East Africa: a Treat and a Treatment by Karen Alton, Craig Traveller | Craig Travel

East Africa: a Treat and a Treatment by Karen Alton, Craig Traveller

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“It is the inevitable fate of all animals in the Masai Mara to be eaten.”

It is one thing to read these words in the guide book and quite another to witness the reality. We had seen the giraffes the day before on our afternoon game drive, stately, even regal, in the distance among the trees, the sun shining. There were two female adults and two babies, browsing. So the next morning it was particularly poignant, heading out of Kenya's Ol Pejeta Reserve in safari vehicles, we came upon a life-and-death drama unfolding. A baby giraffe lay lifeless at the side of the road. The desperate mother stood guard over the body fending off the assaults of eight lions, some circling, some sitting back in the grass, waiting. The wary lions seemed to know that one solid kick from the adult giraffe could crush a skull. They bided their time. They had all day.

This was just one of many scenarios that nature presented over the next two weeks, though undoubtedly the most searing. We were a band of 29, organized through Craig Travel, on safari in East Africa, armed with cameras not guns. It was a diverse group, including some retired teachers, a doctor, a lawyer, a reverend, a pipe-fitter and a truck driver among others. We were all hoping to capture the perfect hippo yawn, the most elegant male lion pose, the golden glint in the eye of a fully grown leopard or cheetah. Above all we wanted to catch a glimpse of the fabled Great Migration of wildebeest and zebra.

One of our first encounters came as we approached Sweetwaters Camp north of Nairobi in the Mt. Kenya district. We could see in a nearby field a pair of young impalas jousting, horns-to-horns, apparently oblivious to a lioness slinking through the yellow grass, intent on catching them unawares. Lucky for the impalas, something spooked them in the nick of time. They bounded off to safety. They would live to play another day and the lion would continue her hunt to feed her cubs.

In the days that followed, as we explored the Masai Mara, Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater in Kenya and Tanzania, we would see dazzling arrays of zebra and vast herds of wildebeest, lions lounging under sausage trees, black rhinos with their young, as well as white rhinos, elephants by the score, and herds of cape buffalo. One menacing buffalo threatened our safari vehicle one morning until our driver judiciously backed off and took an alternate route. Nothing was more thrilling than capturing a mature leopard in the viewfinder of my camera as it lolled in the crotch of a tree, yellow eyes gazing above a pair of giant paws.

Every day brought new sights and dramas, spectacular birds, animals, reptiles, people in colourful garb, all uniquely African. The camaraderie with fellow travelers also grew with our shared sense of excitement and discovery, though none of these earthly wonders came without some creature discomforts.

A 13-hour non-stop flight from Toronto to Addis Ababa followed by a two hour flight to Nairobi, in economy class, will test the fortitude of even the most intrepid traveler. Of course the anticipation of encountering “the big five,” and more, goes a long way to stiffening your resolve. That, and maybe the shared aches and pains of fellow adventure-seekers who tend to scoff at adversity and put whiners to shame. It seems some suffering is required, some say recommended, when it comes to the modern safari experience. As a novice, I am still processing the rougher aspects.

For me East Africa was one of the most exotic destinations on earth, but it was no walk in the park. Challenging and exhilarating, it was both a treat and a treatment, an eye-popping excursion on dusty, bone-jarring roads interrupted nightly by very fine lodgings, designed to uplift and recharge. A cold Tusker beer at the end of the day, or a glass of good South African wine, did much to ease the ragged soul. A cozy hot water bottle tucked into bed was a welcome comfort to the aching body. Looking back now, it seems like a whole lot of angst and joy crammed into 17 days, not everyone's cup of masala chai but tempting for a happy few.

Getting back to the stand-off between the mother giraffe and the lions mentioned earlier, as our schedule was fairly tight we could not wait to see the resolution. We heard later, through our guides, that she stood guard for five hours before giving up her baby's body to the lions. A brutal result? Yes. But as my nine-year-old grandson pointed out upon seeing the photographs, “Lions have to eat too.”

And so they do. Sometimes its just as simple as that.

Experience the world's best destination for game viewing, join Craig Travel's next journey September 18, 2018.

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