In February 2014, I had the extreme pleasure of experiencing my ultimate destination vacation – an East African Safari. Over a month, I camped with G Adventures in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.
**home away from home!
First item on the bucket list – baby elephants, baby! I spent part of the afternoon at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust just outside of Nairobi. This wonderful organization takes in orphan elephants and rhinos – whether orphaned due to abandonment or poaching. Not to mention all the veterinary care they provide to wild animals throughout Kenya. We tourists lined up to”adopt” an elephant and have a chance to bed them down that night. We all lined up around the secure area, and then came the green jacketed care takers and their baby elephants. We got to watch these little sweeties drink bottles of milk (which is in fact – infant formula!), play soccer, romp in the water, and wrestle with each other. If they got close enough, we could pat their gorgeous grey skin, temporarily died red from rolling in the dirt to protect from bugs and sunburn. After an hour of observation, it was off for exercise and back to the hotel for us. I was spent from giggling like a child, anyway.
After 2 nights in Nairobi to acclimatize and get over jet lag, we were off in the then still-to-be updated G Adventures Overland Truck. This truck was everything to us. Transportation, rest stop, phone charger, and safe place. On one particular tour, our local vehicles didn’t arrive for a game drive. So what did our fearless tour guide and driver decide to do? Take the overland truck, of course!
All was well for most of the day, if you didn’t look while climbing rock faces, anyway. All was well…until it wasn’t. We were stuck…aaaand stuck good. All of us piled out of the truck to push and pull. No way, nothing doing. So, we wait while our guide figures out what to do. What does a group of 18 to 30 somethings do while there’s nothing to do? Well this would seem the perfect time to watch “The Lion King” on iPad! So while we watch, our guide arranges several other G Adventures team members to come pick us up in a series of vans (there are 23 of us). It’s dark now, getting quite cold, and we’re in the middle of an open to the wild game reserve. There are lions. Finally, our hero arrives to take us back to the camp site. Only one vehicle of 3 showed up. So now what do we do? We cram 23 fun loving travelers into a 7 seater mini van! No word of a lie. This became a highlight of the trip for me.
We continue our travel over Lake Victoria – the mouth of The Nile river on our way to the Equator and on to the first active experience – a chimpanzee trek! We split into groups. Sadly, mine was the one that managed to only see a chimpanzee arm! Those chimps…they knew we were there. They were playing games with us. One of us would say “Over there!” and we’d head that way, only for the chimps to laugh and rush off again. That night, at our most basic camp ground of the tour, was a group of local children waiting to sing and dance for us. Sadly, these kids were growing up in a local non-profit orphanage as each and everyone had lost their parents due to HIV & AIDS or some other equally sad reason. Of course, we all supplied what we could and enjoyed the performance. Circumstances behind them, the kids were just happy to make new friends.
We continue on to Lake Bunyonyi west of Kabale, the deepest lake in Uganda at approximately 6500 ft deep. This was to be our home for the next few nights while our group broke into smaller groups for the ultimate highlight – Gorilla trekking in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. To my, still to this day, heartbreak, I was not allowed to do this Gorilla trek. I had come down with a cold, and as the numbers of Western Lowland Gorillas are critical, the park wardens are extremely protective of the animals as they can contract the same viruses as humans. So, I had to live through my friends’ camera lens.
So, I spent my day exploring the village and resort at the entrance to Bwindi while I awaited the happy stories of my compadre’s.
Next came our first safari sightings! Lions, rhino’s, zebra’s, buffalo, and the hippos! Oh, the hippos!
Those sweet little ears and judgy eyes. Slay me. I love hippos.
Finally, we’ve made it to Tanzania! At the border crossing, there are Maasai women selling jewelry and blankets, there are scores of tourists waiting for visa processing, there’s the samosa guy selling his wares to hungry folks hanging out their tour buses, it’s bustling. The heat has hit, it’s like the air conditioning has been turned off and I’ve finally found the Africa I imagined. We head to the Ngorongoro Crater to camp for a night and I’ve found the most beautiful night sky I’ve ever seen in my life. The milky way so amazingly purple and close, more stars than can be possible, and the most crisp, calm night air. Animals below us in the caldera – this is nirvana, this is what I came to Africa for. The temp drops to -7 that night, so I couldn’t have thanked the on site staff enough as they set up our tents and provided us with sleeping mats and extra thick blankets for the low temperatures.
Now, we head into the Serengeti. We meet a mother cheetah on a hilly lookout protecting her cubs in their den;
a lion family lazing on the rocks with not one but 2 males in the group which is most unusual for a lion pride;
leopards, hyraks, mongeese, jackals, hyenas, ostrich, Egyptian geese, lilac breasted rollers, leopards, baboons, hippos (yay!), and finally – the almighty African elephant!
We camp out in the open tonight. The sun sets over the flat top acacia trees and we settle in for the night. No one can sleep, we can hear lion’s chuffing in the distance, hyena’s buzz past our camp site hot on the heels of the wildebeest stamping by. I’m awake all night, and I love it.
One more early morning game drive at the Ngorongoro Crater, before we head to Zanzibar – the spice island! After 24 nights of camping, a bit of luxury was needed. We stayed at the beautiful Amaan Beach Bungalows in Nungwi for 3 nights – we relaxed in the Indian Ocean, had a beach barbeque, and had drinks at a rooftop bar to watch sunset, it was gorgeous. Finally, we spent one last night in Stonetown – the town Freddie Mercury of Queen was born in. A town once pivotal to the slave trade, we toured humbling exhibits to this sad past. The maze of alley ways forces you to get off the beaten path, especially if you’ve forgotten your map in your hotel. The Arab history of Zanzibar comes to life in Stonetown with the great number of Mosques and heavy doors reminiscent of a different time.
The carvings around the door tell each families story, as each door is carved with a different yet equally as intricate pattern.
This has been a short going over of a deep loved destination of mine. I would love the opportunity to help each and every one of you with your East African dreams, and I’m confident that G Adventures can get you there safely, responsibly, and show you a good time when you’re there!