Kenya Field Report: Wildlife Walks, Sleeping Under the Stars & Exciting New Finds
A safari in Kenya is a profoundly moving experience that we believe should be on every traveler’s wish list. But with the negative reports coming out of the region, the country’s tourism, which accounts for about 15 percent of its GDP, has significantly declined. Not only does this lack of visitors affect the people of Kenya, it also endangers its wildlife by allowing opportunities for poachers to move in unseen. Our Managing Director for Africa, Starla Estrada, recently returned from Kenya and we asked her to share a little about the country’s extraordinary beauty, her latest discoveries, and the wildlife that needs to be protected now.
One highlight was a walk I went on at Richard’s River Camp with Johnson, my Maasai warrior guide. We stopped at the Hyena Caves, where more than 200 hyenas live, just a short distance from camp. They were very stinky and slightly creepy, but definitely unforgettable! From there, we meandered along the river, over a volcanic rock hill, and to the Hippo Pools, where dozens of hippos snorted and grunted at us (hippos are ridiculously loud), bobbing their heads up and down, like whack-a-mole. The cutest were the tiny hippo baby heads, resting on their mothers’ massive backs. From there, we ambled onto the plains, walking into the sunset among thousands of wildebeests, giraffes, Thomson’s gazelles, and hyenas. The mutt belonging to River Camp owner Richard Roberts, named Foxy the Fearless, charged ahead of us, fending off the hyenas, ensuring we made it to our sundowner spot, complete with a bonfire and the Maasai team stirring up deliciously cold dawa cocktails.
Another highlight: On every Africa trip, I spend at least a couple of nights sleeping outside under the stars. On the Laikipia Plateau, on a comfortable queen-size swinging bed, wrapped in a thick duvet, I slept under the stars, counting satellites (19) until I fell asleep. Occasionally, I was awakened by the low roar of a lion (the sound travels up to five kilometers), the shrill trumpet of a lone elephant, or birds with lovely calls. The sounds were beautiful. Eventually I was fully awakened by the slow and life-affirming equatorial sunrise.
New Discoveries for GeoEx Travelers
I am always searching out “new” retreats and experiences for our travelers. I visited Segera on this trip, a property that’s been operating for a couple of seasons and is famous—or to some, infamous—for the owners’ eclectic collection of contemporary African art. After meeting the general manager, Jens Kozany, and art curator, Mark Coatzee, earlier this year, I had a sense the property would be right for me (I am an avid art lover and am continually impressed by the contemporary art, music, and fashion developing on the continent). I desperately wanted it to be right for our travelers as well. Segera surpassed all expectations—it is a gem on all accounts: very good game viewing, phenomenal accommodations and art, great spa (hard to find on safari), superb food and drink, and one of the best teams I’ve encountered in a decade of traveling to Africa. The location is perfect for exploring Mount Kenya and the Northern Frontier District via helicopter. I can’t wait to share Segera with our travelers.
Conservation Efforts in Kenya
My trips are all about relationships, experiences, and figuring out what’s next for our travelers. GeoEx has 20 years of history in Kenya (I have 10), and each trip provides a broader layer of knowledge, sending our roots ever deeper. Conservation is the most urgent conversation in Kenya (and all of Africa) right now. Huge strides have been made by individuals and organizations we support, such as the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and the Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust (which partners with the great eco-lodge Campi ya Kanzi). I am constantly looking for ways in which we can help our friends in their work to save the elephant, rhino, and lion, and to ensure that local communities can retain their lifestyles and traditions and benefit appropriately from modernity. On this trip, brainstorming with our favorite and most esteemed guides and helicopter pilots provided me with new ideas about accessing Sudan, Cameroon, the DRC, and Chad via Kenya to support wilderness and wildlife in these less-touristed destinations.
What I Love Most About Africa
That smell of African earth, it’s one of the things I crave most about Africa when I’m not there.
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Starla Estrada is the Managing Director for Africa and oversees GeoEx’s diverse roster of Africa trips (spanning 17 countries). She has been traveling in the region for more than 10 years and her deep connection to the continent and knowledge of Africa’s varied topography, climate, and safari options make it second nature for her to arrange exceptional wildlife experiences and authentic cultural interactions for GeoEx travelers.