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Kavarondo Crane, Mount Kenya Safari Club
Photo by Fiona St. Clair

Black, white, red and green, the Kenyan flag colours, say it all. Black is for the majority of the population, white for the country’s peace, green for the very fertile land which produces a richness of agriculture, and red for the blood spilled during the rebellion become an independent country. Along with these stripes, the center of the flag has a shield and spears which defines their strength and great attitude for Kenya.

Kenya is still considered an emerging country but Nairobi certainly looks like any city that is expanding with cranes that fill the skyscape and the glassy towers that are newly erected. The country’s new directive is to get the infrastructure updated and is most evident on the highways where Chinese and Italians investments and workers are creating the most modern, up to date road system in this country with a population of over 33 million people.

Kenyans are famously known as friendly, there was no doubt about that throughout my entire 10 day stay.

Bumping along the sandy roads in and out of national parks, our Toyota Land Cruiser climbing 7700 metres to our next destinations, visiting a Masai village where most speak Swahili and being met by Skuka clad (red clothed) warriors, were all part of this diverse trip that showed the best and a bit of the not so good aspects of a country that is probably one of the most beautiful in the world. What I found so unusual was that in the desolate and poor areas, where poor is really poor, there is no begging.

Our first stop, an overnighter, after a long trip was at the Nairobi Serena Hotel which considering the jet lag, was an oasis with a panoramic view and a good introduction of what was to come via their range of African décor.

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“Return” guests at the Mt. Kenya Safari Club

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My very chic and luxurious tent

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The Fairmont Mount Kenya Safari Club looks like

a scene out of Hollywood

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Breakfast buffet at Serena Mountain Lodge

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One of the lovely ‘pit stops’

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Preparing for the celebration on the equator

However, the excitement started as we drove to Aberdares National Park where we lunched and saw our first animals. During that ride to Serena Mountain Lodge, our pit stop was to become a replica of all the others. Surprising spotless was my first impression. But then the shop front filled with new and attractive wood carvings with a small section of ‘old’ artifacts was definitely for tourists. However, arriving at Serena Mountain Lodge located on the slopes of Mount Kenya at what would become a low attitude, here just over 2000 metres, was exactly why people come to the African bush. Big game sightings astounded us as we viewed them from various close up and safe venues. In fact, these open sided lodge areas never had us going out of the rustic but lovely building. However, with all the seemingly adorable monkeys rushing around and in the rustic 42 room lodge , Federicca, an uncomplaining colleague, was mildly bitten on her upper arm by one of these frisky creatures. Although she survived without the need of serious medical attention, it was a good indication that animals in the wild are wild.

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Little Bee Eater, Lake Nakuru

Photo by Fiona St. Clair

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Peacock, Mount Kenya Safari Club

Photo by Fiona St. Clair

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Preparation for the celebrations of being on the

equator at Fairmont

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The drink of choice

From our rooms and other viewing venues, the waterholes for the animals were very visible making this a great way to see elephants, buffalo, rhino, waterbuck , zebras , to name only a few without having to take a van and hope for a sighting. One particular large watering hole for the fussy elephants was pure, clean unsalted water. Here size matters as the other animals had to drink from brown considerably dirtier water. Another companion, who is the public relations person of My Escapades which specializes in safaris in Africa, was an ardent birder. Fiona knew every sort of bird, and what seemed black without binoculars, when looked at closely, the plumage was spectacular and the perfect reason to become a birdwatcher as I did though superficially.

Showing my urban side, I was overjoyed with the only one day stay at the Fairmont Mount Kenya Safari Club in Nanyuki. This exquisite club was built and overseen by actor Bill Holden whose guest list included the most elite celebrities of the 40s and 50s, royals, aristocrats and politicians. The black painted library had framed photos of many of the stars- Marlon Brando, Kim Novak, Gene Kelly, Jennifer Jones, John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, far too many to name all. The adjacent bar had a clubby feeling with a long, dark wood bar and chummy tables and chairs. The exterior’s arcades had has sheer draping giving it a very Hollywood studio look. And since this was located on the equator to celebrate this accomplishment, we were asked to join in to commemorate our being there. We were each given a Certificate of Achievement but not before the ‘ritual’ as two Samburu warriors to the drum beat by other Samuburu took, us individually up and down a red carpet. Trying to keep up with their very active dance seemed to bring out the most unusual dance routines that most of us didn’t know we had.

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Some signage is funnier than others

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A very contented lion with colored lips from his meal

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Definitely car stoppers

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The stunning passage way at the Fairmont Mount

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Surprising evening venue

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Naturally, the landscaping is glorious, with an adjacent 9 hole golf course, the food sublime. Since Fairmont Hotels were one of the first large chains to get on the ‘green’ bandwagon, it wasn’t surprising to see and walk through one of the largest herb and vegetable gardens where all the meals’ produce is used. Also there’s an animal orphange for abandroned or endarnered animals. And if that wasn’t enough surprises, that night, we were driven through the darkest of forests to an unknown and major undisclosed destination. In the clearing were tables that had been set with red linen, glass goblets, native centerpieces and a buffet and barbeque with just about every meat and vegetable that could be made on a spit or pre-perpared. What a splendid surroundings as birds chirped, animals rustled in the bush but the expected blanket of stars didn’t show. There was never a moment of concern considering the several armed game rangers hidden very descretely among us.

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Close-up of lion eating the kill, Masai Mara

Photo by Fiona St. Clair

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Photo by Fiona St. Clair

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Scenic Masai Mara

Photo by Fiona St. Clair

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Lion cubs, Masai Mara

Photo by Fiona St. Clair

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A lioness close enough to touch

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My breakfast in the bush

It wasn’t a long enough stay since come morning we were soon we left Nanyuki to view Thompson’s Falls as the van climbed to approximately 1100 metres. Gradually we descended to the floor of the Rift and arrived at our next accommodations, Sarova Lion Hill. No sooner had we checked in then were back in the four wheeler and what a surprise for all of us, especially Fiona. There were hundreds, if not thousands of Lesser Flamingoes. Their pink presence was truly outstanding and unbelievable to see. Among this pink aura were Egyptian geese and also some big and small game. We didn’t see the elusive lion, but Samuel, our driver did promise before the end of this marathon of safaris we would. What was so visually pleasing were the Acacia trees that were like umbrellas.

Back at the hotels, situated in the Rift Valley each of the 67 chalets overlooked the Lake Nakuru National Park. Although I always had a wakeup call due to the early safaris, one really didn’t need it since the birds tweeted, chirped and screeched at exactly 5.45am each morning.

What a lovely way to be awakened. Our next destination took us through the countryside with tea plantations, one of the great exports of this country along with flowers, the largest exporters in the world, and the renowned coffee.

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Elephants coming for their refreshing drink

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Bush breakfast overlooking the Masai Mara

Photo by Fiona St. Clair

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Wildebeest crossing, Masai Mara

Photo by Fiona St. Clair

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The sign says it all

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For me, going to a Masai village (there are 42 tribes, of which the Masai is just one, was something I had looked forward to. However, it turned out to be the most devastating part of the trip. The grounds were mushy and turned out to be cow dung as the snooty nosed children, flies all over their little faces, walked without shoes. Women, three months before they marry (and here men can have as many wives as they like, depending on the amount of cows they have) start building their ‘houses’. These are made with grass and cow dung, and walking through an airless home, as dark as could be with only a small ‘window’. Here seven occupants lived. One space was for the 5 children, another small ‘room’ with bed on floor was for the husband and wife and another area was for a cow which provided milk. Older cows were slaughtered for their meat, skin used as blankets, their blood mixed with milk for immunity to diseases and more energy. Every part of the animal was used in one form or another. For the women, life is not easy as they not only look after the family, they make jewellery by hand which they sell when tourists visit. What was so surprising is that there’s an entrance charge of about $30. Many of the men are hotel workers, safari guides and drivers. But, for me, there’s still the feeling of having too much to their too little.

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A local marketplace

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The Nairobi skyline

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Some bar, some hotel…Mt. Kenya Safari Club

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Mealtime for the giraffes

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Scenes from the highway

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Another scene along the highway

Masai Mara National Game Reserve is an open plain where Samuel’s prophecy game true. At arm’s length we saw a lion chewing on the remains of an animal which he had obviously captured as the lioness and her cubs waiting until he had his fill. Only then could they approach the carcass. Another time, to get out of the heat, a lioness lay in the shadow of our van where, if we wanted to, could actually reach out to touch her. None took this overly ambitious temptation

Meanwhile, taking my guilt with me, I savoured being at the Sarova Mara Camp, in Masai Mara Game Reserve. These 75 tented villas, some more superior than others, had shiny floors, ceiling fans, stunning bathrooms and all the amenities one could as even at a city 5 star hotel. The only difference was that each night the screens were zippered closed and opened in the morning. Idylic, magical, all the superlatives come to mind when I recall our last hotel.

All could be summed up by a new friend from Nigeria, Tola, a legal practitioner whom I met at the last hotel. Why had he come?? The ‘bucket list’, a much overused phrase, hadn’t entered his vocabulary. “Kenya is a country I’ve always wanted to see. I also wanted to go on safaris, see the extraordinary variety of animals in their own environment and meet foreigners who have similar interests. And I wasn’t disappointed in any of my wishes and want to return again.” That summed up my feelings too.

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The lion gets his meal

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Cubs and their mother wait their turn at the carcas

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