Travel Service Group Trip
Kenya and Tanzania
In June, fourteen of us left Jacksonville for Nairobi, Kenya for a two-week safari. We had five veteran Africa travelers and nine newbies. As always we were so excited and it was even more special to be able to share a place I love so dearly with friends and family. As my first foray into taking groups on trips I had planned, I think I was most nervous about Star Wheeler. As anyone from the area knows, Star taught world history at Glynn Academy and has taken umpteen thousand kids to Europe over the years and has recently been taking adults too. She is a pro at this, and I wanted to make sure she was not disappointed! I wasn’t sure if the safari part of the trip would interest her as much as the historical part. I knew the Leakey family exhibit at the Nairobi Museum and Olduvai Gorge, where millions of years of evolution have been uncovered, Karen Blixen’s estate, and her orphaned elephant that I adopted for her would be fine, but I wasn’t sure she would love the “non-history” part! Prior to leaving Star had expressed to me that if she met one of the Leakey’s she might faint! I think this is why I worked so hard to get her safari hat signed by Dr. Richard Leakey, which she then refused to wear as it might get messed up. I am glad to report that she, as well as everyone else, did love everything and can’t wait to go back for more. Africa was best described, with group agreement, as “magical!”
Upon landing in Nairobi, we were met by Patrick Masila and Jefferson, our driver, both of African Spice Safaris. It was so nice to meet Patrick after a year of email and planning!
Later that evening most of the rest of our crew arrived with a couple of exceptions. Star, Rosemary and Grey had missed their connection in Amsterdam due to sitting on the runway in Atlanta for 2 hours. They had to fly to London from Amsterdam and came on the flight the next morning with Teddy.
Meanwhile, those of us in Africa had a glass of wine to toast to the trip! We were here at last!
We spent a couple days in Nairobi and had a great time. We had a private visit to meet our adopted elephants at the Daphne Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage, and got up close and personal with some giraffes at Giraffe Manor. We were able to have “cheetah hugs” at the Nairobi animal orphanage. It can be a little daunting to pet a fully-grown cheetah while it eats lunch. We went to the National Museum and Karen Blixen’s estate, made famous by both the book and the movie “Out of Africa.”
One of the most special moments was our visit to the Nyumbani Children’s Home. This is one of many AIDS orphanages in Kenya. We had collected donations from many very generous friends before we left and were able to take all the donations to the home. We were able to visit with the children that were too young to be in school after they welcomed us and gave a precious presentation. They seemed to be just like any other children, but these children know pain and hardship that very few of us will ever experience, and I think everyone was humbled by the work done here. The staff was so excited about a seven-month old baby girl named Eunice. She had come into the home at about one-month old when she was orphaned and at that time tested positive for HIV. After six months on the AIDS medication she was now negative. This was very exciting news. Now she could be adopted.
After a few days, we were off on our first small plane for Tanzania and the Ngorongoro Crater. This is one of my favorite moments for newcomers. They look at those small planes with pilots that look about 17 years old and realize we will be landing on dirt runways! This always takes a minute to register, but I love to watch everyone’s face as this reality sets in. Our drivers met us upon landing. Teddy very quickly named the group in her vehicle “The Golden Girls.” These ladies became fast friends with their driver and found out more than they wanted to about the Maasai culture. I think if they could have spoken privately to some Maasai women, there might have been a revolt in the village. The Maasai women do EVERYTHING in their village. They cook, clean, take care of the children, milk the cows and even build their own hut. Yes, build their own hut out of sticks and cow dung….yes, cow dung! Each wife must build her own and her husband roams between them, placing his spear out front to signify where he will be spending the night. When you ask anyone what the men do, the standard answer is “gather information.” I think this translates to get together with other men from nearby villages and chit-chat while the women are holding everything together!
After several days, Margie Finn commented that she had never been around so many southern women for such a length of time and how much we talk. She was enjoying listening to us solve the worlds problems!! I think we solved just about all of them too!
We were lucky enough to run into the wildebeest migration in Serengeti. I have heard of this event for many years, and felt privileged to be in the midst of it. We didn’t get to see a river crossing, but maybe next time. In the Serengeti we stayed at Kirawira Tented Camp. This is one of the top 100 small luxury hotels of the world. It is fantastic to sleep in a tent that is on stilts with a four- poster bed and mosquito netting! This is certainly my idea of “roughing it.”
For me, there is just something about Kichwa Tembo camp in the Maasai Mara. It is just about my favorite place on earth! The staff there is always so friendly and attentive and as usual did not disappoint. We were met at the airstrip by the camp staff with sundowners in hand! The next night we were treated to a fantastic bush dinner. An exquisitely set table with full silver service, crystal glasses and linen tablecloth, sprinkled with rose petals awaited us. We had a full staff there to handle on our every need. Tina Owens was the lucky recipient of the farewell and welcome back cake. This is a tradition that all who visit here, are destined to return. The chef chose Tina as he felt she was worth 30 cows! I was sure to let her husband, Pete, (who also happens to be my brother) know the dowry he owed her parents!! It was a night we will never forget!
Our last park was Samburu where Lee Malone, Susan, Joe and Sam Parker, and Tina, Josh and Will Owens went on a camel ride. I guess it isn’t everyday you have the opportunity to ride a camel, so when in Rome. Our last night in Samburu was Rosemary’s birthday. We, along with the staff, sang and danced and celebrated! We were all getting the words down to “Jambo Bwana” by this time. I swear I think this song is the national tourist song for east Africa. They sing it in every camp, and I still find I sing it to myself now and then. My impression is that it is sort of like our version of the “hokey-pokey” in that everyone knows it but no local would be caught dead singing it outside of tourist places. The translation of the title is “Hey Man.” Every now and then I text the first line to my nephews and it just makes us all laugh at the memories and good times from the trip. I think you could sing those two words to just about anyone that has ever been there and make them smile! Give it a try!
Africa never lets me down! I can always count on having an amazing, yet different experience each time I go. The animals are always the highlight for me, but I enjoy seeing it through others eyes, as they are awed by what this continent has to offer. It is hard to explain, but you really do feel that it is the origin of mankind, almost like coming home. I can’t wait to go again………..fortunately, I don’t have long to wait……..South Africa and Botswana this fall!!!!
Posted by aowens at 4/24/2009 1:33 PM Comments (0)
Kenya and Tanzania with Micato Safaris 2006 Permanent linkAFRICA – the word itself conjures up all sorts of feelings and images. As a child, there were two places in this world I wanted to go. One was Egypt, and I have not made it there yet (but hope to soon) and the other was Kenya for a safari. In June last year I was able to go on that safari, and I am now another one of those people that say, “You just have to go!” It is impossible to truly describe how incredible it is!!
My mother and I met my sister in Atlanta for our flight to Nairobi via Amsterdam. After an uneventful flight we landed in Nairobi late in the evening and were transferred to the Grand Regency Hotel. Imagine my surprise to see a giraffe on the side of the road leaving a bustling airport!! The excitement quickly takes over and I found it very difficult to sleep.
We rose the next morning to meet the rest of the group that we would be traveling with for the next two weeks. We did a whirlwind tour of Nairobi including Karen Blixen’s house (the author of Out of Africa), the Daphne Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage, Lingita Giraffe Center, and lunch at a tea plantation. The Sheldrick Orphanage takes in baby elephants that have been orphaned, and hand rears them until they can be reintroduced into the wild. It is an amazing project with a wonderful staff of totally dedicated volunteers. At Lingita Giraffe Center you can pet and “kiss” the giraffes, which consists of being licked on the cheek with a very long blue tongue. They are so friendly and fun to interact with. The tea plantation was lovely and we learned much about the area and the agricultural history.
Nairobi’s most amazing asset is its people. I was so impressed with the children. They go through quite an amazing daily routine just to go to school. Many rise around 4 in the morning and walk a very long way to catch the “city bus” (which is actually more like a minivan), as there is no school bus. They must struggle with grown men and others to get on the overcrowded bus, which takes all into town. After school is out they must turn around and repeat this process to get home. Many do not arrive home until after dark, then must do homework by candlelight, as there is no electricity, and go to bed to start the whole routine over aga
in. In the afternoon, we saw the little bitty children alone at the bus stops trying to get on the buses. Unfortunately, with the epidemic of AIDS, many children are orphaned. If there is no family to take them in, they eventually end up in the slums, which defy description, where continuing with their education is virtually impossible.
After a lovely dinner, it was off to bed for the real excitement to begin tomorrow! We would be off on safari at last!!! We flew from Wilson Airport to Kilimanjaro International Airport, and after passing through customs, flew to the airstrip at Tarangire. This was my first, but not last experience with commercial flights landing on dirt runways. It certainly takes getting used to. We sometimes had to buzz the runway in order to clear the animals before landing. Our 4x4 vehicles and drivers were waiting for us at touchdown with tops popped and we were off on our first game drive!
The sights, sounds, and smells assault your senses and it does not take long to feel a true sense of “mother earth” and our early roots. Everywhere you turn, you are surprised by the different kinds of amazing animals as well as all of the trees and plants that are totally foreign to you. I continuously had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.
The next day we drove to the Ngorongoro Crater. We had a very nice new paved road built by the Japanese. This was quite a surprise as most of the roads throughout the region are dirt and full of potholes. It is definitely a workout for the back and rump!! This nice road only lasts part of the way and then it becomes an extremely bumpy, bouncy and slow ride (referred to as an African massage) up to the ridge of the Ngorongoro crater. Being up at almost 8000 feet, the view from the hotel was spectacular. We were escorted to our room from dinner, as there was a lone male cape buffalo on the walkway. Your senses stay on high alert, as you never know what animals might be around the next corner. The next day we packed box lunches and spent the whole day in the crater. As we entered we saw tree-climbing lions, which I was not aware existed in this area. Very shortly we came upon a pride of lions still working on their early morning kill. While it seems very graphic to discuss, it is part of the great circle of life and somehow just seems so natural when you are there. We were memorized and watched for quite a long time. This day we saw wildebeest, lion, zebra, ostrich, impala, cheetah, hippo, rhino, elephant, serval cat, jackal, and hyena, not to mention many bird species. We were all on a natural high as we continued to spot so many different things in each direction.
After a few days I felt like I was on sensory overload and we still had more to go. The next two parks were the Serengeti Plains and the Masaii Mara, both part of the same ecosystem, but the first in Tanzania and the second just over the border into Kenya. Here in Serengeti, we finally found the elusive leopard up in a tree with his kill. It was the only one of “big five” we had not seen to this point. They are such majestic and regal animals, and we could have watched all day.
In the Masaii Mara we followed a mother cheetah with her five cubs every day. The cubs were about one month old and precious. They would play and run around having a ball as mom kept a close eye out for danger and food! It was also here that I discovered the pleasures of tented camps. Up to this point we had stayed in lodges, which were great, but Kitchwa Tembo, where we slept in actual tents and heard the lions roaring and other animals calling at night, was just amazing. Let me also say these are not standard tents! They have full en-suite bathrooms with showers, hot water and electricity! We also had full size beds with really soft sheets and down comforters. This is my kind of “roughin it.”
All too soon we had to leave for our return flight from Nairobi to Jacksonville, but not before our last meal at Carnivore Restaurant. This is a world famous restaurant that serves meat, meat and more meat. They come around the table with skewers of different kinds of meat and start loading your plate. There are several kinds of dipping sauces for the meat, most were tasty, but a few were a little strange. They continue to come until you tell them to stop. It is a total exercise in overindulgence. On the menu was just about every kind of meat you have ever had plus camel, ostrich and crocodile! Mom, Susan and I all liked the ostrich and were pleasantly surprised by the camel. It was very tasty. None of us however cared for the crocodile. I remember requesting a wheelbarrow to roll me out of there, but had to make do with actually walking out of that restaurant and taking a van to the airport.
As soon as we were checked in for our flight home, the let down began. I know I shed a few tears before boarding the plane. Africa was everything I had imagined and then some. It was at about this time I started trying to figure out how soon I could return. Upon arriving home I could not believe the trip I had anticipated for so many years was over. It took me about one month to begin real plans for my return. I can’t even begin to tell you how much this trip changed me and my outlook on life. Don’t take my word for it – start making your plans to go, or better yet – come with us in June 2008!