Serendipity

On Location in Kenya with Parts Unknown

In March 2018, Kili McGowan, Next Adventure’s Managing Director, accompanied the Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown crew during their time on Lewa Wildlife Conservancy. This is her story and photos from that experience.

In the yellow WACO biplane over Lewa

In the yellow WACO biplane over Lewa


 

It was a rainy day.

Surprisingly, the day I met Anthony Bourdain – on safari – was fraught with an unseasonal rain storm that lasted for three months after a 5-year drought. The flooding was so bad in Nairobi it made headlines briefly in the US. We were sitting inside by a fire in the cozy main living room of Lewa Wilderness, a family-owned safari lodge on Lewa Conservancy.

You might say it was when I really met him, because in truth, I’d been introduced to Anthony the day before, just prior to the rain starting. It was arrival day for the shoot and while chatting with my dear friend Kamau Bell who had just arrived from the noise of Nairobi, Anthony walked right up and said hello as if it was just any other day for him. Easy, comfortable and casual…humble, and unlike any other celebrity encounter I’d had before.

A legacy

Anthony and Kamau were at Lewa to shoot what we now know to be one of the final episodes of Parts Unknown, the famous travel series that invites people to see the world through the lens of Anthony and his exceptional crew. Of course, Anthony had been to Africa countless times, but now the seasoned traveler “was dying to see how Kamau handles the heat, the spice, the crowds, the overwhelming rush of a whole new world”.

They started in Nairobi looking for examples of community empowerment and uplifting aspects of Kenya’s pride, politics and creativity. Naturally, they wanted a safari to match this perspective, and they were looking for a story at the intersection of tourism, conservation and local Kenyan engagement.

This perspective – one of hope, creativity and resilience – was a perfect match with one of our beloved destinations, the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in Northern Kenya. Established in 1995 by the Craig family, Lewa was originally a cattle ranch that has since grown to be one of the most successful rhino conservation projects in the world while also providing medical services to nearly 50,000 people.

northern rangelands trust lgoAs a conservation model, this patchwork of ranches has inspired the Northern Rangelands Trust which includes 35 community conservancies and 18 ethnic groups spread over 42,000 sq. kms. of Kenya’s wild northern frontier. Lewa is an epicenter of conversations about land and wildlife management, anti-poaching strategies, and secure, sustainable development. Lewa embodies a radical innovation of Kenya’s most foundational structures, and the lesson from Lewa is clear: to protect wildlife, you have to build clinics, support schools and empower local communities.

Uncovering the Story

We knew Anthony and his crew would find what they needed at Lewa. It just so happened that at the time of their visit, presidential politics were extremely precarious, and tensions were also growing in Kenya because of a 5-year drought the country had been experiencing. Managing and monitoring the needs of the communities as well as those of the animals and the sometimes constricting laws that surround land and water usage created desperate situations that were complex and palpable. Although a complex and sensitive issue, we knew that Parts Unknown was interested in capturing some of this story, and certainly how it was impacting the nation overall.

Travel – and the unforgettable gems that result from it – can be tricky. The ‘magical’ moments that travelers seek can be elusive in spite of the best laid plans. Our first sundowner shot with Anthony and Kamau, for example, was enshrouded in streaky grey clouds, but, rather than hang onto that disappointment, we proceeded with our schedule…capturing intimate audio from Anthony that perhaps today carries a bit of comfort that he knew his life was well-lived.

Seventeen f—ing years. As soon as the cameras turn off and the crew will be sitting around, we’ll be having a cocktail, I f— pinch myself. I cannot f— believe that I get to do this.

As luck would have it, magic did manage to find us the next day. In an almost prophetic way, there was a sighting of a male and female lion together on a hilltop where they’ve been spotted before…except this time, they almost immediately sauntered down the hill and walked directly toward our vehicle with Tony and Kamau following behind. After that fortuitous sighting, we continued on to Il Ngwesi Community Ranch for a celebratory lunch that was simple and profound. And then, it happened.

An Unexpected Gift

Coming from a direction that even the Maasai elders didn’t expect was an unlikely storm in an atypical month. Kenyans generally experience the ‘short rains’ in December, and the ‘long rains’ in April and May which is when the bulk of the precipitation happens, but this was March 2nd. The direction, the timing and the dramatic ending of Kenya’s drought was electrifying the country…in that very moment. And, it was captured by and with Anthony Bourdain. The entire community, the crew, even Kamau…everyone…was dancing in celebration of the unexpected gift.

This is how I ended up in front of a fire with the sound of raindrops on the roof, chatting with Anthony. Not surprisingly, we talked about travel. I was curious if there was a destination he found most surprising, and he told me about Iran…he said the people were kind, welcoming and embracing. We talked about respecting cultures and how when someone you just met offers you something to eat, you absolutely eat it. For Anthony, the first and final frontier was a culture’s food, and, to have an authentic adventure, one must be completely immersed in it.

That visit, now documented in one of his final episodes, will certainly be held as one of my most treasured memories. The rain we had was certainly symbolic of how his visit brought so many gifts to this hopeful place; from his company around that fire to the light that this episode will bring to Lewa and the surrounding communities and certainly to the ongoing story of Kenya’s beauty and resilience.

Learn more about visiting Lewa

Special thanks to Dawn Shalhoup at www.prpotion.com for helping tell this story.

Lewa Walking Wild

Lewa Walking Wild Fly Camping
Walking Wild is a camel safari outfit based out of Lewa Wilderness. This venture offers guests the unique opportunity to explore by foot the remote valleys, hills and plains of both Lewa and neighboring Maasai community conservation areas. Guests spend the days walking, whilst the camels and Maasai transport the camp, meeting up each evening for unforgettable nights camping out in the bush.

Sleeping tents are dome shade netting tents, PVC floor, 3 meters by 3 meters and 3.5 meters high, insect and reptile proof, with flysheet in case of rain. Bedding is a bedroll on the floor with sheets and blankets. Ablutions are two loos – short drop type and two showers canvas bucket type. This is a walking safari supported by camels, however camels can be ridden when the terrain or route allows.

Laikipia

The patchwork of private conservancies, ranches and farms knit together the Laikipia Plateau, the gateway to Kenya’s little-visited northern territory. Amid spectacular scenery, traditional ways of pastoral life coexist with an abundance of free-roaming wildlife. Laikipia has one of the biggest and most diverse mammal populations in Kenya—only the Masai Mara boasts more game. The big five are present, plus wide-ranging wild dogs; there’s even a chance of seeing the rare aquatic Sitatunga antelope. Laikipia is also home to about 25% of the world’s population of rare Grevy’s zebra and half of Kenya’s black rhino population. This is also the best place to view such northern species as reticulated giraffe, Somali ostrich, Beisa oryx, Jackson’s hartebeest and gerenuk. Numerous impala and Grant’s gazelle ensure healthy predator populations of lion, leopard and cheetah.

What to expect from Laikipia: Seclusion! Rawness! Rarity! The amazing thing about Laikipia is the cooperation between humans that make this wildlife habitat sustainable. The rugged beauty of the semi-arid deserts and escarpments is simply stunning. You will see rare animal species but rare visitors in Laikipia. Keep in mind that the plateau is high, with altitudes from 5,500 feet to 8,500 feet, so bring sweaters and jackets year round.

Lewa Wildlife Conservancy
Set against the backdrop of snow-capped Mount Kenya, the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy is a magical place for the ultimate Kenyan safari experience. The diversity of scenery from open plains, rolling hills, valleys, escarpments and rivers brings rich game viewing opportunities while supporting community initiatives and sustainable development. LWC is home to all of the “Big Five” and due to the establishment of a rhino sanctuary and breeding program in 1984, it is one of the only areas where visitors are almost guaranteed to see both the endangered black and white rhino. Through the protection and management of endangered species, the initiation and support of community conservation and development programs, and the education of neighboring areas in the value of wildlife, Lewa has become Kenya’s leading model for wildlife conservation on private land. LWC is leading the way for low-impact conservation tourism resulting in direct benefits for communities across the region.

Guests of the four lodges on the conservancy are welcome to walk with a trained guide, view the terrain and wildlife on horse or camelback or perhaps on a scenic flight. Some of these activities are at extra cost and not all are available at every property.

What to expect from Lewa Wildlife Conservancy: Remoteness! Culture! Rhinos! One big advantage of this conservancy is how few guests visit such an immense area. You will feel like this wilderness is your own private haven. There are many cultural experiences available from the various lodges on the LWC and most guests feel that they are respectful and authentically enriching.

Legendary Lodge

Legendary Lodge is one of a kind: it is a luxury property located on the outskirts of Arusha, set in a lush tropical garden surrounded by a working coffee farm. Enjoy inspiring views of Mount Meru from the privacy of your own garden cottage while their staff takes care of your every whim. Conveniently located, the lodge is a 10 minutes’ drive from the Arusha Airport and 1 to 2 hours’ drive from Kilimanjaro International Airport.

The Legendary Lodge offers the highest standard in accommodations and service. The ten garden cottages each have private verandahs and stunning views of Mount Meru that make for the perfect place to relax before or after a safari. The interiors have been designed with a unique blend of African style combined with Western comforts and old colonial luxury. Each ensuite cottage features comfortable split level living to include king size beds with mosquito nets, lounge with fireplace, satellite television, direct dial phone, broadband connection, complimentary mini-bar, fruit basket and coffee and tea station. The bathrooms have a vanity with double basins, bathtub, rain shower, separate toilet and the full range of amenities. The family cottages feature two ensuite bedrooms connected by a spacious living room, fully furnished with satellite television, dining room and kitchen. The family cottages also feature a wrap-around verandah and each one is enclosed in a private garden.

Indulge in gourmet meals served at the old farmhouse. Meal times are flexible and guests are accommodated at their convenience. Wake up calls are accompanied by freshly brewed coffee and tea along with a full English breakfast. Delicious lunches are followed by romantic candle-lit dinners, served with a selection of fine wines. The nearby recreation centre includes a fully equipped gym with aerobics studio, sauna, steam room, pool, tennis and squash courts as well as sports fields and a five-kilometre running track. Optional activities offered are a savory coffee tour, shopping at the nearby Cultural Heritage Center or an excursion to Arusha, Tarangire and Manyara National Parks or other nearby attractions. Legendary Spa offers a full range of professional services. After a long flight, ease your body into African time with a relaxing massage or reflexology treatment. After your safari, rehydrate your skin with a personalised face or body treatment. Whatever your pleasure, Legendary Lodge will ensure a truly legendary experience.

 



FACT SHEET LEGENDARY LODGE

Tanzania’s Mwiba Lodge

Mwiba, a secluded, sophisticated haven set among massive stone boulders, ancient coral trees and acacias, overlooking a rocky gorge on the Arugusinyai River, is the latest addition to the Legendary Expeditions portfolio. Set in harmony with this idyllic natural backdrop, Mwiba offers an unmatched experience in luxury adventure. This exclusive destination mixes both traditional and modern design elements, creating an inviting, sophisticated hideaway.

The interiors artfully integrate the natural surroundings with layer upon layer of textured creams paired with suede, tans and accents of chocolate and charcoal. From the linen dressed slope-armed sofas to ornately carved wooden leg tables and cascading lighting, the eight double suites all give way to a wide-open layout where each room flows to another.  The bathroom brings the outdoors inside with traditional canvas walls accented with copper fixtures, large soaking tubs with private outside showers, all with transporting views from hardwood plank decks.

The grey slate-lined infinity-edge pool overlooks three springs where guests can enjoy the sights and sounds of a constant parade of wildlife. Vast and privately controlled, this exquisite 129,530 acre wildlife reserve is vibrantly lush with color-infused botanicals, 33 freshwater springs and a diverse array of wildlife. Game drives, bush walks and cultural excursions to the local tribe’s village are just a few of the magical experiences that begin at Mwiba, where a world of adventure awaits.



MWIBA LODGE FACT SHEET

Mwiba Lodge Cultural Interaction

Legendary Serengeti Mobile Camp

Explore a rich landscape of inky blue skies, burnt orange sunsets and the soft neutrals of the African savannah. Within the largest of Tanzania’s national parks is a promise of luxury with premier accommodations and superb service that are Legendary Serengeti Camp.

SOUTH SERENGETI / MASWA: beginning of December until the end of April

WEST SERENGETI: middle of May through to middle of July

NORTH SERENGETI: middle of July to the end of November



LEGENDARY SERENGETI MOBILE FACT SHEET
Tree-scratching Lion

Bee & Chaz Capture Rare Safari Moments

On the way to the airstrip at Mara Plains we watched this baby gazelle being born on New Year’s Day. This is how this safari trip has gone. Every day something absolutely remarkable. — Bee & Chaz

As an old saying goes: The only way to have great ideas is to have a lot of ideas. We think the same applies to safaris and wildlife photography. The more time you spend in the bush, and the more photos you take, the better chance you’ll have of getting great shots.

Bee wanted to make sure she had the perfect camera for her safari, and she couldn’t have been happier with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II. Olympus customer service went out of their way to make sure she had the newest technology without it being too heavy or unwieldy. We hesitate to guess how many photos Bee & Chaz took to narrow it down to these wonderful photos, but we can tell you where they were and a bit about their two most recent safaris.

White Browed Coucal vs Chameleon, Mara

White Browed Coucal vs Chameleon in the Mara

Our guide Duncan at Mara Plains saw the White Browed Coucal attacking this chameleon. We watched in wonder as he systematically tried to pull the chameleon off the bush by trying to unwrap its tail then pulling on the chameleon’s limbs. After some time in the epic struggle for life vs lunch, the coucal gave up and the chameleon survived…for the moment. — Bee & Chaz

Let Wild Dogs Lie, Botswana

Let Wild Dogs Lie, Botswana

In May, they began with a true Botswanan safari that took them through the Jao Concession and the Selinda and Kwedi Reserves with stops at Little Tubu, Selinda Camp, Duba Expedition and Jacana Camp. From the Okavango Delta’s flooded waterways and seasonal islands, Bee & Chaz then journeyed over Namibia’s vast deserts to experience the remote Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp and then to Little Kulala to face Sossusvlei’s massive dunes and unique wildlife.

For the Festive Season around the holidays, they spent extensive time in the Singita Grumeti Reservein the northern Serengeti at Faru Faru and Sabora followed by one of our perennial favorites, Mara Plains, in the Olare Motorogi conservancy adjacent to the Masai Mara. They then moved south to Singita Boulders in South Africa’s Sabi Sands before finishing their epic safari with a stop at Tswalu Kalahari.

Cheetah Cub in the Mara

Cheetah Cub in the Mara

Driving between Faru Faru and Sabora, our guide Anthony stopped for this ‘joyful little cheetah cub’ playing with his mama, and we watched them for as long as we wanted, despite arriving late to lunch at Sabora. At Singita, the wildlife experience always takes priority over being on time!

Cape Fox: This little critter popped up right in front of our room at Tswalu, and we think there was a den nearby…you just see so much from your room during the downtime!

Starling: Spotted from the room at Tswalu–he grabbed a bite to eat just as I snapped his portrait!

Hyena: The heartbreaking side of safaris is watching a kill where the mother gazelle was hopelessly standing by while the hyena ran off with her baby, at Mara Plains.

Oryx: At Hoanib, it was a marvel these large mammals could survive in the desert so well. Their adaptations are mind blowing!

Bee Eater: Taken from the room at Tswalu

African Wild Cat: We sat with her for 45 minutes at Tswalu while she observed and stalked dozens of mice that were scampering in front of her. The cool animals come out at night, so we started our ‘afternoon’ game drives about 8 PM to take advantage of the cooler temperatures and to see some of the nocturnal species. Some other guests we spoke with were out until 4 AM…talk about flexible schedules!

Sunbird: Reminded me of a rainbow and showed the Kalahari in bloom. No one expects to see such lovely delicate flowers in the desert

‘Tree Climbing’ lion: At Boulders, we came upon a pride with 16 cubs in the midst of a play session. This lion was stretching and playing with the tree–not actually trying to climb it!

Horned Adder: Our guide at Tswalu had seen a large tortoise in the bush and pointed it out, then saw the Adder just next to it. We crept carefully out of the vehicle on foot but kept a respectful distance so we didn’t disturb the snake.

Leopard Baby: This was taken in the first hour of our first trip to Botswana while at Little Tubu Tree. Our tracker found the mama lying near the tree and we were privileged to hear her start calling to her cub shortly after we arrived. I got very emotional as they played and she nursed the cub while the sun was setting. It was a truly thrilling experience and we could have gone home right then satisfied with our safari!

Grasshopper: I called this one coffee stop camouflage. On a morning coffee break at Boulders, we noticed dozens of different colored grasshoppers blended into the ground around where they stopped.

Pangolin:  At Tswalu, this pangolin is actually tagged as part of a research project, and we got to watch him dig around for food while discussing the species with the researcher.


While we hesitate to guarantee how good your photos turn out, but we can guarantee a thoughtful and carefully arranged itinerary. Get in touch to start planning your ideal safari.

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