The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Nairobi and the Giraffe Centre were the perfect place to begin what was an incredible East African adventure. The Trust is today the most successful orphan-elephant rescue and rehab program in the world and one of the pioneering conservation organizations for wildlife and habitat protection in East Africa. Here, we were introduced to baby and adult elephants who had been rescued from such harm as poachers, injury and loss of habitat due in part to deforestation, drought and other pressures. This visit gave us precious insight into the vulnerabilities of not only elephants but all wildlife and our need to protect them. The Giraffe Centre protects the highly endangered Rothschild’s giraffe. Here, an opportunity to climb a wooden platform to feed from your hand, pet and even kiss one of these beautiful creatures was a charming introduction to this incredible land! What a sight to see these magnificent, stately animals later, while on safari, as they stretched their beautiful necks to reach for their dinner from the highest of treetops.
Throughout our journey, in both Kenya and Tanzania, the landscapes changed and were an ongoing surprise….from the agricultural lands of central Kenya, through the scenic floor of the Great Rift Valley, miles of lush, green pastureland, to the vast bush roads of the Masai Mara, the dry, yellow grasses of the Serengeti and the deep, volcanic Ngorongoro Crater, a breathtaking natural wonder. The crater, which is about twenty-one miles across, 600 meters deep and 300 km in area, is plentiful with zebra, leopard, cheetah, wildebeest, hippos, lions, elephants and endless varieties of small wildlife and exotic birds.
A highlight was viewing the great migration of nearly two million wildebeest and zebra across the plains of Tanzania's Serengeti and Kenya's Masai Mara. This is one of the oldest and last great land migrations on the planet. The purpose of their migration is to search for better water quality and new grazing grasslands. Truly a spectacle to witness!
We passed many towns teeming with people at dusty, colourful roadside markets, businesses, churches and schools (many, many schools). Seeing women sitting side by side at the edge of the road, each with bunches of bananas for sale, we wondered how a buyer would choose from which woman they would purchase bananas and how these women had to sit all day, every day to earn a very few shillings. We travelled on roads that shook every bone in our bodies, bouncing, bumping, jarring roads in the midst of construction (or so we were told). Our guides playfully told us this was an African massage; a hot shower and bed felt good that night; it was all part of the experience.
Most days saw us up before sunrise, sometimes with a wakeup knock at our door or a “good morning” call outside our luxury tent or lodge room. Always with a sense of excitement at what we might see or discover, we enjoyed a first cup of coffee before climbing into our landcruisers to start a new adventure. The roofs were raised, always at the ready for its passengers to pop up and take that perfect photo. With only six persons in each landcruiser, everyone had a window seat and plenty of room to stand to take photos out the open top.
You cannot truly appreciate the incredible experience of viewing wildlife in its natural habitat, seeing firsthand the day-to-day life, the habits, the suffering, the playfulness, the quest to survive, to escape, to die. Some things were difficult to watch, but as our guide reminded us… “This is nature. Some must die so others can live.” One day, a vehicle radioed on the public radio frequency that a female lion was spotted in the midst of a “kill.” Vehicles rushed to the scene; we counted 26 vehicles arriving within minutes. Engines were turned off. All was quiet. There was the lion with a hartebeest, a type of African antelope, pinned to the ground. The lion had it by the neck. We watched as the hartebeest struggled, kicking and squirming to no avail. Minutes later, it succumbed. The lion’s dinner menu was decided. What broke our hearts was the scene some distance away. Up an incline, maybe 150 meters away, was the herd of hartebeest, standing quietly in a single row, watching. Even before it died, they knew what its fate would be. There they stood, silently, watching. Eventually, perhaps fifteen minutes later, they turned, one by one and slowly walked away single file. The herd was now one less. They would watch more carefully at the coming dusk. In the meantime, their own stomachs were aching for dinner….
There were many happy sightings too; impala jousting like playful kids, baby monkeys fighting for Mom’s attention, lions cuddling on the side of a road, a mother elephant guiding her baby to stay close, small birds hitching a ride on the back of a hippo and those crazy warthogs “hightailing it” across a field in playful pursuit of each other. Truly amazing as I recall just a few of the memories I hold.
Not all highlights (and there were oh-so-many) were by land. What fabulous views on our flights from the Masai Mara to Serengeti National Park. Our group flew on 3 ten or twelve seater aircraft at approximately 3,500 feet over lush plains and grasslands. And what a lovely check-in experience! We were dropped off in a field, waited for our aircraft to arrive, had the pilots call out our names, our luggage was loaded (15kg max per piece), we boarded and were off. No security lines, no weigh scales, no xrays of luggage or bodies…fabulous!
Our accommodations were a highlight in themselves. Each property was unique from the one before. Little luxuries were available and most welcome….a hot water bottle at our feet in bed; a wonderful outdoor shower; lovely full bathrooms in our “tents”; piping hot coffee ready no matter what time we woke up; smiling staff always on hand; animals at watering holes right outside our dining room and always a refreshing, cold cloth and a glass of juice on arrival at each property.
A safari adventure, yes. A unique travel experience, for sure. An inspiring lesson in the sheer beauty of nature, from the wildlife to the red and orange hues of a spectacular African sunset…absolutely! A life altering experience and an absolute must for those yearning to discover natures earthly wonders and magical moments.
Join Group Escort Janet Williams on the next exciting journey to Kenya and Tanzania, September 15 - October 1, 2020!