From the Masai Mara I flew back to Nairobi for an overnight at the Hemingways Nairobi Hotel, which is a gorgeous property on the outskirts of Nairobi in Karen. That evening I was thrilled to meet up with Alastair Addison, the CEO of Hemingways, who had very kindly worked with me and Big Five Tours & Expeditions to make this trip possible. I first met Alastair in October 2019 at the “We are Africa” conference at the Sundance Resort in Utah where he had first introduced me to the Hemingways properties in Naboisho Conservancy and in Watamu. We met again just a couple of months later, on my last flight prior to COVID in London when we were both flying to our respective home countries from the Christmas Holidays spent with family in Scotland. Three meetings on three different continent, it’s a small world!
Meeting up with Alastair for drinks and dinner was very much a highlight of this trip – yes, even with all the incredible wildlife sightings to compare to!! In the Travel industry relationships mean so much. To be successful a travel partner (hotelier, tour operator and travel advisor) it is key to have great partnerships as everyone involved in the travel industry has to work together as a team to ensure that a client has the best trip possible. We cannot create trips that deliver wonderful lifetime memories without our partners. Of course, I can book an Executive Room at Hemingways Nairobi, for a client, but only Alastair and his team, can make your stay extra special by greeting you by name, adding a vase of roses to your room and perhaps a bottle of your favorite wine. These are the extras that ‘magically’ appear when a travel advisor is able to work with a Virtuoso Partner, or other Preferred Partner established from years of working together. These relationships are developed by both the individual travel advisors and their Agency. One the of many reasons I partnered with Avenue Two Travel as my Host Agency was because of their well-established partnerships with wonderful hoteliers and tour operators.
Back to Nairobi – unfortunately I did just have the one afternoon and evening at Hemingways to enjoy the peaceful gardens and luxurious rooms prior to leaving early the next morning to catch my flight to Malindi for my final three night stay of the trip at Hemingways Watamu, a beautiful coastal property that has so much to offer travelers.
Watamu, itself is a small coastal village that is on the northern Indian Ocean coastline, with beautiful white sandy beaches (there is a period of time when seaweed is prevalent on the beach, so that’s a consideration when planning a trip there). It is also the home of the Watamu Marine Park which is second only to The Great Barrier Reef in number of species in the park resulting in some amazing snorkeling and scuba diving activities. I went snorkeling for the first time ever in the Ocean and loved it – now that’s another interest I have to add to my ‘list’! With the Hemingways Watamu hotel on the ocean front in a cove area, it is also perfect for Kayaking, SUP, Windsurfing and Kite Surfing, so truly lots of great activities for the ocean lover. In addition, if you trip is timed well, you have an incredible opportunity to see the Humpback Whales with their young calves as they come to this protected Marine Water Park area to give birth to their young and then mate, prior returning South to the Antarctic. This means that at certain times of the year, Kenya provides an opportunity to see the Big Five while on Safari and the Marine Big Five on the coast here in Watamu, including 10 different species of dolphins and whales as well as the beautiful coral reefs, thousands of fish and sea turtles. It is a country rich in wildlife!
For those who enjoy Deep Sea Fishing and have catching a grander Marlin (over 1,000 lbs) on their bucket list, Hemingways Watamu’s boats have tagged and released one a minimum of three times! And for anyone interested in adding a golf game to their trip there are several courses close-by Watamu including The PGA Baobab Course, which is one of the finest in Eastern Africa.
Of course in addition to all this activity, it is also possible to just relax poolside with a cocktail and enjoy the warm sun and beautiful views out across the ocean, which is what I chose do to on my first day in Watamu. That evening Melinda, the Operations Manager for Hemingways Watamu, who I had met earlier in the trip at Ol Seki, had managed to arrange for us to join the early evening Dhow Trip. This was a spectacular way to see the sunset and enjoy the creek. Just a short five minute drive from Hemingways Watamu, they have a dock area where they maintain their four deep sea fishing boats and an original Swahili Dhow. Boarding the Dhow with a total of just six of we enjoyed a cruise down towards the Mangroves Forests on the Creek, while receiving a constant flow of wonderful cocktails, Dowa’s for me as they are a traditional and tasty Kenyan cocktail, they have a chef on board who provides very tasty appetizers of samosas, grilled meats and fish, all while we watched a beautiful sunset.
On Wednesday, having enjoyed my snorkeling experience in the morning, Melinda and I went to lunch at Papa Reno Beach, a wonderful little restaurant and bar. A ‘Robinson Crusoe’ style place where you can be barefoot with your toes in the sand and listen to beach music, which was perfect for lunch or dinner. I then walked around Watamu for a while looking to see what artisanal goods I could purchase before taking a leisurely stroll back along the beach to the Hemingways before enjoying the rest of the afternoon and evening relaxing.
My travels back to the US began on Thursday morning with the short flight back to Nairobi, with a stopover in Lamu, before spending some time in a day room at the Four Points by Sheraton at the Nairobi airport in preparation of the flights home, which on the return is with Air France to Charles de Gaulle, Paris and Delta into Atlanta before the final leg home into Wilmington.
This has been a truly amazing trip and so relaxing and enjoyable. I have learned a great deal about the differences in travel during this pandemic and how airports, hoteliers and safari operators are working to ensure that all of their guests have a brilliant trip while looking after their staff and their guests taking as many precautions possible to alleviate the risks of transmission.
Although not required by the USA, I plan to self-quarantine and be tested on my return to the USA so that I reduce any risk of possible transmission until I am sure that I have not contracted COVID on my travels. My temperature has been logged everyday by the properties I have stayed at and I have been very cautious with both a mask and face shield while traveling flying and in the airports.
I encourage you to remember the incredible joy of traveling to new places or returning to favorite destinations and when you are ready please reach out to me to assist you with your travel planning. It is different in many of the logistics but the joy of travel and new adventures is not lost, we just have to recapture it and behave a little differently to create new memories!