Monday, January 16, 2017

Gretchen's Kenya Highlights

An elephant approaching the dining area at Elephant Bedroom Camp in Samburu

It was fantastic to be back in Kenya with Albatros Travel in November. This was my fourth visit to the country, and as has happened in visits past, I found more to love. Here are my Kenya safari highlights:

Nairobi National Park - I love going right into the bush straight from a long international journey. Nairobi National Park soothes away the jarring noise of travel, and it's pretty amazing to immediately head into a park (with incongruous city vistas at some vantage points) that's home to four of the big 5 directly on arrival to Africa. The Emakoko is a luxurious lodge in a beautiful setting and is the perfect antidote to shake off the haze of 26 hours' voyage.
A hungry cheetah family feeds in the background

Samburu - This was my first ever visit to Samburu National Park, and boy, did it wow! The wildlife is spectacular and abundant, and includes the 'Special 5' - reticulated giraffe, Grevy’s zebra, gerenuk, Somali ostrich and beisa oryx. Elephants are super abundant, and a stay at the aptly-named Elephant Bedroom Camp allowed for some seriously close-up viewing of the gentle giants. I also had a lucky sighting of a cheetah mother with a kill calling for her three sub-adult offspring, then teaching them to find the lunch she had so graciously provided. Samburu does not disappoint, though it's probably at its best during the short rains (Nov-Dec), as the concentration of lodges along the river makes for busy game viewing during high season.

Even better - the scenery is absolutely breathtaking! The view from Saruni Samburu outside of the National Park is one of the most incredible I've seen anywhere on the continent. Throughout the park, the jagged Matthews Range is in the far background, and Mt. Olololokwe, a sacred Samburu mountain, provides a dramatic table-top backdrop for much of the game viewing. Climbing Olololokwe has found a spot on my top 10 wish list!

Lions, lions and more lions - I've never had better luck viewing these amazing predators than while visiting Kenya. On each safari, I've seen more than 35 lions, and I never ever tire of watching them. The Masai Mara and its adjoining conservancies are always a safe bet for great predator sightings. I saw three lionesses hunting a warthog with my fantastic guide, Grace, from Serian Camp in Mara North. They did their best, but the warthog managed to escape - that time!

I also had a an incredibly special sighting of three-week-old cubs in Samburu - by far the youngest I've ever seen! Their rough-and-tumble play was adorable, though their fierce momma was keeping a very watchful eye.

Wild dogs - I spent a night at Laikipia Wilderness Camp and had an awesome wild dog experience. LWC partners with the Laikipia Predator Project in reporting sightings of local predators, some of which are collared. This allows for frequent wild dog sightings by camp guests. We were lucky enough to see the dogs on both drives, each time with a kill. On one drive, we were allowed to safely exit the vehicle and sit on the ground not far from the feeding action - it was an experience I will never forget!

I also spotted my very first zorilla on a night drive at Laikipia Wilderness Camp - a very exciting find!

Walking safari - I had the chance to do two nights' walking safari with Karisia Walking Safaris in Laikipia. I love walking safaris, but hadn't done much more than a morning's walk in Kenya before. Karisia has multi-day camel-supported adventures throughout the country. They have varying setups (Classic, Luxury and AirBnC - that is, Air Bed and Camel), as well as a permanent tented tamp, Tumaren. The guides were fantastic, the scenery wild and unblemished, and the food was delicious and more than kept us fueled for our walking efforts. Another wish list item - a week walking with Karisia in the Matthews Range, or a walking safari culminating in a Mt. Kenya ascent!

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Where to find 13 months of sunshine, the songs of humpback whales and walking with Bushmen

Spectacular Fuego Volcano as seen from one of Guatemala's beautiful private estates

What's happening this week in the Kusini Collection:

Naïa's spa is a tranquil retreat from the 'hardships' of
playing in Placencia
Maya Trails: We're continuing to mine gold from The New York Times list of '52 Places to Go in 2017,' and laid-back Placencia, Belize is that latest. You know you've found someplace cool when a traffic arm still swings down to close the main road for aircraft landings. But Maya Trails tells us Placencia is officially on the map with the recent opening of Naïa Resort and Spa, soon to be followed by Itz'ana Resort & Residences in March. The beach town offers access to the Belize Barrier Reef and seasonal diving with whale sharks!

Travel Ethiopia: Lonely Planet counted 13 months of sunshine among the reasons it named Ethiopia to its list of 'Best in Travel 2017 Top Countries,' their list of 10 destinations 'you cannot afford to miss.' Its stunning landscapes are reason enough to go, but add to that adventurous trekking through the Simien Mountains to spot unusual endemic wildlife, visiting incredible churches and historical sites, exploring the otherworldliness of the Afar region and more, its an incomparable destination. The guides at Travel Ethiopia give travelers the richest possible experience of all of the country's exotic attractions.

IsaMar is just steps from water-based Galapagos fun!
Tropic Ecuador: Tropic Ecuador has taken their commitment to the Galapagos Islands to the next level by assuming the representation of the Isabela Lodge on Isabela Island. The hotel will be reborn as the IsaMar Hotel and joins Magic Galapagos on Santa Cruz and Floreana Lava Lodge as part of the Tropic family of unique, boutique accommodations committed to sustainable tourism, authentic experiences and excellent guiding. Learn more about IsaMar and Isabela Island here, then join us for an educational webinar on Wednesday, January 25th at 1pm ET/10am PT.

Ultimate Safaris: There is much to love about Wolwedans camps in Namibia's NamibRand Nature Reserve, including the beautiful landscapes, solitude, night skies and the wildlife. Ultimate Safaris tells us that there is now even more to love, as Wolwedans is offering guided Bushman walks. Walkers might see interesting insects, Namaqua chameleons, sidewinder snakes, interesting tracks and other imprints in the sand. On afternoon walks, guests can enjoy a sundowner at the end of their excursion. We suggest booking in advance so travelers don't need to pay at the lodge for this extra activity.

Humpback whales migrate to the waters of Todos Santos from
mid-October through mid-March. Photo by Colin Ruggiero.
Todos Santos Eco Adventures: "The humpbacks are here, the humpbacks are here," Bryan Jauregui, co-owner of Todos Santos Eco Adventures and part-time town crier shouts from their hillside Los Colibris Casitas. It is an exciting moment to be there when they arrive! Even more exciting is the passion the whole TOSEA team has for the whales and other inhabitants of the water and land in Baja California Sur. For a taste of their enthusiasm and personality, click here for a short and entertaining read on the songs of the humpbacks written by Bryan herself.

New Frontiers: What place is synonymous with the Zambezi, outstanding natural beauty, close encounters with big game, exciting canoeing and some of the best walking in Africa? UNESCO World Heritage Site Mana Pools NP in Zimbabwe! Unlike most parks in Africa, Mana Pools has a complexity that needs to be understood to ensure visitors have the best safari. This means matching a client's expectations with the right camp and the right style of safari. Read Sally's report for a taste of Mana Pools, then work with New Frontiers for the perfect itinerary.

Stories from the Mobile Dentists Safari include a 12-year-old
whose cancerous jaw tumor was successfully treated
Imvelo Safari Lodges: Imvelo Safari Lodges' sixth annual Mobile Dentists Safari, which provides relief to people from hundreds of villages around Hwange and Victoria Falls, has wrapped up and was a resounding success. This year, the tireless volunteers from Zimbabwe, Spain and Italy treated the 10,000th patient and administered the 25,000th dental procedure! Imvelo partners with a number of foundations to help sponsor the Safari, and provides massive logistical support to make it all happen. Read the happy recounting of this year's safari on our blog.

Classic Africa Safaris: There's little better after a long journey than being welcomed into a homey B&B like family. When traveling to Uganda, visitors to Karibu Guest House will experience exactly that! Tucked into a leafy hillside above Lake Victoria, the 7-room property is only 10 minutes from Entebbe airport and is a favorite of both Classic Africa Safaris and Kusini. Karibu has recently added a lovely, secluded swimming pool to let guests work out the kinks of international travel with a few laps, or just a relaxing soak with a drink from the in-pool bar!

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

IsaMar Hotel joins Tropic Ecuador's family of boutique accommodations

Tropic Ecuador has taken their commitment to the Galapagos Islands to the next level by assuming the representation of the Isabela Lodge on Isabela Island. The hotel will be reborn as the IsaMar Hotel and joins Magic Galapagos on Santa Cruz and Floreana Lava Lodge as part of the Tropic family of unique, boutique accommodations, all committed to sustainable tourism, authentic experiences and excellent guiding.

IsaMar is idyllically located on Isabela’s beautiful white sand beachfront. Its setting gives guests sweeping Pacific views, swaying palm trees and white sand beaches. The beautiful Galapagos retreat is walking distance to the tortoise breeding center, flamingo lagoon, water activities and to the sandy streets of town where guests will find bakeries, restaurants and bars.

IsaMar’s rooms and family suites are the perfect base for exploring Isabela’s wonders. Hearty meals are available to fuel visitors for hikes and water activities, and outdoor social areas are ideal for taking a siesta, reading a book or stargazing late into the evenings.

In 2007, Tropic saw an opportunity pioneer tourism on Isabela Island, the largest in the Galapagos. They broke through the limits of the traditional cruising itinerary to show Isabela’s incredible flora, fauna, landscapes and laid-back atmosphere to their travelers, and to benefit the local fishing community through tourism and its Galapagos Walking Tours.

Today, travelers visiting Isabela with Tropic will benefit from their intimate, long-term knowledge of the island. Guests can hike to the rim of the second largest volcanic crater in the world. Small islands offshore give a glimpse of a miniature Galapagos – white-tipped reef sharks, sea lions, turtles, rays and penguins can all be found in a concentrated area. All of the Galapagos water activities are on offer as well, including snorkeling, kayaking, surfing and more.

IsaMar is featured in Tropic’s 5 day/4 night Galapagos by land guaranteed set departures visiting Santa Cruz, South Plazas and Isabela, as well as their 7 day/6 night private journey which explores Santa Cruz, Bartolome, Floreana and Isabela. The property can also be booked on customized trips to the archipelago with Tropic’s ground handling arm with offices in Quito and Puerto Ayora.

A visit to Isabela with Tropic is more than the typical Galapagos vacation; it takes into account the environmental and social aspects of a visit to the Islands and contributes to the local economy, sustaining its residents and culture.

Contact Tropic Ecuador for more information or to book.

Wooing a Whale: Humpback Crooners in Baja

Humpback whales migrate to the waters of Todos Santos every year from mid October through mid March
- if you are there, you'll not miss the opportunity to watch their playful antics from a boat or the beach!

Written by Bryan Jáuregui, Todos Santos Eco Adventures

If science had all the answers, poets and dreamers would be out of a job. So when scientists tell us that they’re not really sure why humpback males sing – and it is only the males that sing – then it’s up to the rest of us to look at the evidence and help science along.

And here’s what the evidence shows us. Like traditional mariachis, all-male college a capela groups, and the Rat Pack, humpback whales in Baja clearly understand that singing, particularly with the harmonious help of your mates, is the best way to get the girl. Now some scientists theorize that humpback males are singing only as a type of echolocation exercise of the type used by their dolphin cousins, a way to map out the world around them. This certainly may be true – because how else are they going to find the girls? But that really doesn’t explain why some humpback whale songs are several hours long and, according to the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, grammatically complex and loaded with information. Like a ballad. Or why sexually immature young males join their virile older brothers in song. Like frat boys with their pledges beneath a sorority girl’s window. Or why all the males in one region will congregate in an arena and sing the same song. Like a boy-band in an outdoor stadium. Or why a male escorting a female and her calf will sing. Like a lullaby.

These are all great mysteries that the poets are currently best equipped to ponder, but they don’t begin to touch on the greatest mystery of all – how does the female humpback decide which singer is worthy of her affections? Science presently has no answer, but maybe this is why Elvis always sang alone.

Watching the humpbacks from land or sea is a must when staying at Los Colibris and traveling with Todos Santos Eco Adventures. Contact Bryan for more information or to book!

2016 Imvelo Safari Lodges' Mobile Dentists Safari

Imvelo's 6th annual Mobile Dentists Safari was a resounding success!
Imvelo Safari Lodges' Annual Mobile Dental Safari, which provides relief to often desperate people from hundreds of villages around Hwange and Victoria Falls, has just been completed.

They treated their 10,000th dental safari patient in their sixth year, and administered their 25,000th dental procedure - all  in remote rural areas and challenging situations.

The team of highly motivated Spanish, Italian and Zimbabwean dentists and nurses, supported by a massive logistical effort from Imvelo Safari Lodges, was an unequivocal success. This year they had support from D3 Foundation (USA), Higher Life Foundation (Zimbabwe) and Smile is a Foundation (Spain), as well as from several private donors.

But the numbers don’t tell the whole, wonderfully inspirational story. Among the many other highlights from this year, here's a sampling:
  • 12-year-old Langton Ncube was reunited with Dr Fabio who had diagnosed him with a
    cancerous jaw tumor three years ago. Fabio then raised the funds in his home city of Verona for Langton’s successful treatment. At Sipepa on Day 7 when Fabio checked Langton’s mouth and gave him a dental ‘all clear’ along with his free toothbrush, there was not a dry eye in the examinations tent.
  • The optometry department kicked off last year when Pablo treated 221 patients, but this year with the addition of his colleague Alvaro through long days of diagnosis as well as nights of testing
    of diagnosis as well as nights of testing second hand spectacles, our optometry program expanded greatly and treated 1,256 patients with spectacles and sunglasses. Tears were common as literally hundreds of elderly people were able to read again for the first time in years.
  • When a young girl forced her way back in to give Dr Pablo two mangoes to thank him because with her new spectacles she would be able to learn to read and so return to school, everyone in the room ‘lost it.’ 
  • Elke, the German travel industry professional, was so inspired by dental safari stories that she went out and gathered close to 3000 pairs of used spectacles in the city of Wesel and arranged their complicated transportation to Zimbabwe for Pablo’s team. 
  • Last year our Elephant Express was a day-off recreational ride for the dentists. This year it was put to work ferrying the team after work at Lupote clinic from Dete to Bomani and then the next day both to and from Sipepa Hospital.
  • Gonzalo, Carlo and Laurena were three Spanish first-timers who dived into the grueling work schedule of Mobile Safari Dentistry like veterans. They were already in love with Zimbabwe when on their last evening they were awestruck and emotional seeing Nehimba’s gentle grey giants at very close quarters around our pool.
  • The uncomplaining Dentist Safari veterans who this year made short work of the waiting lines which in years gone by had intimidated us. 
The stories cannot be told without acknowledging the extraordinary efforts of the huge back room team from Imvelo that works tirelessly for weeks beforehand and then from 4 a.m. daily to make sure that the tons of paraphernalia required to mount this operation ranging from sandwiches and sodas to anesthetic cartridges and cotton gauze was in the right place at the right time. As well as the hundreds of patients who were transported in our buses from and back to the further reaches of the areas where we were working.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Off the beaten path in Ecuador, new flights to Victoria Falls and the Uni-Visa returns!

Cusp and her pack greeted 2017 and Bomani guests on a New Year's Day drive!
Photo: Imvelo Safari Lodges

What's happening this week in the Kusini Collection:

Flight news: Happy News! Ethiopian Airways will commence direct service to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe (VFA) beginning March 26th. Bypassing JNB, flights will be 4x/week (Tu/Th/Sa/Su) from Addis Ababa (ADD) at 8:35 am for a 12:15 arrival into VFA - leaving enough time for an afternoon activity for guests! Return flights depart VFA at 1 pm for a 9:30 pm arrival in ADD via Gabarone. These align perfectly with the 7:10 am arrival/10:50 pm departure of the Washington Dulles (IAD) flight. Check out all the new Southern Africa flights making travel planning easier on our blog. 

Namibia's value isn't the only thing that will thrill your safari
clients during a visit. Photo by Jason Nott
Ultimate Safaris: The travel world has been abuzz about visiting South Africa because of the rand's weakness against the dollar. Little has been said about the value of traveling to Namibia, however, but now the secret is out. The Namibian dollar is pegged to the value of the rand meaning that it's also an incredible deal for safari enthusiasts! So much so that Lonely Planet named Namibia among its 'Best Value Destinations for 2017.' Ultimate Safaris' offers both customized and set departures to explore Namibia's wonders.

Albatros Travel: The New York Times '52 Places to Go in 2017' was just released and Laikipia, Kenya made the exclusive list! The malaria-free Borana Conservancy gets a special mention. It is 90,000 protected acres of beautiful land that is home to elephant, lion, rhinoceros and more. Game activities abound, as do glimpses into Samburu and Maasai culture. A variety of accommodation options are available - ask Albatros Travel which property would be a good fit for your clients.

Visitors to Ecuador's cloud forests will revel in the area's 
wildlife and waterfalls. Photo: Mashpi Lodge
Tropic Ecuador: Michaela Trimble of Vogue magazine decided to get off the beaten path on a visit to Ecuador and was delighted with her discoveries. She came up with a list of '5 Outdoor Havens That Aren't the Galapagos' that will please everyone from culture seekers to adventure junkies. Ideas for exploring the Andes, learning the mysteries of the cloud forest and seeking sloths in the Amazon make for inspirational trip planning. Tropic Ecuador has expertise in all of the areas covered, and can customize a journey for your clients.

New Frontiers: The much anticipated return of the popular Uni-Visa for Zambia and Zimbabwe has arrived! The $50 visa is valid for 30 days and covers multiple entries into both countries through specific ports of entry, as well as day trips to Botswana via the Kazangula border. New Frontiers cautions that visitors must request the Uni-Visa, otherwise there is a good chance they will be furnished with a single entry visa or asked to pay the higher fee for a double entry visa. Get all of the details on our blog.

Bomani Tented Lodge will see a new family suite and pool for
the hot summer months!
Imvelo Safari Lodges: There will be more beds at Imvelo Safari Lodges' properties in 2017!  The additions will take Zambezi Sands River Camp, Nehimba Lodge and Bomani Tented Lodge to their ideal sizes and ensure that Imvelo has the capacity to meet the increasing demand while still allowing their properties to retain their intimate charm and personalized touch. Details of the additions and upgrades(!) can be found on the Kusini blog. The additions will be ready on August 1, and are currently available for booking from that date forward.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

More Beds at Imvelo Safari Lodges

Imvelo Safari Lodges is extremely excited to share the news that they are planning to expand capacity at three of their camps during 2017! The additions below will take the properties to their ideal sizes and ensure Imvelo has the capacity to meet the demand for guests to enjoy a once-in-a-lifetime safari while still allowing their properties to retain their intimate charm and personalized touch.

Zambezi Sands River Camp: Two new luxury twin Bedouin-style tents will take the total to 10 spacious and beautifully appointed tents overlooking the mighty Zambezi River, situated in the Zambezi National Park, upstream from the Victoria Falls.

Nehimba Lodge: Two new twin canvas-under-thatch tents, bringing the total number of tents to 9. Situated on Imvelo's private concession in northern Hwange National Park, each of the luxurious tents overlook the lodge waterhole and have large decks to enjoy wonderful views of the wildlife coming down to drink.  

Bomani Tented Lodge: New family suite with two twin en-suite tents and connecting lounge as well as the replacement and upgrade of three of the original Hornbill Tents with new Saddlebill Tents. These will be on raised decks in keeping with the original style of the Hornbills but will be slightly larger and have new furnishings. The new family suite will be line priced with Imvelo's Spurwing luxury tents and there will be no change to the published 2017 rates for the new Saddlebill tents. Bomani will also be adding a pool to relax and enjoy the hot summer months!

These new additions will be ready from the August 1st 2017 and Imvelo is already taking bookings for the extensions!

Images of the new family suite at Bomani and the new Hornbills/Saddlebills will be shared in the coming months but the descriptions of the additional tents at Zambezi Sands and Nehimba will be as per the current tent specs and amenities.