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Trip Report Just returned - fabulous Kenya safari

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We just returned from 2 wonderful weeks in Kenya. We stayed with friends in Nairobi, and had a wonderful day at the elephant orphanage, the giraffe center, and then we visited a small miracle - the Red Rose School in Kibera (Nairobi's giant slum area). This is a school for extremely poor and often orphaned children. The facilities are very poor, but the staff extremely dedicated and it was amazing to see how advanced the children were in their studies, even though they had almost nothing. Our daughter's 3rd grade was a "sister" school to this school, so we wanted her to go there. We brought a suitcase of books from America and that was a big hit. Anyway, if you google Red Rose School Kenya you will see their website.

When I say "we" I am referring to my husband, myself, and our children ages 21, 18, and 10. I have been to Kenya 3 times, and my husband has traveled exptensively in Africa for work - this was his fourth trip there this year.

We used Wildlife Safari out of Nairobi for our trip and they did a fabulous job - we arranged everything over the internet. We had our own Landrover and guide everywhere we went (and we flew some of the long distances). We stayed at great places, as I'll report here, and the price was very competitive. They seem to be very well connected everywhere in Kenya including - and crucially for us - at the airport! We were met inside immigration and whisked to a fast visa line. On the way home, our flight into the Nairobi airport was delayed but when we arrived at the airport with little time to spare, two employees of the safari company were waiting for us, our boarding passes had already been printed out and our plane to Paris was expecting us. Thank you Wildlife Safaris!

So now for the good part - the safari. We first drove to Sweetwaters and it was wonderful. The place looks great - all updated and casually elegant. The weather was that perfect temperature. We checked into our rooms,which were right by the water hole, and watched a lovely reticulated giraffe go through all kinds of contortions to get her face low enough to drink the water. There were so many animals right in front of us that it was tempting just to stay on our comfortable porch and watch them come to us!

Also, the dining room has floor to ceiling windows so you watch the animals while you eat. It was so pretty and the service was wonderful.

Of course we took game drives, and we saw many more animals than we expected. Some of the highlights were: a mother lion and her 3 baby cubs who growled at us when we came near; lots of rhino, black and white ones, including a little baby and its mother, and we watched some rhinos "fighting" - they weren't seriously fighting but it looked like a rhino boxing match, but with horns instead of hands. We saw many other animals, and loved going to the chimp rescue facilitity, where the chimps come right up to the fence and interact with the visitors, and there were several mothers and babies.

We drove from Sweetwaters up to Samburu. Any time we stopped we were accosted by people who wanted us to buy something from them - they would take anything in "trade"
for what they were selling, such as pens or an uneeded safari hat. Some of the road was really in awful shape. Still, we never felt unsafe.

We stayed at the Samburu Serena Lodge. Our room was lovely. Tip: Ask for the new, larger rooms. We saw the regular rooms and the difference was night and day. The river in Samburu was completely dried up so couldn't sit and watch the crocodiles as we had on a previous trip. The elephants would dig into the dried up riverbed deep enough to get water...then the other animals would come along and take advantage of the "wells" made by the elephants. It was interesting, but I sure hope it rains! The Samburu village we visited was in terrible shape since they were so desperately in need of water.

We did see lots and lots of animals in Samburu, especially elephant and a leopard who killed and ate an antelope. The manager of the Serena went out of his way to make sure all the guests were happy, and treated us to a beautiful bush dinner (we were not asked to pay for it, I'm not sure why). I am very glad there was a swimming pool there as it was so hot, plus it kept the kids entertained.

Then we flew to the Masai Mara for 4 days. We spent two nights at the Mara Serena with it's lovely view, and then two nights at the Mara Intrepids Tented Camp. They are both wonderfully located near the river (which is almost dry), we liked them both, but they are very different.

The Mara Intrepids was magical. We stayed in the "family tent" which is 2 tents with a gorgeous living area (also tented) between them. The tents have been beautifully renovated - I felt like I was in a tented Aman resort. I had read here that the Mara Intrepids was looking a little tired - no way! These tents are new and the furnishings are gorgeous and in keeping with the atmosphere. If you can stay in the family tent, do so. It is huge and very private and right on the river, but it is a bit of a walk to diner. We appreciated this as I had forgotten how hard it is to get exercise on a safari.

They also have a wonderful program for children (although there were not very many). My littlest one couldn't wait to go and spend her time with the Masai who taught her archery, how to find animal footprints, etc.
The service here was just amazing!

There are wildebeast all over the Mara, and many, many lions (one morning we followed 4 males, another day we followed a pride of 12 lions - yes, 12). They had a fight with some hyenas. We also saw lots of cheetahs, more than we ever had before.

The Mara river is very low, so the wildebeast just sort of walked across it - no rushing waters to push them toward the waiting crocodiles. For those of you going in the fall, I hope there is more water. Still, the Mara worked its magic on us. I will never forget the endless lines of wildebeast running around our jeep, following the hoofbeats of their ancestors as they migrated. Spectacular. Or the night our fabulous guide Joseph surprised us with sundowners on the top of a hill just at that magical moment when the sun turned the sky pink.

Our last stop was the lovely Mombasa Serena. It's a beautiful hotel, again completely updated. However, a beach is still a beach, even if it is lovelyl and there are camels on it.

What I learned: don't worry so much about where you stay, because you will all see the same animals. That's what it is about. I had been nervous about staying at the Serena Hotels since we had always stayed in tented camps before, but actually the Serenas are lovely hotels and take excellent care of their guests, plus my kids loved having the internet available in their rooms during the downtime. While Mara intrepids was more "special", it was also more expensive.

The Kenyans are so proud of Obama, and they love Americans now. Also, everyone in the travel industry loves us because we tip better than Europeans (we were told this by several employees at hotels).

I know there has been some political unrest, but we saw no signs of anything violent and never felt in any danger (ecept maybe by the lioness with her cubs!).

None of the camps were crowded and prices for things were quite nogotiable. We are all so glad we took this trip - if you are considering Kenya, definitely go!

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