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Photo by Muguette Goufrani of Åfrica Travel Magazine taken at Masai Mara

Grand Tours and Safaris in Magical Kenya
Part One - by Jerry W. Bird


"This congress has achieved its main objective, which is to enhance cooperation in the promotion and marketing of our African destinations in the United States of America. I believe it would be a great idea to have an umbrella tourism organization such as the Africa Travel Association that can supplement our promotion and marketing efforts in other tourist-generating markets such as Europe and Asia." Hon. Morris Dzoro, MP, Minister of Tourism and Wildlife, Kenya

As editors and publishers of Africa Travel Magazine, our recent 40-day stay in Magical Kenya was the grand finale of a two-year effort that will result in 3 new issues designed to shatter the media myths and set the record straight on Kenya's return to world prominence as a tourism superstar. Our photographic profiles of people, places and events will emphasize Kenya's leading role in East African business.

In addition to Hon. Morris Dzoro, Kenya's Tourism and Wildlife Minister, our meetings, interviews and visits included the Kenya Tourist Board, Kenya Tour Operators Association, Kenya Ministry of Transport, Kenya Olympic Committee, Kenya Travel Agents Association, Kenya Chamber of Commerce, Kenya Wildlife Service, East Africa Wildlife Society, African Airlines Association, Kenya Civil Aviation Authority, Mombasa and Coast Tourism Association, Kenya Airways, Mombasa Air Safaris, Utalii College, East Africa Auto Rally, University of Nairobi, African Development Bank, The Standard Group, plus many airline officials, tour operators and hoteliers. Our first exciting week in Kenya featured the Africa Travel Association's 30th Jubilee World Congress, where we met Tourism Ministers and Ambassadors from other African countries.

Like National Geographic, our magazines are "keepers, still in demand up to five years after publication date. This has been proven at travel expos in the USA and Canada, attracting up to 22,000 enthusiastic visitors, where our magazine exhibit anchors the Africa Section. Features from the Africa Yearbook, Air Highways to Africa, and our Sports Tourism Edition will start appearing in July 20. The opening capsules are from our first official visit to Kenya, followed by our more recent tour following the ATA Congress in May 2005.

Lake Naivasha and the Great Rift Valley
Quick Now! What location is a favorite weekend escape and holiday retreat for city folk from Nairobi? The nearby parks and lakes such as Naivasha are a natural, and facilities there are quickly being upgraded. We considered ourselves fortunate to have enjoyed the attractions of Lake Naivasha and the Great Rift Valley Lodge on two separate occasions - our first visit was with the ATA Congress media group, and the encore was at the invitation of Phyllis and Dave Mwangi of Speedbird Travel, who own several residences facing the 18-hole golf course. On the sloped area above the Great Rift Valley Lodge is a new area being developed for those who want a larger parcel of land with good connecting roads and a million dollar view. More information to come in our Real Estate pages. Speedbird is introducing several all inclusive exciting golf and tour packages this season. It is a pleasant one hour trip on excellent roads, via Nairobi's upscale residential areas, then stopping at a marvelous viewpoint on higher elevation before descending into the lush farmland of the Rift Valley, where we noticed a pleasant rise in temperature. Photo right: Attractive and spacious lobby at the Great Rift Valley Lodge. More photos of Lake Naivasha area.

Several factors I love best about the Great Rift Valley Lodge is the panoramic view from the dining room, most especially the broad patio that overlooks the golf course, with Lake Naivasha on the horizon. From here we enjoyed several day trips. One was a cruise along the shores of Lake Naivasha, where we encountered hippos and a variety of waterfowl. During a drive around the lake's perimeter we stopped for a pleasant hour at the former home of noted artist Joy Adamson, which like Karen Blixen's home in Nairobi is like a magnet to visitors from around the world. This day was no exception. On the site is a project center we will describe in more details in our notes section.

We stayed at the Great Rift Valley Lodge, followed by two additional nights at one of the private golf course residences owned by the Mwangis. It was an unforgettable experience, and there's much more to come on this topic. Speedbird Travel and Safaris is in Nairobi's Westlands area. E-mail,

Lake Nakuru: Birds Flock and Buffalo Roam:
Approaching Lake Nakuru from the National Park gates, I had little idea of the unforgettable sight awaiting us. Some call it the "World's Greatest Bird Spectacle," and I can agree, having never experienced such a large concentration of pink flamingos on one body of water. Since the Lake Nakuru Lodge, our destination for the day, was on the opposite shore, we circled the lake and our driver soon discovered a relatively dry area where we could motor along the shore. We were soon positioned in the midst of a sizable flock -- an ideal photo op.

Like a typical beachcomber, I spotted a sun-bleached buffalo skull lying in the sand, and by the time our photo session began, one very large buffalo presented himself directly in front of the camera lens. In the background, like a chorus line from the Follies, dozens of white pelicans took center stage and began their parade for the camera's waiting eye. We discovered that the reason flamingos are pink because their consumption of the blue-green algae in the lakes. Lake Nakuru Park is home to over 400 species of birds, from the more numerous flamingos and pelican, to herons, egrets, fish eagles, grebes and more. (see Birds of Kenya)

Amboseli National Park

Minutes after our Kenya Airways jet touched down at Nairobi International Airport, following a cross-continent flight from Cameroon - - we were Amboseli bound. Spectacular sights on the route south included a panoramic 'passing parade,' with a backdrop of grassy fields and rolling hills covered with a blanket of lily white blossoms as far as the eye could see. In the foreground, every few miles stood Maasai herdsmen, alone or in pairs. From nine year olds to great grandfathers, they were guarding their mixed herds of cattle, sheep and goats. Clusters of wildlife mingled with the herd as we drew nearer to the park gates. One of the most enduring, endearing and colorfully garbed of African tribes, the Maasai culture has flourished since earliest times. Directly south of Nairobi in the shadow of the legendary, snowcapped Mount Kilimanjaro, Amboseli National Park was first on our list of Kenya's must-see attractions. The most compelling reason is its large concentrations and wide variety of wildlife. Little time was wasted in getting us out 'on Safari, " as no sooner than we checked in at the Amboseli Serena Safari Lodge, like Dr. Doolittle, we were off to see the animals.

The first Safari stop was at a nearby Maasai village, where we met and mingled with the chief and villagers; visiting their lodges, watching a fire-making demonstration, capturing some unique photos and bargaining for a seemingly endless selection of craft items. We ventured inside one of the dwellings, made entirely of indigenous materials, including dried elephant dung. This mixture keeps the homes cool in summer and protected from rain and biting winds in winter, as it has for generations. (see blowup map)
Before I continue with our main Kenya Story and the ATA 30th Jubilee in Nairobi, here is some late news that is the most positive we've heard in several years. The Kenya Tourist Board (KTB) announced record upsurges in tourism to Kenya from the U.S. market. After three record months for June, July and August, the KTB recorded a 74% increase of tourism over last year, exceeding months that predate 9/11.

Ark of the Aberdares

We arrived at the Ark Game Lodge before dinner after a pleasant afternoon at the Aberdare Country Club, a 45-minute drive away. Aptly named, with reference to Noah, the Ark is located in Aberdares National Park, and seems to operate around the clock, as it overlooks a floodlit water hole. Being a salt lick , the area attracts a passing parade of wildlife, which seem to come in bunches, as if each group was allotted its own time on stage. For example, a horde of frisky baboons might be followed by a family of elephants, a herd of bushbuck, or a combination of characters. The management kept us informed by an en-suite buzzer system if anything unusual was happening at the water hole. Guests can watch the action from one of three observation decks. A bunker at ground level, offers the photographers among us an unobstructed view. The lodge, with its cabin style rooms, reminds me of some of my favorite hideaways in Northern Canada, and we felt at home immediately. As expected, the food in the dining room was outstanding, and I later assumed a position by the large stone fireplace. What a life!

On Safari:
At one point during our evening game drive from Serena's Amboseli Lodge, I was struck by the fact that you could look in every direction - 360 degrees -- and see some form of wildlife. A family of elephants on the horizon at 12 o'clock -- several frisky giraffes to the right - a herd of buffalo grazing on our left - and other grassland creatures bringing up the rear. George, our driver stopped for fifteen minutes as we watched two large Crested Cranes in attack mode. One was hopping about, spreading his wings and hunching his back defiantly as he approached a cobra, which lay by the side of the road totally unperturbed by all the cavorting and saber rattling.

On the Road Again:
Early in life, being a Boy Scout was cause for some of my proudest moments, and each proficiency badge I earned was cherished and worn like a purple heart. So heading north that afternoon from Nairobi, as we passed Nyeri, we learned that this beautiful agricultural area was the final resting place of Lord Baden-Powell, who founded the Scout movement . Knowing this fact brought a flood of gratitude for the great man and his legacy. We need heroes and he is one of mine. Our next trip's agenda will include a visit Baden-Powell's grave site, gardens and Paxtu cottage, which now houses a museum in his honor.

Flower Talk.
Talk about Aromatherapy! A few minutes later, the scent of roses filled the vehicle and gave our spirits an added lift. Should you ever pass this way, be sure to breath deeply - it's one of the most delightful natural perfumes one could imagine. And here at the Central Kenya greenhouses, the scent is free. Thanks to a recent marketing effort, we are proud to report that Kenya is a major exporter of fresh, cut roses for the markets of Western Europe. It's a promising sign of the times for this agriculturally based country.

Much more to come as we add new installments weekly

Read about Kenya's famous Olympic Athletes of the Century from our interview with Dr. Kipchoge Keino, head of the National Olympic committee of Kenya (left), and visits with many others. These include those in the preceding pages, plus the CEO of Kenya Airlines, African Airlines Association, the Kenya chamber of Commerce, Kenya Tour Operators Association, Utalii College, the East Africa Wildlife Society, Kenya Travel Agents Association, the Standard Group, Great East Africa Auto Rally, Alliance Hotels and Resort, the Mombasa and Coast Tourist Association.


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Amboseli lies immediately North West of Mt. Kilimanjaro, on the border with Tanzania. Amboseli was established as a reserve in 1968 and gazetted as a National Park in 1974. The Park covers 392 km2, and forms part of the much larger 3,000 Km2 Amboseli ecosystem. Large concentrations of wildlife occur here in the dry season, making Amboseli a popular tourist destination. It is surrounded by 6 communally owned group ranches. The National Park embodies 5 main wildlife habitats (open plains, acacia woodland, rocky thorn bush country, swamps and marshland) and covers part of a Pleistocene lake basin, now dry. Within this basin is a temporary lake, Lake Amboseli, that floods during years of heavy rainfall. Amboseli is famous

The Lodge: In harmony with nature, the Amboseli Serena Safari Lodge, being located in the center of Maasai territory, reflect the tribe's colorful culture in its architecture and interior design. (more to come)

The Crested Crane of Africa resembles a peacock and flies in wedge shaped formation during migration. Its animated courtship dance involves bowing and hopping about noisily while circling its partner. The cranes we saw at Amboseli performed a similar version to scare off, or at least impress the cobra.