The thunder of pounding hoofs shakes the ground as a huge heard of wildebeest race like a fluid river across the flat expanse of the savannah. Thousands of zebra, incredibly, each one with unique stripes, graze on the rich grasslands of the Maasai Mara like a surreal Where’s Waldo picture. An elephant family trumpets to their young as they bathe and play together in a watering hole, while a lone cheetah rockets across the plain in silent but deadly attack on an unsuspecting gazelle. Literally millions of animals are on the move in Kenya during the Great Migration from July through October, although amazing wildlife can be seen year round.
“Anticipating and preparing for a big trip can be at times more thrilling than the trip itself – not in this case.” says Josée Covington, President and CEO of Covington Travel. “Experiencing Kenya is beyond imagination. Kenya bombards the senses and delights the sensibilities with her rich parade of wildlife, not to speak of the engaging and friendly people and their fascinating tribal cultures.” The topography is quite diverse for a country that straddles the equator. In the north, the landscape is parched desert, lush Mount Kenya rises to 17,000 feet in the central region, and the southwest corner is anchored by the world’s third largest lake, Lake Victoria. The perpetually snow-capped Mount Kilimanjaro is the tallest in Africa and the escarpments of the 3,500 mile Great Rift Valley carve a cleft through the length of the country. The game-abundant grasslands of the Maasai Mara National Reserve and the brilliant white beaches of the Indian Ocean add even more variety to the awe-inspiring natural beauty of this emerging African nation.
The variety of wildlife in Kenya is staggering. The “Big Five” species are the African elephant, Cape buffalo, rhinoceros, lion, and leopard. Mrs. Covington uses the acronym “BRELL” (Buffalo, Rhino, Elephant, Lion, Leopard) to help remember these five special animals. The phrase Big Five was originally coined by big game hunters who deemed these animals the most difficult and dangerous to hunt. Today sport hunting is extremely limited because of the conservation status of big game, but the term is still widely used on wildlife safaris for tourists. Instead of a trophy or tusks, safari participants get bragging rights and photographs. In addition to the Big Five, safari goers are likely to see cranky crocodiles, gentle giraffe, hungry hyenas, huge hippos, flighty flamingos and hundreds of other species that call Kenya home. A wildlife safari in Kenya is truly a life experience that will leave you in wonder of the animal kingdom.
In 2010, for the fifth year in a row, Covington Travel was recognized with the annual Virtuoso Chairman’s Award of Excellence. Each year, Virtuoso rewards its top revenue-producing and highest growth travel management companies with a trip befitting the upscale travel they typically plan, allowing these professionals to experience the genuine flavor and style of a particular destination. Virtuoso’s Chairman’s Recognition Event occurs annually in some of the most exciting, colorful and vibrant locales in the world, most recently Scotland (2009), India (2008), Prague (2007), Peru (2006) and Kenya in 2010. In October, Josée Covington, was delighted to explore the beauty of Kenya at the Virtuoso Chairman’s event. The trip showcased the premier safari operator, Micato Safaris. The itinerary included two nights in Nairobi at the luxurious Fairmont Norfolk Hotel, three nights on safari at the delightful Maasai Mara Safari club and three nights at the beautifully restored historic Fairmont Mount Kenya Safari Club, of William Holden fame.
In typical fashion, Micato welcomed the Virtuoso members with warmth and exhibited a genuine pride for their homeland. The founders of Micato Safaris, Felix and Jane Pinto, hosted an evening welcome event in their lovely Nairobi home. This was not just a privilege for these top travel professionals; the Pintos often hostMicato guests in their home. The introduction to Kenya continued with an opportunity to visit the Karen Blixen Home and Giraffe Manor near Nairobi. The group flew to the Maasai Mara where they enjoyed several game drives, a balloon safari, bush walks, a talk by a Maasai Elder and a visit to a Maasai village. Next they flew to the equatorial region in the shadow of Mount Kenya. On a Micato safari, the friendly guides seem to have an encyclopedic knowledge of the indigenous animals, flora and fauna, and local customs. Their sincere pleasure in sharing that in-depth knowledge makes it even more enjoyable.
Although tourism is a win/win for the Kenyans who are employed in that field and the visitors who get to immerse themselves in these amazing experiences, the country faces some serious challenges. Nearly half of Kenya’s population is under the age of 15 and about the same percentage live below the poverty line, many of them orphans. The high prevalence of HIV/AIDS is a major factor in these statistics. In addition to the safari operation, Micato has a non-profit arm called AmericaShare. “The company is deeply committed to helping disadvantaged populations through projects like the School Sponsorship Programme. Micato’s AmericaShare places vulnerable children in reputable boarding schools with the help of sponsors, underwriting the entire cost of school fees, tuition, books, uniforms, room and board and all the basic items a student needs. Sponsoring a child has a direct impact on his or her life, and it provides them with the best opportunity to get out of the slum and create a better life for themselves. Currently the programme supports over 300 orphaned and vulnerable children.” (Micato) For more information, visit www.AmericaShare.org.
On the return to Nairobi on the last day of the trip, Mrs. Covington visited one of the schools near Nairobi and said, “What a delight to see these children with big happy smiles on their faces, well fed, all in red uniforms, singing for us American and African songs. We brought them goodie bags and their devoted teachers led them, bags in hand, to a shady grove of trees where they sat down to eat their delicious snacks. We stayed quite a while and played with them. They loved giving high-fives. ”
Kenya is a beautiful country with marvelous geography, incredible wildlife and remarkable people. A visit to this land is an experience that will stay with you for life.
Josée Covington is President and CEO of Covington Travel, a proud member of the Virtuoso Network. For more information on Covington Travel, please see our home page.