Sunday, 21 July 2013

Africa (in 1001 words)

Early last year when we were in the planning stages for our year of travel, Erwin asked me that if money wasn't an object where would I like to go – I didn't even have to think about the answer – I said “Africa, God’s zoo.”

Going to Africa to see the animals has been a dream of mine ever since I was a little girl. I would watch CTV’s half-hour wildlife series “Untamed World” on Sunday’s at 5:30 right before “Wonderful World of Disney.” My favorite family outings as a child were to places that featured animals such as Edmonton’s “Storyland Valley Zoo” or Al Oeming’s “Alberta Game Farm.” I’ve worked for PetSmart, Petcetera, and Pet Valu. Even during our stay here in Berlin I bought the zoo pass within days of our arrival and have used it countless times. In short – I adore animals.

Since it was my dream, Erwin let me plan, where, when, how, who with, and he would then take that information to use up the last of his Aeroplan points and fly us there first class. Yay!  

I soon discovered that when you plan an African safari, there are a number of things you need to consider, such as: which country you want to go to, therefore which animals you’ll end up seeing, the best time to go, what kind of safari you would like to experience - budget tents to luxury resort, and which company if any you want to guide you. The options were overwhelming.

After days of research and discussions I (we) settled on a private (just the two of us), seven day safari in Kenya using a small local safari company, staying at a combination of homestay and luxury resort. The company we settled on was All Seasons Safaris. We spent the first couple of nights in Nairobi at the home of the company’s director Alex and his wife Mary. They were the most gracious hosts. It’s always a delight to experience and learn about a new place by spending time with the local people away from the touristy settings.

We spent one day in Nairobi, touring the city and visiting the Giraffe Center – where we learned about giraffe conservation efforts – and I got to hand feed one.

Bright and early the next morning our safari began. First stop was at a viewpoint of the Great Rift Valley, a continuous geographic trench that runs 6000 kms. from Syria down to Mozambique. The expanse that stretches before you is stunning is all I can say. Kinda makes one feel real small.

We continued on our way through sometimes crazy hair raising traffic which Anton (our driver/guide) seemed to navigate effortlessly. The scenery along the way reminded us of south-western Alberta with its big sky, stretches of scrub brush mixed with farm lands, and mountains in the background. The road getting worse the further we went, Erwin blogged about that particular part which you can read here, but that’s all part of the experience. Or so I told myself.

We ultimately ended up deep into the Masai Mara almost on the border with Tanzania. Our resort was on top of a bush covered knoll with a room that offered a spectacular view over an almost biblical landscape: savannah that stretched to the horizon, big blue sky, and a fine dust that coats literally everything whenever there’s a gust of wind or a passing vehicle.

Our days consisted of getting up early to watch the 6:30 sunrise while enjoying breakfast,

...and then a morning game drive which usually lasted 3 – 4 hours. Back to the lodge for lunch, relax by the pool, and then an evening game drive of another 3 hours or so, coming back just as the sun was setting. Showering layers of dust off, fabulous late evening dinner, and then drop into bed to dream and cherish all that we saw that day. That was our routine for 4½ days. The best 4½ days ever. Nearly 8 hours (which felt more like 8 minutes) daily of driving around the savannah while mostly standing up in our safari vehicle on the lookout for animals...

...or sometimes just closing my eyes a letting it all sink in, being in the moment. 

What did we see? Too many animals & birds to count. The bird songs still ring in my ear. Colours I’ve never seen before. Everyone says you go to Africa to see the Big 5; elephant, buffalo, lion, leopard and rhino. We didn’t see a leopard, doesn’t matter, we saw cheetahs and as I said, so much more. I posted my top 50 pics on Facebook – here are pics of my Big 5.

On our last afternoon we went to see a Maasi Village. (Note the two “a’s” in Maasia when talking about the people, and one “a” when talking about the place, who knew.) Another eye opening learning experience that was fun too. We had brought along some pens, pencils, notebooks as gifts for them as per suggestion by our tour company. We also bought some over-priced crafts from them; a donation to the women’s effort in building a school in the village.

On our last night in Africa we ate at a restaurant called “The Carnivore” in Nairobi. It is considered “Africa’s greatest eating experience,” featuring an all-you-can-eat exotic meat buffet with such things as crocodile, ostrich, camel, and much more, all roasted over charcoal. I even dared to try bull testicles. Didn't care for that one. But all the rest was super delicious.

A very short sleep and we were back on a plane, hours of flying over the vast Libyan Desert, the Greek islands...

and back to Germany. Our safari over, but my long held dream come true, and another check on my bucket list.

If it wasn't for the literally hundreds and hundreds of pictures that we took I would have a hard time believing that it all actually happened. It’s still all so surreal. It still chokes me up emotionally... tears of joy & happiness.

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