Silhouette di giraffe

my “out of africa” kenya retreat

Kenya is synonymous with stunning landscapes and the safari experience that here has still such an authentic feel to it compared to the sanitised ones proposed in other African countries. It conjures up the Masai tribe warriors, all adorned in colourful beads and the endless stretches of white sandy beaches on the Indian Ocean.

Yet, this incredible country is so much more. I should know since I made it my home for 12 years! What took me there was the fascination with the age-old romance of wild Africa, the novels of Karen Blixen, Kuki Gallman, Pat Cavendish O’Neil and Ernest Hemingway, the lives of women like Beryl Markham and Joy Adamson and the longing for adventures in khaki shorts, white shirts, safari hats and green Land Rovers. 

 What kept me there for 12 years and kept me going back it’s certainly what is known as Mal d’Afrique, an incurable illness that, on the highlands plains, I can feel stronger than anywhere else.

“In the highlands you woke up in the morning and thought: Here I am, where I ought to be, because here I belong…”
— Karen Blixen, Out of Africa

No sentence has ever felt as true in my entire life from the moment I set my foot there. 

Wildebeest leap of faith into the Mara River

During our safari, we will walk the footsteps of all those who had the privilege of knowing Kenya when it was still pristine and uncontaminated. We will try to capture the spirit of a bygone era where hunters were gentlemen in khaki and safaris were a grand operation of mobile camps, wicker baskets, metal crockery, tartan blankets and Stanley flasks.

We will visit and discover the places the first settlers and visitors to the country explored, wrote passionately about and decide to make their home. The land they decided to farm, growing coffee, tea and flowers, pineapples and green vegetables. The sceneries and views they learnt to love. 

This is a lifetime trip for all those who have a keen interest in experiencing and understanding Kenya and the African continent intimately and through the eyes and perspective of the people who have lived there and have embraced all its contradictions, its rawness and kindness, its gods and devils. Humanity and Nature, their interplay and clash will be protagonist. The voice of Africa will do the rest.

However we will have the full authentic safari experience, this is so much more than a wildlife photo safari and will include incredible opportunities for landscape and street photography, lifestyle and portraits.

Colony of Flamingos on the Natron lake.Lesser Flamingo Scientific name: Phoenicoparrus minor. Tanzania Africa.

Who This Is For:

  • Do you have a keen passion for travel and photography, but don't like playing the tourist and want to explore the countries you visit in more depth, like a local?

  • Are you looking for a safe and effective way to enjoy your well-deserved holidays with like-minded people and a guide that can help you make the most of your time and show you places you wouldn’t dare to visit on your own?

  • Do you like to be taken care of and pampered and not having to worry about booking accommodations and transfers and deal with all the logistic crap? You want someone else to do the work because you are on holiday, right?

  • Do you like to travel in style and want to experience all the best a country has to offer in terms of hospitality? Do you enjoy luxury accommodation and fine dining?

  • Are you wary of tours that try to cram as many sights in a single day as possible? Are you longing for something that is slower-paced and that would give you time to experience a country with all your senses?

  • Do you want to improve your travel photography, expand your boundaries, and see the world in a different light?

  • Have you already been on a safari? Are you feeling a longing for Africa, but would like to do more than just chase animals all day long? And if you've never been on a safari, would you like a taste of the experience, without committing all of your vacation to it?

  • Were you fascinated by the books of Karen Blixen and Kuki Gallmann and would like to walk in their literary footsteps?

  • Are you passionate about conservation and the preservation of natural habitats?

If you answered yes to most of the questions above, then this tour is for you.

African Livestock

Itinerary

We are still in the process of designing and planning this tour, so many details are still undefined, but if you are interested, here are some of the details (subject to change).

Plantation de thé
  • Dates will be likely in April 2020.

  • Duration will be 8/9 days, with the possibility of extensions.

  • Highlights of the tour will include:

    • Nairobi Giraffe Centre

    • Davis Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (Elephant Orphanage)

    • Karen Blixen Museum

    • Lake Magadi (saline lake in the Rift Valley)

    • Coffee and tea plantations

    • Horse riding among wildlife (optional)

    • Lake Naivasha boat tour with Crescent Island where Out of Africa was filmed in part

    • Masai Mara Reserve

    • Lamu archipelago

    • Very small group size.

  • Assistance of two professional photographers.

  • The best local guides and drivers.

Fisherman in Kenya, water, nature, people, fishing, ocean
Feet and shoes Maasai on the ocean beach
Tea plantation in Munnar, India

Why Kenya

-      The wildlife is exceptional with the annual wildebeests migration in the Mara and the big five roaming the national parks in good numbers. Yet the country is also home to several endangered species, from Gravy’s zebras to Rothschild’s giraffes, from Duiker and Kudus antelopes to wild dogs, one of the biggest world population of wild black rhinos, and an extraordinary marine and water birdlife, thanks to the Indian Ocean and the many lakes, among which lake Naivasha and lake Nakuru, world famous for its show of pink flamingos.

-      In parts of the country like Laikipia, tourism has a different face. Everywhere feels private and real. Like in a time capsule, you are catapulted back into a glorious past that has built the unmatched safari reputation of the country for the past 150 years.

-      The sweeping plains of the vast highlands, the rolling hills of the Masai Mara, the snowy peaks of Mount Kenya, the open grassland and dry forest of the Great Rift Valley, the red soil of Tsavo, the hot dusty environment of Kenya’s northern frontier and the lunar landscape of Lake Turkana, the lush tropical forest of the coastal area where the Arab Muslims settlements and villages project you elsewhere in stunning contrast with the colonial houses of Nairobi and the white settlers farms, reminiscent of England and the imperial times. The immense variety of landscapes and sceneries never fails to bewitch even the most seasoned visitor, regardless of the number of time you have visited the country.

-      Kenya has 43 different tribes and body and facial traits varies importantly from one to another, providing exceptional opportunities to capture on camera the extraordinary African beauty of men and women often seemingly sculpted in stone by God’s hands.

-      The tall figure of a young Samburu man standing against the sun on a barren plain where no trees or bushes populate the landscape. A young Masai warrior, standing on one leg in the typical position of guard and wait, adorned with beads and draped in the characteristic red blanket, overlooking the cattle that he is guarding from predators, his Nilotic descent visible in the gentle traits of his face, nose and lips. The sinewy elongated bodies of the coastal women draped in colourful kangas and kikois, their Arab ancestry, still recognisable in their magnetic eyes, glancing shyly at you while walking past, so effortlessly graceful. These are the everyday scenes the country gifts you with in a continual visual feast that fills your mind with indelible memories.

balloons flying over savanna
Maasai man walking on the savannah at sunset in Kenya

-      Because Africa pulsates with a lifeforce that is primordial and powerful. It’s rooted in the land you walk on and penetrates every part of your being. You can feel it transpiring from your pores, filling you from within: mighty, inscrutable, ancient. Africa is the cradle of humanity and Kenya is a world known archaeological heaven where many of the most ancient remains of humans have been found. Here you can sense evolution and life itself at its best. 

-      Kenya is also the place an eclectic group of extravagant people decided to call home, won over by the endless freedom and a lifestyle that is hard to find elsewhere. Opinionated, skilful and resourceful: from bush pilots, cattle ranch owners, camp managers, to entrepreneurs,  they are all part of a special breed of people that can entertain you till the early morning hours with incredible stories and anecdotes, with their fighter/pioneer style and their mischievous sense of humour. They are passionate about the country and about conservation, often incredibly knowledgeable of its story, geography, flora and fauna and all united by a great spirit of adventure. An evening with one of them, and you feel like you have been granted membership to an exclusive club a club I subscribe to wholeheartedly feeling a sense of belonging I never experienced before.

THE EXPERIENCE

-      Watch the night African sky crowded with stars while sitting around the roaring camp fire while sipping a glass of wine or whiskey and listening to the sounds of the night: the lion roaring in the distance, an hyena barking, the rumbling of the elephants’ stomachs and the sweeping sound of their feet just slightly lifted from the dusty ground when they walk. It’s an incredible surreal experience you have to live at least once.

-      Discover the African savannah onboard of a 4x4 land cruiser or on a bush walk accompanied by highly qualified guides. Feel the early morning cool and crispy air on your face while you drive on the open car.

-      Observe the light changing throughout the day. Lose yourself among the scudded clouds in the immaculately blue sky. The light is finer and harder here providing a sharper eye-sight where things near and far blast with details

-      Enjoy a surprise breakfast in the bush under the shade of an Acacia tree or a romantic sundowner on a hill overlooking the endless space below you where herds of elephants and buffalos walk unhurried ancient routes to the water holes, giraffes graze on the tall thorny trees and antelope herds graze peacefully, waiting for the night to fall.

-      Sleep in a typical safari camp, with thatched roofs, open verandas, a bath with a view and open-air showers. Gaze across the plains from an infinity pool and dine under the vast skies.

-      Explore the authentic Swahili feel of the Lamu Archipelago, with its laidback lifestyle and stunning villas, empty creamy beaches and slow paced rhythms governed by tides and seasons. Explore the Moresque architecture in Lamu Town, with palm-cooled courtyards, shady verandas, frangipani scented gardens and roof terraces to sip a late afternoon cocktail or sunbathe. Relax on a four-posters wooden pili pili bed swathed in net and decorated with freshly picked hibiscus laid on the white sheets by caring hand, in a high ceiling room open to the elements and the sea breeze, sparsely furnished with Swahili antiques and walls with intricate carvings.

Muslim women fills her bucket in Stone Town, Zanzibar Island, Tanzania. Zanzibar daily life
Pregnant woman working in a street market in Nairobi (Kenya)
 “In Africa… everywhere you looked was made for greatness”
— Karen Blixen, Out of Africa

Karen Blixen captures in this sentence the essence of a country and a continent torn by contradictions so well.

In Kenya everything is either too big or too small and too powerful; the light is brighter, the darkness darker, the scents are stronger and silence is louder. Kenya might not change your life as it changed Karen’s and mine, but it certainly won’t leave you indifferent or unchanged. 
Mount Kilimanjaro, Mawenzi

why with us?

I am pleased to be hosting this trip with my colleague and friend Ugo Cei who has a vast experience in photo tours and photography retreats all over the world. For those who don’t know us well:

Meet Stefania

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My name is Stefania, remember? And I am a blogger, visual story teller and travel companion with a passion for sharing my journeys and my perspective with fellow curious travellers. My trips are infused with culture, beauty and the unexpected thanks to my passion for literature, the arts and esotericism.

In 2003 I left Italy for Africa as a young journalist, armed with a tiny suitcase and a three month return ticket, determined to take the sabbatical year I had missed in my youth and to discover a country that had been bewitching me for years, beyond explanation or reason. I ended up spending 12 years of my life in Kenya, and Kenya will always be my home.

Back then, from my comfortable flat in downtown Milan, I dreamt of open spaces where my eyes could wander, of wildernesses to discover, of a land where nature was still sovereign and life would be different, a place of new beginnings, of awaiting adventure, a place to find myself. 

From the moment I landed in Kenya, I knew I had found my promised land. From that day, many adventures unfolded: I met the man who became my husband and explored with him the wilderness of the African savannah for days in search of a place we could call our own. Together we renovated a historic camp just outside Tsavo East National Park and ran it for four years, living and growing our young family between the bush of Voi area and the North Coast where we had our base in Mombasa. In 2008 we moved to Nairobi with our two children and a storm of dogs to in the buzzing East Africa capital. 

I spent many years in Kenya. I met the most eclectic, eccentric and incredible people, saw life through many different lenses, learnt the happiness hidden in a simpler and closer-to-nature way of living. I travelled the country in and out to share its beauty with the many visitors who stayed with us at the camp, with friends and family who came to visit us from Europe. We sailed the Indian Ocean on a dhow to go to Zanzibar and Pemba Islands, we camped, from the Highlands to the Norther Frontier of Isiolo, cooked simple meals in the bush, explored the rivers and lakes, scouted the Kenyan coast from Shimoni to Lamu, flew over plains and rolling hills on small aircrafts. Never one trip was the same as another. I never tired and never lost the wonder for this incredible land. 

Today, I dream of Africa every day. I search for the African sun from my windows in the morning and for the starred skies from my veranda at night. I long for the sound of the absolute silence when nature rests, broken only by the call of the lion in the distance or the muffled steps of a nocturnal animal passing by your tent. I miss the wide and spontaneous smile of the people, their industriousness and creativity, their joy for life and absence of judgment. But more than anything, I long for the distance my eyes could stretch upon, the infinity horizon and the magical light, now that I have become a professional photographer I crave even more. 

 

Meet Ugo

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Ugo Cei is a fine-art travel and landscape photographer from Italy. If you were to ask him what he does, he would say that he is an educator who helps photography enthusiasts sharpen their skills, so that they can take amazing pictures.

He leads photography tours and workshops in some cool destinations, including Venice, Tuscany, Cinque Terre, Tanzania, Scotland, Oman, Greece, and others.

His customers say Ugo has a great knowledge about all aspects of photography, and that he is generous sharing this with each student individually. He is also known for being very patient and always available to help!

beach in Kenya, white, island, palm, tree, sun, africa

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 Resident of the Lamu archipelago
Kenia Africa _  Photo © Herby Meseritsch