FAMILY TRAVEL – KENYA MEMORIES 2019
The Masai Mara in Kenya during the Great Migration is a matchless sensory experience. This this past August 2019 three generations of my family completed a 10 day trip to the preserved savannah wilderness. Nine of us traveled (76 to 13 years in age) my 3 children, 2 spouses, 3 grandchildren and me, grandpa who became known during the trip as “the General” perhaps because I had to sit in the front of the safari car, hopping in with the aid of my walking stick leading my undisciplined, bright and funny troops.
Hands down there is unanimous family agreement that this was a trip of a lifetime. I couldn’t be happier and thank Pam and Priscilla of Global Sojourns for making it happen in their usual detailed style.
An African trip is perfect for multi-generational travel. The oldest can enjoy the full Safari experience especially sundowners (cocktails at sunset) while the younger ones can do guided walks, ride horses, camels or do whatever side adventure suits them. Best of all, wireless internet – while available at each main lodge – is not a part of daily adventures.
It is usually more expensive to travel in the summer months but necessary because of school schedules. However, the weather is awesome even at the equator where it is winter/spring. Puffy (warm) jackets morning and evening and tee shirts during the day.
We stayed at four different camps with ample time to enjoy each. Our first two were Emakoko and Lewa House both architectural wonders and Five star hotel quality. We had separate bungalows with all amenities including fireplaces. Right out of Travel and Leisure mag. I explained to my family that based on my two previous African trips these were not ‘normal’ accommodations. The last two camps were more safari like and more than acceptable.
We were late arriving at Emakoko in Nairobi National Park but the manager Chris and the entire staff served a beautiful meal after midnight. The park is within viewing distance of the city skyline. It (the park) seems like it has been neglected and a newly built elevated train line cuts through a section of it. The story is that whoever runs the country owned a ton of land on the rail route and via customary corruption is making millions. On the other hand the park is loaded with animals that included (for us) a rare White Rhino with baby sighting.
Continuing on our journey, the Lewa Conservancy was short plane ride from Nairobi and was incredible. A half million acres of beautiful savannah dotted with Acacia trees. Main camp was an English Manor with separate 2 to 3 bedroom thatched roof cottages, a pool, a tea room, a library, a bar etc. The family that donated the land still resides (when they are there) in the main house and while we were there they had guests in for a holiday, English accents and all. I thought Prince Harry and Meghan were coming! Our safari car was a brand new Toyota Land Cruiser outfitted with an all-electric engine.
The Lewa highlight was the Rhinoceros. They were plentiful both Black and White and with babies. One day, three Whites crossed immediately in front of our vehicle. Did you know the collective is called a Rhinoceros Crush. A rare thrill to see these beauties.
Most fun was our guide Johnson and my entourage cooking up a soccer game (yes, they had a full soccer field) with the staff. Our team was the American Bush Babies and of course we had organized cheers. My son Jack’s intensity got to him and he immediately blew out his 44 year old calf. Everyone enjoyed the game and it really bonded our group with the locals.
Another short plane hop and we reached the Masai Mara hoping to see the Great Migration. The last two camps, Sentinel and Offbeat Mara were nice and comfortable. Structurally they were what I expected with traditional high end tents, sitting areas and indoor bucket showers with toilet facilities. Sentinel was on the banks of the Mara River with Hippos right below bellowing at all times.
Offbeat Camp in particular was Cat central with many Lions, Cheetah and Leopard sightings. My daughter Laura is very sweet and motherly. She and the rest of us were in awe of the lionesses and their cubs. Some new born, some 1-2 years old, so cute. Well, we did not know that this was the year, occurs every 3-4 years, that the male lions in the pride leave their pride and take over a different pride. In so doing they kill all existing cubs (not yet adults) in the takeover of a pride. Of course Darwin’s survival of the fittest was on display but the tears still came as the lioness tried to hide and protect her cubs from the inevitable male attack. Not a lucky year for cubs and not Walt Disney material. We had extra drinks at the sundowner that evening.
My grandsons who are UFC cage fighting fans went crazy when a lioness took down an impala for her young family to feast on. The hyenas and vultures were Johnny on the spot for leftovers. The boys thanked me for providing the frosting on the cake of a great trip.
The Great Migration consists of several hundred thousand Wildebeests not knowing what the hell they’re doing. We had the good luck (I guess) of being in the middle of a frenzied stampede of a few thousand running alongside our vehicle at top speed. We saw them cross the Mara River with only one being taken down by a croc. At the crossing there were at least 50 vehicles watching. Reminded me of race car fans waiting for a crash. The Zebras were the stars. They lead the Wildebeests out of trouble when possible. It’s obvious they are smart since they won’t let man ride them.
Guides and staff on the trip were all Masai and terrific. They wore their traditional colorful red outfits with shiny adornments and they snickered at our well planned muted safari clothes. Johnson at Lewa and David at Offbeat were world class guides and people. Flowers, fauna, birds and animals all identified together with the survival story of each. Minnie ran Sentinel with authority and feminine panache. The food was excellent and recognizable. Tusker is the beer of choice.
A final comment, the Ostriches stole the show. The mating dance of the colorful male is beyond hysterical description (YouTube it)! My Halloween costume will be that of a male ostrich. I have the dance moves. The only questions is … should I have blue Lewa ostrich legs or, the pink Mara ostrich legs (Google it)?
Special thanks to Global Sojourns creating a memorable experience! Both Lewa and Sentinel staged surprise birthday celebrations for granddaughter Taylor’s 13th birthday. There were uproarious songs and native jump dancing with cake of course. Not to be outdone, Taylor and my daughter Heidi wrote and performed an original song and dance numbers.
Global Sojourns trips while being adventurous are also cultural. Their Giving Circle Charity devoted to shepherding and educating African girls receives high praise. While we did visit a Masai village on our trip I intentionally geared it towards focusing on a safari experience. I was concerned my children would never see the Africa as I did 20 years ago. Tourism these days has to produce enough income to offset the effects of poaching, corruption and ever increasing population.
Many months of planning and communication with Global Sojourns resulted in a fantastic trip. Summer is high season in Kenya so you have to start planning early! The entire process with Pam and Priscilla was great fun and solution driven.