CLIENTS TRIP REPORTS EAST & SOUTHERN AFRICA – MAY 2021
Luxury Kenyan Flying Safari Featuring Great Plains Portfolio of Camps
Hello Mark & AAC staff,
We had a wonderful trip. No hiccups! The surveillance forms, Covid-19 testing, and QR code requirements all seemed a little intimidating pre-trip but in the end – everything was seamless.
We LOVED the Kenya Airways non-stop between JFK and Nairobi! It was so much less exhausting than travelling through Europe. Business class, which is pretty affordable on Kenya Airways, was perfect for us. A fully reclinable seat, and nice storage for carry-on bags, and a good selection of movies for entertainment resulted in a lovely experience. The flight attendants were very attentive, and thanked us for flying on their airline when we arrived in Kenya, and thanked us on the journey back to the States as well. They couldn’t have been nicer! We were very pleased, and so glad that it is what we’re doing in August for our next trip.
On arrival in Nairobi we were breezed through customs, and health surveillance – no queues….no stress….and our bags were “waiting for us”…Such a pleasure!…
Great Plains is fantastic! They do everything right. They’re expensive – but you get what you pay for. Their accommodations, attention to detail, staff training, guiding, food & wine, and conservation culture is superb. An A+ organization!
GREAT PLAINS Safari Camps – Accommodations & Experience
What a first-class operation! The ambiance at both Ol Donyo and Mara Nyika creates such a special, authentic safari experience. No detail is overlooked. From the leather engraved Great Plains camp stools utilized for bush breakfasts and sundowners, to the exotic, luxurious furnishings in the “tents”, to the bath-tubs with a view, we were in awe of our surroundings. The staff cannot be more welcoming and kind. The dining experience includes beautifully-presented, delicious cuisine in gorgeous settings that change, meal by meal, evening by evening. If your idea of paradise, like mine, includes lots of lanterns flickering in the dark, as you sip sparkling wine at a candle-lit table set with beautiful china and silver (being waited on as if you were royalty), watching a curious genet explore nearby and listening to lions calling in the black distance, these camps are the place for you!
We were lucky to have the family tent at Mara Nyika which means we actually had five tents, attached by canvas corridors. Lovely furnishings, and outside viewing decks with cushy, outdoor chairs and ottomans made for a fantastic home-away-from-home. Ol Donyo’s accommodations of an open-air, thatch-roofed living area with viewing balcony, tented bedroom, and glass-doored bathroom with a gorgeous view were splendid as well. We were given a tour of the family unit at Ol Donyo and it is terrific. Any family who secured it, and then followed up with the family tent at Mara Nyika could not be anything but totally thrilled!
GREAT PLAINS – Guiding & Sightings
Kirisia (James) at Ol Donyo concentrated on servals and caracals for us, knowing we had been to Kenya numerous times and understood the dicey prospects of finding the elusive smaller cats. We saw one caracal that was very shy, and spotted a few servals – one that was quite habituated to vehicles, affording us wonderful views of his tiny face, humongous ears, and spotted coat, while the other two cats were much more nervous. We saw quite a few large elephant, and were delighted with an evening spotting of a porcupine. A high point had to be four cheetah at the water hole one morning. The view of their beautiful, sculptured faces and sleek, spotted bodies, back-lit in the soft morning light, was truly special. The game at the Chyulus was very spread out, but we saw lions, and lots of fringe-eared oryx, hartebeest, and eland, among many other animals. Our game drives, in the striking landscapes there, were so enjoyable.
One sundowner evening, Kirisia, in mid-conversation, interrupted with “Get in the car!” Confusion on our part left us frozen, and he had to issue a second “Get in the car!” I leaped into the back, just in time to get a glimpse of the buffalo, headed by a large bull well ahead of the herd, coming over the ridge in the dark behind us. Simultaneously, Kirisia reached inside the vehicle he had not yet entered, and turned over the engine. Later, I asked him why he did that. He gave us a lesson in guiding. “These are wild animals. This is a wild place. Things can change in a second. So… to minimize dangerous situations, I always make sure the animal has an exit; I always make sure we have an exit. Buffalo are no joke. They knew we were there, and they kept coming. Our vehicle was our exit; if it didn’t start, I would have to think very quickly about our options. As long as we have an exit, it’s likely things stay safe. I learned that early on.” I already trusted in his keen abilities, but that confirmed my faith. Kirisia was professional, but fun; diligent, and curious, and full of energy. He was young, and modern, but respectful of old ways and practices, too. We liked him very much.
Sammi at Mara Nyika was, in the beginning, extremely formal and serious…It didn’t take long for us to absolutely adore him. Best guide ever! He understood the wild animals so well. The animals are communicating all the time, he said; it’s just a matter of us listening.
He scanned far ridges. One morning, he said, “Look at those impala in the distance. They’re telling us there’s a cat. See them all standing, tense, staring ahead in the same direction. Hear them snorting. Let’s go.” We had a bit of a drive, but were rewarded. Lions. Sammi provided us with lion interaction that was hard to believe. Adolescents running and leaping at each other, harassing the smaller ones, who seemed to enjoy it (most of the time) as much as the older troublemakers. We saw lion playing in the river and jumping up the embankments, water flying everywhere, to tackle one other, and take turns climbing up a tree stump. King of the hill! Lion style. It was so beautiful!
We saw a giraffe give birth, and waited forty minutes to see the little awkward baby (covered in parts of the birth sack) gain its strength, find its footing, and start to nurse.
We followed a cheetah mom, and her four tiny bushy-haired cubs, travel across the plains. She stopped occasionally to let them lay in some shade and recoup, but then they’d move on again – the four tiny babies bouncing, their coats a perfect camouflage, through the long golden grass. Mom was very thin; we left them in the afternoon, and no game looked close enough to allow a hunt that day. The following morning, Sammi found them once again. As mom moved them nearer the river, she leaped across seven feet to the other side. The babies were chirping – I was petrified for their safety; the embankments were six feet high on either side, and the water didn’t look shallow. Mom chirped back. “Come”, she said. I heard the plop of the first cub into the water, and then horrible splashing. Then another plunk, and more splashing. Finally, three cubs pulled themselves up the brush on the far embankment to Mom. Not easy! One lone cheetah baby remained splashing helplessly in the water. My heart was in my throat. Then nothing…silence, and a sick feeling as the adult female cheetah stared into the gully of water. Finally, one…two…three….FOUR!… babies next to Mom. Unbelievable! (I nearly cried.)
Sammi told us she had to eat. Hunger would drive her as she looked so very thin. We followed. Sammi assured us she would hunt. Not too much later, we indeed saw her, at full impressive explosive speed, take down a gazelle on the plain. Once it was suffocated, she dragged it into shade between two small thorn trees. She called for her little ones, and soon they came running at full speed. She was breathing hard, but opened the carcass. While she rested, the little cubs, like tiny vampires, plunged into the red meat of the gazelle. Soon, little bloodied cheetah faces were looking up at us. Too much! (I am sorry I thought you were a bad mother earlier, I said to mom cheetah.) The little ones ate, and ate, and ate. At the end of this incredible experience, you know what Sammi said? “Thank you for your patience.” What do you say to someone who gives such gifts, and then thanks YOU? We think the world of him!
Thanks for all your planning, and follow through. Once again, you were instrumental in seeing we experienced a superb safari!
Robin Fleck, May 2021
The Metcalf Family Trip Report from guide Emmanuel Mkenda
Greetings from Tanzania! This is Mkenda, reporting on my recent trip safari guiding the Metcalf Family. They were hoping to see all the cats, the Great Migration and enjoy the vast scenery. They were looking forward to coming to Africa as they were scheduled last year but because of Covid-19 it was postponed.
In the end, the safari exceeded their expectations as we saw three leopard, multiple cheetah and lions, as well as giraffe, elephants and even rhino! The highlight was the migration of the wildebeest!
May 14, 2021
I went to the Kilimanjaro International Airport to pick the family and give them a warm welcome and greetings. I continued with a short briefing as we drove to the Arusha Coffee Lodge. On the way I gave a brief history of Tanzania before and after independence and about our economy including agriculture produce such as coffee, tea leaves, cashew nuts and mining like Tanzanite, gold and gas just to mention a few. I also reminded them to use sealed bottled water for drinking and brushing their teeth and ensuring that all their valuable items like phones, money and rings are kept very close and not leaving them unattended during our safari. Then we checked in and they had a restful night at the Arusha Coffee Lodge.
May 15, 2021
We met during breakfast and discussed the activities of the day which included a coffee tour and bead [shanga] making.
Then it was off to our first safari destination – Tarangire National Park. We flew from the Arusha Airport to the Kuro airstrip. On arrival in Tarangire there were a lot of animals on the runway and the pilot had to fly low to chase them away. The game drive from the airstrip to camp was fantastic as we saw lots of elephants, giraffes and even a leopard lounging on a tree. We reached Tarangire Treetops and the guests enjoyed their tents perched in the top of the trees.
The dinner was amazing and it was served outside in the boma while watching the stars. The Metcalf family was very happy!
May 16, 2021
Today was a full day of activities we started with a Maasai village visit where they learned the history of the tribe by the local guides and the Maasai. They carry with them a traditional way of life and we can witness a live history through them so it’s very important to help to conserve it and give them respect.
Then we continued with a game drive and saw many antelopes like eland, waterbucks and Hartebeests, as well as baboons, monkeys, elephants, buffalos and tracking some lions and leopard foot prints.
After lunch we started a long walk for about one hour and a half. It was amazing as they loved learning about the various plants and animal spoors (footprints). Then we went to “sundowner hill” which has fantastic views and contrasting colors and we enjoyed a great sunset to end the day.
We continued with a night game drive and saw jackals, spring hare, bat eared foxes, chameleon and owls and just being out during night was great. I also showed them the “Southern Cross” and “Scorpio” constellations which was the first time to see for them as it was their first time in the southern hemisphere. I showed them how to navigate by using the stars using the pointers and the Southern Cross to find out the true South Pole by bisecting the pointers and intersecting with the main pole of the Southern Cross.
May 17, 2021
At breakfast this morning we had a fun discussion about the elephants that were eating all night below the kid’s treehouse. They could look down at them from the safety of their raised deck. They could hear the elephants crushing tree and branches.
We checked out of the camp and enjoyed a morning game drive on our way to the airstrip where we saw another leopard. It was unbelievable to see two leopards in two days in the park! We also enjoyed seeing antelope, elephants and giraffes and upon arrival at the airstrip, we had to clear the runway from the giraffe and gazelles before the plane landed. We then flew to Lake Manyara Airport and enjoy the views and farms as we drove to the Manor at Ngorongoro. The lodge is lovely and the Metcalf Family enjoyed relaxing in the gardens.
May 18, 2021
Today was our full day of game viewing in the Ngorongoro Crater!
Highlights included a leopard walking on the road as we were coming out from the caldera; eleven rhinos including one very close; lions crossing the road and a big pride of eleven lions. A bull elephant crossed in front of the truck and entertained us with splashing mud on its back flashing away the ticks and other parasite. We also saw hyenas crunching some bones and a variety of birds including flamingos and crowned cranes.
May 19, 2021
This morning we did a Covid-19 test and everything went smoothly. It was well coordinated and following the test we headed to Lake Manyara National Park where we enjoyed the view as we were going down.
In the park we have the ground water table forest which depends on the water collected from the Ngorongoro Crater and percolates under the rocks during rainy season and is slowly released throughout the year. This is important biodiversity between these two parks and it has been recognized by UNESCO as a “biosphere” (Bio meaning “life” and sphere as “earth” so it’s very important as the forest absorbs carbon dioxide to make their food and release oxygen). We saw giraffes, elephants, a variety of birds, monkeys and baboons.
We enjoyed a picnic lunch before flying to the Serengeti National Park. Game viewing began with a bang as we saw tree climbing lions plus huge herds of elephants and other general game.
May 20, 2021
This was a special day as we drove for almost 11 hours and saw a lot of game! Highlights included more than twenty-five lions, some lounging on rocks, a cheetah on the rock marking his territory and a herd of zebras at a watering hole. During the full day game drive I had fun teaching the Metcalfs’ the art of finding animals.
May 21, 2021
This was our last morning on safari and our goal was to find the wildebeest migration so we drove to the north east and located the massive herd! Along the way we saw prides of lions, a lion kill, lion cubs, tree-climbing lions and even mating lions. What a great way to end our safari adventure!
We enjoyed a picnic lunch before flying back to Arusha where the family had a day room until this evening’s departure. We drove to the airport where I bid the Metcalf family goodbye. They have promised to return again in the near future.
Safari to Zimbabwe and Botswana
We’re at 30,000 ft 2 hours out of Doha with 13 hours left before arriving in Miami.
It has been an incredible trip Mark. You and your team really put together a great safari. The detailed information you provided was extremely helpful. Using a single provider was a very good idea, particularly since I understand that African Bush Camps is managed by a former guide which is ideal from the experience perspective. However, he also seems to have the necessary business skills to successfully manage the operation which spans three countries.
He is especially focused on two very important aspects of the business: the maintenance/condition of his fleet of land cruisers and the quality of his guides. Both very impressive.
But it doesn’t stop there. There is also a focus on the maintenance of the camps and the training of staff—house keeping and food preparation. The staff is happy and that makes the guest happy as well. Very proactive.
The air charters and other transfers worked very well as did the Covid testing…
And you were right on when you said it was a unique time to be going on safari. It certainly was and I’m so glad we could help out these six camps in a small way. You can’t imagine how happy the camps were to have visitors. In Kanga we were the only guests. When I signed the guest book I was saddened to see that the previous entry was dated in December of 2019.
I hope to catch up with you in the next couple of weeks.
All the best,
Peter Houseknecht, May 2021