Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Sleeping in trees, value in Uganda and cheetah cub update

TOSEA's Camp Cecil on Isla Espiritu Santo aglow below the milky way.
Photo: Keenan Shoal Warner
New Frontiers: The Zambian government has introduced new taxes with immediate effect and with no prior warning that will impact travelers (existing and new bookings). Visit this page for the full New Frontiers briefing.

Luxurious Kingston tree house at Lion Sands is a firm
favorite of honeymooners
Want to take your adventurous client's Southern African safari up a big notch? Plan a night for them in a tree house recommended by New Frontiers! Tree houses can range from rustic to luxurious, and will give guests a totally different and unique experience in the bush. Check the menu on each destination page on the Agent Zone to see fun and beautiful tree houses throughout Southern Africa. From Makgadikgadi Pans to Mana Pools, you'll be dreaming of how to weave these special spots into your travelers' itineraries!

Classic Africa Safaris: Just a reminder as we announced in July, Uganda's visa fees have been cut in half to $50, and a new online visa application system is in place and working perfectly. And don't forget gorilla and chimp trekking permits are discounted during April, May and November ($50 off chimp permits and $150 off of gorilla permits). If you have a potential client wavering on price and also flexible with their travel dates, these discounts can really make a difference! Ask Classic Africa Safaris about permit availability.

Todos Santos Eco Adventures guides after their
recertification course
Todos Santos Eco Adventures: Safety first! The expert guiding team from Todos Santos Eco Adventures just completed a rigorous and thorough recertification course for water rescue with Guri Sejzer's Aquatic Safety Department. TOSEA's guides are all certified Wilderness First Aid Responders, as well as being highly trained in open water kayak rescue. You can feel secure that your clients traveling with TOSEA will be in the best hands when experiencing all of the adventure on offer in Baja California Sur's amazing waters!

Jascivan Carvalho of Tropic Ecuador, Jimmy Rogers from
Maya Trails and Sergio Jauregui from Todos Santos
Eco Adventures at AdventureNEXT 
Tropic Ecuador: The Kusini Collection's Latin America portfolio were all present and accounted for at last week's ATTA AdventureNEXT symposium in San Luis Posoti. Buyers, delegates and media had the chance to discover the destination, to network, and to brainstorm about adventure travel. Tropic Ecuador has long been considered a leader in sustainable tourism, and as such, Tropic GM Jascivan Carvalho spoke about 'Investing in the Future: Long Term Community Tourism' at the symposium. The aim of the discussion was to explore how the adventure travel industry needs to tackle challenges of balancing conservation and cultural preservation with local community enrichment.

Travel Ethiopia: Addis Ababa continues to grow and enhance its infrastructure. Along those lines, Travel Ethiopia is excited to announce that Bon Hotels has a new property under construction in the bustling metro. Just 10 minutes from Bole International Airport, the boutique hotel will offer 48 spacious and funky rooms, along with a restaurant with all day dining. The feel is planned to be upmarket and cutting-edge, and the property will be a great option for travelers. The hotel is expected to open in the first quarter of 2017.

HNP013 - a very successful cheetah mom with a few of her
subadult cubs
Imvelo Safari Lodges: Dogs and cats are thriving in southern Hwange! Following on the amazing story of Cusp the wild dog, Imvelo Safari Lodges reports that the five cheetah cubs born in May this year are thriving! Cheetah HNP013 (we're waiting for a proper name!) had the litter on the Bomani concession, and guests have loved spotting them on game drives and walks. New born cheetah have a very low survival rate so the fact that all 5 are still thriving makes this female a Super Mom!

Dogs and cats are thriving in southern Hwange!

Cheetah HNP013 with her litter of cubs earlier this year

Following on the amazing story of Cusp the wild dog, Imvelo Safari Lodges reports that the five cheetah cubs born in May of this year are thriving! Female cheetah HNP013 (we're still waiting for a proper name!), born in 2011 and who is regularly spotted on game drives from Bomani and Camelthorn Lodges, has turned out to be a "super mom" to her litter of 5 cubs on the Bomani Concession!

The cubs are regularly spotted on game drives and walks
Although litter sizes can range from 1 to 6 cubs, the average litter size is 3, so 5 is quite a large litter! Cheetahs give birth to cubs in a lair and will regularly move them to different lairs until the age of about 2 months, which is when the cubs will start following the mother and feed on solid food. Cubs are born with a mantle of fur running from the back of the neck down to the rump. This clever disguise aids in camouflaging them (making them look like honey badgers) in the high grass while they are following their mother. This mane-like feature begins to disappear at the age of 3 months, but still remains visible at 2 years of age.

The fur color of a newborn cub is medium gray, which gradually evolves into the adult colors by the age of 4 months. Now 8 months old, the cubs in HNP013's litter are still doing exceptionally well and we are so happy to see them thriving! They will stay with their mother until they are 15 - 24 months old before dispersing. Sadly, new born cheetah have a very low survival rate, so the fact that all 5 of these cubs are still thriving speaks to the success of this female at raising cubs and guests have loved sharing in this experience on their game drives and walks from Bomani Tented Lodge and Camelthorn Lodge.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Baja family adventures, Delta water levels and cocktails in the Andes

Find the latest info for your travelers on Southern African water levels on
the New Frontiers Agent Zone - learn more in the story below

What's happening this week in the Kusini Collection:

Todos Santos Eco Adventures: How much fun can you have in six days in Baja California Sur? Sonya enthusiastically answers that question in her trip report from her recent visit with Todos Santos Eco Adventures. She and her family squeezed out every drop of adventure during their stay. They enjoyed swimming, horseback riding, surf lessons, releasing baby turtles into the wild, noshing on local cuisine, stand up paddleboarding...the list goes on! Learn why Baja is the perfect destination for families, couples and solo travelers in this blog post!

Travelers can spend up to four hours with
endangered mountain gorillas
Classic Africa Safaris: Clashes were reported between Uganda government security forces and royal guards associated with the local Kasese kingdom. Classic Africa Safaris is in contact with authorities and monitoring the situation. The official statement from Tourism Uganda can be found here.

Still wondering what the new gorilla habituation experience in Bwindi might be like for your clients? Financial Times reporter David Pilling spent the day with the Bikingi gorilla family and describes his experience in this article. Most travelers that trek endangered mountain gorillas as part of an East African safari rate it as one of the most memorable experiences of a lifetime. The habituation experience with Classic Africa Safaris takes it up a notch, allowing guests four hours with the semi-habituated gorilla family. Ask Phil for permit availability.

Maya Trails: 'Chicken buses' are one of the more iconic sights seen by travelers throughout Guatemala. Now visitors can get a behind-the-scenes look at chicken bus production on Maya Trails' new Ciudad Vieja Tour while helping local youth at the same time! Guests will visit a chicken bus refurbishing shop where old US school buses are transformed into colorful Guatemalan transport. The tour also visits a local family carpentry workshop and school, where travelers will learn how Maya Trails NGO partner Ninos de Guatemala is breaking the cycle of poverty with educational programs.

Cozy Chilcabamba Lodge welcomes tired adventurers to
relax in the evenings. Photo: Paul Bertner
Tropic Ecuador: Ecuador's Cotopaxi National Park is the perfect spot for Andes Mountains adventures! Travelers can opt for Tropic Ecuador's fantastic lodge-to-lodge trek, where they will hike through (and summit!) some of the Andes most spectacular peaks. Guests can also opt for a longer stay at Tropic's charming Chilcabamba Mountain Lodge, where activities range from hiking and horseback riding to learning about (and harvesting!) local flora. Every visitor can curl up in the cozy lodge with a warm, spiced cinnamon cocktail (aka a "canelazo') and a hearty, delicious meal after their day's adventures!

Travel Ethiopia: State Department guidelines for Ethiopia travel have seen recent hiccups, but attraction to the country never fades. This New York Times piece highlights the rarely visited Afar region. With one of the most surreal landscapes on earth, it is also one of the most inhospitable. It sits 125m below sea level and is incredibly hot, thus can only be visited a few months of the year. It is a dream for photographers and adventurers alike. Concerned about safety? Contact Travel Ethiopia with questions, or ask Gretchen about her recent dinner with a Swiss diplomat living in Addis.

Clients will enjoy extra comfort and style in Ultimate's
Enriched Transfer vehicles
Ultimate Safaris: Your VIP travelers now have a new option for transfers from Hosea Kutako International Airport in Windhoek. Ultimate Safaris is pleased to introduce their new Enriched Transfer service. You can arrange for your clients to be picked up in an Audi Q5 for their transfer to Windhoek, as well as when going on selected transfers to and from Okonjima, Naankuse and Gocheganas. The new service is perfect for luxury clients, and must be booked in advance to ensure availability.

Albatros Travel: Whether your travelers are looking for the most luxurious safari in East Africa or one that's value driven, Albatros East Africa can accommodate them. They have released their 2017 set departures, which visit some of the world's most renowned wildlife viewing areas and will depart with a minimum of only 2 passengers! Your clients can visit Kenya, Tanzania or both, and with Albatros' excellent guides, expert local knowledge and comfortable, well-equipped vehicles, you have all of the ingredients to make their trip a rousing success.

VIDEO: Click here to watch Imvelo's latest Nehimba footage!
Imvelo Safari Lodges: Agents on Imvelo Safari Lodges' last FAM can confirm - Nehimba is an epic location for close encounters with hundreds of elephants during the dry season! From July - November, at both the Lodge and the Nehimba Seeps, guests can witness the spectacle. Imvelo's stay 3/pay 2 special at Nehimba is available in peak season when combined with Camelthorn or Zambezi Sands. And believe us, you'll want to stay three nights with these kind of elephant encounters! Come spring it may be even easier to get to Zim as rumor has it Ethiopian Airlines is planning to commence direct service to Victoria Falls.

New Frontiers: Seasonal variations in water levels throughout Southern Africa makes for different experiences for travelers, and New Frontiers keeps agents and operators up to date through periodic reports on their Agent Zone. Currently, the annual flood cycle in the Zambezi River and Victoria Falls is at its lowest, with water at a mere trickle over the Zambian side of the falls. The same is true for the water in the Okavango Delta. Visit the Agent Zone for full details on water levels, camp activities and more information on seasonal norms.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Black Friday shopping with a purpose

Ultimate Safaris supports Himba women through the Mbiri Skincare project.
Photo: Jason Nott 
We aren't big Black Friday shoppers, but we know a good deal when we see one. Read on for shopping ideas in Africa and Latin America where you can find something beautiful or useful while making a difference with your dollars...

There are an endless variety of beads at Kazuri, as well
as gorgeous pottery
Albatros Travel: A huge variety of artwork and jewelry can be found in Kenya, but a firm favorite of Albatros Travel is the Kazuri bead factory. Its main factory is located in Nairobi's Karen suburb on a parcel that was formerly part of the Karen Blixen estate, and visitors can tour the fair trade factory and bring home original hand-crafted jewelry. Kazuri employs more than 300 women, many of whom are single mothers, and produces more than 5 million beads every year.

Beautiful Galapagos wildlife immortalized in cedrella wood
Tropic Ecuador: The Galapagos Islands are best known for wildlife, but there's a wonderful human story as well. Tropic Ecuador's land-based trips delve into island history and local culture to give visitors a real flavor of the communities that call the islands home. Segundo has been making art in the Galapagos for nearly 23 years. He collects "cedrella" wood (an introduced species related to cedar) from the highlands to create surreal sculptures of Galapagos wildlife. Tropic can arrange visits to Segundo's small studio, located in one of the residential neighborhoods of Puerto Ayora.

A leopard clan totem by Jon Buck on display at
the Rwenzori gallery
Classic Africa Safaris: Travelers can do more than stop and stretch their legs when traveling from Queen Elizabeth NP to Bwindi with Classic Africa Safaris. A visit to the Rwenzori Art Centre promises guests a hot cup of coffee in their charming cafe and a glimpse into a thriving rural arts scene. The onsite foundry offers sculptors the opportunity to have their work cast into bronze by skilled craftsmen while the architect-designed sculpture gallery exhibits a selection of bronzes produced by the foundry for savvy collectors.

Kids are totally enamored by Streetwire's life-sized animals
New Frontiers: It would be hard to visit South Africa and leave without some of the country's wonderful hand-beaded artwork, and New Frontiers recommends a stop at Streetwire in Cape Town. This social project was designed to create sustainable employment and offers everything from life-sized animals to elegant vases, and visitors will find something for everyone on their list. Better yet, guests can catch the creative energy of the adjoining studio by watching the artists work. A visit to Streetwire is part of New Frontiers' Cape Town Eats Walking Tour

Maya Traditions artisan partners from the Qato Q'ib Coop
create backstrap woven textiles with a modern Maya feel
Maya Trails: Travelers visiting Guatemala's Lake Atitlan are immersed in color and culture, and one of the most visible and unforgettable details are the country's beautiful textiles. The Maya Traditions Foundation works with skilled indigenous women artisans to offer handmade products that help to strengthen communities. Their fair trade model helps to preserve heritage while providing employment and services for women, as well as amazing items for visitors to remember their trip long after returning home. Ask Maya Trails to incorporate a visit into your client's time in Lake Atitlan.

A sampling of the beautiful jewelry hand-crafted by
Namibia's Himba tribe
Ultimate Safaris: Your travelers can come home with something totally unique when traveling with Ultimate Safaris in Namibia. A cultural visit to a Himba village will give guests insight into the daily lives of this semi-nomadic tribe and into the entrepreneurial spirit of the Himba women, who create gorgeous jewelry and crafts. The intrepid women also sustainably harvest wild myrrh for the fair trade Mbiri Skincare project, and Ultimate provides each safari guest a complimentary lip moisturizer from Mbiri (though we also came home with body lotion and essential oil!).

Kids at Ngamo Primary benefit directly from the sale
of these children's books
Imvelo Safari Lodges: Imvelo Safari Lodges has a recommendation for the perfect gifts for little readers that also support literacy for Zimbabwean students. The Elephants Are Coming and Aunt Alice and the Lion are wonderful stories written for kids between 5 - 8 (though we're buying them for younger kids, too!), and are available for purchase at Camelthorn and Bomani Lodges, as well as for Kindle on Amazon (paperbacks will be available Feb 9, 2017 and are available for pre-order now!). Money raised from the sale of these books goes toward Hwange Schools Project in collaboration with Imvelo.

One of the stunning sculptures seen at Galeria Benito
Ortega in Todos Santos
Todos Santos Eco Adventures: Shopping is hardly the only reason to visit
Todos Santos in Baja California Sur, but the town is an artists' colony and perfect for the casual shopper or serious collector. From potters to painters, jewelers to sculptors - it has a rich history of creativity that continues today. Artists from throughout Mexico have flocked to this community, and an incredible diversity of talent is represented in its streets and shops. Bryan can help steer your clients to favorite galleries and make art a part of a visit with Todos Santos Eco Adventures.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Baja: Nature's Classroom - A Family Adventure

Taking part in citizen science - working with baby sea turtles is a highlight for the whole family!
How much fun can you have in six days in Baja? Swimming with whale sharks and sea lions, surfing, kayaking, and stand up paddle boarding, galloping on horseback, margarita mixing and cooking lessons, and releasing baby sea turtles to their ocean wild and free...and so much more! When I had the chance to have my guys (big and small) tag along with me to visit our partners, Todos Santos Eco Adventures, in Baja California Sur last month, we jumped at our good fortune! What’s a few days out of the first grade when our seven-year-old son, Cam, would be spending a week in nature’s classroom? Let me just say, this trip was a memory maker. The best part, upon return I asked Cam “At what part of the trip did you feel best?” and his reply was “When we were all together – the whole time!” Makes a mom’s heart melt.

I don’t know what your definition of an adventure vacation is but mine is being present in the moment and open to an extraordinary experience – nowadays, this can be as thrilling as high-adrenaline activities and every bit as life changing. Every activity we enjoyed was adventurous in terms of the physical, but to me, so many other moments were equally as stimulating, right down to laying on the beach after dinner, looking up and marveling at one shooting star after another jet across the twinkling sky (to the point at which Cam asked if he really had to make a wish on every one, as he’d run out!).

On a journey with Todos Santos Eco Adventures, come prepared and open to experience the beauty and diversity of Baja California Sur in a unique and remarkable way. Here are a few snapshots to give a taste of the many highlights from our trip.The first half of the vacation was in Todos Santos on the Pacific with the second part glamping on an island in the Sea of Cortez.

Who can say 'no' to baby sea turtles? We were met at the airport and set off straight to the beach – immediately immersed in our Baja experience. After a great introduction by the good folks at the Asupmatoma Organization focused on the conservation of sea turtles, we were digging up a nest in a protected corral. Suddenly, they came out like turtle popcorn! Our experience was part of a citizen science project and we were responsible for sorting, counting and tracking data. The grand finale being the release to the ocean. What a sight to see as those little guys made a mad dash to the water. We’re rooting for them!

Horse-back riding is a must in Todos Santos. Kaia Thomson's horses are beautiful animals and incredibly well-trained with a horse for every ability. Kaia herself is a wonderful person with so much to share and a naturalist in her own right - it was a sincere pleasure to ride with her. You can walk through palm forest or you can gallop along the 70 miles of coastline ahead of you - spectacular! For those non-riders in a group (such as my husband, Alex, and son, Cameron) they were happy to play with a football on the same beach and then swim in the pool at our home at Los Colibris Casitas.

All thumbs up for Taco Georges fish tacos! As Bryan from TOSEA says, "this taco joint on the side of the road is a celebration of Baja California Sur’s great contribution to Mexican cuisine – the fish taco! George buys his fish from the local fishermen at Punta Lobos and is proud to be serving a Todos Santos-sourced meal. This is a must for lunch while in town!" We couldn't agree more. 

Not being able to stay out of the water too long, we were back in for surf lessons. Even though we didn't make it out to the bigger waves - we had a blast! Cerritos Beach is perfect for surfers of all abilities. See our recent blog post for more details. 

Visitors who choose not to jump on the board can enjoy a beach chair in the shade with a good book, grab a boogie board or swim, or hang out at the Cerritos Beach Club! 

Our home in Todos Santos, Los Colibris Casitas is a wonderful oasis to retreat to at the end of a day of adventure. Winding walkways through beautiful gardens lead you to the private casitas on the property. With a configuration of seven rooms, sleeping up to 16 people, there are lovely little private terraces and spaces for everyone. Iker's Colibris cafe (breakfasts there being Cam's highlight meals through the trip), a plunge pool and hot tub, and even a movie room with large projector (ideal for Star Wars next door, while Alex and I enjoyed margarita making and a cooking class) made it perfect! Speaking of which, if you haven't already, you should have a read of our post on cooking adventures! 

What awaited next far exceeded our expectations - glamping at Camp Cecil on a private beach on Isla Espiritu Santo in the Sea of Cortez. This place was unreal. The perfect place to escape and live at your own pace for a few days. The staff here were incredible, a true family. As we arrived, other guests were leaving, and when I saw the woman crying as she said goodbye, I knew we were in for a real treat! The food was out of this world - chefs Ivan and Giovanni made it all so fresh and delicious.

There are seven walk-in safari style tents at Camp Cecil with one king/two twin beds possible. Real beds!!! Each tent can comfortably fit one extra cot and two of the tents are family size to fit two extra cots. There is nothing like waking up to a view directly to the water! The camp has two sun showers and composting toilets. One big tent in the middle serves as the dining area, bar, and lounge. A small library and games are available, too. There is also great hiking available right from camp. 

Ok, so you have no idea how many photos I took of just the water itself! It was insanely clear and a gorgeous temperature. When we weren't off on an activity, we took advantage of snorkeling right off the beach, and taking out the kayaks and stand up paddle boards available at camp. It was pretty amazing to paddle out a very short way and then sit on the board watching the sea turtles swimming all around. When simply chilling on the beach or taking a swim, we were entertained by a lone sea lion who was friendly with us. I think Cam spent at least seven hours a day in the water! It was so inviting - impossible to stay out of!

Swimming with sea lions is an incredibly happy experience. Especially the sea lion pups at the permanent colony at Los Islotes off the tip of Isla Espiritu Santo. Without a waterproof camera, we couldn't capture the hilarity but, trust me, these pups are seriously funny. The most surprising moment of our trip came while we were goofing off and trying to impress the sea lions with our underwater acrobatics. Cam was "arfing" back and forth with one sweet pup when suddenly we were dive bombed by a pelican - a crazy thing to be so close to. Clearly the pelicans like to have a feast below the surface as we enjoyed incredible snorkeling among the tropical fish around the island. 

One bay over from camp is a very active rookery of magnificent frigate birds and blue-footed boobies. Most people don't realize the diversity of birdlife in Baja! This is a wonderful kayaking trip setting off from camp. For those who don't wish to kayak as much, a cruise over on a panga is easy.

And just like that, we were in the water with whale sharks. And, let me clarify, these are sharks not whales.....but, big huge sharks. And beautiful, one of the most magnificent creatures I've encountered. To look at this picture and see my son Cam's face right there swimming along side is amazing to me, his dad, and him! What fortune and another great opportunity for teaching about conservation of our waters and realities of climate change. The Sea of Cortez is home to 39% of the world´s total number of marine mammal species, a third of the world´s marine cetacean species, and 891 fish species. We ended up seeing six whale sharks that day - awesome!

We were creative with the shells we collected on the beach - our version of beach graffiti! 

This was just a taste of the fun in the sun we had in Baja with our partners and friends at Todos Santos Eco Adventures. Baja California Sur is a destination for everyone. It's safe, easy to get to, an incredible value, and full of surprises. I can say without hesitation that this is a destination for families or couples, or solo travelers! There is so much more to do - we'll just have to return. None of the fun or inspiring conversation and activities could have been possible without the guidance and expertise of our guides. I can't speak highly enough of each one of them. 

Please don't hesitate to contact me or Bryan with any questions or interest in a Baja adventure! 

Monday, November 14, 2016

Black rhino tracking in Kenya, 2017 Guatemala/Belize rates and wine walking safari

Kayaking on Guatemala's Lake Atitlan with Maya Trails

What's happening this week in the Kusini Collection:

Albatros Travel: In February 2017, Saruni Rhino will launch East Africa's first-ever rhino tracking experience! The unique walking safari will allow guests to track black rhino on foot, accompanied by an expert Saruni guide and a highly-trained Sera Community Conservancy ranger. Using traditional Samburu tracking methods as well as transmitter signals sent from the microchips in each rhino's horn, guests will be able to track within very close range of the rhinos. Albatros Travel is taking bookings for the new Saruni Rhino, which will initially be comprised of two cottages sleeping 4-6.

Mother gorilla with Masiko (Hope) - Photo Vincent Mugaba,
Uganda Tourism Board 
Classic Africa Safaris: More than half the world's population of critically endangered mountain gorillas reside in southwestern Uganda, and that number has grown with the recent birth of three infants! Classic Africa Safari visitors tracking the Habinyanja gorilla family in the northern section of Bwindi NP can vie for a peek at the new arrivals. Permits are $600 pp, and fees are used to fund ranger salaries and anti-poaching, as well as enriching local communities, which can equal upwards of US$1 million each year to support community growth and education.

Todos Santos Eco Adventures: There's nothing like a local festival for fun and cultural immersion. Todos Santos, in Baja California Sur, boasts several town-wide festivals annually, all of which will give your guests the opportunity to mingle and celebrate with local communities in an authentic way. In 2017, there will be festivals celebrating music, film, food, wine, horses, nature, and art, filling the entire calendar year! Contact Bryan at Todos Santos Eco Adventures for the full lineup of engaging events - and to plan your travelers' adventures to accompany them!

The Elephant Express railcar offers great game viewing
and the most fun and unique way to get to Bomani and
Camelthorn Lodges in Hwange NP!
Imvelo Safari Lodges: One of the reasons we love Imvelo Safari Lodges is they offer some of the most unique safari experiences in Africa - the "Pump Run," the "Look-Up Blind" and the Elephant Express railcar to name a few. Tad is recording a series of short 2-3 minute "Imvelo 101" videos on these one-of-a-kind safari experiences! The Elephant Express is the best way to connect Bomani and Camelthorn Lodges in the south of Hwange with Nehimba Lodge in the north or with Victoria Falls. Watch the first video on the Elephant Express and look out for additional short videos coming soon!

Maya Trails: Maya Trails has released their 2017 rates and signature itineraries for travel to Guatemala, Honduras and Belize. You'll find something for every sort of traveler - from toes-in-the-sand beach retreats to shop-till-you-drop market tours. Clients just want a long weekend? They've got you covered. Each adventure has the special Maya Trails touch, illustrating their expertise in crafting beautiful and unique journeys. Our mouths are watering for Flavorful Guatemala, which we would have to follow with the 'Multi-sport' itinerary to work off a few calories with yoga, kayaking and hiking. Which trip are you dreaming of?

Ultimate's revamped Skeleton Coast and Kaokoland safari
now includes a stay at Huab Under Canvas 
Ultimate Safaris: Ultimate Safaris has updated and revamped their 11-day Skeleton Coast and Kaokoland Safari for 2017. Most notably, the new and extremely popular Huab Under Canvas kicks off the safari (read Birgit's amazing recent trip report!), and it wraps up in the award-winning Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp. It still includes awesome off-the-beaten-track highlights including rhino tracking and searching for desert-adapted elephant in ephemeral rivers, as well as authentic cultural encounters and exploration of surreal and awe-inspiring landscapes. The itinerary can be done as is, or be customized for your individual guests.

Tropic Ecuador: Tropic Ecuador constantly seeks ways to enhance traveler experiences. To that end, Tropic partnered with one of Quito's most beloved hotels to elevate the level of service it provides at its Amazon ecolodge. Award-winning Patio Andaluz led the program where Sani staff spent time learning the behind-the-scenes efforts that go into operating a luxury boutique city hotel, as well as what level of service its clients require. Sani Lodge operations benefit an entire community in the Amazon, so their ability to offer a world-class tourism product has an impact far beyond what visitors see.

Tasting among the vines at Waterford is a visually
inspiring experience 
New Frontiers: Waterford Wine Estate in South Africa's winelands is pushing the envelope of what it means to visit a winery. First they offered fantastic 'wine safaris,' where guests tour the estate in a safari vehicle and taste the wines right next to the vines they were crafted from. Now they are offering 'wine walks' ranging from 1.5 - 5 km in length (1 - 3 hrs) where guests taste wines while enjoying the estate's beauty and learning about indigenous flora. New Frontiers can make the arrangements for your clients - just remind them to wear sunscreen!

For more information, including agent rates, on any of the updates above, please contact the Kusini Collection or your tour consultant at the appropriate operator. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Ultimate Safaris' //Huab Under Canvas: The Luxury of Going Back to Nature

//Huab Under Canvas
Ultimate Safaris' Marketing Director Birgit Bekker recently spent 4 nights at the //Huab Under Canvas in Damaraland, Namibia. Here is her amazing report from those five soul-enriching days!

I couldn’t wait to finally see //Huab Under Canvas, our semi-mobile camp that was opened in record time in June this year; although I have to admit I had my trepidation - I would be away from the office for 5 days, which I couldn't really afford and what would I (and the guests) possibly do for all that time?! But it was all or nothing; and I am never one to refuse an invitation to go somewhere wild!

Over the past two decades I had the privilege to visit some extraordinarily luxurious lodges, often located in remote and exotic parts of Africa, resplendent with 5 course dinners, private plunge pools, kingsize beds and every whim catered to. Life was good!

But in recent years I noticed a trend, which was not just a personal yearning for myself, but also among our high end travelers coming to Namibia, to experience something different.  A craving for an authentic interaction with nature, to hear and smell and feel the wildness all around, and enjoy experiences few others have done before - seasoned travelers were quite happy to pay a surcharge for exclusivity that provides a sense of adventure, pioneering off from the normal tourist route, even if it means selecting more rustic accommodation, but without compromising on comfort and safety and where you are still assured wholesome food, a good night's rest, a hot shower and exceptional guides to explore the land with.

This is what this camp promised, and I was keen to take it to the test. It was an easy drive from Windhoek to Khorixas, and then the real journey started as we veered onto the gravel road north west of this Damaraland outpost.  The well maintained gravel road soon changed into a more rugged jeep track.  Some parts of the road seemed pretty rough, but nothing that Tarry and his trusty Hilux couldn't navigate as we 4x4'd our way over boulders, down canyons, and through sandy rivers.  I am always so amazed at the skills of our guides and some of the routes they seem to navigate so seamlessly.

Along the way we passed a small village within the conservancy where we get our water for the camp and then we traveled past the basic camp of the rhino rangers, but otherwise there were no other people around.

We arrived at night as we left Windhoek quite late, with a full moon lighting the way. That evening I slept outside on the deck overlooking the riverbed, as we would be preparing the tents the following day when the guests would arrive. I felt completely safe on my raised deck, sheltered among the Mopane trees.

The next morning I got to explore the camp at leisure until our guests would arrive only later that afternoon.  There was little I still needed to do - Jimmy and Daniel have their Under Canvas routine operating like a smooth running machine and within hours everything was set up.  Tarry and I brought our mountain bikes along and decided to explore some of the routes for potential bike trails that morning.
The jeeps tracks are generally in great condition, though sometimes the game trails were smoother, less rocky, but required faster reaction time as they wound around the hills.  I loved every moment of it, including the arduous ascend up a mountain, where I had to push my bike most of the way.  The view from what I call the "The pass with no name" was overlooking the most spectacular mountain vistas, those typical Damaraland landscapes of table top mountains colored in purple, pink and orange hues.  Ontop of the pass I let myself be surrounded by the magnificent silence of Damaraland as we spotted some mountain zebra and springbok in the distance.  This was well worth pushing my mountain bike for. On our cycle ride back, we came upon a fresh springbok carcass (maybe a day old) and speculated that it was most likely a cheetah kill.

That afternoon our guests, Richard and Robin, arrived by road from Sorris Sorris with their guide Will.  I introduced them to THEIR camp; all this was set up just for them, and we discussed options of what we can do for the next four days.

The concept is simple - the camp is exclusively erected per group, guest, family  or friends and you never share with other guests if they were not part of the original group. Everything is catered around our guests' need - if you want to shower at 2pm, we'll heat up the water in moments and voila, bucket shower is ready.   You can enjoy freshly made meals at any time, though of course no point sleeping till 10am if there is a whole world out there to explore.   Our tribe works really hard at making this "your" camp; for example Will gave us an advance notice that the guests prefer Vodka & Tonic rather than the traditional G&T's, so we made sure we were well stocked up on vodka. The Beast, as we lovingly call the Kitchen Car, has a potent freezer and thus the V&T's came with generous servings of ice cubes, much needed in the Namibian summer time.

That first evening we enjoyed a chilled fireside conversation, giving guests a briefing on the rhino rangers, who on behalf of the Save the Rhino Trust monitor and collect research data on the 7 rhino that were relocated to this concession a few years ago.  The rangers are accompanied by the Namibian Police who act as the law-enforcement support to the rangers.  We explained what to expect on a rhino track and the procedures in how to safely have a close encounter with the endangered, sometimes quite temperamental Black Rhino.  The rhino tracking at the //Huab Under Canvas Camp is done exclusively for our guests, and so far we had a 100% success rate to encounter one of the 7 rhinos of the concession (there is even a mom with her 1.5 year old calf, and one female that is weeks away from giving birth).

That following morning, after a hearty breakfast (replete with eggs and bacon of your choice, and robust, darkly flavored plunger coffee which delighted the coffee snob in me), off we drove to the SRT camp. Here we picked up our rhino ranger and drove around the concession to meet up with the rest of the rangers and the NamPol unit who had already left at the crack of dawn to locate a possible rhino.   By the time our rhino ranger contacted them, they had not found a rhino yet, not even a track. However, apparently one rhino was spotted at a spring near the camp at midnight, so we picked up the rest of the rangers and drove back to the camp, where they hoped to locate its track.  Initially the plan was to find a rhino, and then return to camp for brunch and relax in the heat of the day, but of course nature doesn't follow a routine. This is not a problem in a camp that is sole-use to guests, and where we have no concerns about keeping a schedule.

As the trackers tried to locate the rhino, our guests enjoyed the freshly prepared brunch, until the news came - finally, a rhino was spotted.  It would require an extensive hike across mountains in the midday heat - but it was a no-brainer, the guests were keen, and would not miss out on what could be a once-in-lifetime experience.

Off we went, sometimes walking along game trails, sometimes what we call in Africa "bundubashing".  And our long, hot hike was rewarded, coming across a young bull called Teka, resting in the shade of a large Melkbos.  It was a special sighting, and we all felt we earned it - it was an exhilarating experience coming upon the rhino on foot, always following the respectful trackers, who considered our guests' pace throughout (Richard and Robin were in their mid-60's but fit and kept up well). Afterwards as we scrambled back up along the hills to return to camp in the baking sun, Richard told me that this was way better and more fun than driving around in a vehicle looking for animals.

Guests had the rest of the day at leisure, but were curious to explore more of the immediate area of the camp by foot, so after tea time we hiked to the spring and looked for more animal spoors, where Will showed us all the weird and wonderful the little species that occupy this place, like the ant lion, and peeping into rock crevices searching for gecko and lizards.

Eventually we came upon the top of a hill where more breath-taking views awaited us, as well as tasty sundowner snacks that Tarry had laid out, including of course the V&T's.

Sometimes everything aligns just perfectly and this was one of those evenings.  We faced a fiery red sunset to the west, framed by its blazing corona, and like magic, rising in exact polar opposite to the setting sun was the bright silver sphere of the full moon. It's moments like these where you are overwhelmed with awe not just of our planet, but of the entire universe that we live in.

We drove home, just a short drive, all of us reflecting on what we felt was a pretty perfect day.

The next day I stayed behind in camp, exploring more routes on my bike with Tarry, whilst Richard and Robin joined Will on a full day adventure over the "Pass of No Name" through the Huab River and along wild Damaraland trails to visit a remote Ovahimba village. They were treated to a picnic lunch on their journey and arrived back in camp later that afternoon, beaming smiles telling of an uplifting cultural encounter, ending another day that they would not soon forget.

By now Richard and Robin completely embraced "their camp". Richard loved walking around barefoot, whilst Robin enjoyed catching up on her reading in the cooling afternoon breeze.  It's amazing how quickly you connect with people when you are out in nature. Never overstepping the professional line of host versus guest, you still find that you engage more honestly and sincerely when you don't have to worry about social etiquette, polite dinner-side conversation or a routine necessary to operate a large lodge efficiently. Our conversations ranged from strange Spanish movies, to blogging, to Spending Kids' Inheritance (SKI-ing holidays ;) ) to birding; a group of curious people wondering about the world we live in.

That evening, the last night, Robin was unusually quiet. I was concerned. Was dinner in order, has she slept alright?  No, she said, she is just sad that she has to leave tomorrow.

That following morning, day five, we bid a bittersweet fond farewell, as they ventured with Will to their next destination.  Jimmy and Daniel and their able crew from the conservancy had the camp broken down quickly and it was strange to be back in the city that same afternoon.

Sometimes I am concerned that our lodges are getting so modern, so civilized, so clever, that we shelter our guests from the wildness out there and that we take our habits from city life with us...when instead what we crave, often subconsciously, is our own place in the wildness, where we can walk barefoot, where the drinks are cold, the days spontaneous and the sunsets serendipitous, to appreciate what it is all about.

You realize that nothing we do is ever in isolation - no matter how far we travel, how remote we explore, it seems that human connection is always at its best, is purest when we are in nature.  Our sense of wonder, which is stunned in the cities, in everyday real life, is reignited when we are pulled away from what we thought is important to us.  When we are forced to disconnect, we truly connect.

I thought 4 nights was too long; now I know that they would never have been enough.