Safari is a journey not a destination. I have decided this is why safari travel is described not as going “to” safari as in going to Paris, but as going “on” safari. It was not until I had the experience of going on safari did I genuinely appreciate the journey. My naive response, prior to going, was, “Why not just take a bus to the Wild Animal Park in San Diego and enjoy all the safari animals from the tram?”
Until two years ago, my travel had been with family or on business, and I had not had the opportunity to travel with a group of women friends. Through the Travelers’ Century Club, I met Sharon Lee who had been to Kenya 13 times and loved sharing her experiences in Kenya. I presented the idea to my husband, Charlie, and since he had been on safari, he suggested I go with a group of women friends. Because of Sharon’s experience and contacts in Kenya, she offered to be our tour guide and plan the trip. Five friends were excited to be a part of the travel team and our planning began. First, we all gathered at my home to view the film, Out of Africa, the memoir by the Danish author Karen Blixen describing her life in Kenya from 1913 to 1930. Meryl Streep and Robert Redford starred in the movie and we were all sobbing at the end of the film. We were united. No one had to ask, “Why are you crying?”
We convened in Nairobi at the historic Norfolk Hotel built in 1904 after intermediate stops along the way to break up the long travel to Kenya. Two friends spent time London, one in Paris, and my daughter and I spent time in Amsterdam.
Our first morning in Kenya, after a visit to the Maasai Market, we met our driver, Bernard, a good-natured Kenyan who took pride in his four-wheel drive Toyota. Over the 10 days we shared together, we grew to have tremendous confidence and endearment for Bernard and named his Toyota the “Bernard Mobile.”
The safari began at Serena Mount Kenya Lodge where our rooms overlooked a watering hole with herds of elephants and cape buffalo. “Wow… this is not the Wild Animal Park!” We observed adult cape buffalo bulls fighting to establish a hierarchy amongst themselves and elephant herds in the early morning being led by their matriarch to the watering hole. At Mount Kenya we celebrated a birthday in style. The birthday girl sprayed her hair pink and attached numerous fake piercings. Totally out of character for her. What fun!
On to our river safari on Lake Naivasha. We were greeted at the Sopa Resort by their amazing resident giraffes meandering the grounds and monkeys scampering all around. After checking in and dropping off bags, we boarded our small motor boat and were soon in a birder’s paradise, birds everywhere. Groups of white pelicans chasing schools of small fish into shallow waters for easy catch, reed cormorants, Egypt geese with masked eyes, white egrets, grey heron, ibis, fish eagles and yellow-billed storks. An occasional hippo family appeared, snorting nostrils first, followed by twitching ears and blinking eyes. We were warned they come ashore at night to mow the grass at our resort and should always be avoided.
We docked our boat on an island and hiked among zebra, impala, waterbuck, and wildebeest as they grazed peacefully interspersed. This island was exciting to see because it was the actual film location used for the memorable plane scene in Out of Africa. Anticipating sunset and the hippos feeding outside our cottages, we hurried back to safety.
Our final stop was the Maasai Mara with accommodations at the Sarova Mara Game Camp. Our early morning “Bernard Mobile” safaris were breathtaking. We saw Africa’s Big Five – lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard, and rhino together with hyena, jackal, cheetah, zebra, impala, and fox. Something breathtaking around every turn. On one early morning safari, we crested a rising to see below a formal breakfast setting in the middle of the Mara. A table with white linens, crystal and china and an outdoor kitchen complete with staff. We all expressed what an experience that would be to have champagne brunch on the Maasai Mara. To our surprise, this had all been arranged by Sharon for us!!! As we approached the site, we were greeted by a park ranger and two guards with AK-47 rifles to provide protection for our safari dining experience. Immediately we were told a large elephant was approaching and we were to get back in the “Bernard Mobile” until it moved away. Anxiously we waited for the elephant to give up his territory to us. After about 30 minutes, he moved on and we enjoyed a memorable brunch in the early morning in the Maasai Mara… a lifetime memory shared with dear women friends.
That evening while having drinks in the bar before dinner with my daughter, I was approached by a handsome waiter who had a request. He would like to marry my daughter and in exchange he offered 18 cows. My response was, “Are you kidding me, she is engaged and how would I get 18 cows back to California?” When I spoke with her fiancé later that evening on the phone and shared the proposal, his jokingly reply, “She is worth more than 18.” I knew he was a keeper.
Our time together and memories will last a lifetime. I discovered the special pleasure of traveling with women friends during times like watching a sunset in the Maasai Mara with an elephant under an acacia tree and a rainbow above and our eyes filled with tears. No one needed to ask, “Why are you crying?” We just all knew. This had been a journey we had shared together. We had experienced going “on” safari.
“If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” African Proverb