An African adventure to remember

In the magnificent movie Out of Africa, Robert Redford and Meryl Streep spend the night together in a tent on the savannah in pre-First World War British East Africa (now Kenya). In the morning he lovingly washes her hair as the sun rises majestically over the mountains. This scene caused my wife Dianne extreme heart palpitations. It still does years later on Turner Classic Movies. At our house I am on notice that if Robert Redford shows up at our front door with ‘come hither’ talk, Dianne will be ‘Out of Here’. Secretly, I feel the same about Juliette Binoche (in Chocolat and The English Patient). But, neither Robert nor Juliette look like they’re showing up here, so I guess that’s their loss.

Anyway, one morning there I was quietly minding my own business reading the Globe and Mail when the travel goddess (that’s Dianne) started up: “Mikey, I think we should think about going on a safari in Africa. You know, see the animals and everything.”
“But darling,” I countered, “we’ve already seen animals in South Africa and Namibia, not to mention a few in Morocco.”

“Yes Mikey,” she said, “but they aren’t the REAL animals, only a few elephants and giraffes. We also need to see lions, leopards, cheetahs, rhinos, hippos. And lots of them!

“I’m thinking Kenya and Tanzania,” she went on. “Go on a real safari in those land cruisers with the top they put up and you see the animals up close and personal. Maybe we can even go up in a balloon over the Serengeti.”

Needless to say, next thing I know we’re in Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, a country that sits on the equator in East Africa.
Our safari, marketed by Adventures Abroad out of Vancouver, attracted 11 people including us. We didn’t know any of the others, but after two weeks, we liked them all. There were nine Canadians: two from Vancouver, two from Kingston, two from Toronto (us), and one each from Orillia, Dundas, and Calgary. A splendid American couple from Charlotte, North Carolina, completed the group.

In two weeks, we visited five reserves in Kenya: Samburu, Mount Kenya, Lake Nakuru, Masai Mara, and Amboselli. Then came three in Tanzania: Serengeti, Ngorongoro, and Lake Manyara. Travel between and within the reserves was in two Land Cruisers, one called ‘Rhino’ and the other ‘Cheetah. James, our Kenyan leader, prepared us for the roads: “Some are good,” he said, “some are not too bad, and some are very bad.”

We stayed in high end lodges, many of them with swimming pools. The food and accommodations were consistently good. The beer is tremendous. I tried three kinds: Tusker, Kilimanjaro, and Serengeti. All terrific.

The weather was superb, sunny and warm almost all the time. Because of the location on the equator one would think hot, hot. But it was not, not, because of the relatively high altitude.

One stop was at Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain. Not having enough time, Dianne and I decided not to climb it. A quite expensive option was a balloon ride over the Serengeti. For three days we agonized over the price, then caved in, and loved every minute of it.

Special Highlights – Lots of lions
They are afraid of nothing and are very family oriented. One day a pride of 15 comprised of lionesses and their cubs ambled by our vehicle, not more than 10 feet away, and viewed us with casual curiosity. They are carnivores and, as you may know, the females do almost all the hunting, and the males show up for first dibs on dinner. Kind of like around our house, Dianne says.

The wildebeest migration
This enterprising animal is on the move by the millions, each year migrating some 800 kilometres in a clockwise circular route through Kenya and Tanzania. They have to cross two major rivers, and, as you may have seen on TV, many drown or are devoured by huge crocodiles. Thank goodness we were spared this sight. We were there in January which is the start of the calf bearing season. We saw one mother ‘drop’ her calf, which was then on its feet in 10 minutes and en route in half an hour! Compare that to human offspring who take decades to mature.

The Great Rift Valley
Created by violent volcanic activity 15 million years ago, the Great Rift Valley, featured in many movies, extends 9,000 kilometres from Lebanon in the north to Madagascar in the south. Flanked by beautiful escarpments, the wide valley contains craters, fertile farmland, flat arid plains, and lots of animals.

Most normal people think warthogs are ugly. My wife finds them cute. “Look Mikey, the way they run with their little tails straight up in the air. It’s so precious.” 0-k-a-y …….

Visit to the tribal village
There are over 40 tribes in Kenya and more than 100 in Tanzania. Most families live in a few cities and many small towns. Others live in what we would call primitive villages on the plains. We visited one and were warmly greeted by the villagers. Their attire was very colourful and their requirements simple. Keep in mind that on the equator they need no airtight houses, furnaces, vast seasonal wardrobes, and all the other stuff we seem to need. Who’s happier, them or us? Not sure.

Karen Blixen’s Farm
Dianne’s heart once again began to palpitate as we visited the splendid farm house where Karen Blixen (Meryl Streep) lived and loved Denis Finch-Hatton (Robert Redford). No sign of Robert. Whew!

So, to conclude
If you’ve never been to Africa, it might be worth a shot. All 53 countries in Africa were colonies, mandates, or protectorates of the European powers, notably Britain, France, Italy, Germany, and Belgium. Largely due to wars bankrupting the above countries, most of Africa gained independence about a half century ago. Most face frightful obstacles to success (as we read in the news most days). So, go to see the animals. Go to see the people. Get the book The Fate of Africa by Martin Meredith. (It reads like a novel.) And don’t forget to rent Out of Africa.

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