Kili McGowan, the chair of the Safari Pros consortium of travel advisors, organizes and leads trips that venture beyond sightings of the classic Big Five–elephants, lions, rhinos, leopards, and buffalo. As an expert on the region, McGowan was guiding a tour of conservancies in Kenya, which is bouncing back after a half-decade hiatus during which security concerns kept some travelers away.
McGowan is one of a growing number of specialists who are willing to go above and beyond for clients. She will even, on occasion, accompany them every step of the way, providing on-the-ground knowledge and a deep understanding of conservation issues. Once this trip was complete, McGowan would turn around and fly back to the continent with a group of women who will only travel in her company.
The Kazuri Story
Lady Susan Wood
Kazuri Founder – Lady Susan Wood had humble beginnings. Born (1918) in a mud hut in an African village, her parents were missionaries from England in the Ituri Forest. Lady Wood was sent to England in order to be educated and ended up marrying Michael Wood, a surgeon. They came to Kenya in 1947 and became dedicated to making a difference. Lady Wood started a coffee plantation on the Karen Blixen estate, famous from the award winning movie “Out of Africa” , which is at the foot of the Ngon’g Hills (about 30 minutes from the bustling Nairobi city center in Kenya). Lady Wood was a visionary and unsung hero of her time. She assisted her husband in founding the East African Flying Doctor Service, which expanded into the African Medical Research Foundation (AMREF) of which Michael Wood was Director General for 29 years. Michael Wood was knighted in 1985.
Kazuri Beads Origins
In 1975, Lady Wood set up a fledging business making beads in a small shed in her back garden. She started by hiring two disadvantaged women, and quickly realized that there were many more women who were in need of jobs. Henceforth, Kazuri Beads was created and began its long and successful journey as a help center for the needy women, especially single mothers who had no other source of income. In 1988, Kazuri became a factory and expanded hugely to include over 120 women and men. Here, women are trained and apply their skills to produce unique and beautiful beads and jewelry. The beads are made with clay from the Mt Kenya area, thus giving authenticity to the craft. The factory acts as a social gathering with the hum of voices continuing vibrating throughout the day. With unemployment so high, one jobholder often ends up providing for an “extended family” of 20 or more. Kazuri is a member of the Fair Trade Act.
Kazuri Beads Present Day
Today, Kazuri (the Swahili word for ‘small and beautiful’) produces a wide range of hand made and painted ceramic jewelry that shines with a kaleidoscope of African colors. Kazuri’s beautifully finished products are made to an international standard and are sold worldwide. These standards are maintained through high training regimens and a highly motivated management team.
In 2001, Mark and Regina Newman bought the company. Their goal is to further increase the size and maintain the central guiding philosophy … to provide employment opportunities for disadvantaged members of Kenyan Society.
Borana has always been a special place; a truly family-oriented conservancy, adjacent to the world-renowned Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, that offers outstanding wildlife experiences as well as opportunities to explore a breathtaking landscape through a variety of activities. Borana also offers a range of exclusive-use safari homes and villas, and the newest is Lengishu House.
Next Adventure, a safari company based in Berkeley and run by Kili McGowan and her husband Jeremy Townsend, was tasked with setting up the trip for Bell, Bourdain, and the Parts Unknownproduction crew.
“Tony [Bourdain] inspired people to be travelers, not just tourists,” McGowan said. “Being a chef, he had this appreciation for people and their cultures.”
McGowan ended up traveling with the crew to Kenya’s Lewa Wilderness. As fans would expect, McGowan said Bourdain was mindful of the conservation efforts in the African countries he visited. “He was so enthusiastic about it, and it’s extremely rewarding,” McGowan recalled.
She also remarked on Bourdain and the production crew’s passion and positive working dynamics. The rapport between the late Bourdain and Bell was obvious as well. “Their chemistry is really palpable,” she said.
When the show was in the planning stages, Bell pointed the Parts Unknown production company, Zero Point Zero, to Berkeley company Next Adventure whose expertise is curating personalized, conservation-minded safari and wildlife trips to Africa. Bell is friends with Kili McGowan, the company’s managing director, and was sure its thoughtful approach to travel would marry well with Bourdain’s show.
“It was such a great shared opportunity,” said McGowan. Both Bell and Bourdain, whether through the lens of diversity in America, or international food culture, go into experiences with open hearts and minds, she said. “They both have a vulnerability and empathy that draws people into conversations.”
Next Adventure recommended the visit to the Lewa Conservancy. “The transition from the vibrancy and intensity of Nairobi to the tranquility of the conservancy is one of my favorite parts,” said McGowan who accompanied the crew on the shoot.
“I thought, ‘I’m going to take this moment to tell him what he really means to me,’ ” Bell says.
He told Bourdain that he watched his show on his couch 10 years ago, thought it was a perfect job, and wondered how a struggling comic could get there. Bourdain responded that he was a simple cook, “dunking fries” at age 44, and never thought he’d see Rome much less Kenya.
It was a special moment, Bell recalls, that now feels like a goodbye.
Simon Penfold, my Scenic Air Safaris host, was right. Through the window of our 10-seater plane, I watched a herd of elephants saunter across the Masai Mara plains with slack-jawed astonishment as we made our way to the landing strip.
In Kenya, aspiring safari guides are taught that the ideal guide should possess boundless knowledge of the local flora and fauna, rock-solid survival skills, mastery of the communication arts, and an unflagging sense of humor. And until recently, these guidelines also included an unspoken rule—that guides should be male.
Kili’s Pick: Mara Plains Camp, Olare Motorogi Conservancy, Masai Mara
There are many luxury camps throughout Kenya, but none captures the essence of Africa as well as Mara Plains Camp. Every single detail of the camp is exquisite and in harmony with the surroundings. Guests have the luxury of experience here, not just luxurious accommodations. There is maximum flexibility in what guests can do, unlimited explorations through the two massive conservancies plus the reserve, and attentiveness from the Great Plains team that make Mara Plains Camp a retreat rather than a lodge.
Bruce & Patty first travelled with us 5 years ago on a Wilderness Dawning camping safari. This time around they wanted to return to some of their favorite camps on a self-driving safari in Kruger National Park.
They also planned their own visit to Uganda for Gorilla-tracking, and we wrapped their month-long safari up with a few days camping in Kenya.
Here are their top 7 moments…
Both Anisa & Taylor were eager to get out of the vehicle and experience the African wilderness first hand. Check out this awesome video to see how they did…
Not only did we arrange a variety of activities, we also developed their itinerary around a diversity of environments and camp styles. We opted for private or community-owned reserves allowing for greater flexibility, privacy and special arrangements like impromptu picnic lunches, romantic bush dinners, private vehicles and specialist guides.
After a few days of meetings in Nairobi and a stay at the lovely new Hemingways Hotel, my Kenyan safari began with a flight past Mt Kenya to the Northern Laikipia Plateau. Here, I spent 2 nights at Sabuk Lodge perched on a cliff overlooking the Ewaso Nyiro River. This privately-owned lodge remains a family home run by the entertaining owner, Verity, who hosts all the meals regaling with stories of her rich history in the safari industry. Verity coordinates each guest’s schedule with unique adventure activities such as walking or hiking excursions and Masai-guided camel safaris with stunning views of the Laikipia plains, Mount Kenya, the Karisa Hills and the Mathews Mountains in the North.
For me, the real highlight was a surprise breakfast out in the bush after we had just walked past a breeding herd of female elephants and their young. I also really enjoyed jumping into the Ewaso Nyiro River for a refreshing swim in the heat of the day and can’t wait to return to do a longer overnight walking safari sleeping out with a simple mosquito net under the stars!
We asked Will & Cindy if they would share some of their stories and pictures from their past trips, and we got this wonderful array of safari memories and their ten best pictures from over the years…
We’ve done three African Safaris with Next Adventure, as well as a more recent India trip that Kili and Louise planned for us. We have so many stories…
The glass-walled cabins in a forest where I opened my eyes from bed in the middle of the night and was looking directly into the eyes of SOME large animal on the other side of the glass, having baboons swarm our jeep in Kruger with “Old Bob” and refuse to leave without handouts…
Traveling with your family or a small group of friends can be complicated: making restaurant reservations for a group can be tough or impossible, getting around isn’t easy with tourist maps and a couple of rental cars, and hotel arrangements for groups are expensive and inconvenient. Families and small groups of friends can avoid those complications and experience some great benefits by teaming up on an African safari.
Safari Houses can be a great choice, but one of the most authentic safari options for families and small groups is to buy-out or exclusively reserve small tented camps or private mobile safaris.
Here are a few of our favorites:
Chindeni Bushcamp – Zambia
Sublime, peaceful, tranquil and perfect are just a few of the words guests use to describe Chindeni Bushcamp. Located on the edge of an oxbow lagoon in Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park, Chindeni Bushcamp accommodates up to eight guests in classic canvas tents with vaulted ceilings and private verandas that reach out over the lagoon.
Spend the day watching birds, hippo and elephant visit the lagoon, or go deeper into one of the greatest concentrations of wildlife in Africa on a guided walking safari or game drive.
Naibor Tented Camp – Kenya
Somewhere in the middle of the vast Masai Mara Game Reserve’s 1500 square kilometers sits a small collection of luxury tented camps called Naibor. With three separate camps, Naibor is a great choice for a group or family to explore the Mara. It is perfectly situated to experience the wildebeest migration crossing over the Mara river, plus cultural visits to the nearby Masai communities just outside the reserve can be arranged.
Of course, spectacular sundowners are on the menu, but guests can also enjoy a “bush meal” far out in the rolling grasslands.
Wilderness Dawning Mobile Safaris – Botswana
Wilderness Dawning offers the adventurous family or group 10-day & 14-day overland safaris that “endeavor to enrich our guests and enhance their love of Africa.” Days are spent with some of the best guides in the business game-driving through Botswana’s renowned wilderness areas including Nxai Pan, Moremi Game Reserve, Okavango and Chobe National Park.
Experiencing diverse habitats and a tremendous variety of wildlife while relaxing night after night in a rustic camp under the stars makes Wilderness Dawning’s mobile safaris the ultimate adventure.
Selinda Explorers Camp is also a great tented camp option for families and groups. Read about it here as a Featured Destination.
Get in touch to learn more about these or other safari options for families and small groups.
Photos are courtesy of the camps.
Arrival in Tanzania
Our guide, Emanuel, met us at Kilimanjaro International Airport for the 45 minute transfer to Lake Duluti Lodge. We enjoyed a small late dinner before a good nights’ rest in a comfortable forested cabin.
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Overland to Maramboi Tented Camp
After a delicious breakfast, we drove through bustling Arusha Town to Maramboi Tented Camp located between Tarangire & Lake Manyara National Parks. This medium-sized, classic tented camp is spectacularly set with open views on Lake Manyara and the Rift Valley Escarpment. While Kili enjoyed a sundowner, Jeremy and Rainier took a dip in the pool, and herds of zebra and wildebeest surrounded the deck and took advantage of a waterhole near the main lounge.
In May of this year, we finished our Northern Circuit family safari with a great stay at The Emakoko. Not only is it beautifully set, stylish and comfortable, it’s deep in the African wilderness of Nairobi National Park, less than an hour from Nairobi city center and Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.
Anton and Emma Childs, owner-managers of The Emakoko, have achieved a chic modern lodge that celebrates it’s surroundings. Game driving from the park gate to the lodge, we encountered a magnificent baby white rhino. Upon arrival, we crossed a footbridge over the Mbagathi River and felt hundreds of miles away from the airport we’d left only an hour before, and, from the open-air bar & dining room, we could feel a late season rain drench the forested valley.
The rooms are simple and sophisticated with wide-open spaces, curving walls and panoramic views. Dining at The Emakoko felt more like enjoying excellent home-cooking than fancy restaurant fare, and the service and hospitality was personal and friendly, more like visiting with locals than staying in a hotel.
Sitting at Lake Elmenteita listening to the frogs with Bombay Sapphire gin martini in hand. Fabulous day at Lake Nakuru National Park…both black and white rhinos, baboons galore, zebras, Rothchild giraffes, so many wonderful birds I cannot count…flamingos, pelicans, storks, eagles, etc. Scenery wonderful…
Il Ngwesi was so amazing in its own way. The leopards and baboons were vocalizing under the almost full moon while we slept under the stars on the deck of our Banda… Wonderfulness all.
– Rosemary R., Sunnyvale, CA