Focus on: The Mara North Conservancy

A rolling savanna of more than 28,000 hectares; the Mara North Conservancy is home to a spectacular array of plants, reptiles, birds and mammals, including elephant, rhino, buffalo, lion, leopard and massed concentrations of wildebeest, zebra, gazelle and other migratory wildlife. It is home to some of the finest camps in the Masai Mara region and their strict game-viewing policy ensures that the experience you get is authentic and exciting. The partnership of Masai villagers and the camps is a great example of how tourism can help the Masai people as well as the animals themselves, the villagers help the camps and the animals and the animals benefit from a safe and protected habitat.

In their own words:

Year round, the Mara is always outstanding.

December to January 

The savannah is green and lots of new born gazelles make an easy prey for the big cats.

Credit: Mara North Conservancy

February to April 

The savannah is drying up and thousands of wildebeests are born daily in the month of February. This is a favoured period of the big cats.

April to June: Loita wildebeest migration

The rain brings life to the savannah with an abundance of game seeking areas for grazing. The Loita Hills migration especially makes gamedriving fantastic since thousands and thousands of wildebeests and zebras come to the area. Hefty rains with thunder usually occur in the late afternoon or late at night. The grass is growing longer and longer as if the plain prepares itself for the wildebeest migration. This is a period of stunning scenery with amazing game viewing.

June to November: The Great Migration! 

‘The best time to see the migration is from end September until early November’

For countless years Africa’s big migratory herds of wildlife have roamed across the open savannas with the seasons.

Many people ask, when is the best time to see the Great Migration and witness one of the famous and dramatic wildebeest crossings? The general rule of seasons is as follows:

Over 25% of the wildebeest and zebra population are resident year out in the Masai Mara. From June their numbers are augmented by over 1 million wildebeests and zebras following the lush grazing to the Masai Mara in search of greener pastures and to reproduce. In their thousands the wildebeest cows and bulls meet on the plains of Mara to mate. Later, in mid October to December when the grass is short many start to head south.  If you wish to see the famous and drama-filled river crossings, then NOW is the season to visit the Masai Mara ecosystem.

Avoiding the busy holiday season of July and August, means the Conservancies and Reserve are quieter and more private.

Winner of Geographical Magazine competition announced

As a Corporate Member of the Royal Geographical Society, and with a Fellow of the RGS within our ranks,  it was with great pleasure that Real Africa teamed up with Geographical, the magazine of the RGS this autumn to offer their readers and supporters the chance to win a fly-in safari to the wonderful Masai Mara in Kenya.

Many of you read Robert’s article on private conservation in the Mara, Nature in the Balance, which appeared in the September edition of Geographical and in turn, many  of you entered the competition to win a safari which closed on 30 November. The prize,  a 3 night fly-in safari to Karen Blixen Tented Camp in Mara North Conservancy, the conservancy discussed in Rob’s editorial piece, gives the winner the opportunity to witness private conservation first-hand, and also to gain further insight into the running of the conservancy when meeting with Justin Heath over sundowner drinks, manager of Mara North.

All you had to do to be in with a shot at winning this wonderful prize was to name the animal lurking in the long grass…

Did you get it right? It was of course a lion, or as many of you pointed out, a lioness. We did get a few tigers and leopards (mainly from those entering late at night) but on the whole the animal was identified correctly.

We can now announce that the winner of the Geographical/Real Africa competition is Mr C.Wilson from London. Many congratulations!

When the team spoke to him to tell him the news his response was, “This is an absolute shock and a lovely Christmas present. I’ve always wanted to go to the Masai Mara and getting to see such a new part of it looks amazing.”

We hope you have a fantastic trip Mr Wilson, see lots of lions and we can’t wait for you to report back on your experience. Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

Francis wins Guides’ Image Comp with gorgeous portrait of resting cheetahs

Francis is one of our safari guides in Kenya. During August he took a group on safari to Amboseli, Lake Nakuru and the Masai Mara – a classic safari circuit taking in three distinct landscapes. It was in the Mara that Francis and his guests stopped to observe these cheetahs relaxing in the shade. Francis took a series of wonderful images (below).

About Amboseli, Nakuru and the Masai Mara and why they make such a great combination

Amboseli, to the south east of Nairobi, ensures great sightings of elephants as well as wonderful panoramas of Mount Kilimanjaro. The park is very scenic with natural springs fed by Mount Kilimanjaro and habitats ranging from swampy, marsh areas – ideal for wallowing elephants, hippo, buffalo and a variety of water fowl – to dry savannah grasslands where antelope, zebra and other plains game congregate.

Amboseli boasts a number of lodges depending on your preferred style. These include:

Tortilis

Amboseli Serena

Ol Donyo

Satao Elerai

Ol Tukai

Lake Nakuru is one of the soda lakes in the Great Rift Valley lying 1754m above sea level in Kenya’s north-west zone. The lake is surrounded by woodland of yellow acacia and euphorbia,  and bushy grassland. The Great Rift Valley lakes are known for prolific birdlife, with around 450 species in evidence, including a wonderful variety of raptors including the African Fish Eagle. Waterbirds are a highlight – you can see Goliath Heron among others and depending on the level of the lake,  Greater and Lesser Flamingoes.

Importantly the area around Lake Nakuru is a sanctuary for endangered black and white rhino. The sanctuary was established in 1984 and now boasts 60 black rhino and 40 white rhino as well as Rothschild Giraffe.

We also love combining a stay at one of our lake properties for some R&R time in the middle or at the end of your safari. Many of our properties enjoy wonderful views, with perfectly placed decks for sitting and soaking up the atmosphere and fabulous log fires to ward off chilly evenings.

Our favourite lodges in the Great Rift Valley Lakes area include:

Flamingo Hill Tented Camp

Chui Lodge

Hippo Point

Lake Elementeita Serena

Loldia House

Sunbird Lodge

The Masai Mara is an absolute must-visit destination and among the world’s greatest wildlife reserves. For those short of time you can fly in, to connect with your international flight arrival. We recommend a minimum stay of three nights in the Mara but you can easily do more and stay at a combination of camps in different areas. Our tip – opt to stay in a private conservancy bordering the Mara, like Mara North, where Masai Landowners and lodges and camps work together for the good of conservation and there is a strict low density policy with 1 tent to 700 acres of wilderness.

The Mara is a prime area for viewing big cats, with the highest lion density in the world. The best time to view the Great Migration in the Mara is from July, when the Migration tends to arrive, right through to September/October time. However the Mara is a year-round destination,  and far quieter with regards to visitors at other times of year when special offers can be also be taken advantage of.

June and November are great months to visit while March guarantees the Mara minus the crowds with the Loita ‘Mini Migration’ in full swing, flowers blooming on the plains and trees around camps fruiting which in turn draws in the animals for really close encounters!

There are to many camps to name and which one to go for depends on the time of year and your preferred style and budget. However, here are some of our absolute favourites!

Alex Walker’s Serian Camps

Governors Il Moran

Karen Blixen Tented Camp

Kicheche Valley Camp

To see a sample itinerary taking in these three areas click below:

Kenya Express

Kenya Classic Lodge Safari and Zanzibar

All our safaris are tailor-made and can be put together to suit you so please give us call to discuss your plans on 01603 283 517.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Karen Blixen Hospitality School Diaries – Week 12

Each week we follow the students at the brand new hospitality school at the Karen Blixen Camp in the Masai Mara, Kenya. This school provides vital training and job opportunities for local youngsters in an area with high unemployment and Real Africa is proud to be supporting them.

Pork and bacon in the professional kitchen

The week was about pork. This is a surprisingly big topic as the students learned all about different cuts, the huge variety of breeds, quality control, ham, bacon and fat. Rune Eriksen the Head Chef and tutor at the school is Danish and Denmark is one of the world’s best pork producers so naturally the topic is close to Rune’s heart. He discussed how pork is raised in Denmark and how the farmers operate as well as how the butchers offer a huge range of cuts and pork products back in Denmark. In Europe pork is extremely popular and there are a huge range of recipes to make the most of this productive and versatile animal. However life in Kenya is very different and Rune started by asking the students if they knew any pig farmers or if they had even come across pigs where they lived. None of them had as the conditions in Kenya are much more suited to pastoral farming with livestock such as cows, goats and sheep being the main source of meat. In fact none of the students had even tasted pork before so they really were starting from a knowledge base of zero this week! Rune remarked it was completely different for his students then how it had been when he had done his chef training in Europe.

A Typically Danish Lunch

The week started off on Monday with the pork chops being prepared, cooked and tasted. Also they planned the rest of the week around a Danish style lunch for Karsten Ree and family on Wednesday to be followed by a bush dinner on Friday. So Tuesday and Thursday was spent learning all about with pork production and even more theory about pork. Rune was happy to be teaching his students about Danish food and being on home territory so to speak. He also got the chance to cook some good old fashioned Danish food for once. He likes classic Danish food, especially the type of dishes with some heavy sauce, potatoes and braised meat, not something you get in Kenya! He has always been more interested in traditional hearty fare than fine dining with titbits on the plate! After a few days of careful consideration Rune decided on a menu for the lunch to include fried fish fillet with remoulade served with lettuce leaves and white bread as a starter. The main course would be labscoves, a type of meaty stew, with Danish rye bread, pickled beetroot, chopped chives and cold butter. Dessert would be an old fashioned apple trifle. The students and Rune started right away in the morning with the cooking and Rune was delighted with the stew which is tricky to source in Kenya. Even the students loved the three dishes for lunch and more importantly so did the clients.

A Bush Supper

Friday was the day the students were cooking up another fantastic a bush supper for the main camps clients. This one was much larger though. Usually the average number for supper is 8 but today’s bush supper was to be for 18! The time constraints meant that the students had to cut back the normal 8 dishes on the menu. Normally 8 dishes work perfectly as there are 8 students and they are all responsible for one dish. This time however they had only 4 courses to prepare and the students worked in pairs on the dishes together. One of the guests at the bush supper was celebrating a birthday so that also had to be incorporated into the menu for the evening. Keeping to the Danish and pork theme of the week the students made a soup for the starter, a whole roasted meat for the main course and a traditional Danish layer cake for dessert. The final dish was to bake various cakes and cookies for the after dinner tea and coffee.

Waiting Service

The clients were delighted with their bush supper and as usual the students had to mix with the clients as they served the food as well as cooking it.   Working as waiters and having client contact is a very important part of the learning process. The fact that there were 18 people to serve made it quite tricky for them so they had a trial run through of how to wait a table of 18 people at midday so they had plenty of time to practice first!  Every student was given two plates and they walked around the kitchen and the bush supper site to practice holding the plates steady whilst walking. They also planned which seats the students would each be serving so that they wouldn’t crash into each other during service. Despite a few little mistakes the students have now learned to plan their bush suppers properly and to serve like a professional waiter would by carrying two plates on one arm. Next time the students host a bush dinner they will also be responsible for setting the table as presentation is another very important skill.

Posted by Ruth Bolton

 

The Karen Blixen Hospitality Diaries – Week 11

Each week we follow the progress of the first intake of students at the Karen Blixen Hospitality School in Kenya. This is a community project run by the Karen Blixen Camp in the Masai Mara to provide training and job opportunities for young Masai in an area with little employment. Real Africa is proud to be supporting this project and we are following the students with interest.

Rune Eriksen reflects in his personal journey

This week Rune Eriksen the Danish Head Chef and Head Teacher at the Hospitality School looks back at how far both the students and himself have come over the past 11 weeks. Rune arrived in Kenya two weeks before the students started in order to set up the school and the course and he remembers how he arrived from Denmark with no previous experience of Kenya. Over the past few months he says he has learned so much himself and has fallen in love with Kenya and its people but at the same time he still misses his homeland and all the comforts he had there.  

When he was in Denmark he felt that he was poorly paid and that food was expensive and not the best quality and that even though he had fresh food available at markets and shops all around him he didn’t appreciate it. Now he lives in Kenya where food is much scarcer and harder to get hold of he realizes just how spoilt for choice he was in Denmark and how privileged he really was. Suddenly he found himself realizing how good life is in Denmark: “They may complain about the weather but the rain in Denmark is nothing compared to the rains here in Kenya during the rainy season. When these heavy rainfalls come you have to cancel your plans as travel becomes almost impossible. The weather is so powerful and nature so fundamental that it reminds you how small and un-important we are in the grand scheme of things. Even whilst out on a rare safari the animals ignore you and you are merely part of a vast landscape. This has made me understand why people spend their lifetime trying to protect and preserve these special places.”

Introduction to chicken and poultry in the kitchen

Back in the kitchen the students have also shown great improvement over the weeks with everything from their cooking to their organization when preparing and cooking bush dinners. This week however was all about poultry. The students covered all the different types of poultry from a spring chicken to the old hens for soups and stocks. They use whole chickens in the kitchen whenever possible so the students can practice cutting up and boning chicken as much as possible. If they can master a chicken then they can cut up any other kind of poultry or game birds as well.

To boost their enthusiasm for learning how to cut up the birds and to boost their speed, Rune held a competition, where the students could challenge him. It was wonderful to see how the students could do it at double speed under these conditions but Head Chef Rune remains undefeated!

Chicken Confit

When the week started, Rune asked if the students had any experience with chicken at home. Some had already cooked or eaten chicken where it had been boiled or grilled. This would mean the chicken would be very dry so Rune decided that this would be the week where the students could see just how moist and juicy a chicken could actually be. As Rune is fond of the food that farmers and workers used to eat hundreds of years ago he decided to concentrate on one particular dish, confit chicken. This is a dish that has been around for hundreds of years but is very hard to beat! Simple but extremely tasty. The rest of the day’s food production was to bake a basic bread and to make chicken legs confit. A confit is really an old way to conserve meat. By cooking the meat in fat and then keeping it in the fat until solid it creates a kind of seal removing all the air around the meat. This prevents it from getting old and going off. The farmers’ wives could then cook the meat on a large-scale when one animal was slaughtered and preserve it to feed the family for several weeks. In the days before refrigeration when salt was expensive this was one of the few ways of preserving meat and was very popular. The farmer’s traditional midday meal would then be homemade bread and confit. The students were very interested in the history behind the meal and its basic simplicity and common sense. They also enjoyed eating it! By the end of the week, the students had become very competent cooking chicken in various different ways and in various different dishes. It didn’t matter if it was soup, salad, confit, roasted or poached, the students all did a great job cooking it and understanding the possibilities of this very flexible and adaptable ingredient.

 

Posted by Ruth Bolton