Camp Olonana Sanctuary Retreat…Our final review…

For interior and exterior photos of our tents, veranda, and the grounds, please see our post from October 10, 2013.
It was hard to say goodbye to the staff at Camp Olonana Sanctuary Retreat after the extraordinary stay and safari.

The lodge was an invited place for us to sit, sip beverages and post our photos and stories. With no Internet access in the tents but available at no charge in the lodge, we spent most of our limited spare time in here.

The library in the lodge also had a fire going each night creating a warm environment.

The dining room’s ambiance was easy going and welcoming.

The lounge area in the lodge was a short distance from the dining room provided a homey feel, eased us into a relaxed state after a busy day on safari.  Notice the beaded plate decorations, most likely handmade by the local Maasia.

One evening, as we were busy posting after dinner, the staff and guests began dancing around the lodge to celebrate a couple’s anniversary. It was an intimate group with no more than 16 guests on-site while we were there. (The camp holds a maximum of 28 guests). With a little prodding from the staff, we joined in the line.

The singing and laughter filled the air as all of the diners stood up to dance.

The tables were always set with the local flair.

When the cost to dine in a restaurant, stay in a hotel, resort, or, in this case, a safari camp exceeds one’s preferences and budget, there’s an expectation of perfection that is rarely achieved in the finest of establishments.

After all, the unexpected is to be expected, whether it’s dust on a window sill, a lack of fresh towels, or an inexperienced server fumbling a food order, perfection is unrealistic.

 Windblown, with hat hair, at dinner each evening we wore our daytime safari clothes, feeling too tired to change. Also, arriving from safari between 6:30 and 7:00 pm, food was more important than fresh clothing.
And yet, us humans lie in wait, with the best of intentions, to observe wrongdoing that may potentially burst that bubble of expectation. Then we think or say, “Ah, that wasn’t worth it, for the extra money we paid.”
When we began our travels almost one year ago, we mutually agreed that we’d temper our expectations in order to have the best possible outcome without whining, complaining, or looking for compensation to offset an infraction, except in the rarest of cases. 
The gift shop had a wide array of souvenirs and gifts, none of which we purchased with no room in our bags as we continue on our world travels.
More gifts and souvenirs in the gift shop.

There were jackets, hats, and clothing in the shop.

Outside the gift shop was a Maasai shopping area, displaying the many well made and colorful items typical of the Maasai.
For example, when we had little to no running water during our first week in Belize, giving us no alternative but to leave, we did ask and expect a refund for the unused portion of time that we’d paid in advance. It never came.
Again in Belize at our new location, a lovely oceanfront resort, the steps collapsed under our feet causing us both to fall resulting in injuries taking weeks to heal, we asked for nothing. 
On the second night at camp as we were finishing up yet another safari, Anderson took what appeared to be a new route back over unpaved bush areas.  Bouncing about, we all giggled over the new route wondering why we were taking this route. With the gates to the reserve locking at 6:30 pm, we were late getting out. We’d assumed this new route was a way around going through the gates. Instead, suddenly we saw this campfire, to be surprised by everyone at camp, all guests and most staff were awaiting our arrival that tonight was the ritual “dinner in the bush” a total surprise for the 6 of us.

 The Maasai villagers were in attendance to sing and dance before or dinner as we all sat in a half-moon of comfortable chairs, enjoying appetizers and beverages, sharing our various safari stories. 
The well built and maintained property had wooden steps to our unit that had deteriorated due to the close proximity to the ocean with the raging heat and humidity, unnoticeable to the eye under normal inspection.  Management was very concerned about our injuries and asked what they could do for us. We asked only that the steps be repaired immediately, which was completed the next day. 
In the US, this may have resulted in an ambulance ride and a potential lawsuit. In Belize at our remote location, a treacherous four-hour car ride to a medical facility prevented us from seeking medical care when we knew we had no broken bones.  We’d decided to wait and see how we felt in a few days. It wasn’t easy but in time with self-care, we healed.
Look at my plate at the “bush dinner!” It was exciting to know that most of the meat and vegetables were within my dietary constraints, all prepared to perfection, seasoned with local spices. Once again, great job Chef Ambrose!
Taking these experiences with us, confirmed our notion that optimism and a pleasant attitude would serve us well, even if the servers do not. (No pun intended).
When booking our expensive ($5000 for two, all-inclusive) three day stay and safari at Camp Olonana Sanctuary Retreat, once again, we tempered our expectations. If our tent was clean and comfortable, if the WiFi was working, if the meals complied with my restrictive diet (which information I’d sent in advance by email), if the staff was friendly and helpful and, if we saw most of The Big Five, we’d be happy.
After the bush dinner, we posed for a photo, although after a day on safari, I hardly felt photo-ready. Tom’s face was sunburned from the almost 8 hours we spent on safari that day, exposed to the elements, loving every minute.  We couldn’t wait to put our clothing in the dirty laundry hamper to be washed, dried, and folded to perfection that was returned to our tent the same evening.  This service was included in the all-inclusive pricing.
Little did we know that literally every aspect of this safari experience at Camp Olonana Sanctuary Retreats including activities, meals, and accommodations far surpassing even our wildest dreams of perfection. 
They had it down to a science to not only include the systematic flow for each guest from event to event, location to location, but they excelled by adding a unique personal touch never to be found in any facility of any type thus far in our travels, if not in our lives.
In minutes upon our arrival, every staff member knew our names. Within an hour they knew our preferences, our preferred drinks, our unique needs, and special requirements.
My salad at dinner on the second night was drizzled with an olive oil balsamic dressing Chef Ambrose made for me.  It was divine.
Knowing we were writers with considerable electronic equipment, they’d set up a power source in our tent available around the clock, although outlets, normally were turned off most of the time, only leaving lights working. This consideration meant the world to us, especially with the necessity of recharging our cameras and computers.
The staff seamlessly and discretely observed ours and the other guest’s actions and comments with the hope of discovering a way to further enhance our stay.  This was unique. From William, the booking rep; Joseph, our tent attendant; Ambrose, the chef;  Conscientious Concierge Christine; restaurant server, Philip. and of course, our guide Anderson, the service was impeccable.
Tom’s appetizer was a creamy mushroom sauce atop a slice of buttery toasted homemade
French bread, topped with an over-medium free-range egg. He moaned while eating it. Yeah, I know, an occasional piece of bread crosses his lips when dining out, never at “home.” The next morning at breakfast on our last day, Chef Ambrose explained when making our omelets, that I could top my omelet with this creamy mushroom sauce which was made with real cream, not flour. Then, I knew why Tom was moaning over this appetizer!
With no phones in the luxuriously designed and spacious tents, a personal visit from staff informed us of any events or event changes. Communication was imminent and well-spoken, always friendly, and warm.
The grounds were spotless, the vegetation prolific. An eco-friendly environment with multiple systems in place to save energy costs and wastefulness, Camp Olonana Sanctuary Retreat had a few bugs, few mosquitoes, and no refuse or clutter to attract them. 
On the first night, we both had the same entrée, a grilled sirloin steak atop a medley of sautéed vegetables. Tender, cooked exactly as requested, this steak required only a butter knife to cut it. Neither of us had appetizers or dessert that evening after having had lunch earlier in the day upon arrival.
At night, there were guards to escort us to our tents, a fairly long but refreshing walk from the lodge.  Holding flashlights, they led the way, expressing interest in the quality of our stay.  Never for one moment, did we feel unsafe, not at the camp or on safari. The utmost precaution was exercised at all times, leaving enough freedom for creativity and challenge.
The food? As fine as any upscale restaurant, but made fresh each meal using produce from their garden, grass-fed meats, and freshly caught fish. Nothing was spared in the careful and creative presentation as was in the finest use of local spices to enhance flavors. 
This was Tom’s dinner on the last night, pork chops piled high atop a pile of sautéed vegetables, fresh green beans, and baby corn.
Chef Ambrose went overboard in ensuring my meals were safely within the range of my restricted diet while ensuring that I never felt my meal was inferior in any manner to that being served to Tom or other guests. (He splurges when we’re out, eats as I do when we’re cooking).
As for the safari itself, what more can I say that we haven’t already said in these many prior posts?  Anderson? A gift from the safari Gods! If we’d have made a list of what we’d expect in a perfect safari, we’d have short-changed ourselves. We got so much more.
My dinner was a cheese stuffed chicken breast, atop a bed of sautéed vegetables with fresh green beans with a chicken-based flour-less reduction sauce to die for. I removed the baby corn to a separate unused plate. I had forgotten to tell Chef Ambrose that I can’t eat corn, knowing it wouldn’t cause a problem for me having been on the plate to be removed.  Had it been a gluten-based item, I would have required an entirely new plate of food. With gluten intolerance, the smallest spec on a plate can result in a serious reaction which Chef Ambrose was well aware.
From the fluffy pillows and soft blankets on our seats in the Land Cruiser to the ice-cold cooler always filled to the brim with our preferred beverages, nothing could have been more to our liking. 
To Conscientious Concierge Christine greeting us each time, on time, as we returned from safari, handing each of us an iced cold, tightly rolled washcloth to wipe the dust from our hands and faces, to Anderson, not only providing a mind-blowing safari twice a day but to his obvious joy to take us out one more time.
My nightly dessert of fine cheese and Kenya is grown cashews and macadamia nuts. The night of the “bush dinner” Chef Ambrose had remembered to bring these items for my dessert, as the only guest in camp unable to eat the traditional desserts. Wow!

At night the sound of the hippos outside our tent as they languished in the Mara River was music to our ears.  The cool nights at 5000 feet above sea level, left us warmly wrapped in the finest of down comforters encased in high count Egyptian cotton sheets. 

The over-sized fluffy bath towels, the robes, and the organic toiletries for our use only added more luxury to our stay. The glass bottles of an ample supply of purified water was always at our fingertips. Joseph delivered fresh coffee to our tent early each morning to also serve as a subtle wake-up call for our 6:30 am safari time.

Tom’s homemade brownie dessert topped with a caramel sauce and dollop of real whipped cream. He said it was fabulous!

To simply say that we recommend Camp Olonana Sanctuary Retreat, does a disservice to those seeking this life-changing adventure. For many, a safari is a once in a lifetime experience with memories that will last forever. 

One must not take the risk of choosing anything less than an opportunity to fulfill that dream with the utmost of expectation, the utmost of amenities, the utmost of service, and to our surprise, the utmost of perfection.

One last photo as we drove away.  Goodbye Camp Olonana Sanctuary Retreat.
Thank you, Camp Olonana Sanctuary Retreat. Thank you for making this dream a reality. We still can’t wipe the smile off of our faces.
Note: Tomorrow, we’ll be wrapping up our final safari post with new photos, our return flight in yet a smaller single-engine plane, and some amazing scenery photos that Tom took using the little camera.
In the interim, more photos and stories are backed up as life continues on while living in Diani Beach, Kenya.  We’re looking forward to sharing these with you beginning on Saturday, October 19, 2013, at which time we’ll have exactly six weeks until we pack once again and make our way to Mpumalanga, South Africa.

Camp Olonana Sanctuary Retreats…Photos…An ethereal dream of perfection…

Upon our arrival at Camp Olonana, we were greeted by a Masai warrior playing a welcoming tune on his flute. Following him and our concierge Christine, who oversees the flow of their guest’s experience to the edge of the deck overlooking the Mara River, we knew we’d chosen the perfect environment to fulfill our dreams of a safari combined with exquisite accommodations and service.

After the other guests arrived at the landing strip, we began the 25-minute drive to the camp.  Our combined enthusiasm and the sightings along the way, had all of us, including Anderson, chattering on simultaneously.

The fast flowing Mara River is muddy due to erosion and lack of man’s intervention. The local Masai tribes are dependent upon its waters as well as the wildlife and vegetation. It is this river that the Great Migration crosses over and again as it makes its way from the Serengeti to the Masai Mara. We missed the crossing of the millions of wildebeest but we did travel to Tanzania to see the tail end.  By the time we made that journey, we were so satisfied with our safari experience that we hardly gave it a thought. Someday, we will return to see it at the right time and more than anything go on safari once again. Tom suggested we return the year of my 70th birthday, a little over 4 years away. 
After our welcoming ceremony ended, we were escorted to lunch on the deck.  Within minutes of being seated, our chef, Ambrose came out to introduce himself and to proudly explain, he was well prepared for my special diet. 
We’ll be including food photos, a description of meals, quality of service, and a detailed review over the next several days. With over 600 photos to manage, it is a step by step process which we are striving to present as it occurred.
Ambrose, our well-trained chef, stopped at our table to get feedback on my special meals. Often before preparing my dinner, he’d stop by to assure me that my meal fit within the criteria I had sent them weeks before arrival. Not only were my meals the best prepared and tasting since beginning this way of eating, but the presentation was mouth-watering. Tom thoroughly enjoyed the same meals as presented to the other guests. My meal was always a variation of the main choices, leaving me wanting for nothing.
The all-inclusive camp consists of 3 meals daily, appetizers, snacks, beverages, high tea in the afternoon, and alcoholic drinks at any time of day or night.  Glass bottles of purified water were presented at our table at all meals and in our tent for drinking and brushing teeth. I was so excited I failed to take a photo of our delicious GF chicken curry lunch.
All produce at Camp Olonana is organically grown in their on-site garden. A certified ecologically friendly resort, the care is given to the food, and the use of water, fuel, and electricity were refreshing in this distant setting. For example, all electrical outlets were shut off (lights stayed on) from 10:30 am to 6:30 pm and off again during the night.  In consideration of our need to recharge our equipment, we were given a power strip connected to the generator that was available 24 hours a day. Many more measures were implemented to maintain the ecological integrity of the camp, which consisted of 14 tents, a spa tent, the lodge, gift shop, offices, and housing for staff.
The organic garden located at the camp, left unlocked for us to peruse at our leisure.
Our tent was #4 a short jaunt down this stone-paved walkway. The Camp Olonana, 5000 feet above sea level and cool at night had few mosquitoes and insects. The cool nights were heavenly, requiring a down comforter to keep us warm. That was a rather pleasant sensation!
Continuing along the tree-lined path to our tent, it was comforting to know our bags were already inside with little to unpack with a short time to unwind before taking off on our first official game drive at 4:00 pm.

We arrived at our tent, grateful for the walk after sitting on the plane, the vehicle, and the restaurant for the past several hours.  The word on the sign is #4 in the Masai language, not the usual Swahili spoken in most of Kenya, a few words of which we’re learning.  Here in Kenya, Tom accidentally says “grazie” for “thank you” which is Italian. When in Italy he said “gracias” which is “thank you” in Spanish.  He says he’s always one location behind in his thank-yous.  In Swahili, thank you is “asante” the language of most of the staff at the camp, which I couldn’t say often enough, occasionally correcting Tom on his “grazie.”

The veranda to our tent.  Approaching, it took our breath away.

The view of the Mara River from our veranda. We would like to have spent more time sitting here, but with our busy safari schedule, we had little time left for lounging. We didn’t mind a bit! We came to Camp Olonanato safari and that, my friends, is what we did, hour after hour. We’ve yet to show the very best of the photos, beginning tomorrow.  You know, the old adage, “saving the best for last?”

The comfy furnishings made is tempting to lay here and watch the wildlife to saunter or swim past from time to time. Actually, we only had time to sit here for one hour during the three day period. 

Although we were escorted to our tent the first time, Tom wanted to handle the long, sturdy zipper to ensure we had no issues. Of course, it was a breeze, opening to a virtual paradise of tent interiors.

Soon, we were unpacked, with our equipment plugged in, anxious to write here to begin sharing the experience. With no Internet connection in the tent and neither of our WiFi devices able to connect, we comfortably sat in the lodge to go online to post. As we’d mentioned the connection was poor, preventing us from posting many photos until returning to Diani Beach, where still the connection isn’t strong. We slept in the bed on the left, keeping our electronics plugged in on the bed on the right.  For the first time ever, my camera ran out of juice on safari forcing us to use the 2nd camera which Tom used less often.

Shortly after getting situated, we needed to get going for the afternoon game drive, taking one last shot in the daylight of the veranda view. Exquisite.

Additional view of our tent.
Our stone bathroom in our tent after we’d unpacked. The toilet is behind the door to the right and the shower is to the left as shown below in the next photo.
The stone shower in the tent, permanently built into the tent as were the closets. The walls in the tent as shown are actual tent material, tent windows, and tent exit as shown.

Tomorrow, we’ll share the beginning of our best safari photos with many unusual sightings in the wild, animals on the hunt, animal kills, dining in the bush, gorgeous scenery, and eventually, our trip to Tanzania.

Also, interspersed, we’ll include our communal evening barbecue with entertainment by a local Masai tribe. And, we’ll share our unbelievable visit, on our last day, to a nearby Masai village where we were welcomed and toured by Chief Richard learning the way of life for the Masai, so far removed from our own reality and so rich in its content.

Wildlife photos tomorrow…

Our safari to the Maasai Mara is booked!…Photos, rates and information today!…

The lodge at Sanctuary Olonana where we’ll experience our first safari.

Possessing the knowledge that we’ve finally booked a safari not only puts our minds at ease, but creates a sense of excitement that is indescribable. After all, this was the reason we came to Kenya.

Our hope is to see The Great Migration.  If it has moved on and no longer in the area by October 5th, we’ll accept this and enjoy our safari of the abundant wildlife in the revered Maasai Mara.

Three weeks from today we’ll be heading 10 minutes down the road to the Diani Beach Airport to board a prop plane holding anywhere from 18 to 40 passengers for the 2 1/2 hour flight to the Maasai Mara where upon arrival, we’ll be greeted by a representative from our chosen safari camp, Sanctuary Olonana. We’ll be escorted to our tented quarters for a wealth of experiences during a short action-packed three days.

Of course, we’d have loved a longer stay. Unfortunately, the cost is more than we ever imagined we’d be willing to pay, slightly over US $5000, all-inclusive including airfare. We’d hesitantly budgeted US $4000 only to discover the options were very clear: either “rough it” sleeping in cots in tents or go, first-class, in a luxury “tent” that is comprised of all the amenities one could possibly desire.

We’ll go on 2 game drives each day, one in the morning from 6:30 am until lunchtime and another in the early evening from 4:00 pm to 6:30 pm.  Often, meals will be served in the bush, as we and the other guests feast our eyes on the surrounding wildlife.

We chose the latter, not with the intent that we “deserved it,” but more so, based on a desire for more creature (us creatures) comforts that we so willingly forfeited in many ways in order to accommodate our new lives traveling the world. Now, almost a year later, we’re looking forward to this treat, so befitting our love of nature. 

Many people have flinched when we’ve mentioned our limited interests in old buildings and ruins. We’ve seen our share in this past year and, rightfully so, enjoyed it all.  My gosh, the Panama Canal and Petra were life-changing experiences for us.

Most of these photos were from the Sanctuary Olonana website. For more information click the link.

But now, we’re getting closer to the core of our passion to travel the world, as so clearly illustrated in many of our posts.  We love Life; animals, people, and vegetation, most assuredly, a mutual obsession consisting of the perpetual reveling in the Life that God (or your chosen belief system) placed on this earth for us to nurture and to respect. 

For us, dear readers, this passion is the basis for our sense of ease living a life without roots or a home to call our own. 

We are truly residents of this earth surrounding ourselves in an environment that amid nature, creates a sense of “home” wherever we may be.

In the event of rain or if we simply want to be inside air-conditioned comfort, the lodge at the camp provides indoor activities, a bar, and a restaurant.  Our living quarters will be lavish private tents on the banks of the Mara River, overlooking families of hippos splashing and snorting in the water.

Thus, a safari epitomizes the essence of why we are here in Kenya and why in less than 3 months, we’ll be living on the edge of one of the largest animal sanctuaries in the world, Kruger Park,  South Africa, again exposed to the elements, scary bugs included, seeking to satisfy this endless quest to savor Life to the fullest. We’re infinitely grateful that we’ve found a way to incorporate these experiences into our lives before advanced aging prevents it.

As mentioned in yesterday’s post, all of our criteria have been met by booking at Sanctuary Olonana. By reading the above, perhaps it makes sense as to why we willingly paid this substantial amount for this leg of our journey.

This is a typical interior of one of the permanent tents, outfitted with full bathrooms, electricity, free WiFi, and mosquito nets.  We always share one bed when there’s two, using the other for our “stuff.”  Of course, we’ll be bringing our laptops, two cameras, binoculars, and other digital equipment, writing here each day with many photos.

Now, with the full amount paid in advance, we are able to let go of thoughts of the cost, resting assured that we’ve absolutely made the right decision.

In reviewing the details of our upcoming stay at Sanctuary Olonana we’ll be ensconced in our private well-appointed tent along the banks of the Mara River in the Maasai Mara (various ways of spelling) where the 2 million wildebeest travel to feed before their journey back to the Serengeti in Tanzania. From the veranda in our tent overlooking the river, we’ll be witness to the hippos living and playing, a prospect that in itself, takes my breath away. This fact alone was a huge draw for us. 

Hopefully, we’ll meet (but not too close) Mr. or Ms. Rhino while in the Maasai Mara.

Sitting on verandas has provided us with some profound viewing this past year, as we sit on one today, in awe of the endless flow of wildlife and vegetation on which we feast our eyes hour by hour, day by day.

Hopefully, The Great Migration is positioned in a location enabling us to witness their masses. If not, we’ll certainly be excited to see the famous Big Five: elephants, hippos, lions, tigers, and water buffalo (which may be a different 5 animals, based on varying opinions) and other wildlife indigenous to the area.

Neither of us is into spa treatments.  Tom is too ticklish to relax long enough to enjoy it and I don’t want to turn my brain off in order to stay acutely aware of every moment of our surroundings.  Just not our thing.
A short time ago, Tom announced a baboon walking gingerly on the security glass shards atop the stone wall in our yard.  Grabbing the camera to turn it on wasn’t quick enough to get a shot. Going forward, there will be many more photos to follow.