African Safari: Animal Lover's Dream Come True
By Teresa Wiegman
Winter. Snowflakes. Wool mittens. Sledding. That's the Norman Rockwell winter.
Imagine our surprise when we got off the plane in Kenya, stepping into heat and humidity in the middle of Africa's winter in July. Many more realizations surfaced during my unforgettable, seven-day safari with husband Tim, and children, 12-year-old Annie and eight-year-old Brian.
At a friend's suggestion, we flew to Kenya from France where we had been living on a temporary work assignment. The time difference was only an hour later, compared to coming from the states where the time difference would be 10 hours ahead of Pacific Standard Time. We suffered no jet lag, unlike many of the tourists we saw along the way.
We would find out the next morning, after our private driver James picked us up from the hotel, that Nairobi is full of poverty. Homes made out of scraps of metal, shoddy pieces of wood where you see right through them. Homes minus electricity and running water. Natives using donkeys to take their carts of produce into town.
Our driver skillfully made his way through the chaotic roundabouts as we veered out of town, an astounding feat. The main advantage of having a private driver is that he knows the terrain. Out on the reserve, there are no road signs and barely any roads. It’s quite easy to get lost. Also, a solid jeep, versus a van or a truck, can take you anywhere without getting stuck in a ditch or a deep pothole.
Before we left for Kenya, we went to the doctor to receive our yellow fever immunization shots and began taking malaria tablets. And because we didn't want our skin to get roasted, we packed 60 SPF sunscreen since we were traveling near the equator. We brought sweatshirts for the cooler evenings and wore long pants in case of bugs. We toted our digital camera and took about 350 pictures.
In preparation, we brought along 400 Euros. We spent 200 Euros at the airport getting Visas (50 Euros per person). Then we exchanged 200 Euros for 39,000 African shillings. The African people at the lodges taught us some of their language like "Jambo" for "Hello" and "A sante san" for "Thank you very much". Most African people who work with tourists speak three languages: English, Swahili (Kenya’s national language), and their tribal language.
All of the hotels on the reserves we frequented provided mosquito nets over beds, and the staff often sprayed the rooms before we entered. Ironically, we didn’t notice any mosquitoes, and bugs were not a problem.
As we left Nairobi, we noticed fewer cars in the countryside. Most people were walking. We started our expedition in a Toyota Land Cruiser down a smoothly paved single lane that rapidly transformed into a dusty, bumpy, dirt road. The kids loved it! Little did they know, we would spend all day long jostling about on uneven ground with seemingly no end in sight.
As our safari began, it took a couple of hours just to get to the animal reserve. Once we arrived, we stayed inside the vehicle all day marveling at these amazing creatures. We jokingly said we were hunting the animals with our cameras.
Fortunately, we could stand up and look out the roof of the jeep, but we couldn’t leave unless we had to use the bathroom. When we had to go, our driver would make sure we were away from bushes and trees, where lions and leopards might be lurking. Then we quickly scampered out to the back of the jeep and conducted "business" there. Regarding bathrooms, the ones at the hotels were normal, but the ones in the gift shops along the way were often outhouses.
WHERE WE WENT
Our safari tour took us to three different reserves: the Masai Mara Reserve, Lake Nakuru Reserve , and the Amboseli Reserve . The Masai Mara Reserve, named after the Masai nomad tribe, was the most exciting, and we toured it the longest. It was at the Masai Mara Reserve where we spied a leopard eating his lunch (in a tree).
We also saw a lioness with her cubs, two elephants fighting over a female and hundreds of wildebeests migrating across the plains. The area reminded me of the golden, grassy hills of northern California. Everywhere we looked we saw zebras, gazelles or giraffes. It was as natural as being out in the country and seeing cows.
What surprised me the most, was the number of newborn animals we saw: baby elephants, water buffalo, baboons, hippos, zebras, giraffes, dick-dicks, gazelle, antelope, and lion cubs.
During our safari, we were introduced to the sausage tree . It looked like an oak tree, only it had long, puffy, brown seed pods hanging from it, which looked like sausages. We were also shown giant termite hills. The biggest termite hill we saw was eight feet high! Our driver stopped so we could take a picture.
We also learned about the Masai tribe. I was taking a picture of some Morning Glories when a Masai boy got mad at me for taking his picture. He began to throw sticks at our jeep. James just calmly drove off.
We saw Masai boys herding their goats or sheep out in the open. Sometimes our driver would have to stop so they could get their animals across the road. A sad experience was seeing Masai women (young and old) begging for us to buy things from them (which the gift shops also sold) whenever we stopped. These women had flies all over their faces and were missing teeth.
On a brighter note, Lake Nakuru was beautiful! Upon entering the reserve, the first thing we saw was hundreds of pink flamingos lining the shore of the lake. We saw white rhinos and even a black rhino, which our driver said is rare to see because they are shy. We drove up to Baboon Hill and surveyed the beautiful land around us: the lake, the water buffalo, the trees---it looked like something out of National Geographic.
As we were looking around, a baboon came out of the bush and sat with us. My daughter was thrilled that she got to be about five feet away from him. (I wouldn’t allow her to go any closer.).
As I said earlier, she is twelve and my son is almost eight. Twelve is a wonderful age to take your child on a safari. When your children are eight, they get a bit tired of all the driving around, and they don’t realize the excitement of seeing all of the animals in the wild.
Our last safari was at the Amboseli Reserve. It was a long drive (about five hours) to get there. From this reserve you could see Mt. Kilimanjaro rise up from nowhere. The landscape was grassy and flat around marshland.
We witnessed nature at work. Elephants crossing the road were strategically putting themselves between the baby and our jeep for the baby’s protection. We saw hippos sunning themselves and learned that they only feed at night. My son was impressed by the fact that a hippo can bite a person in half with its strong jaws.
After five days of safaris, we returned to Nairobi and then we flew to Mombasa. Mombasa is on the coast and it has clear blue oceans (warm, of course), white sand beaches and lots of palm trees. It also has the most beautiful lizards I have ever seen!
Our particular hotel, the White Sands Hotel , had three huge swimming pools: one featured an island in the middle, the second had a water slide and diving boards, and the last was designed as a lap pool. It was great for our family, and it wasn’t very crowded.
In Mombasa,we took a trip out on a glass-bottom boat to go snorkeling. The sheer size and the number of schools of fish we saw were impressive. My son especially enjoyed feeding the aquatic life and having his finger nibbled on. On the beach there were a number of people in booths selling things, but they didn’t bother us as we played in the water. Mombasa was very relaxing, and I would recommend at least two days there.
I asked my children what they liked best. Annie said, "I liked the lions, the rhinos and the elephants. I liked driving off the roads in the safari truck. I liked Mombasa a lot because you could go snorkeling and because there were fish about 2 1/2 feet long and lots of other colorful fish."
My son, Brian, replied, "It was really fun! I liked the lioness and her cubs." I would HIGHLY recommend our safari tour company. Simon (the tour manager) asked us what we wanted to see, and he customized our trip. He kept up excellent communication with us via email. The hotels we stayed in were better than expected! We are vegetarians, and the restaurants were very accommodating. We enjoyed seeing the monkeys jump through the trees as we ate breakfast. Our hotel provided our picnic lunches, which were always more than we could finish.
Combined with the grandeur of its landscape, wildlife, and unique culture, Africa is a land of indescribable beauty and adventure. This was truly a once in a lifetime experience, and I would recommend it to any family with children over the age of seven.
Sights of Africa (E.A) (which stands for Eastern Africa) Tours and Travel
Ask for Simon Mukuna-Tours Manager
Kenya and Tanzania Safari packages
Our driver was James Mwangi
COSTS FOR A FAMILY OF FOUR:
$3345.00 (Train from Paris to Brussels, Belgium and then airfare from Brussels to
Kenya, Africa. The flight was eight hours long.)
$3690.60 (Sights of Africa tour, daily tip for driver not included. This includes food
Teresa Wiegman is a mother of two and recently returned with her family from a one-year job assignment in France. They live in Sunnyvale.
[Back to Top] [Back to Index]