better appreciate every creature in its natural habitat, savoring the mild side of wild.

Heading out from the dusty landing strip, recent rains turned camp access into rutted rivulets, streams washed over roads, frosting our Land Rover with caramel sludge. Minutes later, a growing choir of voices serenaded us as we pulled up to Bateleur lodge, revealing the entire staff swaying in song which rang through the trees. Warmest welcome!

Ensconced within a riverine forest, Bateleur is the essence of Kenyan hospitality. Communal living space is sheltered, with cushy seating and dining tables providing indoor or alfresco socializing and dining. Our butler escorted us to a spacious well appointed luxury tent with privatized greenhouse bathroom and soaking tub.

On our cavernous deck, we melted, viewing the vast expanse of grasses, baobab trees, and brushy reeds. Pumba roamed about, occasionally stopping by to visit. A winding path through canopied gardens connected us to the neighboring lodge, Kichwa Tembo. Having room to amble between two camps provided a unique freedom, with shared dining and spa privileges.

In the days following, our Mara game drives were plentiful with animal sightings. While slopes and ridges frame the Mara topography, wildlife can be viewed across grasslands toward the horizon.

As our vehicle rolled along a labyrinth of roadways, elephants strode beside us, zebra grazed and gazed, completely relaxed. Safari Director Peter gave us helpful clues in identifying novel animals, such as Topi (blue jeans, yellow socks).

The elusive Great Kudu was spotted; those curly horns gave him away. We passed multiple herds of Eland, Kenya's antelope, with their twisted, flat back horns, quenching thirsts with their young.

The finishing touch: a journey of giraffe moseying along in front of us, leading the way home, as a fireball sunset lit their path.

During our stay, we managed time to visit a nearby lodge, wisely chosen by our leader, where she had often stayed. Perched on the Oloololo escarpment, one thousand feet up between earth and sky sits Angama Mara, a heavenly haven.

As I walked across the terrace, I barely breathed, scanning the jaw dropping panoramic views of the Rift Valley. This baraza was unlike any other. Each tented suite provided similar, 180 degree views. Enough to make a human weep. Such unique features...guests are welcome to explore the map room...take in a bead workshop...get photography pointers from the resident expert. Small wonder this site was featured prominently in filming Out Of Africa. Angama staff will happily pack a picnic lunch for guests to enjoy on the same hilltop once graced by Meryl Streep and Robert Redford. Who could refuse?

I can count on one hand that which inspires me to get up before dawn. A balloon safari makes the cut. Enroute to our departure point, we encountered a convention of Cape Buffalo, hundreds of them, blocking the road, and none too pleased to move. At our launch site, we closely watched the gigantic balloons fire up, bloating as helium gas filled the domes. Within minutes of meeting our pilot, we lifted off, wrapped in a silent sunrise.

Silently floating over infinite, expansive terrain at treetop level, ascending, then dipping down over roaming elephants, ostrich, zebra, hyena, giraffes, rhino, dusting the greenery was simply mesmerizing. Our ground team later met and transported us to a hilltop where a champagne breakfast was served on a precipice overlooking the Mara. An unparalleled experience!

Game viewing can work up an appetite. We were fortunate at Bateleur to be treated to delectable culinary creations at every meal. Breakfast began with a diverse a la carte menu, accompanied by a bountiful trolley featuring bowls and smoothies with fresh fruits, grains, and herbs. Dinners were a feast for the eyes; if stomachs could smile, ours were beaming. Special requests? Cheeseburgers with fries, delivered! The scratch made desserts were artistically created, instantly consumed. The days flew by. Leaving this slice of heaven was not easy. Packing up our mementos...hand woven blanket, baskets, crafted bracelets, exquisite beaded shawl...I knew these treasures would later warm our hearts.

Back in Nairobi, a special preplanned event awaited us. Our host, Micato Safaris, is keenly involved in community centric initiatives, supporting Nairobi’s Harambee Center. A proven highly successful partnership, this alliance enables Nairobi youth to further their education and pursue careers.

We were fortunate enough to not only visit, but be introduced to our sweet girl, Fridah, whom we sponsor. Words escape me to describe the bliss in meeting this lovely, ambitious, exceptional 12 year old who someday hopes to be a lawyer, helping fellow Kenyans.

In 40 plus years of travel, my strategic planning, intensive logistics, and pre conceived notions typically parallel the consumed experience. This Kenya safari? Surprises galore. How can one predict the amazement of being within feet of a lion pride? Or the wonder of a female giraffe sharing our intimate space? Or the sheer exhilaration of flying in a balloon among egrets over mammoth elephants, sly hyena, pods of hippo, baby baboons? And, joy of joys, meeting a special girl whose kind heart will change lives. Prismatic skies, animal encounters, unmatched hospitality, sharing this exquisite experience with fun loving companions, this journey will remain an adventure portrait indelibly etched in my travel memory.

Nitarudi, Kenya. I shall return.

LOGISTICS ~ Creating a personalized safari journey begins with experienced professionals who know and live the terrain. High praise goes to Micato Safaris and its outstanding network, from US to Kenya, who worked tirelessly with my group to create this seamless, exceptional adventure. I have utmost respect and special appreciation for their incredible ground teams, starting with their Airport Concierge, knowledgeable drivers and guides, especially Peter, our brilliant Safari Director, who could teach at university level. Special appreciation goes out to the staff at our lodges, Sirikoi and Bateleur; they all treat guests like family.

While July thru September may feature smaller crowds, January and February are typically the dryer season, ideal time for a Kenyan safari. Strategizing should begin well in advance. Guides and drivers are in high demand. Intimate lodges have limited space. Ergo, space fills quickly, planning a year ahead is optimal. Flying time to Nairobi from East Coast gateways is 16 hours plus with connections; Kenya Airways operates a daily JFK-NBO nonstop which saves some time.

Friendly alert ~ safaris are like chocolate chip cookies, addictive. One is never enough!




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