Monday, November 2, 2009

Off We Go Travel Expert Sara Leonard Discusses Kenya

Sara Leonard of Off We Go Travel in Redondo Beach, California has toured the world extensively. LA Hip Chic will be featuring her often with in depth interviews of her many experiences at home and abroad.

Forward: In 2006 USA Today created a panel of great thinkers to come up with a modern version of the Seven Wonders of the World. Included in this, was number seven, The Great Migration. From Masai Mara, Kenya in circular fashion to Serengeti, Tanzania; this is the first non-stationary land bound Wonder of the World, with millions of wild animals making the migration through East Africa. By September they’ve reached Masai Mara, Kenya in search of water, vegetation and prey.

Here travel expert Sara Leonard explains the many ways to safari in Kenya, home of Masai Mara, where the wildebeests, gazelles, zebras, lions, elephants, giraffes and more make their stop on this ritual sojourn in the dramatic circle of life.

LAhipChic Interview with Sara Leonard of Off We Go Travel

LaHipChic: What did you like best about touring Kenya?
OWGTravel: The different safari experiences throughout the country!

LaHipChic: What Hotels did you stay at? Were the accommodations what you expected? How would you rate them with one to five stars?
OWGTravel:Italic Nairobi: Fairmont Norfolk Hotel - 5 stars
Masai Mara National Reserve: Fairmont Mara Safari Club– 5 stars
Aburade National Park: The Ark – 3 stars (very unique experience)
Samburu National Reserve: Serena Lodge – 4 stars
Mount Kenya: Fairmont Mount Kenya Safari Club – 5 stars

LaHipChic: What one place would you recommend a new visitor to Kenya see on their first trip?
OWGTravel: There are just too many, I can’t pick one. I would highly recommend all of the following:

In Nairobi, visit the farmhouse of Karen Blixen and the Giraffe center; shop for great artisan wares at Utamaduni Crafts; have dinner at the Carnivore Restaurant.
In Masai Mara & Samburu National Parks visit the wild game safaris in both parks; Hot-air ballooning over Kenya and the tribal villages.
Abudare National Park is wonderful as well. You can stay at the Ark. This unique game lodge overlooks a floodlit waterhole and salt lick which attracts a host of wildlife - elephant, rhino, leopard, bushbuck and occasionally an elusive bongo or giant forest hog. The best viewing is at night

And finally mount Kenya to visit the Equator Line

LaHipChic: Can you elaborate a bit more about the Hot Air Ballooning Safari. It sounds like it would be very spectacular over the national parks.
OWGTravel: Balloon flights typically take off at 6.30am. Passengers arrive in time to watch the balloon inflation as the pilots torch the colored fabric to life. The flight is for one hour, each balloon takes a different path; following the days prevailing winds. A Balloon flight allows passengers to float over the world's most spectacular game reserve, and offers a magical bird's eye view of the annual wildebeest migration and the other wildlife the Mara is famous for. On landing, the balloon crew set up a full champagne breakfast on the Mara plains. Each passenger then receives a certificate from their pilot as a special memoir of their flight. A game drive en route to the lodge or camp ends a special morning.
Rate: USD $425.00 inclusive of champagne breakfast and game drives.I would highly recommend booking this when you book the safari tour as they only have about 2-3 balloons per day with max of 6 people in each. It is well-worth it, since you cannot do this anywhere else in the world.

LaHipChic: What were the highlights of your trip?
OWGTravel: Meeting Kenyan environmentalist Wangari Maathai[i], winner of the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize and helping her plant trees in Nairobi. Also, staying up through the night to watch the constant parade of wildlife coming to the waterhole at the Ark. Definitely the hot-air balloon safari in Masai Mara and finishing it up with a champagne breakfast; flying over the Great Rift Valley from Masai Mara to Nairobi; bush cocktails at sunset during the late afternoon safari and my visit to a Masai village in the company of an insightful tribal Elder.

LaHipChic: Meeting Wangari Maathai sounds like an incredible experience. How were you able to arrange that? Were you able to meet her personally?
OWGTravel: I did meet the lady personally; I was standing by her when she planted the tree. We just greeted each other. She was busy and the camera crew was around us. This was televised on National television in Kenya.This event cannot be arranged just for tours, it has to be politically related. This event was organized by the Kenya Tourism Board and they only invited 150 travel agents from the US.

LAhipChic: We’ve noticed that you traveled with your mother, who at the time was recovering from knee surgery. Was she comfortable on this trip?
OWGTravel: I know she did have an amazing time since everyone catered to her, the staff kept calling her "Mom" and were at her beck and call.They offer great service and hospitality. I would recommend a safari for the whole family (although cost might be prohibited due to the expensive airfare and the safari lodges are quite expensive since they are all-inclusive)Most of the safari lodges allow people to check-in around noon, people have lunch then they rest. At around 4 PM the sunset safari starts and runs about 2-3 hrs. They normally offer cocktails or tea during the rest stop as the sun goes down.Dinner is provided then you get up early, have breakfast and start the safari again around 6:30 AM - 9 AM, there is another one from 10 AM - 1 PM. Most people stay about 2 nights only.

LaHipChic: Would you go back there again? Would you stay longer next time?
OWGTravel: There are still many countries in Africa that I would like to visit and in order to also experience their safaris, people and culture; of course I’d visit all these places over and over again if time on earth would allow.

LAhipChic: Thank you so much for your time Ms. Leonard; again and we find your experiences entertaining, informative and interesting.

[i] [Maathai stands at the front of the fight to promote ecologically viable social, economic and cultural development in Kenya and in Africa. She has taken a holistic approach to sustainable development that embraces democracy, human rights and women's rights in particular. She thinks globally and acts locally." Presentation Speech by Professor Ole Danbolt Mjøs, Chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Oslo, December 10, 2004]

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