Kenya and Tanzania offer incredibly beautiful safari lodges Barbara Kingstone January 20, 2011 Africa, Kenya, Safari, Tanzania Conservation Corporation Africa Foundation owns all the camps mentioned in the article, and are committed to the environment also taking an active role in hiring Masai from nearby communities. At one of the camps, (Klein’s), we took a side trip is to the medical centre which C.C. Africa founded. Three Masai women were patiently waiting for the doctor who is employed by CC Africa. He knew the diagnosis even before seeing them. Malaria is a common occurrence. However, tourists who take the prescribed dosages are rarely affected. From there we visited a school. Knowing this before I left home, I had bought a few dozen pens to hand out to the children. A young, quite discouraged teacher, told of his woes trying to encourage parents to keep their children, especially girls, in school. Adorable children happily posed for photos and gleefully grabbed for pens. Our last visit before going on the evening safari drive was to a Masai village where the chief and his 4 wives and 35 children crowded around and invited us into their enclosure to see one of the mud and dung-made huts built by the wives. LODGES-Kenya-Tanzania GRUMETI RIVER CAMP New Yorkers, Liz E, a magazine executive and Chris C, a Wall Street financier, were holding hands over a table at breakfast when I met them. They were on their honeymoon. Sitting here in a remote part of Tanzania at the luxurious tented Grumeti River Camp, they told me, it had taken them months of researching various global destinations before they decided on this idyllic valley in the western corridor of the Serengeti National Park. And they couldn’t have chosen a more romantic and private spot in the world. I had just caught up with my stomach after the 15 seat Twin Otter had made five short and swift ups and downs at various small airstrips starting in Nairobi Kenya, before the final landing. Under the banana leafed thatched roof, open- sided reception area. I quickly re-adjusted my mental and physical demeanor. From a blanket of Nile Cabbage leaves in the Grumeti River, just past the long narrow garden, out popped a huge hippo, exhaling and inhaling before submerging again. Then came a loud grunting couple of hippos. More discreet were the crocodiles which keep a lower profile at this time of day, also hidden away under the cabbage leaves in the river. The ochre coloured sand and cement dining-sitting area, my viewing perch for the moment, is whimsically decorated with inlaid glass flooring depicting crocs and other jungle designs. The upper level cleverly divides an eating area from the bar/ snack section, decorated with unexpected colourful cushioned, modern stainless steel backed chairs. In another mode is the reception/lobby adorned with a totally beaded chair done by hand by the Masai women and high traditional tribal beaded hats plus plush sofas and tables piled high with books and native handicrafts. However, all I want is to get to my tent, one of 10 canvas and beautifully furnished ensuite accommodations, so that I could dash into the to shower after the hectic, 5 hour, plus air trip. The outdoor shower is one of the highlights and while under the very hot water, I look up and see a monkey staring down from the trees above. Who is more surprised, I wonder. Among the décor is a Phillip Starck inspired conical sink, quite a departure for a tent in the bush. During the first night, I hear expected jungle sounds, seemingly right outside the canvas siding. My suspicious are confirmed in the morning by the general manager, Peter Dunning, when he shows me a clump of Nile Cabbage leaves, a souvenir from the hippos who had almost been my room mates. A lion, roaring about 100 metres away, seems much closer. But sounds are louder in the silence of secluded valley. The day centers around game viewing drives; the first at dawn and the last, late afternoon. And this being in the heart of Africa’s greatest wilderness, sighting a dazzle of zebra, a pack of hyena, a journey of giraffe, a crash of rhino, a raft of hippo, a herd of buffalo, troop of baboon, hearing the sounds of a covey of Franklins, makes for an exciting journey. Photo courtesy of CC Africa Photo courtesy of CC Africa KLEIN’S CAMP Looking down from the 18 seat Twin Otter to Klein’s Camp, I could see zebras, impalas and other wildlife roaming the runway and the land below. Klein’s Camp, hidden on the edge of the Kuka Hills with only 10 conical shaped huts, are quite different from the tented camps. The white stucco and dark beamed ceilings have indoor amenities and even a bidet. White netting, let down at night to prevent mosquitoes and other creeping insects from invading your sleep area, gives the room an ethereal look. And just in case you’re in the mood to stay put, there’s a paint box and paper to amuse yourself. It’s a bit of a walk from the room to the main buildings. And there’s a hard and fast rule that before dawn and after dusk, nobody struts around any part of this or the other reserves without one of the armed staff. Since there aren’t any phones, pre-arrangements with the guides are necessary. The view from the library/bar with comfortable sofas, games and books, and where I’m served coffee and cookies on a silver tray as the breeze sweeps through the startling silent room, commands attention. Just below is the panoramic vista of the valley and vast plains on this 10,000 hectare private sanctuary. It’s here that the majestic elephant is king and the valley is the passage of migratory herds of zebra and wildebeest. A much looked forward to buffet lunch of salads, fish, chicken and fruit, is served under a thatched gazebo, pool side. Along the red clay, bumpy road back, we see Dik-diks, bush babies, hyenas and graceful giraffes. The heavy scent of jasmine fills the chilly but fresh air. We arrive back for a sumptuous dinner at about 9PM -corn soup, grilled pineapple chicken and a rich dessert. Everything seemed to be a highlight but one stands out. An evening after the game drive, Mudy, our guide, stopped the Land Rover, pulled out a table, filled it with glasses, cold drinks and nibbles then started to identify the galaxy of stars, so clear in this Tanzania sky. Photo courtesy of CC Africa Photo courtesy of CC Africa LAKE MANYARA TREE LODGE After another series of plane rides and 1 ½ hour drive from Lake Manyara Airport, we reach our destination, Lake Manyara National Park. Happily, a few minutes away is the stunning Lake Manyara Tree Lodge, one of the ever growing addition to CC Africa’s impressive resorts. The setting in a verdant ground-water forest and grassy floodplains, located in the eastern arm of the Rift Valley at an altitude of 945 metres above sea level up to over 1000 metres, is great for wildlife. With the exception of Black Rhinoceros, every other great game animal can usually get to be seen. If I have to choose one idyllic moment, it’s when a flock, perhaps two hundred, of Lesser Flamingoes, seem to cover the alkaline soda Lake Manyara. From the distance, sitting in our open sided car, it looks as though a large pink cloth had been stretched over the water. Later, there are sightings of baboons, blue monkeys, elephants, gazelles, giraffes.. Waiting for us at the entrance of the lodge is a quartet of “shuka’ clad (red cloth) Masai men, who shout their welcome. Upright antique canoes flank the narrow walkway which leads into an exclusive gated‘ sand box’, ( boma) and the perfect place for our outdoor meals . The rooms are quite unique since no trees were axed and often included in the architecture of the room and verandahs. The private outdoor shower dramatically designed with its large curved gated enclosure under an umbrella of trees. What makes this a tribute to design is that the room always looks neat since the shelving and luggage units are hidden behind the bed. A rattan rug, khaki sofa on logs, the tub also set on logs, is entirely screened. A most unique interior design attraction is the intertwined chains made from banana leafs handing from the ceiling which partially separate the sitting area from the bedroom. Viewing wildlife is easy but unsettling when the darkness sets in since there is nothing between you except the fine metal meshing. After the first night, that nagging fear disappears, although the boisterous noises kept me alert. And forget about reading in bed since after 10PM there is no electricity until 5AM, but there is a handy ‘torch’ (flashlight) in every room. By the time Abdullah brings the wake- up coffee, the hyenas’ laugh and the tweeting of the birds have already nicely done the job. One morning after seeing an assortment of animals, we are driven to the remote Maji Moto Hot Springs (the water is about 60c) only to be surprised by the staff who had arranged an English morning ‘elevenses’. NGORONGORO CRATER LODGE The only way to describe Ngorongoro Crater Lodge, is ‘over the top’, a stew of styles, where bush meets Baroque. The 2 ½ hour ride from the Lake Manyara airstrip over unpaved, dusty roads suddenly seem worth the difficult ride. A lesson is always to expect the unexpected in Africa. Silk drapes cascading down from thatched ceilings, gilt regal crests on off- white cement walls, elaborate glass chandeliers mixed with damask covered chairs and African art, are as wonderful a surprise as it is an triumph of interior design. The crested and inlaid pink ochre curved, sumptuous private rooms and buildings all sit overlooking the two million year old, 126 square mile Ngorongoro Crater. After seeing the public areas, it’s a no-brainer to know that the rooms will be equally innovative. Carved wooden closet doors, when open, become a room divider. Dozens of red roses in a vase are on a table near the bathtub which is in the centre of the over-sized bathroom. Nothing is left to the imagination -an ultra modern porcupine inlaid purple lucite vanity table, two sinks separated by a curved mosaic inlaid open shower and little doors which when open, are small windows for viewing the crater, even from the loo. (The men’s urinal in the main building looks more like a sculputre with inlaid mosaic tiles, a stainless steel backing with a constant water falls running down.) The long drive down to the crater is initially a dense forest becoming sparse desert. A myriad of animals wander around and two lions slyly lurk in the tall Red Oat grass, eyeing some unsuspecting impalas. We wait quietly in the Land Rover but the predators are too slow and the graceful doe-like animals swiftly dash off.. The 6 hour safari around and in the crater is a showcase of zebras, wildebeest, warthogs, Thomson gazelles -a smorgasbord of animals suitable for the mixed grill of the design of Ngorongoro Crater Lodge. Photo courtesy of CC Africa Photo courtesy of CC Africa Awaiting the dusty, grimly and tired guests at the lodge, are a blanket of rose petals, scattered on the floor each unit.- a pathway to the ready hot bubble and oil bath, also topped with colourful petals. A soak in that tub, the stunning ambiance, memories of the day, no TV, no phones, only a whistle to blow if you needed assistance, made the world’s problems disappear, even if only for another few days. Each of the above lodges supplies daily laundry, gratis, therefore decreasing the amount of clothing and luggage needed. Take convertible synthetic pants which turn into shorts when unzipped, wear synthetic socks which keep feet drier than cotton and remove moisture from the skin. ‘Musts’ include, DEET which shouldn’t be lower than 19%. After-Bite, and other sensible medical needs should be considered along with a hat (some manufacturers are making the with SPF brims), sun screen, insect repellant ( most of the mentioned lodges have them in each room) and sun glasses. Since evenings are casual, it isn’t necessary to bring anything other than two pairs of comfortable shoes, tops and a few pairs of long pants and socks. Malaria pills are essential. CC Africa Lodges has a good medical insurance plan and can evacuate a sick guest quite quickly. I flew from Toronto to New York on Air Canada then transferred to KLM to Nairobi where I started the first part of my trip. The lodges usually make arrangements for their guests on the small in-country Dash 7 Or Twin Otters airplanes.