Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Guardians of Mama Africa

Africa viewWelcome to the new year! Did you make any resolutions? As you may imagine, I frequently meet mind-blowing pioneers on my travels, and last year was no exception. Let me share Nicky and Steve Fitzgerald with you- the kind of people whose own selfless resolve has resulted in the benefit to the environment, local communities, wildlife and lucky travellers.






These formidable South Africans have been true pioneers in safari lodging. After spending 20 years developing, constructing and operating properties at the prestigious “& Beyond” brand- taking it from 4 to over 50 lodges across Sub-Saharan Africa and India- they set up their own exclusive tented suites on the site featured in the classic movie ‘Out of Africa.’ The plot of land is a dramatic cliff-edge haven, aptly named Angama Mara (www.angama.com), which in the Swahili language means ‘suspended in mid air.’

View from Angama Mara

Angama Mara View from Angama Mara

And the property does indeed rest on a plateau, 1000 feet above the breathtaking vista of the Maasai Mara, where during the rains guests wake to a calm sea of green with blue-lavender mountains framing the plains. For a few months in the summer they can watch the mind-blowing site of millions- yes- literally millions- of wild beasts trampling by on the annual great migration, down the Great Rift Valley, which originates all the way from the ancient lands of Jordan and runs through Africa into the majestic Indian Ocean. The migration is contained within the Serengeti, Masaai Mara and Greater Mara regions, and is a sight which once experienced, is never forgotten. At Angama you can do this from the comfort of your lavish bed whilst sipping a G&T, thanks to uninterrupted floor to ceiling glass views- unique in lodge design. And open deck that runs across the whole suite offers equally staggering views.

View from Angama Mara

The Maasai Mara National Reserve area covers 580 square miles of landscapes ranging from wetlands to forests, dense bush and vast plains. These are owned by the Maasai people and managed by the Mara Conservancy. A nightly donation per guest towards this fund is included in the fees so that guests know from the offset they are leaving something positive behind.

Opened in June 2015, Angama Mara has raised standards for upscale safari glamping. In spite of calling their suites ‘tents’, these are more like pop up hotel rooms, but more importantly, the services and guest management have come directly from above. Nicky and Steve have not just created a hotel lodge, they have truly nurtured a family concept, where guests are greeted with genuine smiles and a ‘welcome home.’

Safari View

I have been privileged enough to travel the world to hundreds of places, yet this is the first time I felt I choked up to leave because it really felt like I was leaving relatives. This is just one legacy that Nicky and Steve have created. And one that we could all emulate.

Let me share a surprising fact with you. People don’t run lodges for the money- the economy of scales are too brutal for that. They run lodges because it’s in their blood and these are the very people who are passionate about conservation and act as caretakers to the world’s gates to Eden and all its majestic creatures. As an aside, they bring employment and education to remote communities whose very cultures run a risk of being eroded through lack of government funding, or simply because they live in some of the poorest areas in the world.

Giraffes Bird

A visit to the local Maasai village for a festival celebrating three young men’s transition from boys to men was a joy to behold, and something that was supremely humbling to be invited to.

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The architectural concept of this spectacular lodge has been minutely planned to blend in to the environment as opposed to shock against it, using local materials and artisan products to compliment the high tech and revolutionary construction. It was brave of the Fitzgerald’s and the architects to use an open plan design for resting, relaxing, bathing and dressing, but the flow of the suite works seamlessly. The Maasai woven modesty screens and ‘inside out’ shower add really homely touches, the main issue is that you forget you are in an actual tent as all the facilities you need including high tech global chargers, low key, intelligent lighting luxury cosmetics and plush furnishings have been thoughtfully provided.

On the spectacular game drives I was honoured enough to see almost every creature imaginable, from the smallest of caterpillars that will blossom into stunning butterflies through to herds of giraffes, big cats and colourful birds. The endangered rhino grazed happily, oblivious to their value to poachers and conservationists alike. Nicky and Steve have set up a foundation and are part of leading conservation groups in order to preserve all of the magnificent creatures in their midst.

Elephants Lions Caterpillar

Africa crocodile

Seeing a kill from stalking to scavenger was a brutal fact of life. I consoled myself in the fact that Pumbaa fed many hungry cats and some hyenas, so his fight (and life!) was not in vain.

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Lion

There are many other activities on offer, including bush walking and balloon safaris, ensuring that you learn and experience much more than you could have possibly imagined. I now know which plant the Maasai use to anoint themselves with to give them such a delicate fragrance, and which leaves are as soft as velvet should I ever get caught short when out walking!

balloon safari Safari

Each season brings it’s own special magic, however the rainy season engorges the Mara river and makes the guest residents play and drink and socialise there for our benefit. The fierce storms are short lived yet provide a dramatic landscape and wonderful colourings of the insects and birds that are nourished by the rains.
 
Sumptuous breakfasts, lunches and dinners can be enjoyed in and out of the camp, in addition to bush BBQs under the shimmering blanket of stars that cover the heavens nightly. Game picnics are a wild buzz, as you eat surrounded by a range of fabulous creatures.  

picnic View

All of us need to be more strategic in the choices we make when holidaying. I for one cant think of a more fulfilling break than one that combines nature, breathtaking activities, unique experiences and still helps to put something back into conservation and the environment. Nicky and Steve have taken their life’s work and created a concept that transcends every aspect of their supreme expertise in the field.

Here the lion isn't king; you are. For that reason alone Angama Mara is more than a safari, this was an appreciation of life and the magnificent wildlife we should fight to protect. This is a place where one feels the joys of being alive, and the wondrous beauty of the world.

Angama Mara safari

Please look on Angama’s website for more information.

Toodle pip until next time my fellow adventurers!

Claud
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