Saturday, June 8, 2013

The Deed Is Done

Well, ummmm...since I last wrote I got up to something.  I started talking seriously with a couple of tour operators and camps in East Africa.  I had a budget in mind and a little more than a dream in my head of going back to Africa.  Soon.  Really soon.  As soon as I could.

And I made that happen.

I talked directly to camps in Kenya, which I decided to focus on for their big cats (namely, lions, leopards and cheetah).  Maasai Mara, an area in southern Kenya on the border of Tanzania, is world renown for its lions, in particular.  I narrowed down my search to two camps, and ultimately worked out a nice itinerary at a very good price with one.  I ran the idea past Kim, with whom I shared a tent in Tanzania, and she may be interested as well.  Whether she goes or not, I can't shake this itch, so I said I'd hold a tent for her, and book away I did.

This trip already differs from Tanzania in that I am booked directly into camps run by one company.  These camps are in conservancies, which are protected areas bordering national parks owned by the Maasai tribes and set aside for wildlife preservation.  As there are no fences or structural borders between the national parks and the conservancies, the wildlife roam oblivious to whether they are in a national park or a conservancy, but the visitors to the conservancy benefit from staying there because travelers not staying in the conservancy aren't allowed into the area and those staying in it can drive anywhere they want, including off-road (which is usually not permitted in national parks).

Flying into Nairobi, I'll spend one night there and the next morning fly out I chose three camps around the Mara area.  The first stop is the Ol Pejeta Conservancy which is known as a home to many black rhinos left in the world.  It's actually Africa's largest black rhino sanctuary.   This conservancy is located at the base of Mt. Kenya and actually tends to be quite cool even during the hot summers months when I'll be there.

After three nights, I'll fly on one of those tiny planes again to the Mara.  I'll spend two nights in one camp and three nights in another camp in conservancies bordering the Maasai Mara National Reserve, the Ol Kinyei and Naboisho Conservancies from one camp and Olare Motorogi Conservancy from another.  While I will take game rides into the national reserve itself twice, I'll take advantage of the secluded conservancies for off-road game drives most of the time.

The other difference between this experience and that I had in Tanzania is that these camps have their own drivers and spotters (wildlife spotters that is) so I won't be with the same guide the entire time like we were with Said.  Nevertheless. these drivers and spotters are Maasai tribesman who have lived and worked in this area, so all reviews I've read said they are quite talented at finding the game.

Prices for this are all inclusive, even the alcoholic drinks this time, so in theory other than tips, I shouldn't have to bring any more money.  I also eliminated any shopping and cultural stops, just get me to the bush with the animals.

I grappled with the airfare dilemma, as I wasn't thrilled with KLM and Precision Air's unceremoniously changing my flight coming home from TZ, but in the end, while I at least had other options (through London or Paris) I decided transiting through Amsterdam again was my best choice at that time of year.  I hope I'm right.  Airfare to Kenya is about $800 less than it was to TZ.  The visa fee is half what it was in TZ.  So see, already I'm saving money!

So 8 months to wait now.  I'll be sleeping in tents listening to the lions again.  And oh, the Kenyan coffee!!!