Absolute Travel: Describe yourselves in three words.
Fabia: Swiss, benevolent, passionate
Nicolas: French, dedicated, hospitable
Absolute Travel: Who is this famous character we know as Mangoo Choo?
Fabia: Mangoo Choo is our beloved rescue mongoose. She lives with us and has become the most popular resident! She may be smaller than a shoebox, but she steals the show everyday!
Absolute Travel: What is she doing right now?
Fabia: Sunbathing. It is 10 am and she lies in front of my office in the sun . She just had two scorpions for breakfast.
Absolute Travel: You are so committed to Tanzania. What grounded your passion?
Fabia: Nicolas and I met in the Bahamas in 2005. I had just quit my investment banking career and Nicolas was stepping out of the hunting business. He had that idea of creating a conservation area with a beautiful lodge situated on the land. As he was living in Tanzania since 1994 it was obvious that we must do that project there. I think we both love big ideas and thinking out of the box. We love to be in nature and both carry a deep respect and appreciation for it within us.
Fabia: Chem Chem was built through the eyes of a guest and not as a corporate idea. Neither Nicolas nor I had any experience in the hospitality industry, but we were lucky to have been able to visit some of the most beautiful lodges and hotels all over the world so we knew what our guests expect, and how they would feel if things do not go the way they anticipate. We have 20’000ha of pure wilderness reserved just for the guests that stay here—no other vehicles are allowed to drive on it. In Tanzania this is very rare as most properties are in a national park.
Absolute Travel: What is the pink season?
Fabia: The pink season is when 2.5 million flamingos travel together in V-shaped flocks. Chem Chem Safari Lodge’s main structure was inspired by a flamingo spreading its wings, coming in for a landing. We are lucky to see them as they migrate between the lakes of the Great Rift Valley—a very unique habitat that sustains them. In addition to our pink flamingoes, we get more than 400 species of birds including pelicans and storks! This is a sensational location for birders.
Absolute Travel: What can guests expect season to season?
Fabia: Tarangire transforms! During the dry season you will see a toasted savannah perfect for sundowners and photographs. In the wet season expect a green lush oasis that calls to families of elephants, wildebeest, zebras, buffalo, impalas, gazelles… the list goes on.
Absolute Travel: What we can expect when staying at Chem Chem?
Fabia: Here are a few experiences you can look forward to… walking after the elephants on the last ancient migration route; flamingo photographing; a walk with a local Maasai warrior on the shores of Lake Manyara followed by sundowners in complete solitude. We promise that after a few days at Chem Chem you will have a deeper appreciation for the ancient ways of wildlife, and why Nicola and I are compelled to reclaim and rehabilitate an essential wildlife migration corridor. Plus, the lodge is fabulous! Simple luxury.
Absolute Travel: After living alongside wildlife in the bush, tell us one thing you’ve learned.
Fabia: It is simply fabulous to see how animals quickly find trust back when you give them their space and place they need.
Absolute Travel: Was there an experience with wildlife here that instantly committed you to their cause/plight? Fabia: Knowing already that our planet is struggling with nature, we realized that it is our generation that needs to stand up for it, if we want to be sure we will have protected wildlife areas in the future.
Absolute Travel: Tell us about your concept of slow safaris.
Fabia: Why do people travel to Africa and rush through a safari as if it is a competition like the New York Marathon? Africa is pure and untouched… life moves slowly! Have you ever seen animal stressed, beside when they are hunted or hunting? No. It is key that our guests understand where they are. Why visit so many amazing places and not take the time to enjoy them. Honestly who loves to pack and unpack every day? Who likes to sit in a car for 6-10 hours every day? All of that was so absurd to us when we started Chem Chem that we decided that we want to try to take that stress out of our guests’ stay. They come here to experience Africa and recharge their batteries because back home they may need to rush, but not here. So slow safari does not mean “boring” but taking a breath, walking in the wilderness, being allowed to sit and be amazed by all that natural splendor.
Absolute Travel: Mangoo Choo’s favorite food?
Fabia: She’s crazy for carrots.
Absolute Travel: If you were describing a perfect day for a guest of Chem Chem, what would it be?
Fabia: Wake up early with the birds, drink a fresh coffee and jump in one of our open jeeps to discover the wilderness. Watch the sun rise, smell how the day wakes, and drive by lions returning from an early morning hunt, pass by towering baobab trees and birds soaring above and a family of elephants slowly moving toward the river to drink.
At Little Chem Chem you may want to meet our anti-poaching unit to see what they are up to and follow them; they might be gathering the night cameras to get a better understanding of what is lurking around during at dark. At Chem Chem Lodge you could do a bush walk with your guide and a Maasai guide for about one hour before arriving on the foot of a Baobab tree where a real hot breakfast is waiting for you. Also at Chem Chem, you could go and visit the LiveWildLife School we built in the nearby village and have a late lunch on the Eagle Nest at the Lodge before enjoying the pool or you could read a book on the terrace of your vintage tent and get into the “Karen Blixen” mood. In short, we want people to slow down…
Absolute Travel: Tell us more about your LiveWildlife initiative.
Fabia: LiveWildlife’s protects our natural environment by assisting the local communities in their efforts to safeguard the surrounding wildlife and, in the long run, to support local schools in cooperation with local communities, teachers and state officials. We appreciate sustainable tourism and strive to educate others on the importance of this land, its creatures, and how it ties into their own future—no matter if they live in Manhattan or the Maasai Mara. We also support rangers who protect the wildlife of the concession. We want to protect the last existing wildlife corridor between Tarangire and Manyara National Parks, known as 2013 Wildlife Corridor Project. Elephants once migrated freely from the Tarangire River to the wide area of the Ngorongoro Crater, before an increase in human settlements interrupted this path. The natural migration and movement of wildlife, especially elephants, is essential to the survival of the region’s entire ecosystem, so re-establishing the balance between flora and fauna is a hugely important project.
Absolute Travel: Impressive. Why should the world and your guests care about conservation?
Fabia: Sometimes I ask myself this too…why? However, we all know that once our natural sources are gone, the next thing to go is us. It is crucial that we start to understand that natural reserves are not a given anymore—they will remain only if we take care of them. We must also realize that the people living around these reserves may not appreciate why the reserves are so important. They 99% do not get any benefit out of it. We need to create a proper industry for the local people to benefit properly to keep these reserves in peace. Travelers can feel great that knowing that choosing to go on a responsible wildlife safari they are helping to preserve the reserve. We spend over $500,000 annually for wildlife conservation.
Absolute Travel: Fast-forward twenty years at Chem Chem. What do you picture?
Fabia: I envision a wonderful well-running wildlife conservation area with two beautiful camps. I envision the villages around us are proud to have Chem Chem in their region and that we can see positive progress in their living conditions like improved water, schools, hospitals, but also that the children of today carry that love and passion for their wildlife reserve in their heart – its not enough that tourists are only happy to see elephants and lions.
Published in Absolute Travel in February 2014