I had been looking forward to leading the Small World Marketing Fam Trip to Kenya and Zanzibar since preparations had started last January; however I can’t deny that I was more than a little apprehensive too; this was after all my first trip to Africa and however much faith I had in our clients all taking excellent care of the group, the fear of the unknown kept creeping in. Would transfers turn up? Would connections at places named simply ‘one tree hill’ actually connect? Add to that the fact that 2 weeks before our departure Kenya security concerns gained major coverage in the UK media and constant destination update emails from the FCO kept popping into my inbox I was not totally relaxed about my imminent adventure to say the least.
Luckily the faultless Kenya Airways night flight followed by our first smooth transfer immediately had me feeling better. We were greeted at Nairobi airport by the very efficient and effusive team from Youth Aviation who swiftly navigated us out of JKIA and over to Wilson airport in no time. On the runway we were led over to not one but 2 pristine helicopters complete with smiling pilots bearing goody bags, this was looking good. This is a great alternative way for those clients who want to fly straight out of JKIA and if the group is of up to 4 then it is not much more expensive than flying on a scheduled flight but a lot more exciting, especially if this is to be your first glimpse of rural Africa as it was for me.
Our flight took us over sprawling shanti towns and wealthier suburbs of Nairobi before the landscape below us opened up into the vast expanse of the Rift Valley. The further from Nairobi we ventured the tiny farms below us dissipated giving way to a vast undulating expanse of burnt umber dotted with shrubs and the occasional goat enclosure. It was just amazing to the uninitiated African traveler to look down on the little Masai small holdings and pinpoint the warriors standing out in their splendid scarlet robes like the pins on a google map.
Our trusty pilots were to transport us seamlessly to Mahali Mzuri in the Olore Motoragi Conservancy on the border of the Masai Mara ecosystem. As we turned a steep corner and soared down the valley our first dramatic sighing of our first destination was of space ship like saucers perched on the scarp face.
A row of uniquely designed spherical canvas and steel tents perched atop the valley, at once alien to their landscape but also strangely blended in with the natural environment. The distinctive 12 tented suites perch along the edge of the escarpment taking advantage of amazing views over the valley below.
As our helicopter touched down and we were advised to run diagonally from the blades whirring a little too close for comfort we were greeted by one after another scarlet bobbing Masai with outstretched hand and broad smile, “welcome to Richard Branson’s Mahali Mzuri” they chanted, as if we might not know who was behind this new and ambitious venture.
Champagne downed and head slightly buzzing, it was only 9.30am; each guest was guided to their own tented suite and gently reminded that lions do roam in the vicinity.
Each tent is named after a different Masai clan and comprises of a bedroom, which despite the large exterior was quite cozy inside and with a quirky contemporary feel. There were thoughtful touches throughout, like ready stamped postcards, homemade biscuits and a complimentary mini-bar which included more champagne, they definitely knew the way to this girl’s heart! Another nice touch was the Masai Spear outside the door which could be relocated to signal if one didn’t want to be disturbed. I was tempted to do just that on seeing the large inviting white bed but there was so much more to do before that became an option.
A quick introduction to managers (and brothers) Tarn and Liam whose passion for the conservation aspect of Mahali Mzuri was tangible – they camped on site for 5 years working with the local communities before the camp even opened!
The site was well laid out, spacious and organized with most of the action focusing on a large open central mess area which comprised of a dining tent and separate living room with (another) complimentary bar. The latter creating a homely and relaxed environment in which the operators could down their sorrows whilst watching the World Cup England game!
From here one could also wander down to the stunning infinity pool for a refreshing dip and further down to the spa treatment room on the valley floor.
We were soon invited to order a well-deserved late breakfast of whatever we would like, on or off menu. Apparently the chef had gone some distance to source the herbs for my omelette, which I did feel slightly guilty about!
That afternoon my inaugural game drive met every expectation I had dared to imagine. The SWM team had prepared me for the wonders in store but the reality completely blew all those out of the water. Within the next few hours we encountered elephant, zebra, giraffe, lion, leopard and migrating wildebeest. I’m not sure if the well experienced travelers in the group were more entertained by the game viewing or by witnessing my over-enthusiastic childlike excitement at my first safari experience.
Sundowners followed as the light gently faded over large gin and tonics and delicious mini chicken-pie bitings before returning to camp for dinner, oh no….more decisions on what to eat!