Unforgettable Africa

A trip to the African bush gives visitors a chance to experience all the land has to offer

By: Irene Middleman Thomas

I’ve been called many things in my life both good and bad but never had I been called a male lion. Yet here I was on a warm Sunday morning, somewhere deep out in the Maasai Mara savannah, bending down with a throng of Maasai cattle-herding boys from about 5 to 15 years of age, who were all eager to touch my humidity-challenged “lion’s mane” hair. Some giggled, some shrieked a bit, but none were too shy to give it a go After all, when one lives in a dung hut surrounded by wilderness for hundreds of miles in every direction, it’s not every day one gets to touch a mzungu’s hair. That’s what I was in Kenya a mzungu, which is Swahili for foreigner, or white person.

Oleshargegilololtoriroi (thankfully also known as Joseph,) the Maasai guide who escorted me on this nature walk, was decked out, as always, in his flashy traditional garb of red plaid wraparound blanket, no end of colorful beads and an exotic leather braided headgear that made him look positively royal. He translated between the boys and me, and as we walked off, we chatted for several hours, discussing the vast differences in our cultures and lifestyles.

Our trip was coordinated by Africa Adventure Consultants (AAC), a firm specializing in custom safaris and other types of travel in south and east Africa mostly Kenya and Tanzania. Kent Redding, the president of AAC, uses his expertise and extensive background knowledge gained from living and working for years in that region of Africa to guide others in designing their trips. This area is famous for the year-round Great Migration, when millions of wildebeests and zebras migrate across the Serengeti and Mara plains and savannahs in thunderous herds. Redding planned our trip along with Heritage Hotels, a Kenya-based chain offering three levels of properties throughout safari country and the Indian Ocean coastline. Heritage recently launched its new Adventurers’ Club and Young Rangers’ Club programs designed to keep children and teens entertained and educated about local wildlife and culture while on safari with their families.

Many travelers to Africa combine their trips part game-park safari, part beach resort and our trip, for instance, ended at the beach in Mombasa. Flying into Kenya’s capitol city of Nairobi, most opt, as we did, to spend one day there visiting the local Elephant Orphanage and the Rothschild Giraffe Sanctuary. The next day, we were on a bush plane, off to Samburu Intrepids, the Heritage game-park lodge. At Samburu, we slept in large constructed tents which were very comfortable, cozy and well-equipped, in good beds surrounded by romantic mosquito netting. My cabin looked right onto the gently flowing river, in front of which mischievous, determined little black-faced monkeys scampered up and down trees and watched me intently, hoping to get inside my tent. The staff told me they’ve caught monkeys inside the tents when guests accidentally leave them unzipped trying to apply lipstick and attempting to use cameras.

At Heritage’s lodges, game rides are typically offered two or three times a day, always at about 6:30 a.m. sometimes again at 10:30 a.m. and last at 3:30 p.m. The rides are in incredibly sturdy six- to seven-passenger Land Rovers, and they get through terrain that is the kind I was sure we’d be stuck in. Rather like a bucking bronco ride at a Wild West park, we’d set out in peaceful hunt of the so-called Samburu Special Five Grevy’s zebras, reticulated giraffes, Somali ostriches, long-necked gerenuk antelope and Beisa oryx, along with elephants, lions, leopards and others. It isn’t difficult we spotted plenty on every ride, although some animals, such as zebras, eluded us throughout the entire trip. One time, seeing about six species all together ostriches, wart hogs, Thompson gazelles, Topi antelope, dik diks it reminded me of the opening scene of “The Lion King.”

The cultures of eastern Africa are just as diverse and thrilling Maasai and Samburu peoples living in their ancient lifestyles of dung huts and herding cattle, dressed in what must be the most colorful and flashy costumes I’ve ever seen. No number of beaded necklaces and bracelets is too much, and somehow, it works. The guides from the lodges arrange visits to a nearby village, and can usually accommodate a primary school visit as well. The villagers have adapted to tourism while keeping their culture virtually intact (although you might see a wristwatch or two peeking out). They invite visitors to enter a hut and hear a short talk about their lifestyle, while the women outside lay out their handicrafts for sale. Everything is priced for bargaining that’s the norm. There are always a few villagers who speak enough English to translate for the rest, and usually, a dance or song will be performed to honor visitors as well.

In the evenings before dinner, Heritage guests meet in the lodge for slide presentations and lessons about the local customs or wildlife, while enjoying cocktails and appetizers. Dinner is served in the al fresco, but covered dining area with warm golden lighting and perhaps a bush baby or two peeking from the rafters overhead. If desired, the lodges will prepare “bush dinners,” beautiful, magical events in secluded areas under an incredibly thick canopy of stars. Most retire early to their tents to rest up for the early wakeup calls, which, by the way, are the nicest you’ll ever have. A gentle voice outside the tent with a “Good morning?” Upon unzipping your tent, there will be a tray waiting with a Thermos of tea, coffee or cocoa and some warm cookies to tide you over until the post-game ride breakfast.

The meals are surprisingly excellent considering the remoteness of the lodges. Chefs prepare lavish breakfast and lunch buffets, while dinners are ordered from the menus. I was especially impressed with the quality of the fruit and salads fresh and delicious, and with the extensive selection. The fruit was even more succulent and varied at the beach resort. In fact, just as I was about to dig into the juicy mango on my plate one morning, a monkey leapt onto my table, grabbed the mango and sprang away in one fell swoop. The employees were frantic but we tourists just laughed. After all, we did come to Kenya to see animals, didn’t we? Hakuna Matata, I said. Yes, that really does mean “no worries” in Swahili. Just another of the infinite charms of Kenya.


Africa Adventure Consultants

Kent Redding, president, was named a Top Travel Specialist in the United States last year by Conde Nast Traveler, and is a Kenya Authorized Travel Specialist. He specializes in high-quality, environmentally and culturally-friendly safaris at competitive prices, including honeymoons, families, groups, luxury and more.

Heritage Hotels

The Adventurers’ and Young Rangers’ Clubs, designed to educate and entertain youngsters while on safaris with their families, are included in the cost of the stay. Children will engage with local African youngsters of their own ages, learning regional games, dancing, costumes and more. Other activities might include tracking and identifying animals, insects and butterflies, assisting in dividing up livestock, African storytelling and visits to a local village. Family tents are provided upon request, and when planning family safaris, trips are fly-in and designed to minimize travel times.