2012 IN REVIEW – HIGHLIGHTS REMEMBERED
(Dedicated to my Muse)
Looking back on 2012 and the many trips across the region, to the Indian Ocean islands and as far as to the Gulf, some experiences stand out to be remembered and treasured while others are best forgotten.
Those best forgotten I shall not mention, leaving me the space to heap praise on those journeys which went flawless and at the time earned such descriptions as brilliant or out of this world.
The year started with a trip to Bahrain to attend the air show, after missing the Dubai air show a few weeks earlier due to conflicting assignments. Manama impressed me as the city where the ancient meets the modern, and my hosts from Gulf Air set hospitality standards which were hard to match by all which followed. That friendship continues to thrive, even though tough economic circumstances have since forced the airline to halt flights first to Entebbe and then to Nairobi too. Undeterred by Bahrain’s externally sponsored political troubles it is one place I would happily revisit, explore some more of its ancient history, attend an F1 race and of course the air show in January 2014.
Not long after that dream start into 2012, with yet more trips under the belt, came a repeat visit to the Creole island paradise of the Seychelles, to attend the second edition of the already famous Carnaval de Carnivals, the Carnival International de Victoria. The spectacle of the decorations, masks and costumes and finally the parade beat their promises by some and their carnival song 2012 is an earworm still coming back ever so often. The Grand Opening of the new Kempinski Seychelles Resort added spark to the visit and gave testimony to how far Seychelles tourism has come.
On my return I stopped over in Nairobi to check out the brand new Sovereign Suites in Limuru, just before its official opening. A few days allowed me to check out the menus, test the Spa, take walks to the private lake at the bottom of the sprawling property set in the green hills of Limuru and continue to get lost in the mega sized Presidential Suite I enjoyed, where I could have accommodated a village of my friends and then some. My predictions for that little gem came true and it is now a much sought after hideaway for the rich and famous away from prying eyes.
Trips chased trips, some still to be entered into my LinkedIn TripIt application, like the inaugural flight by Qatar Airways to Kigali in March and a return to the Kigali Serena Hotel, the new wing finally ready and sparkling. Another Rwanda trip followed for the annual naming of the young born gorillas in June – Kwita Izina. Fast friends were made with New Dawn Associates at the time, showing me their blend of culture | history | safari tourism while RDB asked me to name the first ever semi-adult female gorilla to have joined a habituated group from the wild.
Another return to the Seychelles dedicated to discovering the affordable side of tourism with stays at the Chalets d’Anse Forbans and the Les Pieds dans L’Eau Holiday Apartments before moving to the one and only Constance Ephelia Resort where 5 star perfection and nothing but perfection was celebrated by the resort’s outstanding team for the entire week I was there. This allowed to write a highly acclaimed and much read article on the other side of tourism to the Seychelles, the truly affordable side, where guest houses, B&B’s, self catering villas and chalets, holiday apartments and even home stays allow for a deeper insight of life on the archipelago, while the fancied resort in turn offer the best one can find on the globe. Seychelles is truly another world, not just a kick ass marketing slogan, though to the envy of others it is that too.
Across the year I frequently visit Kenya and two trips were dedicated to discovering both new and new/old properties. A writing trip took me to the coast to visit the Whitesands and the Leopard Beach, and side trips to Sarova’s Salt Lick and Taita Hills Lodges from where I explored the ‘Battlefields East Africa’, and a stay at the Satao Camp in Tsavo East, where I saw as much game as ever before in over 37 years of safaris to that park.
The Kenya Red Cross ventured into the hospitality industry to create sustainable income for their humanitarian operations and the brand sparkling new The Boma Nairobi for a while left me standing with my mouth wide open. Run by young veteran hotelier Mugo Maringa, The Boma proved to be, besides the Sovereign Suites, the additions of the year to the Nairobi hospitality scene and although I enjoyed their hospitality in the pre-soft opening phase I found no fault. A reunion after 20+ years with my friend Lynne Leakey could not have had a better setting, the food was simply mouthwatering and the rooms well appointed, leaving nothing to be desired.
From there I visited an ‘old friend’, the just re-opened Aberdare Country Club, 75 years old this year and with a multi million investment by new owners Marasa Africa – part of Uganda’s Madhvani empire – sparkling like brand new and yet the maturity only a well aged wine can produce. Sister property The Ark, deep inside the Aberdare National Park, also got a new lease on life but it was always the club which held the most attraction for me, never as stuck up as some of the more fancied neighbours, renowned for food prepared with no calories in mind and an olden days hospitality with some of the mzees in service still there since my Kenyan days.
I stayed at the Honeysuckle Cottage, now completely remodeled and modernized, the nights the playground for the dozens of peacocks uttering their eerie calls and the cup of early morning tea faithfully served at 6 am on the dot, just as dawn showed its hand behind the distant peaks of Mt. Kenya. A friendship renewed it was and I will be back for sure soon again.
On the home front in Uganda too showed itself from the sunniest and also from the upside down side.
The Aero Club in Kajjansi introduced acrobatic flying, using a classic Great Lakes bi plane and the ride with Capt. Howard Davenport turned me into an addict for adrenaline. Inverted flight, loopings, eights in the sky, spins and dives he does with his eyes closed, while mine were wide open to capture the scenes below hanging strapped in tight in the open cockpit as we went inverted over lake and land – the Wild Skies over Kajjansi I named that adventure.
And then there was my visit to Mabira and the RainForest Lodge, recovering from a nasty bout of malaria, rejuvenating body and mind. There is hardly a better place for accomplishing that, and GeoLodges Africa deserve more than just a pat on the back for the fine hospitality they accord their guests. Set under ancient trees, the 12 wooden cabins offer luxurious simplicity, solitude and the ability to become one with nature, so close are the tree branches to the verandahs and open windows. I often closed my eyes and literally merged myself with the old forest, the only noise being the bird calls, the rustling of the leaves in the breeze, the red tailed monkeys chattering in the tree tops and the whispered voices of the staff as they supplied a never ending flow of African tea. Of all 2012 had in store for me, THIS was the place where I left my heart, where I lost myself and where leaving was the hardest of all the kwaheris I had to say over the past 12 months.
A year to be remembered, a year which brought treasured memories and a year which in so many ways was a watershed. I can truly say tomorrow night, as at the stroke of midnight 2013 will be born, that I survived 2012, not just words but with a full meaning.
To you my readers, a fraternity grown to over 260.000 on my blog from around the world, I extend my best wishes and give you the promise of more exciting stories in the new year, breaking and regular news from the fields of aviation, conservation and all things tourism. Happy New Year, live life, a day at a time, as if there were no tomorrow.