African Sa­fari

Taste & Travel - - Contents -

NATHAN FONG tack­les the great out­doors — in five-star com­fort.

I WAS NOT QUITE SURE WHAT TO THINK when told cheer­fully but in a se­ri­ous tone, “The ho­tel is a very fa­mous and beau­ti­ful city land­mark… se­cured and safe, as all the win­dows fac­ing the t main street are bul­let proof.” I’ve vis­ited many a city with hec­tic traf­fic and con­ges­tion, from Shang­hai to Is­tan­bul, but with its past po­lit­i­cal con­flicts and ter­ror­ist at­tacks, I did feel un­cer­tain land­ing in Nairobi at Jomo Keny­atta In­ter­na­tional Air­port and nav­i­gat­ing through the chaotic, cir­cu­lat­ing traf­fic. But my dis­com­fort quickly dis­solved as our driver pulled into the se­cured drive­way of the colo­nial-era c Fair­mont The Nor­folk Ho­tel, built in 1904 as a lux­ury haven h for early set­tlers seek­ing to es­cape the harsh con­di­tions of Kenya’s K Maa­sai Mara, coast­line and Great Rift Val­ley.

…We wel­comed the shade of the mas­sive canopy of aca­cia trees…

Built in i a sig­na­ture i Tu­dor style, adorned with red clay roof tiles, The Nor­folk sits amid some four acres of trop­i­cal land­scaped grounds and pool­side gar­dens. Newly ren­o­vated, this el­e­gant oa­sis would be the launch point for our sa­fari tours of Kenya’s re­mark­able na­tional game re­serves.

Fol­low­ing a much needed slum­ber af­ter cross­ing 10 time zones, we headed out at sun­rise to avoid the mid­day heat and flew out on a small twin-prop air­craft to­wards the heart of the Maa­sai Mara, the large Kenyan game re­serve that is con­tigu­ous with the Serengeti Na­tional Park in neigh­bour­ing Tan­za­nia. Fly­ing over this vast land­scape of var­ied ter­rain, from cav­ernous val­leys to lush grass­lands, we en­joyed mag­nif­i­cent views of mi­grat­ing herds of wilde­beests, gi­raffes and hyp­notic striped ze­bras. Tak­ing in these breath­tak­ing views I imag­ined the ini­tial hori­zons Karen Blixen must have viewed a cen­tury ago when she wrote her au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal epic, Out of Africa.

Land­ing on the grassy Ngerende airstrip in the mid­dle of the Mara, a mud-thatched hut wel­comed us to the wild en­vi­ron­ment and our first sa­fari in this renowned re­serve. I had pre­vi­ously ex­pe­ri­enced the Greater Kruger Na­tional Park with its South African colo­nial charm, lux­u­ri­ous camps, su­perb wines and tra­di­tional cock­tail-laden ‘sun­down­ers,’ but this was the first sa­fari for my photographer hus­band. Like a kid in a candy store, he was ea­ger to ex­pe­ri­ence the wild an­i­mal kingdom that he had heard so much about. We were amused by the low tech of the ‘airstrip’ when a cou­ple of ado­les­cent boys went run­ning down the strip with long white ban­ner­flags to clear the path­way of birds for the solo plane take­off. We were cer­tainly in the heart of iso­lated grass­lands… and the in­fi­nite hori­zon of wild an­i­mals.

Greeted by our very knowl­edge­able driver, it took us lit­er­ally min­utes to cover a short dis­tance be­fore stop­ping to cap­ture shots of mon­keys, warthogs, hip­pos and evil-look­ing hye­nas. In the glar­ing heat-wave of the noon sun (and it’s their win­ter!), we wel­comed the shade of the mas­sive canopy of aca­cia trees mark­ing the en­trance to the Fair­mont Mara Sa­fari Club, an epit­ome of tented lux­ury. Sur­rounded on three sides by the Mara River, this unique set­ting houses a Main Lodge in­spired by

Maa­sai tribal vil­lages and 50 su­perbly fur­nished can­vas tents with el­e­gant draped mos­quito net­ting, four-poster, pil­low-top beds and ve­ran­das over­look­ing the hippo- and croc­o­dile-filled river. You’re truly in na­ture’s wild when you’re wo­ken up in the night by var­i­ous an­i­mal sounds, in­clud­ing the en­thu­si­as­tic hip­pos, a mere jaunt down the river bank be­low our ter­race!

Lo­cated in the south-west re­gion of Kenya, The Maa­sai Mara Na­tional Re­serve is con­sid­ered one of the Seven “New” Won­ders of the World. It is one of the world’s rich­est wildlife re­serves and home to an ar­ray of an­i­mals, from the “Big Five” (African ele­phant, Black rhi­noc­eros, Cape buf­falo, African lion and African leop­ard), which we were very for­tu­nate to see in a mere two days, to the other marvels of this vast sa­van­nah.

At early dawn, pre-sun­rise, we set out on sa­fari in the camp’s six pas­sen­ger ve­hi­cles. In African mid-win­ter, the morn­ing was rel­a­tively com­fort­able as we cap­tured the tail-end mi­gra­tion of herds, mainly wilde­beests and ze­bras, heading from Tan­za­nia’s Serengeti plains to the grass­lands of the Maa­sai Mara. Some two mil­lion wilde­beests and other graz­ers make this the largest ter­res­trial mam­mal mi­gra­tion in the world. The an­i­mals trek north af­ter the rainy sea­son, around May and June, and mi­grate in an enor­mous loop ev­ery year, heading back south in Oc­to­ber and Novem­ber. Even though I’ve been on an African sa­fari pre­vi­ously, it was ex­hil­a­rat­ing to see the ex­cite­ment of my fel­low pas­sen­gers and my hus­band’s amaze­ment as we trekked through grassy land­scapes, muddy creek beds and along paths of bush tram­pled by ele­phants, try­ing to catch sight of the area’s wild in­hab­i­tants. It got the adren­a­line go­ing as we ticked off the birds and an­i­mals on our list!

A cor­nu­copian as­sort­ment of dishes awaited our ar­rival at the main lodge, lo­cated at the cen­tre of the camp, when we re­turned ex­hausted af­ter our early start. An ar­ray of in­ter­na­tional dishes ar­ranged un­der the vaulted wooden beam ceil­ing was en­hanced with lo­cal dishes in­flu­enced by tra­di­tional home­steads — from mishkaki, (small skew­ers of mar­i­nated lo­cal game meat bar­be­cued over an open boma firepit) and ugali (a sta­ple thick maize meal por­ridge), to hearty stews of goat, and veg­e­tar­ian dishes like the fra­grant ma­haragwe, made with dried beans, onions and toma­toes.

One of our most mem­o­rable ex­pe­ri­ences was the nightly pre­sen­ta­tion of tribal cho­rus and dance by the tall Maa­sai tribes­men, dressed in their tra­di­tional to­gastyle robes, who en­ter­tain guests with tra­di­tional chant­ing and rhyth­mic throat singing, ac­com­pa­nied with ad­umu, or “jump­ing dance.” This rit­ual style of com­pet­i­tive jump­ing by male war­riors up and down in a nar­row straight pos­ture dur­ing the poly­phonic singing is con­sid­ered mas­cu­line and ap­peal­ing to the op­po­site sex.

Af­ter en­joy­ing this el­e­gant tent camp, we flew south, cross­ing the bor­der to the UNESCO World Her­itage Site of the Serengeti in Tan­za­nia and the lux­u­ri­ous Four Sea­sons Re­sort in the heart of this mas­sive ecosys­tem. Opened just six years ago, this spec­tac­u­lar 77-room ho­tel is perched on a rocky high­land over­look­ing end­less grass­lands and wa­ter­ing holes. The mag­nif­i­cent ter­raced rooms and pri­vate pool vil­las are designed for com­plete pri­vacy with el­e­vated walk­ways con­nect­ing them to the main lodge, keep­ing guests safe above the an­i­mals while pro­vid­ing a spec­tac­u­lar view­ing plat­form.

On our first day, while rest­ing on our spa­cious bal­cony, I was wo­ken by splash­ing sounds com­ing from a large wa­ter­hole in front of our vaulted suite. Lit­er­ally 100 feet away a herd of ele­phants were drink­ing and cool­ing them­selves un­der the hot sun. We were fas­ci­nated ob­serv­ing their hi­er­ar­chy and the dom­i­nance of the ma­tri­arch as she took charge of the group, in­clud­ing the adorable ba­bies and a cou­ple of ado­les­cents flirt­ing with each other. We were mes­mer­ized as the herd started to head off to­wards the sa­van­nah hori­zon in an or­derly fash­ion, and amused by the ma­tri­arch as she headed back to break up the cou­ple still in a youth­ful tryst. Dur­ing our stay we also saw groups of ze­bras and ba­boons com­ing to hy­drate and slake their thirst in the arid heat.

The Tan­za­nian game drives were just as cap­ti­vat­ing as the ones in Maa­sai Mara, but more re­stricted as

ve­hi­cles are kept on the rough dirt roads, un­like the more re­laxed off-road ven­tur­ing in Kenya. As we re­turned each day from our Serengeti treks, the hu­mor­ous door­men would ask “How did you like your African mas­sage?” re­fer­ring to the some­times bumpy rides!

The stylish restau­rants at The Four Sea­sons Serengeti Re­sort have ex­cep­tional views at ev­ery turn, from the sweep­ing plains and wa­ter­ing holes at the pris­tine main in­fin­ity pool’s Maji Bar and Ter­race Restau­rant to the dra­matic and unique seat­ing around the cir­cu­lar open fire pit at the Boma Grill, which fea­tures tra­di­tional and con­tem­po­rary cuisines.

The Four Sea­sons is an ex­cep­tion­ally well designed re­sort, of­fer­ing all the com­forts and ameni­ties in the heart of the wilder­ness. We were well ed­u­cated at the prop­erty’s im­pres­sive Dis­cov­ery Cen­tre, where we learned the nat­u­ral and cul­tural his­tory of the sur­round­ing her­itage site.

Af­ter our long, tir­ing and dusty game drives, it was at the re­sort’s tran­quil spa that we got to re­hy­drate, re­store and re-en­er­gize for the next day’s ex­cit­ing quests. Se­cluded and reach by the el­e­vated walk­way, the spa fea­tures a va­ri­ety of Serengeti-in­spired treat­ments tap­ping the ben­e­fits of lo­cal plants, min­er­als and heal­ing rit­u­als from the lo­cal no­madic tribes.

It was the per­fect place to re­flect on two mag­nif­i­cent coun­tries, two spec­tac­u­lar sa­fari re­sorts, each so dif­fer­ent but with the same fo­cus, en­sur­ing com­fort for their guests, many that have trav­elled from afar to ven­ture into the heart of one of the world’s most trea­sured re­gions.

PHOTOS THIS SPREAD CLOCKWISESpa Treat­ment FROM TOP LEFT Bun­ga­lows, Four Sea­sons Serengeti; Game drive pride of lions; Game drive un­der Aca­cia trees; Cook­ing at The Fair­mont Mara Sa­fari Club; A pair of African Crowned Cranes; A zeal of ze­bras; Rest­ing lions; Break­fast ta­ble; African os­trich; Yawn­ing hippo; A tower of gi­raffes; Main lobby, Four Sea­sons Serengeti.

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