The first stop on my whirlwind adventure of East Africa was the House of Waine in Karen, Nairobi. Before leaving the UK, at least 3 of my well educated friends asked me if it was safe for me to go to Nairobi. I won’ t deny I was a teeny bit apprehensive as there has been continual negative reporting about the city and Kenya as a whole. However, I was so glad I went as it was reminder what utterly charming, friendly and professional people the Kenyans are. It started with me getting a phone call as soon as I stepped off the plane onto the tarmac from a man who had picked up my bag by mistake. It turned out that my bag got put on an earlier flight from Addis to Nairobi and the gentleman had only discovered his mistake when he got back to his house in Nairobi. He drove all the way back to the airport to give me my bag back (& obviously find his own) However he needn’t have done such an honest act.
House of Waine is a charming 11 bedroomed hotel in Karen. It has a very relaxed family feel to it …..mainly because it is run by a family! The rooms are enormous (70 sqm) and they have thought of everything including a complementary well stocked snack and mini bar. Most of the staff have been at the hotel since it opened 11 years ago and reading the visitors book, the staff were mentioned again and again and I can see why. They were attentive without being too full on and seemed genuinely eager to ensure that you had everything you needed.
After a quick site inspection of Hemingway’s….a faultless, highly efficient hotel, it really hit home that the struggles that Kenya are currently going through are felt by everyone…hotel owners, barmen, taxi drivers, wildlife. These guys not only have families to feed but they have jobs that they evidently love and they seem to have taken it very personally that Kenya tourism has taken such a hit.
The rain that had started in Nairobi had followed us to Zanzibar but luckily it didn’t dampen my enthusiasm at seeing Zanzibar White Sands again. I saw it last in January 2014 when it was still very much a building site. I know I do the marketing for ZWS therefore it is my job to wax lyrical about it but it is such a stunning property! The gardens have all grown up giving it a lovely lush feel.
Markus the manager has an air of German efficiency about him but is also very friendly and evidently loves his role at ZWS. Their new chef is from Zanzibar and over the last 15 years has worked in a number of the island’s best hotels as well as spending the last 5 years working in the Middle East. He is doing an incredible job and in the 48 hours I was there, every meal was utterly delicious and the service was faultless.
The villas at ZWS are enormous and so private. Each villa is located on a plot of 1500sqm with 500sqm of living space. There is a separate dining/sitting room which is perfect to chill out in whilst escaping the hot sun. The villas work so well for couples and families alike as there is so much space between the villas that the guests hardly see each other!
Having not eaten since breakfast I had a carb fest with a club sandwich & chips (it was raining after all so no bikini was being put on!!) and then was treated to a divine full body massage in the beautiful spa (sometimes this job just sucks!) The rest of the afternoon was spent relaxing in my stunning room and making the most of the fantastic wifi speed.
As a mother of 3 young kids, lie-ins are a long distant memory to me. Hence my surprise and delight when I looked at the clock and it was 9.30!! The last 2 days of travelling had evidently left me more tired than I realized…either that or the incredibly comfy beds & lovely dark, peaceful room sent me into a sleepy coma!
After a healthy breakfast of Bircher muesli & fresh fruit, Markus gave me a proper site inspection of the property.
I was delighted to see how much the vegetation had grown up since my last visit, 14 months ago. The gardens were looking amazing and offer real privacy between the villas.
The two bedroom villas are exactly the same design as the one bedroom villas but with an identical bedroom on the first floor instead of a sun deck which the one bedroom villas have.
The resort herb and vegie garden provides the kitchen with an endless source of delicious produce. Each morning the chef comes into the garden and choose what he is going to include in the day’s meals.
After a lunch of prawn Caesar salad, I had my first ever attempt at Stand Up Paddle boarding (SUP) ….it was fab!My instructor was Daudi, the coolest Masai I have met. I mastered the art of going with the current but against it proved slightly more problematic!
I then had to smarten myself up for the Manager’s cocktail drinks reception, which are held twice a week at 7pm. As the villas at ZWS are so spacious, the resort often feels empty even when its full so these drinks receptions are a nice way of getting the guests to meet one another. (if they wish)
After a delicious dinner of tuna carpaccio & seafood thermador, it was time to retire and get some rest before another morning of activities.
After a huge breakfast of fresh fruit platter, waffles and croissants, I rolled down to the beach to have another go at SUP. Fortunately the sea was completely flat which made it much easier and I became able to go both with and against the current.
The activity-filled morning continued with me taking one of the hotel’s ‘beach bikes’ for a ride. These are the coolest looking bikes that are especially designed to be used on the beach. One advantage of Zanzibar being so tidal is that when the tide goes out, the sand on the beach is firm enough to cycle on. I loved zooming down the beach greeting everyone with ‘Jambo’ and getting to see beach life….the old ladies digging for razor crabs in the sand, the coolest looking Masai beach boys, the tourists lounging in the turquoise waters and the kids running around playing whilst their mum’s harvested seaweed.
Unfortunately my afternoon flight to Ethiopia cut my adventure short and after a delicious prawn salad lunch, I packed up and was ready to leave ZWS….but not before I’d had one last whizz through the gardens on my bike!
The 3 hour direct flight to Addis passed smoothly and Guy from Bale Mountain Lodge was there to greet me and treated me to a traditional local meal in Addis…..burger and fries washed down with beer! At least the beer was local!
I was in Ethiopia to tag onto the last few days of a Kibran Tours fam trip to Ethiopia. They had visited the cultural sites in the North of Ethiopia and were spending the last few days of their trip at Bale Mountain Lodge. I caught up with the group at Addis airport and it was great to catch up on all their adventures they’d experienced in the 6 days they had been in Ethiopia. Our charter flight down to Robe airstrip lasted just over an hour and took us over stunning views of the Rift valley. The Ethiopian airlines (ET) flight down to Robe was stopped a few months ago whilst they fix the runway. It is expected to take 3 months to get the runway fixed but ET have promised to update us on its progress.
After a couple of donkeys on the runway prevented us from our first two landing attempts, we eventually landed to be greeted by a crowd of onlookers! Guy and 3 Kibran drivers were there to greet us and drive to the lodge. The drive takes 1.5 hours from Robe airstrip but takes you through the park and over the Sanetti plateau where the Ethiopian wolves can be found.
The park is incredible in its diversity of ecosystems ranging from moorland, Alpine forests and then up onto the lunar-type landscape of the Sanetti plateau.
On the drive over we were treated to endless sights of endemic birds including the Blue Winged Goose.
Unfortunately the wolves were proving to be a little elusive today. Guy, was incredibly frustrated, especially as they have a 100% success rate of seeing the wolves. At least we had the return journey to have another attempt!
We arrived at Bale Mountain Lodge to be greeted by tea and cake or alcoholic beverages depending on what took peoples fancy. Rooms were allocated and after a lovely, long, hot shower we reconvened around the fire pit. Dinner was a delicious meal of fresh Greek salad (with lettuce from the BMl Vegie patch!), marinated beef and ginger pudding.
The next morning started with a pre-breakfast bird walk with James Nungi, the resident naturalist. James was incredible and not only did he impart fascinating facts about the birds but also about the plants and trees of the park as well. Having been in Ethiopia for 8 years he has an encyclopedic knowledge of the area.
After a delicious breakfast of scotch pancakes, fresh fruit, eggs, homemade peanut butter and delicious local honey, we split into different groups with some of us going to the Dolomena market, some going on a walk to see the Riva waterfall and village and some just relaxing at the lodge enjoying the stunning surroundings and birdlife.
I opted for the waterfall and village walk which proved to be an excellent decision. Riva, the local village is the most immaculate village I’ve seen with neat fences of bamboo and rolling green hills. Brook, our guide was brilliant telling us all about the forest as we walked through it but also with a wicked sense of humour, which kept us all, entertained. It took us about 20 minutes to walk to the waterfall which was stunning and would provide a perfect place for a (v chilly!) swim.
Our second BML guide, Hakrim, came from Riva village and was very proud to show us around his village. The tour ended with us being invited in for coffee and local honey in one of their huts, which also doubles us as a (evidently very popular!) café. There we were fed with the most delicious fresh bread and honey and freshly brewed coffee.
We all rendez-voused back at the lodge for lunch and exchanged anecdotes of our varying morning experiences. Amazingly, after all that amazing bread and honey, I still managed to find room for lunch at the lodge which was a traditional feast of tibs, wat and injera along with fresh tomato & red onion salad.
After lunch again we split off into different groups with one bunch attempting to climb Mt Gujeralle and one going on a horse ride. Having climbed the mountain last year I took a slightly more leisurely activity of horse riding. The people of this part of Ethiopia are horsemen and I was pleased to see the horses looking very healthy and well looked after. It was lovely to ride through the forest and being greeted by enthusiastic waves from the local children.
We were due to be treated to a honey harvesting show later in the afternoon but unfortunately the heavens opened so instead we all sat around the roaring log burner and chatted instead accompanied by the BML gorgeous pet dogs, Lucy & Mass!
Mass….a gorgeous 10 week old puppy who was found abandoned in a bush with his sister….who lives at Guy & Yvonne’s Addis home!
After a sad farewell to Bale Mountain Lodge, we set off with high hopes of encountering the elusive Ethiopian wolf. We were driving in convoy and the first car were lucky to see one but by the time the rest of us caught up he had disappeared out of view. Despite the wolves not showing willing, the drive through the plateau was still fascinating with us all being blown away by the incredible lunar-type landscape.
Most guests coming to Bale Mountain Lodge would stop off for the night at the Rift Valley lakes. Although it is a slightly longer route, we decided to do this on the way back to Addis to give the group an idea of what their clients could see along the way. Although the drive is long, it is very comfortable as the road is excellent and the constantly changing scenery outside provides great entertainment.
We stopped at Sabena lodge for lunch and we quickly realized why this area is known as birder paradise. The air was full of birdsong with so many different types of birds flying all around our heads.
After a few more hours back in the car we continued our journey with the odd goat, cow or donkey playing Russian roulette and deciding to cross the road in front of us.
The trip culminated in a drinks party hosted by Kibran and then an evening enjoying the incredible Ethiopian jazz.
Whilst I only joined the group for the last few days of their trip, it was evident that, like me, they had fallen under Ethiopia’s spell. The awe-inspiring scenery ladened with mind blowing historical treasures, the beautiful, friendly people and unique, endemic birds and animals had worked their magic….Ethiopia had successfully recruited 9 more massive fans!