From the city to the bush — a stop in modern Dubai plus a Kenyan wildlife safari

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by John Chatfield, Contributing Editor, ITN

From the gleaming modern city of Dubai to a safari in the bush in Kenya — there couldn’t be a larger contrast.

In November ’04 I was on a familiarization trip to Kenya sponsored by African Travel, Inc. This was a joint effort of the Kenya Tourist Board and several American tour operators to boost tourism to Kenya, which had been hurt badly after the bombing of our embassy in Nairobi in 1998. There were over 160 travel agents visiting from throughout the United States.

Dubai

My itinerary was somewhat different, as I flew on Emirates from New York to Dubai, where I spent two days before flying to Nairobi. I traveled business class on Emirates and the flights and service were excellent.

While in Dubai I was hosted by Arabian Adventures (phone +971 4 303 4888 or visit www.arabian-adventures.com), who showed me the city in the morning and in the afternoon took us on a sundowner desert safari that included a dune dinner.

The safari consisted of a thrilling ride up and down the sand dunes at breakneck speed. The 4-wheel-drive vehicles have their tires deflated to about half their normal capacity in order to negotiate the dunes without getting stuck. However, several of the vehicles did get stuck and one of the other vehicles had to hook up a rope and pull them out.

After the roller coaster ride, we had a barbecue out in the open desert with everyone sitting on Persian rugs and pillows. Although somewhat touristy, it was still great fun — particularly the camel rides before dinner. The sundowner safari, including meal, costs AED295 (near $80) per person.

My stay in Dubai was at the Fairmont Dubai (phone 800/257-7544 or visit www.fairmont. com/dubai). Just finished in 2003, it provided a very nice setting right in the downtown area. Bed-and-breakfast packages start at AED670 ($182).

The following afternoon I caught my Emirates flight to Nairobi.

Lake Naivasha

On my arrival that evening, I was transported to the Lake Naivasha Sopa Lodge. Unfortunately, I had very limited time as I had to be back in Nairobi the next morning. However, I did take the time to take a boat ride on the lake, which boasts more than 340 bird species. Crescent Island, located on the lake, has a good variety of antelope and giraffe.

The Sopa provided a 2-story rondavel room with a queen-sized bed, fireplace and bathroom en suite. The restaurant/bar was large and built in traditional African style. I regretted the very short stay.

A bit of history

I would meet up with the rest of my group at the Norfolk Hotel in Nairobi the next afternoon.

The Norfolk was preparing to celebrate its 100th birthday (Dec. 25, 2004). Opened in 1904, this 40-bedroom hotel, with hot and cold running water and a French chef from the Waldorf Astoria in New York, boasted a ladies’ reading room plus waiting, dining, smoking, luggage and billiard rooms. By 1908 electricity had been installed.

Although many celebrities have stayed at the Norfolk, it probably is most famous as the place where the safari was born. In 1909, U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt, with his son Kermit, embarked from the steps of the Norfolk on their spectacular 500-porter grand hunting safari.

Lord Hugh Delamere III — baron-pioneer politician and large-scale farmer — was among the earliest guests at the hotel. Lord Delamere was considered to be the founding father of the Kenya colony, and his name lives on at the Lord Delamere Terrace & Bar.

Sweetwaters Game Reserve

The next morning our group was off to Sweetwaters Tented Camp by safari vehicle. Sweetwaters is a deluxe camp located in a 24,000-acre private game reserve. The reserve has many animal species, including the “big five,” as well as several hundred bird species.

We were to enjoy some very special game drives there. One was a stop to see Sweetwaters’ special rhino, Morani.

Morani is a tame black rhino that has been at the reserve since his mother was killed by poachers in 1974. Twice Morani was released back into the wild, but fights with other rhinos brought him back. The last time he returned he was castrated and became totally docile. This is very unusual as the black rhino is the most aggressive. It is possible to stand and pat Morani — quite an experience.

The following morning’s game drive took us to the Jane Goodall Chimpanzee Sanctuary. It was a real thrill to view more than 27 chimps in this 200-acre sanctuary. Although Jane Goodall interacts in close contact with the chimps, it is too dangerous for visitors to get that close as these chimps have three times the strength of a human.

We went by boat (totally enclosed by a metal cage) to view the chimps on the edge of the river. These chimpanzees have an affinity for throwing logs, or whatever they can get their hands on, at the boat.

Mt. Kenya Safari Club

In the afternoon we traveled to the renowned Mt. Kenya Safari Club, where we were to spend the next two nights. This was a highlight for me as I had wanted to visit ever since I saw photos of and heard about the club from my wife, who had been there some years ago. This was the exclusive retreat for William Holden, Stephanie Powers and other famous adventurers. All the accommodations contain sitting rooms with fireplaces and each evening someone comes and builds a fire for you. Each has a separate bedroom and a bath.

Although in the past, dinner was a dress affair, now smart casual is sufficient. On the grounds is a 9-hole golf course, horseback riding, tennis, fishing and an animal orphanage. I spent several hours at the orphanage viewing perhaps the last two Nigerian pygmy hippos that remain — a gift from Nigeria. All of the hippos in Nigeria are reportedly gone.

The orphanage is breeding endangered bongo antelope, beautiful animals that are again being released in the wild on the slopes of nearby Mt. Kenya. The bongo was almost wiped out by large prides of lions; these lions have since been relocated to other national parks.

The Masai Mara

After our 2-day stay at the Safari Club, we packed a smaller soft-sided bag for our flight to the Masai Mara; our larger bags were transported back to Nairobi. For our flight from the small airport at Nanyuki, it required two small airplanes that each seated 10 passengers. We arrived at a very small grass airstrip and were transported to the 45-tent Mara Safari Club.

Accommodations were luxury tents with bathrooms en suite. My tent had a sunken bathtub with a shower, and I slept in a four-poster queen-sized bed. The tent was situated on a bluff overlooking the Mara River, and just below was a large group of hippos whose snorts and grunts could be heard each night.

We took three game drives each day: an early morning drive before returning for breakfast, then a late morning drive and a later afternoon drive. The wildlife is unrivaled in the Mara, where we viewed herds of impalas, zebra and wildebeest. We also spotted Coke’s hartebeest, eland, topis and Grant’s and Thomson’s gazelle.

There were oryx, waterbuck and dikdiks, as well as warthogs and Masai giraffe, and we saw all of the “big five” except the elusive leopard. On one drive we located an ostrich sitting on about 10 eggs.

Special moments

I was surprised to see so many female lions with cubs. On every drive we saw lions, and with every pride or with every female there were very young cubs. On one occasion, a female with two very small cubs was on the other side of the road from our vehicle. The mother wanted to cross the road, but the cubs were afraid to cross next to our vehicle. Finally the mother picked up one of the cubs in her mouth and crossed the road with the other cub following right behind. It was a very special sighting.

On another game drive we spotted a topi that was about to give birth. We stayed a safe distance away during the birth, but when the baby topi was on the ground, we drove close enough to watch. It is imperative for a baby to get to its feet as soon as possible. This young one fell over several times but within an hour or so would be on its feet and able to run. The mother would go to the baby and lick it while a group of other antelope stood around the area alert for any danger.

On our last game drive we were frantically looking for a cheetah, to no avail, when our driver spotted one sleeping under a tree. In the tall grass it was almost impossible to spot him — the end to a perfect day.

A celebratory end

Finally our safari had to come to an end, and we packed up and returned to Nairobi in the same airplanes in which we had arrived.

After our return to Nairobi, we had a gala dinner in Nairobi National Park with all of the other tour groups. It was a grand evening of music and dancing, with the dinner being catered by the Carnivore restaurant. As in their restaurant, they came to each table and carved the different meats right off the bone onto our plates.

The next morning the entire group planted trees in the Karura Forest. We were to be joined by Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai. She has been an outspoken advocate for restoring the forests so the women of Kenya would have sufficient firewood to cook with. She has helped to plant over two million trees in Kenya and is an advocate for women’s rights. Unfortunately, her schedule precluded her joining us.

Fortunately, I had an extra night at the Norfolk before my Emirates flight back to New York.

For those travelers wishing to visit Kenya, I want to assure you I felt as safe as I do at home in Sacramento.

African Travel’s 12-day “Kenya Explorer,” beginning and ending in Nairobi, starts at $2,395 per person, land only. For more information, contact African Travel (1100 E. Broadway, Glendale, CA 91205; phone 800/444-2874 or visit www. africantravelinc.com).

Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.

by John Chatfield, Contributing Editor, ITN

From the gleaming modern city of Dubai to a safari in the bush in Kenya — there couldn’t be a larger contrast.

In November ’04 I was on a familiarization trip to Kenya sponsored by African Travel, Inc. This was a joint effort of the Kenya Tourist Board and several American tour operators to boost tourism to Kenya, which had been hurt badly after the bombing of our embassy in Nairobi in 1998. There were over 160 travel agents visiting from throughout the United States.

Dubai

My itinerary was somewhat different, as I flew on Emirates from New York to Dubai, where I spent two days before flying to Nairobi. I traveled business class on Emirates and the flights and service were excellent.

While in Dubai I was hosted by Arabian Adventures (phone +971 4 303 4888 or visit www.arabian-adventures.com), who showed me the city in the morning and in the afternoon took us on a sundowner desert safari that included a dune dinner.

The safari consisted of a thrilling ride up and down the sand dunes at breakneck speed. The 4-wheel-drive vehicles have their tires deflated to about half their normal capacity in order to negotiate the dunes without getting stuck. However, several of the vehicles did get stuck and one of the other vehicles had to hook up a rope and pull them out.

After the roller coaster ride, we had a barbecue out in the open desert with everyone sitting on Persian rugs and pillows. Although somewhat touristy, it was still great fun — particularly the camel rides before dinner. The sundowner safari, including meal, costs AED295 (near $80) per person.

My stay in Dubai was at the Fairmont Dubai (phone 800/257-7544 or visit www.fairmont. com/dubai). Just finished in 2003, it provided a very nice setting right in the downtown area. Bed-and-breakfast packages start at AED670 ($182).

The following afternoon I caught my Emirates flight to Nairobi.

Lake Naivasha

On my arrival that evening, I was transported to the Lake Naivasha Sopa Lodge. Unfortunately, I had very limited time as I had to be back in Nairobi the next morning. However, I did take the time to take a boat ride on the lake, which boasts more than 340 bird species. Crescent Island, located on the lake, has a good variety of antelope and giraffe.

The Sopa provided a 2-story rondavel room with a queen-sized bed, fireplace and bathroom en suite. The restaurant/bar was large and built in traditional African style. I regretted the very short stay.

A bit of history

I would meet up with the rest of my group at the Norfolk Hotel in Nairobi the next afternoon.

The Norfolk was preparing to celebrate its 100th birthday (Dec. 25, 2004). Opened in 1904, this 40-bedroom hotel, with hot and cold running water and a French chef from the Waldorf Astoria in New York, boasted a ladies’ reading room plus waiting, dining, smoking, luggage and billiard rooms. By 1908 electricity had been installed.

Although many celebrities have stayed at the Norfolk, it probably is most famous as the place where the safari was born. In 1909, U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt, with his son Kermit, embarked from the steps of the Norfolk on their spectacular 500-porter grand hunting safari.

Lord Hugh Delamere III — baron-pioneer politician and large-scale farmer — was among the earliest guests at the hotel. Lord Delamere was considered to be the founding father of the Kenya colony, and his name lives on at the Lord Delamere Terrace & Bar.

Sweetwaters Game Reserve

The next morning our group was off to Sweetwaters Tented Camp by safari vehicle. Sweetwaters is a deluxe camp located in a 24,000-acre private game reserve. The reserve has many animal species, including the “big five,” as well as several hundred bird species.

We were to enjoy some very special game drives there. One was a stop to see Sweetwaters’ special rhino, Morani.

Morani is a tame black rhino that has been at the reserve since his mother was killed by poachers in 1974. Twice Morani was released back into the wild, but fights with other rhinos brought him back. The last time he returned he was castrated and became totally docile. This is very unusual as the black rhino is the most aggressive. It is possible to stand and pat Morani — quite an experience.

The following morning’s game drive took us to the Jane Goodall Chimpanzee Sanctuary. It was a real thrill to view more than 27 chimps in this 200-acre sanctuary. Although Jane Goodall interacts in close contact with the chimps, it is too dangerous for visitors to get that close as these chimps have three times the strength of a human.

We went by boat (totally enclosed by a metal cage) to view the chimps on the edge of the river. These chimpanzees have an affinity for throwing logs, or whatever they can get their hands on, at the boat.

Mt. Kenya Safari Club

In the afternoon we traveled to the renowned Mt. Kenya Safari Club, where we were to spend the next two nights. This was a highlight for me as I had wanted to visit ever since I saw photos of and heard about the club from my wife, who had been there some years ago. This was the exclusive retreat for William Holden, Stephanie Powers and other famous adventurers. All the accommodations contain sitting rooms with fireplaces and each evening someone comes and builds a fire for you. Each has a separate bedroom and a bath.

Although in the past, dinner was a dress affair, now smart casual is sufficient. On the grounds is a 9-hole golf course, horseback riding, tennis, fishing and an animal orphanage. I spent several hours at the orphanage viewing perhaps the last two Nigerian pygmy hippos that remain — a gift from Nigeria. All of the hippos in Nigeria are reportedly gone.

The orphanage is breeding endangered bongo antelope, beautiful animals that are again being released in the wild on the slopes of nearby Mt. Kenya. The bongo was almost wiped out by large prides of lions; these lions have since been relocated to other national parks.

The Masai Mara

After our 2-day stay at the Safari Club, we packed a smaller soft-sided bag for our flight to the Masai Mara; our larger bags were transported back to Nairobi. For our flight from the small airport at Nanyuki, it required two small airplanes that each seated 10 passengers. We arrived at a very small grass airstrip and were transported to the 45-tent Mara Safari Club.

Accommodations were luxury tents with bathrooms en suite. My tent had a sunken bathtub with a shower, and I slept in a four-poster queen-sized bed. The tent was situated on a bluff overlooking the Mara River, and just below was a large group of hippos whose snorts and grunts could be heard each night.

We took three game drives each day: an early morning drive before returning for breakfast, then a late morning drive and a later afternoon drive. The wildlife is unrivaled in the Mara, where we viewed herds of impalas, zebra and wildebeest. We also spotted Coke’s hartebeest, eland, topis and Grant’s and Thomson’s gazelle.

There were oryx, waterbuck and dikdiks, as well as warthogs and Masai giraffe, and we saw all of the “big five” except the elusive leopard. On one drive we located an ostrich sitting on about 10 eggs.

Special moments

I was surprised to see so many female lions with cubs. On every drive we saw lions, and with every pride or with every female there were very young cubs. On one occasion, a female with two very small cubs was on the other side of the road from our vehicle. The mother wanted to cross the road, but the cubs were afraid to cross next to our vehicle. Finally the mother picked up one of the cubs in her mouth and crossed the road with the other cub following right behind. It was a very special sighting.

On another game drive we spotted a topi that was about to give birth. We stayed a safe distance away during the birth, but when the baby topi was on the ground, we drove close enough to watch. It is imperative for a baby to get to its feet as soon as possible. This young one fell over several times but within an hour or so would be on its feet and able to run. The mother would go to the baby and lick it while a group of other antelope stood around the area alert for any danger.

On our last game drive we were frantically looking for a cheetah, to no avail, when our driver spotted one sleeping under a tree. In the tall grass it was almost impossible to spot him — the end to a perfect day.

A celebratory end

Finally our safari had to come to an end, and we packed up and returned to Nairobi in the same airplanes in which we had arrived.

After our return to Nairobi, we had a gala dinner in Nairobi National Park with all of the other tour groups. It was a grand evening of music and dancing, with the dinner being catered by the Carnivore restaurant. As in their restaurant, they came to each table and carved the different meats right off the bone onto our plates.

The next morning the entire group planted trees in the Karura Forest. We were to be joined by Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai. She has been an outspoken advocate for restoring the forests so the women of Kenya would have sufficient firewood to cook with. She has helped to plant over two million trees in Kenya and is an advocate for women’s rights. Unfortunately, her schedule precluded her joining us.

Fortunately, I had an extra night at the Norfolk before my Emirates flight back to New York.

For those travelers wishing to visit Kenya, I want to assure you I felt as safe as I do at home in Sacramento.

African Travel’s 12-day “Kenya Explorer,” beginning and ending in Nairobi, starts at $2,395 per person, land only. For more information, contact African Travel (1100 E. Broadway, Glendale, CA 91205; phone 800/444-2874 or visit www. africantravelinc.com).