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Trip Report - Kenya Part 3

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On December 3, 2006 we left Samburu and flew via 2 planes to the Kechwa Tempo? airport in the Mara where we were met by our amazing driver/guide Douglas and a fantastic Masai spotter. After a 1.5 hour game drive that included our first close-up experience with a lion, George, we landed at Cottars 1920’s Camp. I’d read about Cottars and requested a stay at the camp for four nights when planning my trip. The tents at Cottars are the traditional white tents used during the time of the Roosevelt game hunts. They are very large inside and the attached bathrooms are furnished with mainly 1920’s fixtures. The larger main tent where dining and drinks are offered is absolutely huge and full of more 1920’s antiques and fantastic artwork. Dining is done family style and includes intricate and beautiful silver service with each meal. I have to say that the ambiance of Cottars is very peaceful and relaxing. Douglas, our driver and guide has an absolutely unparalleled knowledge of the animals and ecosystem and I can say that we all learned from his expertise every day. His Master’s Degree doesn’t hurt. The other guides at Cottars are also just as experienced and educated and it made a huge difference in the kinds of days we would have. Cottars is different in that there are no real set times as to when you leave and when you return. The Cottars family owns a 200,000 acre concession of land just outside the Mara and owning the land provides an opportunity to carefully off-road and just sit for an hour and enjoy some wine if you like as you watch the lions. We were able to get incredibly close to most of the game and I can’t say that they seemed to mind too much as most seemed to sleep or eat right through our visit. The land is absolutely beautiful and offers the most diversified game viewing in large numbers of any of the three parks that we visited. (Those of you who have visited the Mara more than once are probably saying “of course”. Quite honestly, despite all that I’d read, you have to “see it to believe it” in my opinion.) All of the staff at Cottars was fantastic although the Masai guards didn’t quite know how to allow for private space while providing protection and so we were surprised more than one time to find a Masai guide “too close” to our tent peering into a window to make sure that we were okay. We took a hot air balloon safari one morning and I would definitely highly recommend the experience to anyone who has the chance. It was breathtaking. The champagne breakfast that ensued was also very wonderful.

Having the private concession and the really fantastic guides made the Cottars Camp experience just absolutely wonderful and nearly perfect…save for the food. By far, Cottars was the most expensive camp we stayed at and it offered the worst possible food of all. No I take that back. It offered some of the worst-cooked food I’ve eaten in a very long time. Denny’s offers more flavor and diversity than Cottars. The meat is over done, the vegetables are boiled or steamed to death and lack flavor, the fruit wasn’t ripe, and there was absolutely nothing interesting or inviting about the cuisine if you can call it that. For $500.00 a night per person, one would think that hiring a proper chef and providing meals that were as amazing as those offered at Tortilis and Larsens would be a fairly simple task. The camp even has its own private air strip so flying goods in so that they tasted fresh seems more than possible.

Food aside…Cottars was magical and I would return again tomorrow even with the bad food. I think that the next time I go I’ll make some plans to do some mobile tented camping with Douglas and his crew to get the full “bush” experience. Cottars, I’m also pleased to say, has no fence and so while sitting around the camp fire at night you can hear all sorts of things passing by in the bushes and trees and, when lit by a flashlight, you can also see plenty of eyeballs shining a short distance away. One of the more interesting aspects of staying in a camp with no fence is the idea that you really can’t just walk down to your tent after dark. You really do have to be guided by a Masai Warrior or one of the other staff who are armed with a gun. There is a resident leopard at Cottars apparently and he’s just one of the critters that may decide to get too close if you’re not escorted. Africa!

I could go on and on about 99% of the Cottars experience but I’ll stop now. Between the game and the guiding and ambiance it was really wonderful.

On December 7, 2006 we departed the Mara (and I cried) for Nairobi and the Giraffe Manor. Giraffe Manor was also a place that I’d read about years ago but was a fairly last minute booking and we were lucky that it could come together. The manor, built by the Scottish some years ago, sits on hundreds of acres of private land adjacent to the Giraffe Center. As a guest of the manor, you have access to the center whenever you like but the really wonderful part is that you can feed the giraffes as often as they’ll come to the windows of the house. There’s nothing as wonderful as feeding horse nibbles to a beautiful giraffe so close that you can actually give it a kiss. (Then again…I’m a giraffe fanatic. “Tall Blondes”.) When we weren’t busy feeding the giraffes or enjoying the fine company of other guests and our fantastic hosts, we were busy…yes…shopping. Once again we contacted Kennedy for the bulk of our shopping time and he was kind enough to make sure that we visited all of the necessary markets while he patiently waited nearby. I highly recommend the “bring one bag and bring two back” approach to travel. It works for me during every trip. Giraffe Manor is every thing that it should be. Extremely peaceful and comfortable (which is nice after being out in the “bush” for 1.5 weeks) and the staff are really wonderful. The cuisine was spectacular and I think that it’s the perfect place to begin or end a trip to Kenya.

After a really wonderful final dinner with our new friends at the manor, we said goodbye (I cried again) and we were off for a very long travel route that took us back to Heathrow, included a 5 hour wait, and another long flight back to Los Angeles where we arrived completely knackered on a Sunday afternoon. (I had to go back to work Monday and I highly recommend that you avoid such a plan.)

If I had to do it all over again…I would:
Book with the AAC again (despite a few complaints)
Only bring two pairs of pants – REI quick dry, convertible pants
Only bring two thin, quick dry long sleeve shirts (no sun burn but they’re not hot, either)
Only wear/bring one pair of shoes (my REI sandals were all I ever wore and needed)
Only bring two t-shirts
Bring a nicer more comfortable outfit for dinner and Nairobi so you can lose the safari pants
Only bring a sweat shirt or other fleece – a jacket was totally unnecessary
Definitely bring some cold medicine and cough drops (very necessary at one point)
Have business cards made with my email address and contact information
Bring two cameras (one as a back-up)
Absolutely wear sports bras – those that didn’t suffered more than once

Would have brought more t-shirts, pens, paper, toys for the kids at the villages. The few items we did bring were greatly enjoyed.

Skip packing a big book – I never had time or energy to read and it took up a lot of room.
Pack even more Ziploc baggies – always a must.
Bring just as much bug juice (those who told me they never saw a bug did not visit the part of Africa that I did)

Of the 3,000 photos I took, and the roughly 700 I stored on-line…it’s not enough. I wish I’d taken even more pictures.

I would have learned more Swahili.

I am absolutely and completely bitten by the African bug. I am committed to taking my mom to China this year or I would be booking another trip to the Mara and perhaps Rwanda to see the gorillas right now. 2008 is going to be another big trip to Africa for me and I’m quite sure that Africa will be on my list every other year – or ever year – for a very long time.

That’s it! Hope you enjoyed the read.

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