And can't wait to go back!
We arrived home safely over the weekend, our trip free from plane crashes, car crashes, carjackings, bandits, robberies, Mungiki, earthquakes, and bombings. We are already planning to return in a few years--and take our children with us. It was a fabulous trip and a wonderful way to celebrate our wedding anniversary. Since I received so much assistance from this group in preparation for the trip, I thought I'd follow up with some personal advice, impressions and feedback.
1. Itinerary. As a background, our itinerary was as follows:
2 nights--Nairobi Serena
2 nights--Amboseli Serena
2 nights--Samburu Serena
4 nights--Mara Serena
1 night--Ngong House
2. Agent. Our trip was coordinated through Eastern and Southern Safaris in Nairobi, using Serah and Boaz. Everything they were responsible for went perfectly. They provided all transport while in Nairobi, coordinated our flights from one park to the next, booked our accommodations and extras (balloon flight, camel ride, bush dinners, hippo breakfast, etc.). They were prompt in communication, kept in touch with us during the trip to confirm that things were going well, and even continued to follow up regarding our luggage after we gave up (see 4 below). I highly recommend them and would definitely use them again.
3. Guides. Moses at Amboseli, Yasin at Samburu, and Julius at Masai Mara. All were excellent.
4. Packing and Luggage. We did have a luggage-related setback: flew BA--our luggage never made it past Heathrow and is still missing in action. Yes--this was an annoyance after spending 6 weeks packing, weighing, buying cute little khaki and olive-colored outfits, gifts for our guides, making sure we'd be prepared for anything.... We were told daily that our luggage would be on the next flight to Nairobi, so, thinking that we'd only need to make it another day, did not spend any time shopping during our initial stay in Nairobi, which would have been our only opportunity to do any meaningful shopping. After being strung along for a few days, we decided to accept the fact that our luggage was probably not coming. At that point, it actually became a fun sort of challenge to us and we actually began to look forward to boasting that we spent 2 weeks in Africa with nothing but our carry-ons. We laughed at all of the high-maintenance travelers having to have their baggage carried at the landing strips. At every lodge, there was at least one other couple of family who was also experiencing delay or loss of all or part of their luggage. It is apparently quite common. Thankfully, our camera equipment and laptop computer was all in our carry-on bag. We managed to purchase some hygiene items at the Nairobi Serena gift shop. We each purchased a sweatshirt/fleece at the Amboseli Serena gift shop--they also sold panties and boxer shorts so we each picked up some extras of those as well.
Nervous Nellie's Packing Tips:
* Don't wear anything on your trip to Africa that you wouldn't want to wear for the whole trip. Wear a jacket or fleece (even if it's just tied around your waist).
* Manage to cram at least one additional shirt, one additional pair of pants, and an extra set of undies in your carry-on bag.
* Save the airplane "socks", toothbrushes, toothpaste, etc... at least until you pick up your bags. They will come in handy if your luggage is lost. I even managed to fashion a couple of pony-tail holders out of the elastic straps pulled from the back of the airline eye-mask.
* Pack all prescriptions and camera equipment in your carry-on. These are the only true essentials.
* Take only 2 or 3 outfits and take advantage of the laundry services provided by the lodges. It is cheap and they return the items fresh, pressed and ready to go.
* If your luggage does get lost, don't dwell on it or let it put a damper on the trip you've spent so much time and money planning and anticipating. Ladies--improvising, going with the flow, and being creative scored me huge points with my outdoorsman husband. It was an unexpected twist which showed us that even after being married for 10 years we can still have fun, be playful, and learn new things about each other. If you're planning a trip to Africa, get set for an adventure--in whatever form(s) it may take!
5. Colors/Clothes on Safari. Unless we told them, it seemed that no one noticed that we wore practically the same clothes every day. The African bush is no fashion show. We were glad that we had worn neutral colors for the trip, though. In my opinion, the khaki/olive/tan color scheme is part of the safari experience. It contributes to the ambiance and is definitely the "in" thing to do (but dressing like Ernest Hemmingway on an elephant hunt is taking it a little too far). I don't think it matters to the animals or affects the quality of game viewing, though. For the most part, it seemed the animals were unconcerned about the safari vehicles just pulling right up beside them and they generally just went about their business. We saw professional film crews shooting from bright red vehicles. I don't think the animals could care less about what color or style of clothing the people in the vehicles were wearing.
6. Laundry at the Lodges. We stayed at all Serena lodges. Contrary to what I read here, they all washed "smalls" (panties, bras and boxer shorts). Although the rush service was either overnight or morning-to-evening, once we explained our predicament, they graciously agreed on a couple of occasions to wash our clothes on a 3 hour basis between lunch and the evening game drive, which we really appreciated.
7. Cell Phones and Lodge Phones. We purchased an unlocked Motorola phone off of ebay prior to departure and it was a quick and simple process to purchase a SIM card and minutes through Celtel at NBO upon arrival. And it was very cheap to use the 123+phone number feature to call our daughters in the US each day and to make daily calls for the first few days regarding our luggage. The cell phone worked fine in Nairobi, Amboseli and Masai Mara but did not work from the Samburu Serena (we were told that we could get a signal while out on a game drive, but who wants to be talking on a cell phone during a game drive?). While at Samburu, we decided to use the phone in our room at the lodge for a quick call home. We knew it would be expensive, but we were not prepared for the $115US for a 12 minute call to Florida that was on our bill at checkout.
8. Photo Storage. We backed up our pictures to our laptop every day or two and erased them from our memory cards. Other people used Epsoms (or comparable equipment) or multiple memory cards. I would recommend that everyone have some sort of back-up. I had read here that the Serena lodges have Kodak picture maker machines that will save memory cards to a disk. We almost left the laptop at home thinking that that might be a good option. I've used them in the US on numerous occasions and they're usually a pretty cost-effective way to save pictures to a disk. What would cost about $6US at Walgreens costs about $40 at the Serena Lodges, though. I think it was $20US per 150 pictures.
9. Beverages. Coffee and tea were served free of charge all day and evening. No charge for juice at breakfast, drinks provided while on game drives (usually water but our driver in Samburu also had a cooler of soft drinks), or a couple of bottles of water provided each day for non-mealtime consumption. All drinks served with meals (other than juice at breakfast and coffee/tea) are charged extra. I figured that wine, beer and cocktails would be charged extra but had the idea that water and maybe soft drinks would be complementary. A large bottle of still water for my husband and me to share at each meal only cost about $5/meal, but it was still a small cost that I wasn't anticipating. This may or may not be unique to the Serena Lodges.
10. Bugs. Probably has to do with the time of year, but I think there are more mosquitos in our central Florida neighborhood than in all of Kenya. I got 1 bite and my husband didn't get any and neither of us ever applied any sort of repellent (and I am usually a magnet for mosquito, too).
11. Weather. Again, has to do with the time of year and where we went, but the weather was perfect for us. Like summer in Colorado. Cool enough that you needed a jacket or fleece in the morning and evening, but warm enough for a swimsuit (people were sunbathing and swimming between game drives) in the afternoon.
12. Extras/Add-Ons/Highlights. Wildebeest Crossing gave me goosebumps. Cheetah kill of baby wildebeest made me cry. Nothing like seeing a herd of elephants walking across flat, dusty terrain in Amboseli--sort of prehistoric-feeling. Balloon Ride in the Mara was fabulous (landed on our backs about 100 yards away from a lion and lioness hunting for breakfast). Camel ride in Samburu was smelly but fun (interesting, informative conversation with the Samburu guide). Maasai village visit provided opportunity for some great photos (beautiful people) but seemed a little staged/commercialized/awkward/can't put my finger on it. Although they claimed to have made everything they sold in their flea market at the end, I never did see the soapstone carving or wood carving sections of the village. Secretly wondered if the "welcome song" would translate to "Look at these dorky tourists, don't let them leave without buying something." Great, inexpensive massages at Amboseli Serena. Breakfast at the hippo pool at Mara Serena was terrific. Everything about Ngong House was amazing.
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And can't wait to go back!