Happy Guests!April 26, 2013
My wife and I had a charity/mission trip planned to Ethiopia and decided to tack on a safari afterwards. We knew it was the rainy season, but had no flexibility with the dates. I have been an avid Condé Nast Traveler subscriber for years, have spent 37 years in the hotel/hospitality industry, and typically take great pride and find much joy in planning our pleasure travel—usually referring to the Gold List, Condé Nast Traveler reviews and other online resources to find special, unique and out of the way accommodations. I knew I was out of my league and in uncharted territory with safari planning—and had no margin of error—so I referred to Wendy's list of top travel specialists and chose Linda Friedman of Custom Safaris. Talk about a home run, though grand slam might be more accurate!
From the initial contact, Linda was amazingly quick in her responses and tuned in immediately to what we were looking for. After listening to what we wanted, she recommended Kenya over Tanzania and started planning. My wife had some trepidation about the idea of safari in the first place, but Linda quickly put her at ease and assured her that the camps would be "more than civilized" and we would be in good hands with her guides. Talk about an understatement. The itinerary we landed on was perfect. The guides David and James were superhuman—and fun to be with—not to mention unbelievably knowledgeable (they were native to the area), safe/cautious (they earned our inherent trust from the get go), and extremely well respected wherever we went.
Linda's ground team in Nairobi was fantastic and stayed closely in touch with us and made any necessary changes on the fly effortlessly. On our first stop (going to Samburu), we landed at the remote airstrip to be greeted by our guide Albert with the ominous welcome "we have a slight problem." Okay, Linda had prepped us to be ready to play it by ear, but our guide's news was "due to the rains the last couple days, the camp we were supposed to stay at was inaccessible and in fact is under water." In other words, not how you want to start a once in a lifetime trip! But within 30 minutes, on a Sunday morning, Michael, the manager in Nairobi, had us relocated to another camp that was "high and dry."
Our second camp was the &Beyond Kitchwa Temba Bateleur Camp—and was completely out of this world. The staff was mostly local Maasai, and talk about well trained, caring, personable, and service oriented. With 37+ years in the business, and having stayed at some of the best hotels around the world, Bateleur Camp was by far the best experience we have ever had. The tents were amazing, the food was heavenly, the staff exceptional, and the scenery/game drives surreal.) As mentioned, our guide James was a Maasai, who grew up with Masai Mara as his playground. Besides adeptly leading us to every animal imaginable, he took us to his village and introduced us to his family. What an experience!
Suffice it to say, Linda and her Custom Safaris team are the best. Additionally, she takes an active role in supporting social activism and improving the conditions in the communities in which she does business, supporting local children with scholarships, building schools, promoting nutrition, health, and women's programs. She gives back and is truly admired and respected by the locals who all know her. This is also a foundational value of the &Beyond company—and should be applauded and supported whenever traveling to these types of locations.
In any case, I hope the above is helpful to anyone considering a safari and using Linda Friedman. Do it!