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Fun and luxury in the bush

By Peter Muiruri | Jun 2nd 2016 | 3 min read
By Peter Muiruri | June 2nd 2016
Charging jumbo in the Mara. (PHOTO: PETER MUIRURI/ STANDARD)

Last year, Nairobi’s Villa Rosa Kempinski Hotel, known for its luxury, left tongues wagging after it hosted the most powerful man on earth — US President Barack Obama.

The hotel has now taken its high-class services to the African bush in the name of Olare Mara Kempinski, one of the four tented camps in Olare Motorogi Conservancy. Here, the camp is in the good company of Mahali Mzuri, owned by billionaire Richard Branson. Kicheche Camp and Mara Plains are the other camps based in the 35,000-acre conservancy.

In these safari camps, you can enjoy game drives, breakfasts in the wild, sundowners and bush dinners. These are the things that make foreigners flock to the countryside.

My escapades in the wild are normally informed by the need for a tranquil atmosphere where I can meditate. In the wild, it is always the little things that we take for granted that fascinate me. They include the croaking of frogs near a pond or birds chirping on a tree nearby.

I even find solace in the seemingly annoying grunts of hippos at a nearby river. And did I say I can never have enough of the gorgeous sunsets that cast a golden hue over the Mara savannah?

My recent visit to Olare Mara on the banks of Ntiakitiak River, however, was more of an interaction with players in the tourism industry. It was one of those instances where tour operators visit a camp or a lodge to acquaint themselves with the inner workings of the facilities where they refer their clients. They call it site inspection.

These are the fellows who know what ails the industry and what needs to be done to fix it. They have been there when the number of tourists to Kenya hit the roof. They have seen the same numbers plummet in recent years. There is nothing more insightful than listening to those who know a thing or two in their areas of expertise.

“Kenya has one the best tourism products in the world,” they all seemed to agree. “We only need to use the right marketing strategies to get people coming again.” Led by Manish Nambiar, Kempinski’s general manager, they brainstormed around a bonfire that evening.

Each told of his or her experience selling safaris in East Africa and beyond. They recounted hilarious tales of tourists who have little knowledge of Africa.

“We once had a tour operator from the United States who requested us to organise a half day tour to Victoria Falls from Nairobi,” said Peter Karanja of Maniago Safaris. “Apparently, they thought Victoria Falls were on Lake Victoria. Little did they know that the falls are in Southern Africa.”

Then there was John Buckley whose aviation company, Safarilink, is famed for its bush landings. It is no easy task having to fly multi-million dollar machines on earthen airstrips, not when a single tyre costs the company Sh100,000.

“You can only do that if you really love the country,” says Buckley, who still hopes to get permanent residence in Kenya rather than keep on paying expensive entry permits every two years. It is one of those evenings when you just sit and listen to wisdom.

By the way, we still enjoyed a bit of the bush life. On the banks of Ntiakitiak River was a well-arranged table for a bush breakfast. The fresh vegetables grown in the camp’s organic garden were a delight and so was their locally-blended juice.

We relished each sip as we relived the previous evening’s tales. All the while as the hippos grunted, frogs croaked and birds tweeting.

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