The cost of #COVID19 – close up and personal


(Posted 27th May 2020)

2020 was to be a special year. My sister and I had for the past nearly 2 years planned a safari across Kenya and Uganda, which was to cover all the highlights the two countries have to offer.
Myself turning 70, my sister turning 60 and my brother in law turning 65 and entering retirement after a life long career as a civil servant in Germany, had the three of us made plans and changed them, added and subtracted and finally came up with an itinerary which could only be described as the best of the best.

I had planned to spend a couple of days in Nairobi at the end of May to meet friends like Will Knocker and Roberto Simone before checking out hotels again, including a visit to the Kentmere Club in Limuru which I last saw back in the early 1980’s. Then, at the start of June, was I to meet my folks at the airport …

A flight with Qatar Airways would bring them to Nairobi – and at the end of the trip fly them back home out of Entebbe – where we were to enjoy our first night together at the Nairobi Serena Hotel. That choice was mainly driven by the prospect of a welcome dinner at the hotel’s Mandhari Restaurant, arguably one of the best in the Kenyan capital.

After an early breakfast the next day was a short trip to Wilson Airport on the cards to start what was to be an airsafari par excellence. Safarilink covers all the destinations we wanted to explore and the time saved by flying instead of driving to the parks was to be turned into additional game drives and on location activities.

Our first destination was to be Amboseli – to give my sister her close up look of ‘Snow on Kilimanjaro’ – one of many safari books she read over the years since I moved to East Africa in the 70’s.
Amboseli Serena was to be our home for two nights, in part also selected for the option to plant a few more trees and see how those I planted in the past were doing.
Game viewing and bird watching in Amboseli is always rewarding and certainly a park to start a safari with and Serena offers the fly in option with airstrip transfers and game drives at all of their park locations.

Ol Pejeta was to come second, to be reached via Wilson Airport with a connecting flight to Nanyuki and our base for the next couple of days was to be the Serena Sweetwater Safari Camp. That would allow for both game drives and game walks, a visit to the chimps and the last living Northern White Rhinos besides the very real chance to see the big five at every outing.
Mount Kenya, weather permitting, was to be the added bonus vista on the horizon.

Next to follow was the coast, Mombasa to be precise and the Mombasa Serena Beach Resort & Spa, which was meant to have just reopened after extensive renovations and upgrading to become our base for a couple of days. The Safarilink flight from Wilson routes via Ukunda, providing great views from the air especially for the sector from Ukunda to Vipingo, where we were meant to be met by a Serena vehicle for our short transfer to the resort.
Seaside meals at the Jahazi Grill, a visit to the butterfly and turtle projects and of course an excursion to Haller Park were all planned – but as we now know bounced as a result of the global pandemic.

The return to Nairobi was to be from Mombasa to Wilson for a quick lunch before starting a weeklong trip to the Masai Mara.
Accommodation was to be split between Mara Serena and Keekorok to take in both sides of the game reserve, and fingers crossed we would have seen the start of the annual migration from the Serengeti into the Mara, given that we had scheduled this part of our tour for the last week in June this year.

Bushbreakfasts, game drives aplenty, a balloon ride as a surprise gift, visits to CSR projects supporting schools and health centres for the Masai people were all to be on the agenda and tears were flowing when COVID19 decided otherwise.

From the Mara, again via Wilson Airport in Nairobi, was Zanzibar to be our next destination. The UNESCO World Heritage Site ‘Stone Town’ is best explored on foot and the Zanzibar Serena is a perfect place to do that. Excursions across the island to see some of the fabulous beaches, enjoy some great food in 5 star resort comfort, visiting the slave caves and of course exploring the island’s spice farms – we had it all lined up.

And then it was, after nearly 3 weeks in Kenya and on Zanzibar, on to Uganda. After a flight with Safarilink to Wilson would an Uber have taken us to the international airport to catch the evening flight on Uganda Airlines to Entebbe – and before reaching home to spend a night or two at the Lake Victoria Serena.
There was our brother to join us for a couple of days to make it a proper sibling reunion, before he fly back to go return to work while we had plans to see mountain gorillas at one end of the country and the Murchison Falls of the River Nile at the opposite end.

Bwana Tembo was to be our base outside Murchisons while we had yet to decide where to stay in Buhoma.
Of course was East Africa’s adventure capital of Jinja on the programme too as was the RainForest Lodge in Mabira for extended hikes.

What is left of our dreams for this year are just that now, dreams and the nagging questions of ‘what if’.
#COVID19’s impact on the world as we knew it has been massive and travel as we knew it might not be back for quite some time and be forever different, even once a safe and tested vaccine has been developed and made available on a global scale.

Perhaps our Yellow Fever certificates must in the future also bear a stamp that an anti COVID19 vaccine has been administered and would we not all hope that the spaces in economy class of airlines would be set further apart to meet social distancing orders.

Thankfully, until now, have none of my family members contracted the virus and everyone observes Germany’s lockdown though my parents are stuck in their assisted living condo, barred from receiving visitors for over two months and for weeks on end still to come.

What is left now are regrets, that we waited for so long but we did want to make our birthdays part of the trip – in fact it was the numbers which inspired us to come up with the plans in the first place.

If we can do our big safari next year we will, but no one can be sure if circumstances then still allow it. Postpone we would like to but it might simply not be possible and the regret would remain a thorn in our sides.

If it does happen, you will read about it but for today I just share my sentiments and give you a glimpse of what was about to go down between today, when I was supposed to have left for Nairobi, June and into July this year.