Mombasa…Old Town, New Town

Our last full day at Diani Beach and we all separately decided to visit Mombasa. Some chose half a day, some chose the full day option. Even though I was excited a full day would have been more than I could bear. The little kid in me was like “Are we there yet?, how much longer are we going to be here”? I shared a vehicle with Dessie & Kellea. 18 miles seemed like forever to get to the ferry. Even though the ferry ride is only 7 minutes, the wait to get on can be an hour. Vehicles drive on and pay, pedestrians (looked like hundreds walked on and they do not pay). Lord today, it was hot sitting in the vehicle. Once on the other side in Likoni I was ready for the experience or so I thought. Lots of traffic, hustle & bustle, Mombasa is Kenya’s 2nd largest city after the capital of Nairobi. We make our way to Mama Ngina Drive, named after the former First Lady; widow of the country’s first president, Jomo Kenyatta. This drive is about a mile long with the first part packed with stalls on the left and right all selling the same things. So we get to old town, ok. Show me new town, ok well it looks just like old town. I want to see the beautiful new hotels, etc. We go to Fort Jesus, built in 1593 by the Portuguese to protect the port of Mombasa. No thank you, I do not need to get out. We hit a few more corners, passing school children at play and Kenyans conducting their business. Before heading to the giant tusks which were built in 1952 to celebrate Queen Elizabeth’s visit, we made our way to the craft market and actually ran into the major shoppers in the group. Not my thing but my driver led me to a souvenir shop that had wifi and Boney Johnson, an 80 something Swedish gent who has been living in Mombasa for 7 years. He could tell you all about Muhammad Ali, Grace Manor & Elvis, any of the Olympics, states in the United States and his experience on the longest train route in the world; Trans-Siberian Express from Moscow to Vladivostok. It takes 6 days and passes through several time zones. That my friend was the highlight of my day. Perhaps my expectations of Mombasa were too high. I don’t know but been there, done that, don’t have to do it again.
I loved Nairobi, the Masai Mara and will do it again and possibly add a return to Zanzibar in mid July 2024, hoping to see the beginning of the annual migration.

Headed To The Shores of The Indian Ocean

Masai Mara was incredible. There are so many things that will be missed; like our knowledgeable Ranger Guides: Daniel, Joel & Lewis, those fuzzy warm hot water bottles placed under our covers at night that kept our beds warm all night long. I’ve already 5 for my family. Last but not least, the Chef who after I got him straight on who he was dealing with; he came correct. I told him, “Look, our roots are from Africa just like you. We like well seasoned food, we don’t care for carpaccio beef( it’s raw), nor did we come for Indian fare save that for the next group. You don’t want me to come in your kitchen and cook, do you?” He couldn’t help but laugh and he became our new best friend, throwing down til the end. The farewell lunch was the bomb; lamb chops and roasted chicken cooked to perfection so much so that several walked away with his recipes thanks to Katrina’s request.
Our Rangers loaded up our luggage and off to the Keekorok Airstrip for our 2 hr flight to Diani-Ukunda Airstrip (pronounced uh-kun-da) not to be confused with Uganda. Our group was split into 2 for the flight; 7 and 7. We’re talking small aircraft of about 16 seats. With Phillip in the co-pilot seat, an hour into the flight he pointed out the top of Mt Kilimanjaro.
Our hotel, Water Lover’s Beach Resort on Diani beach was a mile and a half away from the strip. Diani Beach is 20 miles south of Mombasa, sits on the shoreline of the Indian Ocean and has been voted the 22nd best beach in the world. The resort has 8 cottages named after animals, all with superb ocean views. We have Full Board here (breakfast, lunch and dinner) but my treat to the group was cocktails & “bitings” poolside followed by a welcome BBQ Seafood dinner which included lobster & prawns. Tomorrow shoppers will shop, and explorers will explore. My spa appointment of aromatherapy and foot reflexology was made days ago and I’m ready; after that I will sit on my veranda listen to music, meditate on God’s goodness and gaze at the beautiful turquoise water.

Still In The Bush

From sun up to sundown today was more than amazing. En route to the Masai Village we saw a mother similar to an antelope birth a newborn only hours old, cleaning her up and pushing her to walk alone. Once at the village we interacted with the Masai tribe in song and dance. Back to camp for lunch and a short rest then back on another drive. Being out here is so different from any of the other 15 plus drives I’ve been on including Kruger where you hope to see one or two of the Big 5 but here you see hundreds and if we had caught the annual Great Migration we would see thousands. We surprised the group with an amazing fireside “sundowner” with bottles of wines and snacks that are called “bitings” – meatballs, chicken wings, and samosas. We watched the sunset then back to the campsite for more fireside chats, drinks then dinner. We surprised our honeymoon couple, Michael Simmons & Deb Neville with a cake, and song & dance by the staff. This was our last night and tomorrow we fly to Diani Beach on the Indian Ocean. In closing, ladies if coming to the bush, be prepared with leggins or a dress for easy access in relieving yourselves. It’s quite an experience.

Out in the Bush

My apologies… in the bush, the internet is spotty and photos would not load properly.
Next stop is Water Lovers Beach Resort on the Tropical shores of the Indian Ocean, 22 miles from Mombasa. Hopefully, I will not have any posting issues.

Out In The Bush

We hated to say goodbye to those at the Fairmont that took extra special care of us but it was time to move on. Our drivers got us to the airport for our short flight to Keekorok Airstrip. They handled everything for us. While other travelers were standing in the long check in lines, the Kattrax group was comfortably seated while they checked us in. We were restricted to 33 lbs total including camera equipment and a laptop. Happy to say all paid attention and were in compliance.
Upon arrival at the airstrip there were others going to all different campsites. There were people from the Masai Tribe selling their handcrafted items and our 3 custom 4×4 Game Viewing vehicles outshined the rest.

Our camp, Sand River Masai Mara is situated within the Masai Mara National Reserve and it replicates the heyday of exclusive permanent tented camps of the late 1920’s. It is best known for its concentration of big cats, such as leopard, cheetah and lions. We are hoping to get a glimpse of the finishing of the Annual Migration when millions of wildebeest and zebras move into Kenya’s Masai Mara. En route to the camp we were treated to amazing sightings along the 45 min drive.

We had a game drive the next morning leaving at 630am. We were in the bush for over 7 hrs and it was one incredible day. The chef had packed an awesome breakfast for us and our Rangers set up everything ever so nicely. I cannot tell you how many lions we saw, also cheetahs some of which were eating their prey or just settling in for a very long nap with a full belly.
In my vehicle were Phil, Katrina, Kellea, Deb and Michael. All 3 Ranger/guides are excellent but we were happy to have Daniel because he is of the Masai Tribe, grew up not far from this area and as he put it, “knows these animals better than he knows his siblings”.
Tomorrow, after breakfast we will have a morning game drive en route to the Masai Village.

An Amazing Out of Africa Experience

This morning 3 identical Mercedes Sprinters were allowed through the hotel gates to pick up our group. We were comfortable as we set out on a 3 hour tour. The first stop was The Giraffe Center. We were instructed to wash our hands before entering, and given small bowls of pellets in which to feed the giraffes. Imagine being on a very high platform , eye to eye with these gentle giants and dropping pellets onto their very long purplish tongues. It. The adults seemed to be more excited than the children there on a field trip.
The next stop was at the Karen Blixen Museum. She was the coffee farmer that achieved world fame through her memoir, “Out of Africa”. Her home has been preserved as a museum.

After lunch at the Talisman Restaurant, I told the drivers to step on it. We had a 3 o’clock appointment at the Daphne Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage. We couldn’t be late otherwise we would not be allowed in. This was a private visit just for us. The dedicated team takes care of these orphaned baby elephants around the clock. They each have their own bedroom and a team member actually sleeps with them. The group had time to interact and play with the elephants; all with different personalities. We were given the opportunity to adopt an orphaned elephant. Today was definitely a highlight and the best is yet to come.

Fairmont The Norfolk, She’s Iconic

Our farewell dinner at Baia in Cape Town was definitely the ticket. The next morning I said goodbye to the group as I prepared to fly to Nairobi, Kenya to meet the next group and my South Africa folks flew home to the states. I flew Kenya Airways Business Class. It reminded me of Southwest Airlines. I wasn’t thrilled but so thankful I was not in their economy. It was a 6 hr flight with a 45 min stop in Livingstone. When I walked off the plane there were 2 greeters; one had a sign with my name…that made me smile. He escorted me to the vaccination booth where they wanted to see my QR code of all my doses. It was quick, then he escorted me to The Diplomat’s line to present my Visa. He collected my 20lb soft side bag and escorted me outside to a rep who called my driver. 20 mins later I arrived at Hotel Fairmont, The Norfolk. She’s 5 star old world charm and elegance from the 19th century. After checking in, I hooked up with Kellea Woods and we made our way to the 24 hr bar to get a bite. We both agreed Robbie Bell would love this place and instructing the bartender on how to make a perfect gimlet.

There are 14 in the group who would be arriving later and some the next day. It was good to see Dessie again and to meet Pam.
The next morning I skipped breakfast, Kellea & I enjoyed a lunch of a Chicken Caesar salad and perfectly seasoned lamb chops. A short rest and then to the Spa for 90 mins of aromatherapy. Exiting the Spa we discovered security was tight as the newly elected President of Kenya had paid the hotel a visit.

Tomorrow will be a full day of touring Nairobi with visits to the Elephant Orphanage and the Giraffe Center where we can if we desire to; stand on a platform and look eye to eye with one and feed her. The next day we will fly to Elewana Sand River Masai Mara where we will stay in tented accommodations that replicate the heyday of exclusive tented camps of the late 1920’s.

Wine Tasting in the Winelands

Today was spent wine tasting and lunch at Miko’s in Franschhoek at Sir Richard Branson’s Mont Rochelle Wine Estate once owned by a black man, Miko Rwayitare (rip). He is still honored with the restaurant name and signature wines named after him. It was such a beautiful day capped off by celebrating Alisha Jordan’s birthday.
The day would not have been complete had we not paid homage to the Nelson Mandela monument at the Drakenstein Prison (formerly Victor Verster) where Mandela spent his last 18 months under house arrest and where he made his departure with raised fist, walking the Long Walk to Freedom with Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. He said, “No Mercedes for me. I’m walking this out”.

Tonight’s farewell dinner was at BAIA SEAFOOD RESTAURANT on the waterfront. It offers Portuguese-influenced seafood cuisine with elegant interior, covered terraces with harbor and mountain views. I offered them bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon & Viognier from France. I paid the beverage tab, bid farewell and made my exit. Tomorrow I head to Kenya and this group returns home. It’s been an absolute wonderful time here in South Africa.

From Joburg to the Cape

They’ve seen zebras, giraffes, and white rhinos. Of course, everyone wants to get a glimpse of the elusive Lion king. Our last morning only Dalicia was up for the 6am morning drive and bingo banging she was able to see a lion and a pregnant lioness. You know how it goes; you snooze, you lose…literally.
That morning by 9 am we were en route by Motorcoach back to Johannesburg for our flight to Cape Town. Upon arrival it was such a good feeling to be greeted by my longtime guide, Desmond De La Cruz.

We said hello to Obama’s and Mandela’s favorite hotel; TABLE BAY. We fast tracked to our welcome dinner just for us and it was fabulous. I introduced the red wine drinkers to South Africa’s PINOTAGE. They loved it.
So far, the new Kat Trackers have seen first hand just what Kat is working with.

Joburg, Still Beautiful

My 13th trip to South Africa began in New York a few days ago. We are 33 deep, with 23 flying from the west coast and 10 from JFK. Again, it was a reunion of sorts for the Kattrax family and all excited to be reunited again and eager to meet the new additions. No matter economy or business class with Emirates you’re guaranteed an exceptional flying experience. My business class entitled me to complimentary chauffeur service from my NY hotel to the airport. It was sweet.

All past years our Johannesburg hotel has been The Michaelangelo at Nelson Mandela Square but during the demic it was closed for renovation. This tour we were booked at Davinci Hotel & Suites; still 5 star, still at the Square. Dinner our first evening was at the 5 star Pigalle restaurant. Service, our handpicked menu choices and included wines were on point.
Sadly, our longtime guide Joe passed away last year. I sure miss him but happy he has passed on the baton to his son, TK. He certainly learned from the best. The Joburg city tour which included SOWETO was filled with historical facts about Mandela, apartheid, and the student Uprising of 1976. After visiting Nelson Mandela Museum, we lunched on local fare at iconic Sakhumzi and there were no complaints.

Day 2 the group visited Lesedi Village to get first hand knowledge of 5 cultural tribes which included a sumptuous buffet lunch. I opted out in order to visit the Davinci Spa to get a 90 minute full body and some foot reflexology.

Later, Carol & I had reservations at Pigalle. It was so nice, had to do it twice. After about 30 minutes in walked 7 of the ladies, and then another group of 4 strolled in. That restaurant was certainly a hit for the group.

Tomorrow, a visit to the Apartheid museum and then we will be driven to Shepherd’s Tree Game Lodge for a 2 night stay. Excitement is still high and all eager for a new experience.