I just returned from an adventure into the wilds of Kenya and Tanzania, and for any of you readers who have experienced a Safari sojourn before, you know it is not a facsimile of a visit to the San Diego Zoo. In 1986, Calvin and I celebrated our 30th anniversary by visiting East Africa, a place not on many travel companies’ itinerary offerings, and not a place any of our friends had ventured to nor cared to. At that time, we saw few other American visitors, and we really felt isolated in another world. However, we had the time of our lives and I even did an AsianWeek column on it exclaiming the excitement of seeing nature at its finest and most primitive. In the ensuing years, we always reminisced that this was our favorite destination of any other around the world treks, and someday we’d like to return.
That someday finally came, some 27 years later, and this time we were accompanied by eight eager friends who were a bit apprehensive but nevertheless adventurous enough to shell out over $10,000 for a Tauck Tours Company two week trip. For those who traveled with Tauck before, you know their professional care is first class quality and you not only stay at the best and most luxurious of the area, but your tour leaders are the most knowledgeable and efficient at ensuring your leisurely comfort. Unfortunately for us, Tauck tours are very sought-after, so our tour was a packed 30-person group, which prevents it from becoming a more intimate atmosphere of a family of fellow travelers.
Nevertheless tour leader Deanne Inman, an experienced South African native, skillfully managed to keep everyone happy and her daily briefings ending with a quote on the beauties of Africa, kept us focused on why were we there in spite of the harrowing drive on bumpy and dusty roads.
So what did we see and do that was so fantastic, I hear you saying?
Try to picture these……..
…Imagine floating up on a hot air balloon amidst a beautiful sunrise to see a land below free of ugly buildings and masses of people where the only life below is of hundreds of wildebeests (think of their grunting sounds – gnu gnu, their other name) walking single-file for their annual migration from Tanzania to Kenya and back among graceful gazelles, zebras and Maasai tribal villages.
…Imagine the thrill of coming upon a pride of lions in calm composure sleeping fearlessly while dozens of vans with excited photographers jump on their seats to gaze at them through their pop top roofs and click hundreds of photos. Once in a while a lion’s head will pop up to look at us, but sensing we are friends, not poachers, and part of their natural safe haven, they may walk slowly for a better spot in the shade.
…Imagine searching for days and finally succeeding by coming upon the elusive, lazy leopard draped over the branch of a tree, where the keen driver’s eyes spotted only his legs and tail dangling below to drive us so that our binoculars could detect him and our magnifying camera lens could chronicle this exciting sighting.
…Imagine coming face to face with the graceful giraffe innocently nibbling at trees of his height so that many of the tree tops we saw were of the same height.
… Imagine driving along and suddenly coming upon a two ton elephant lumbering along the road and even coming alongside my window close enough for me to reach out and touch her while she led her one month old baby to a nearby marshland to cool off.
…Imagine coming to a pit stop next to a pool with over a dozen hippos having their daily swim or having your picnic lunch in the wild along with the beautiful royal blue- feathered superb Starling bird at your feet.
… Imagine visiting a wildlife conservancy site where Kenyan park rangers guard a family of three rhinos 24 hours a day, the baby which they raised since he was one month old, to preserve this endangered species. Sense my excitement as we quietly disembarked from the van to actually stand within 20 feet of them while the rangers guarded with long sticks.
…Imagine enjoying the luxury of a Four Seasons Hotel in the wilds of Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park where I was visited by families of elephants at a waterhole just below my balcony. Picure while I watched them bathe themselves while languishing from my four poster bed surrounded by wall décor of African artifacts. Ah Africa nirvana! Lodge Manager Ned Brown told me all of the wooden pathways were on stilts to our individual rooms to prevent the animals from coming up on us, but that didn’t prevent the curious baboon from ogling me on the roof above my patio. The hotel kept the African theme throughout the rooms, with historic public room displays and ongoing films of the surrounding wildlife. In a secluded bungalow area, I even had the experience of a Four Seasons African Kifaa Massage using the Rungu wooden baton, which traditionally represents a Maasai Tribal Warrior status.
…Imagine coming upon a four story modern museum of African carvings within the Arusha Heritage Center, looking like Bilbao’s Guggenheim museum, which owner Mr. Saladin has built, continuing a three generation merchant family residing in Arusha. He is one of Africa’s most distinguished Tanzanite dealers, as the semi-precious stone’s only mine is situated just outside the city. His lovely wife sold me three exquisite tanzanite rings for the ladies in my family, as well as all of us buying lovely wooden salad servers with carved animal heads at its handle’s end.
…Imagine visiting the simple surroundings of a Maasai Tribal village where it was said, the women do all the work while the men consider their prime duty is keeping the village safe and families from harm from invading wildlife. Their huts are made from dried dung, the natives clad themselves in bright red cloth to scare away the animals, the men wear shoes made from old tires, and they live under the most primitive of conditions and their main occupation is herding the cattle and goats and surviving. I did wonder about this depiction of simplicity of life, however, when I saw a cell phone hanging from the chief’s belt! Hmmmm.
…Imagine visiting Olduvai Gorge where in 1959, famed archaeologists Louis and Mary Leakey discovered the fossilized remains of the earliest known hominid, believed to be 1.8 million years old and named her Lucy. As we looked over the horizon of where this discovery was made, one tried to imagine the lives of the human race and wonder how they survived a life then. Makes one think we are just one tiny speck in this timeline of life, don’t you agree?
…Imagine reconnecting with memories of Hollywood Adonis William Holden, when you visit his once-owned Mt. Kenya Safari Club, at which he entertained celebrities and world leaders to his private club when game hunting was a favorite sport of the privileged who came from all over the world some 60 years ago. Luckily we learn game hunting is now outlawed in Kenya, although poaching is a big problem that this poor country has difficulty guarding against to preserve the lives of elephants and rhinos whose horns are sought after by Asian countries. The Mt. Kenya Safari Club is now managed by the Fairmont Hotels Company and they have expanded the buildings and kept up the grandeur and traditions of Africa. We are welcomed by Maasai tribal warriors, who dance a contest of which one can jump the highest. As the hotel is located on the equator, Manager Niall Cowan showed me the Equator Suite where its duo sinks are arranged so one is on the southern hemisphere side and the other on the northern hemisphere of the equator. The difference? The water runs clockwise on one side and counter-clockwise on the other, showing the magnetic force’s influence on either side of the equator.
…Imagine being able to golf alongside the Equator which Fairmont’s Mt. Kenya Club enables you to play at its 9 hole course accompanied by Kenyan native caddies, my Peter being a 8 handicapper, no less. If you are a Fairmont President’s Club member, at any Fairmont property you are entitled to free golf club rentals, so using their new Taylor-made clubs, our golf fees that day were a bargain $12 USD. Other amenities it offered were guided horseback riding where some came unexpectedly upon the very rare white albino zebra. Another African breathtaking moment!
…Imagine staying in a tent cabin where you are advised to zip up tight the opening enclosure when you leave or you might find monkey roommates when you return. I told General Manager Munene Ngotho our tented cabins on stilts at the Fairmont Mara Safari Club were beyond our expectations with cement floors, private bathroom, hot water bottled-warmed bed and decked patio where I enjoyed a lunch overlooking the riverbed below amidst chirping families of monkeys wanting to join me. A torrential rain storm beat down noisily on our canvas roof, and the winds blew in and out our canvas lined windows, but it made for another exciting night in the wild.
Obviously, in my enthusiasm I could go on and on about the wonders of an Africa Adventure, and regale you with more stories of the many many animals we came across, but I am sure you got the message of my exciting memories. All of our companions – Patsy Hom, Lovelle Shak, Ruby Fong, Nancy Mar, Tom and Joanne Tanabe, Howard and Pat Seto – agreed this is an unmatched unique adventure tour where we all returned home with memories not easily forgotten, pictures in our minds and on our camera chips and i-pads that will keep us excited and aware of Mother Nature’s varieties of glorious creatures.
So if you’re looking for an adventure away from crowds of people, hordes of horn-beeping traffic, and being in a jungle of high-rise uninteresting buildings, the African wilds should be on your bucket list as it was ours. Tauck Tours take good care of the many needs that come up on this type of hard core travel, because believe me, it is not for the delicate of body or faint at heart. The trial of a long distance of air travel to get there is daunting, so I would recommend a stop-over in London, perhaps, for a few days to break up the torturous route we unwittingly took of over 30 hours in airports/on planes to arrive in Tanzania.
If you’re looking for a trip like no other, are adventurous at heart, and eager to experience a destination new and different in scope, try an African adventure. My parting words are – Asante, Kenya and Tanzania! We seniors of Silicon Valley and the East Bay survived your wilds and will never forget its wonders! Jambo!