NAIROBI, KENYA – My African safari adventure started rather unexpectedly – upon arriving and just a few kilometers outside Nairobi’s international airport, when a herd a zebras brought our mini-van to a halt at a road crossing reserved for them.
Welcome to Africa!
You read others’ accounts of their safari sightings but it’s not until you come face-to-face with Africa’s magnificent wildlife on their own patch that you truly appreciate the rush people get from these encounters.
The zebras whetted our appetite for more, and so, well before our appointed time of departure for the Samburu Game Reserve the next morning, we stood anxiously awaiting for our tour guide and driver to arrive outside our Nairobi hotel.
The little mini-van could accommodate six tourists plus the driver, guide and a cook quite comfortably, but this was October and a slow month, so my companion and I had the van all to ourselves.
To save money and to experience Africa up close and personal, we opted for campsite accommodation that consisted of several small tents and one large mess tent. Several tour groups converged on the site nightly and all the cooks gathered together to prepare communal meals – a great way to meet people from other lands and share our adventures.
The drive to Samburu was an adventure in itself – along dusty back roads, past incredibly flat African terrain and stops in towns and villages where we were always greeted by a rush of local entrepreneurs offering to sell us beaded necklaces, bracelets, earrings and carved goods.
In one village, a young boy who identified himself as “Joseph” politely asked if we had something we could give him. Our bags securely packed in the back of the van and well out of reach, we could not oblige him.
Joseph was not deterred.
“I will see you in two days when you pass this way again and then maybe you will have something,” said the young man.
Obviously, Joseph knew our travel schedule better than we did and sure enough, when we passed through the town on our way back two days later, Joseph was standing on the side of the road waiting for us. This time we had something for him – a pencil, which he eyed as if it were a piece of gold. He thanked us and ran off to show his friends.
The children of Africa are so innocently charming and are so grateful for whatever strangers give them, especially school supplies.
We had packed a few dozen pencils because being veteran travellers, we know how appreciated these simple treasures are in emerging nations.
Whenever we saw uniformed school children along the side of the road, we asked the driver to stop and we would hand out the pencils. The congenial driver always made a game of our generosity and would quiz the kids with such questions as “who was the first president of Kenya?” or “Where is the capital?” The kids who got the answers right, got the pencils. We got a lot of smiles in return.
Left: A mother comforts her child. Right: Dancers entertain the tourists.
A stop at a Masaii village is all part of the tourist trip (or trap) en route to Samburu and while the experience has become sadly commercial, with hundreds of people pushing items at you they claim were made with “my own hands” – the identical piece and sale pitch is offered by every villager – the stop still gave us an insight into the simple Masaii lifestyle, which still pretty much centers around their modest homes made of mud, dung and stick.
We planned our trip for October because it offered us the opportunity of seeing the southern migration of Africa’s wildlife.
And we were not disappointed.
On one clear Serengeti morning, our driver charged up a hill and stopped the van at a point where our eyes bulged and our mouths dropped at the sight of thousands of wild beasts – stretching from horizon to horizon – assembling to begin their march south.
“Look over there,” our driver orders as he points to a spot in the distance where a pride of lions have also gathered.
“They will follow the herds south as well,” says the driver with a menacing smile.
Above: King of the jungle.
The safari drivers communicate by radio and share information on sightings so all visitors can experience Africa’s Big Five – elephant, lion, leopard, water buffalo and rhino – during a visit. We saw them all as well as thousands of flamingos reflected in Pink Lake and giraffes stretching their necks skyward for food.
The last amazing sight we saw before leaving Kenya for our next African stop, Tanzania, was a lion killing its prey.
From beginning to end, an African safari is a wild ride.