December 2007

Latitude Adjustment: Addicted to Africa

Author: Hannah Reinmuth

My husband and I first traveled to Africa 12 years ago. It left such an impression that we have since returned four times. We loved cruising the exotic Nile, exploring the tombs of Luxor, and standing in awe before Victoria Falls, but the most powerful attraction for us is the safari experience, most recently with Micato Safaris.

If you have never been on safari, the premier place to begin is Kenya and/or Tanzania. Both countries offer the huge wildebeest and zebra herds and the predators that follow them. You are likely to spot the “big five”—elephants, lions, leopards, cape buffalo, and rhinos. If you plan your trip for our summer months, you can even watch the “great migration” as the herds pass from the Serengeti to the Masai Mara in search of food.

The jumping off point for an east African photo safari is Nairobi, a modern city, by African standards, of about three million people. Here you can visit Karen Blixen’s home of Out of Africa fame, and Giraffe Manor, a wonderful park where you can feed and interact with the Rothchild giraffes.

If you allow enough time to spend the night, you can bond with the giraffes that visit your second story window. Another must in Nairobi is a meal at the Carnivore Restaurant to sample such exotic meats as zebra, ostrich, impala, and crocodile.

There are more than 50 national parks and game reserves in Kenya, each offering something different. Most tour operators send you to several tented camps and lodges, allowing a variety of wildlife viewing. For your first safari, I would recommend Amboseli National Park, famous for its large elephant and cape buffalo herds. Ol Tukai Lodge offers cabins facing Killimanjaro, Africa’s highest and most famous mountain.

Another must in Kenya is the Masai Mara, rolling grasslands dotted with acacia trees and teaming with wildlife. This is the land of the Masai warriors who still kill lions as a rite of passage, live in mud huts, and subsist on the cattle they have herded for centuries. An excursion to one of their villages is an amazing cultural experience not to be missed. Also, the Mara is the perfect place for an early morning hot air balloon ride, followed by a cooked breakfast on the savanna.

Giraffes with Mt. Killimanjaro in the background

Tanzania, adjacent to Kenya, is not as easy to access. The roads have improved but travel can be lengthy if not by plane. Tanzania is worth the trip, however. Twenty-five percent of the land is designated as national parks and reserves. The uniquely beautiful Ngorongoro Crater, a 102-square-mile caldera, is a separate ecosystem of more than 30,000 animals. The only sight more spectacular than the view from the Serena Lodge atop the crater is the steep, 2,000-foot descent into the collapsed volcano for your day of game viewing.

When in Tanzania, you can also visit the famous Olduvai Gorge where the Leakey family researched the beginnings of “Homo habilis” who lived 1.75 million years ago. The Serengeti, the southern extension of the Masai Mara into Tanzania, is another jewel for safari lovers. The vast rolling plains teem with elephant, lion, rhino, zebra, gazelle, cheetah, leopard, ostrich, hyena, monkey, flamingo, and more.

Botswana, another safari option, is quite different from east Africa. Accessible through South Africa, it is the home of the famous Kalahari Desert and Okavango Delta. The Kalahari Desert in the south, covers more than two thirds of the country and is home to the Bushmen and the famous Kalahari lions. The Okavango Delta to the north is a 4,000-square-mile network of islands, lagoons, and waterways, appealing to bird watchers as well as animal lovers. Here you can take a “dry safari” by land rover, or a “wet Safari” by boat or “mokoro,” (the local dugout canoe). Chobe National Park, a 7,000-square-mile swamp and grassland wilderness, is ranked as one of the finest parks in Africa. Botswana has the highest concentration of elephants in Africa, and it is not uncommon to see them frolicking on a riverbank or hear them munching outside your lodging at night. In fact, one of your game drives could be on the back of one of these magnificent beasts.

South Africa’s Capetown, vineyards, and elegant Rovos Railroad are an added bonus to its more than 300 game parks and natural reserves; the most famous of which is Kruger National Park. Its waterholes and riverbeds are home to more that 500 varieties of birds and 140 species of mammals.

Adjacent to Kruger, three private game reserves offer some of the most luxurious accommodations in Africa. Mala Mala, Singita, and Londolozi are five-star properties with award-winning reputations. It is hard to believe such elegance can be found in the “bush.”

Zambia and Zimbabwe not only offer the safari experience, but the opportunity to visit nearby Victoria Falls, a spectacular natural wonder on the Zambezi River, twice the height and width of our Niagara Falls. The most adventurous and experienced safari lover may choose remote Namibia (of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie fame) for its desert and towering dunes or Uganda for its mountain gorillas.

Hannah with a Masai Warrior

A typical safari day begins at 6 a.m. with an early morning game drive. Since many of the animals are active at night, this enables you to see them before the heat of day sends some into hiding. After several hours in four-six-passenger land rovers, you return for a lavish breakfast. The warm middle of the day is for relaxing, reading, swimming, and lunch.

The second game drive, late in the afternoon, again takes you through the reserve in search of lions, giraffes, cheetah, and other photo opportunities. A special treat, called “Sundowners,” tops off this drive. An elegant spread of cocktails and hors d’oeuvres is set out on the savannah to be enjoyed with a spectacular sunset. Some private game reserves even offer night drives for a peek at the nocturnal world.

Special Memories
What makes a safari so memorable are those unexpected encounters with nature. For example, one day we happened upon a pride of female lions stalking a wildebeest. We watched for nearly an hour as they slowly approached their prey, so intense and focused they never noticed us.

Another time we positioned our van in the path of a lioness and her three cubs. One cub decided to seek the shade of our vehicle and the mother came so close we could have touched her. On another occasion, a curious young cheetah leaped onto the hood of our van and peeked in. A rare sight was an ostrich sitting on a community nest with eggs scattered all around her.

I’ll never forget the light-footed gait of a hippo on land, a rhino charging our van, or how the elephants protect the youngsters of the herd. One evening, getting ready for dinner, my husband noticed a baboon at our window watching him shave. Baboons are noted for being curious and stealthy. The next day, the electric razor was missing. We decided there was a beardless baboon somewhere nearby. Another incident involved a
critter in our tent who found the airline nuts.

Nowhere on earth can compare to Africa for diversity, history, and natural beauty. To quote good friends, seasoned travelers, who were reluctant to go to Africa last year, let alone on safari, “It was the best vacation we have ever taken.” Once you have experienced “The Dark Continent,” (so named in the late 1800s because little was known of it), you will discover why so many are “addicted to Africa.”

A retired school teacher, Hannah Reinmuth has been in the travel business since 1989. She is currently an associate of Valerie Wilson Travel.

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