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Kenya turns on the Magic
by Jerry W. Bird

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.

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.

To the reader: Further sections of our Kenya tour are currently in the final stage of editing and will be online shortly. The following are excerpts from our notes, whereas the final version will be in the same day by day sequence as our tour.


Wildlife Haven in 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!

Lake Nakuru - Birds and Buffalo: 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)

On the Road Again: Early in life, being a Boy Scout brought about my proudest moments, and each proficiency badge I earned was cherished 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.

Norfolk Hotel
At home in Nairobi's Historic Grand Hotel
Visiting Nairobi's Tudor style Norfolk Hotel, now celebrating its
100th Anniversary, is like taking a journey into British colonial history. Stopping for a prearranged luncheon at this elegant hotel, we were greeted like royalty and seated at a pleasant, gardenside table next to the main dining room, where we later shared a few pleasant moments with our host, Bunty, who filled us in on the hotel's amazing story. Among the many offerings on the noon buffet menu, was a highly polished silver steamer, brimful with king-size prawns. Only on rare occasions do I take the time to photograph a meal in progress, but this was for the record. Another feast was presented on the dining room walls, where a gallery of black and white photographs portrays life in Kenya from the 1800s through to the 1950s. We could have stayed the entire day gazing at these unique images - and vow to return. See NORFOLK 100TH ANNIVERSARY

More Kenya Magic -
Next Page


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.

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