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Friday, November 12, 2010

Mount Kenya Safari Club

If you wander into the bar at the Mount Kenya Safari Club, you will not see Ernest Hemingway telling tall tales from a day of big-game hunting. Nor will you have to fight pet leopards for a seat at the bar. But in the club’s heyday in the 1960s, these things were commonplace. Hollywood heartthrob William Holden (Bridge Over The River Kwai, Network) and his partners, oil billionaire Ray Ryan and Swiss financier Carl Hirschmann, ran the place as the most elite private members’ club in the world. Membership was by invitation only and included Bing Crosby, David Lean, Charlie Chaplin, Steve McQueen, Conrad Hilton, Winston Churchill and the Maharaja of Jaipur. Holden, who fell in love with Kenya on hunting safaris in the 50s was known for his practical joking in the bar, such as snakes hidden in the bottom of a peanut tin. Yet there is more to this sybaritic retreat in northern Kenya than Hollywood magic dust left behind from years of raucous carousing. It is the sheer beauty of this stretch of land that sits at the base of Africa’s second-highest mountain, 17,057-foot Mount Kenya. Manicured lawns sweep down to a pool, past flower-filled ponds and then on to the slopes, where they climb for miles to the snow-dusted peak, known locally as Kirinyaga. The club is built directly on the equator, its line cutting straight through the main bar, following the curve of the national park before running into the seventh hole of the club’s small nine-hole golf course.

There will be no blogs the week of November 15th since I’ll still be in Africa. I’ll be back on November 22nd. Have a great week, filled with adventure!
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 11/12/10 at 02:00 PM
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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Conservation Efforts in the Masai Mara

Mara is Swahili for “dotted hillside,” aptly named for the wealth of wildlife roaming the valley, especially during the fall when vast hordes of wildebeests are making their annual migration from the Masai Mara to the Serengeti. Yet, it wasn’t so long ago that this same wilderness area was rife with poachers aiming to bag their rhino, Maasai warriors spearing male lions as their gateway to manhood, villagers killing ostriches and impala for their meat, and mass tourism unchecked as 20 to 30 land rovers could often be found viewing that same lone leopard. Haji Ogle, who spent the bulk of his life working for the Kenya Wildlife Service battling poachers in the bush, still has his concerns.  He worries about mass tourism and would like the number of visitors to the park each day to be limited by a national government agency, not the local county council that runs the reserve now. Yet he insists that the Masai Mara be open to everyone, keeping the admission price at a reasonable 500 Kenya Schillings or $6.25 US for adult residents of the country.  Ogle is also uneasy about the growth of large wheat farms that are encroaching on the land from the east, yet he can’t help but remain optimistic. “Coming from where I was and where I am today, this is one of the enterprises that has been a success,” say Ogle.  “Kenyan conservation is now widespread.”
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 11/10/10 at 02:00 PM
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Tuesday, November 09, 2010

What’s Doing in Nairobi

First-time visitors to the Kenya have misconceptions that Nairobi will be some dusty backwater where narrow streets are filled with destitute people ready to pounce on your wallet.  Much of this stems from an outbreak of thievery that occurred in the late 90s, earning the city the nickname, “Nairobbery.” Today, especially now that the post-election violence of January 2007 is in the rear view mirror, Nairobi is a relatively safe and cosmopolitan hub of 3.5 million people in East Africa. The poor, who flood out of their shanties every morning to walk to nearby factories, merge with a growing middle and upper class, whose gated estates in the western suburbs of Karen and Langata have far more in common with Boca Raton than Bogota. Travelers are starting to realize that Nairobi is worthy of more than a one-night stopover on the way to safari. At the David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage, west of the city centre in Langata, baby elephants whose parents have been killed by poachers are raised by workers who actually sleep in their stalls to comfort the young. When they’re old enough, they’ll be brought back to the wild. The suburb of Karen was named after Out of Africa author Karen Blixen, who wrote under the pen name Isak Dineson. Visit the estate she lived in from 1913 to 1931, now home to the Karen Blixen Museum. The grounds, dotted with the prehistoric looking candelabra cacti, overlook the Ngong Hills, and are worth the price of admission alone.
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 11/09/10 at 02:00 PM
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Monday, November 08, 2010

Voluntourism in Kenya

I’m in Kenya the next two weeks researching a handful of stories. I’d like to share with you the pitches that were accepted as assignments. Given the current worldwide recession, visiting Masai Mara merely to spot the Big Five from your open-air Jeep or quaff sundowners from your luxury tent seems slightly self-indulgent. That’s why luxury tour operator Micato Safaris offers its clients a chance to give back by participating in its partnership with AmericaShare, a nonprofit foundation Micato Safaris established twenty years ago that supplies education, food, clothing and shelter to thousands of children living in the Mukuru slum in Nairobi. Clientele who arrive or depart from Nairobi participate in Micato’s “Lend a Helping Hand on Safari” program. During these one-day philanthropic excursions to the Mukuru slum, travelers visit the community, plant trees, and donate much-needed supplies. More often than not, the inspiration and urge to help out doesn’t end that day. Many Micato Safaris veterans have become involved in AmericaShare’s School Sponsorship program, which enables needy children to attend boarding school in Nairobi. One recent visitor even helped fund the Harambee House and Women’s Centre, a community center and boys’ dormitory run in part by women with HIV.
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 11/08/10 at 02:00 PM
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Friday, November 05, 2010

Say No to SeaWorld

Several years ago, I wrote a story about taking the family on a road trip along the California coast. The trip started in San Diego, where we had the pleasure to “Dine with Shamu” at SeaWorld. My kids were amazed as we had dinner watching an orca whale doing backflips right behind us. So it came as a shock when I recently read that one of my mentors in this travel writing business, Arthur Frommer, wrote, “I am ashamed. I will no longer recommend that tourists patronize the various SeaWorld parks.” In the wake of the death of trainer Dawn Brancheau, Frommer received a letter from PETA’s Debbie Leahy, an expert on captive animal issues. In the letter, Leahy noted that 21 orcas have died in U.S. SeaWorld facilities between 1986 and 2008, and not one from old age. They died from severe trauma, intestinal gangrene, acute hemorrhagic pneumonia, pulmonary abscesses, chronic kidney disease, chronic cardiovascular failure, septicemia, and influenza. She also mentioned that SeaWorld has been responsible for the deaths of numerous dolphins, including three who died last year at SeaWorld Discovery Cove in less than three weeks time.

I’m paid to write travel stories, but some times I’m simply used as a pawn so companies like SeaWorld can make a large profit. I’m reminded of a hotel in Bali that had a spectacular beach. When I learned that the hotel had crushed the coral reef to bring in their sand, I was irate. As I grow older, I get wiser and try to dig deeper so that I’m convinced that what I’m promoting is ethical. Now and again, you make a mistake, but at least I’m not the only travel writer.

I’m leaving for Kenya on Sunday on a 12-day jaunt to pen stories for five publications. Next week, I’ll share those story ideas with you. The following week, I won’t be blogging. As always, thanks for checking in!
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 11/05/10 at 02:00 PM
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Thursday, November 04, 2010

Let it Rain at Olympic National Park

Thanks to La Niña, weather in the Pacific Northwest this winter is supposed to be more extreme than usual. Big whoop. They’re used to winter storms and lots of rain in these parts. So much so that two lodges in Olympic National Park are offering a Storm Watcher Package. Stay at Kalaloch Lodge, featuring breathtaking vistas of the raw Pacific Ocean shoreline from October 21, 2010 to March 13, 2011, and for $149 a night, you’ll receive one night’s accommodation, breakfast for two, two rain ponchos, and a souvenir fleece blanket designed with an Olympic National Park logo. Additional nights may be added at $99 a night. Lake Quinault Lodge, in the heart of the Olympic National Forest, is offering a Storm Watcher Package at $119 a night that includes one night’s lodging, a rainforest tour for two, and the option to add extra nights for a measly $50 rate. Visit Olympic National Parks and use the promotional code: STORM10 for Kalaloch and LQSTORM10 for Lake Quinault Lodge or call 866-297-7367.
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 11/04/10 at 01:00 PM
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Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Back on My Feet

Three times a week at 6 am, a select group of runners head to Boston Common to work out. One day, it could be sprints, the next day a long jog. The one thing these folks have in common besides a good sweat is that they are all homeless participating in the Back on My Feet program. Launched in 2007 in Philadelphia, the nonprofit organization has become such a success that it has already moved on to Baltimore, Washington, DC, Chicago, and this past May, Boston. Obviously, the program is much more than a good run on an often chilly morning. Back on My Feet builds self-esteem and confidence through leadership training. Though it doesn’t provide shelter or food, the organization does help with connections to housing, job placement, and self-sufficiency. All you have to do is be present at least 90 percent of the workouts to show your commitment. As I always say to my kids, strong body, strong mind.
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 11/03/10 at 01:00 PM
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Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Hot Air Balloon Rides Above the Sonoran Desert

With a chill in the air this Election Day, many of us folks in the cooler climes are already thinking about the warmth of the Southwest. Scottsdale beckons with swim-up bars and world-class golf courses. Yet, if you can somehow tear yourself away from that exclusive resort (in the darkness of early morning, no less), you’ll get to experience my favorite adventure in the Phoenix area. Rainbow Ryders has been offering sunrise balloon jaunts in both Albuquerque and the Phoenix area for the past 30 years. There’s no better way to start the day than seeing the craggy peaks and tall saguaro cacti from above. After the soothing hour-long flight, you toast to your good fortune with a glass of champagne. L’chayim!
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 11/02/10 at 01:00 PM
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Monday, November 01, 2010

Have Packing List, Will Travel

I’m off to Kenya in a week to research and write four stories. Most people stress about packing for a trip, including my wife, who hates the thought of reducing all her possessions into one measly suitcase. I can often pack in less than 15 minutes, thanks to my trusty packing list that’s stored in my computer. Depending on the locale and weather, I adjust the list, but for Kenya it will include passport, printed copy of passport page in case passport is stolen, airplane information, prescription drugs like Malaria pills, Imodium (no travel writer leaves home without it), other bathroom accessories, notebooks, pens, laptop, laptop plug and surge protector, headset for Skype, plug converter (incredibly important. Kenya is on the British plug), iPod and headphones, iPod charger, Flip video camera, Canon camera and additional long lens, camera charger, suntan lotion, Carmex, mosquito repellent, file on Kenya, two good books to read, most likely downloaded on my Nook, the latest Economist (which takes about five hours to read, perfect for trans-Atlantic flights), baseball cap, two nice pair of pants for dinners, shoes, nice long-sleeve and short-sleeve collared shirts for dinner, cargo shorts with four pockets to hold my notebook and pens during the day, lightweight long sleeve safari shirts, more casual T-shirts, polar fleece jacket because it does get cold at night in the bush, socks, underwear, flip-flops, sneakers, swimsuit, money belt, $300 US cash, one credit card, business cards, and finally a gift of pencils, crayons, and stickers for school kids. They went gaga over the Obama stickers I brought on my last trip to Africa in 2008. And that’s it. I’m finished, ready to roll. Write it down once on your computer and you’ll have it for every trip in the future.
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 11/01/10 at 01:00 PM
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Friday, October 29, 2010

Yellowstone in Winter, at a Discount

America’s natural wonders were chosen to be national parks to preserve their indigenous state. Yet, if you venture to places like Yellowstone in the summer, “forever wild” seems more like “forever congested.” Come winter, these same parks are virtually uninhabited, almost returning to their original state. Who wouldn’t relish the opportunity to cross-country ski or snowshoe with more bison and elk than homo sapiens? Now Yellowstone National Park Lodges has made it even more attractive, reducing their price at the lodge to $109 per person for a two-night stay. Rates include two breakfasts, a one-hour hot tub rental, unlimited ice skating and skate rentals, in-park transportation, and guided tours. Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel makes a great base to look for wolves in Lamar Valley or explore the wondrous travertine terraces just outside the front door of the lodging. Call 866-439-7375 and ask for the "Frosty Fun at Mammoth" package. The rates on the website were incorrect when I last checked.
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 10/29/10 at 01:00 PM
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Longtime Boston Globe travel writer, Steve Jermanok, dishes out his favorite travel locales and provides topical travel information that comes across his desk.

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