2020 has been a hard year for all of us, especially for those who depend on tourism. But, just because we can’t travel and visit in person doesn’t mean we can’t donate to our favorite places in the season of giving.
Next Adventure, a travel company that focuses on “crafting custom African journeys for travelers all over the globe,” is looking to help its favorite conservation and community programs across the continent, which have been hit hard by the lack of travel throughout the year.
Each day throughout the month of December, the company is highlighting projects from all over East and Southern Africa that you can give to in their time of need.
The Mother Africa Trust was born out of the belief that, through effective volunteer eco-tourism and legitimate community collaborations a better future can be built for the rural communities in Zimbabwe. The Mother Africa Trust has facilitated the socio-economic development and empowerment of rural communities in Matopos and Hwange District.
Ever since we began in 2006, Mother Africa has worked tirelessly to make a positive and lasting difference in Zimbabwe. Mother Africa Trust’s top mission is to establish effective and sustainable projects that will improve the living conditions and the economic status of disadvantaged communities in Zimbabwe.
In recent years Mother Africa Trust has made significant positive steps towards offering children an equal opportunity to learn. Particular emphasis is given to orphans and vulnerable children as these make up a higher percentage of school dropouts if ever there were luck to see the doors of a classroom. Our Academic Scholarship programme offers full funding to deserving students from identified rural communities. The programme aims to support children who have not had the same educational benefits or opportunities in life as others.
MOTHER AFRICA TRUST PROJECTS
Drought Relief – Food Programme
At the heart of biting economic problems is a severe drought that has left many people in Zimbabwe facing extreme poverty and food insecurities. The rural populace is among those seriously affected, with many people going all day and night without eating. Everyday children turn up for school on an empty stomach, which makes it hard to focus on lessons. There is urgent need to scale – up assistance to drought affected people, and The Mother Africa Trust’s goal is to provide the much-needed relief to school children and vulnerable families that include grandma and child-headed families.
Lion Proof Bomas
Human – wildlife conflict has become one of the main threats to the continued survival of lions in Hwange National Park, and a significant threat to villagers living around these wildlife areas. Villagers have lost many livestock to predators and sometimes their lives are in danger as they try to protect their main source of livelihood. The lions are often killed in retaliation or to prevent future attacks. In seeking a solution to this, Mother Africa Trust has been building lion proof bomas for villagers in most affected areas. Lion proof bomas are kraals or enclosures that keep cattle safe at night and prevent them from being attacked by predators. Since 2018 Mother Africa Trust has built 9 lion proof bomas for villagers and they have proved very effective in mitigating conflict.
Human – wildlife conflict will not be solved overnight, but with your help we can attempt to reduce number of livestock and lions lost.
Scholarships and Education
Help us to give more disadvantage and orphaned children in the rural communities of Zimbabwe a chance to reach their potential in life. Your contribution can enable us to remove more children from the streets and also empower under-resourced rural schools with educational equipment and better learning facilities.
Sustainable Community Projects
Keeping with the model of empowerment, we have initiated two projects to benefit vulnerable families; the goat gift project in Matopos and the Road runner chicken project in Hwange. The goal is to allow these less privileged families to provide for their own support through the profit that comes from the production and reproduction of goats and chickens. When you help these families, you are investing not only in their welfare, but you are unlocking their potential.
The Mother Africa Anti-poaching Unit (MAAPU) works tirelessly to prevent all forms of poaching in the Ivory Lodge concession that borders Hwange National Park. These brave eco-guards frequently undertake anti-poaching operations in the concession removing snares and apprehending poachers. Through providing basics like shoes, backpacks, patrol equipment, camera traps and accommodation we can make sure that even the rangers protecting rhinos in Matobo National Park have the best chance to stay safe and protect wildlife. Together we will succeed in protecting the future of our planet.
Build Mgadla Primary School
Mgadla villagers in Matobo District have taken an initiative to build a school that will benefit more than 250 children between the age of 5 and 13 who are currently walking 8 – 10km to get to the nearest school. Many children are delayed starting school as they cannot manage to walk long distance. The first classroom block which comprises of two classrooms, is now at window level, and villagers having been providing pit sand, river sand, bricks and labour while we assisted them with cement, window frames, door frames and a professional builder. Your kind donation will help this desperate community roof this much needed classroom block.
One of our favorite phrases heard around safari camps is “make a plan.” It’s a fascinating mix of being completely prepared and spontaneous at the same time. The environments are challenging and constantly changing, and living and working in the bush means that safari guides and camp staff have to be creative, quick-thinking and resourceful.
The pandemic has forced all of us to make a plan, and here is just a glimpse of how the safari community is responding to the challenges of the pandemic.
10 Reasons to Choose Africa First Post-Quarantine
As we look to the future, we see a new era of travel emerging. Pandemic protocols will undoubtedly influence the way we operate, but we also sense a more fundamental change on the horizon and one that we welcome wholeheartedly. As travel reawakens, we hope to see both travelers and the industry seeking more responsible travel, governed by a heightened environmental consciousness and a greater appreciation for the planet. With this in mind, The Safari Collection is proud to have joined Tourism Declares, a global initiative uniting travel companies to take purposeful action against climate change.
With births, wildebeest and re-openings, we certainly have a new spring in our step here at The Safari Collection. Things are looking up!
We have worked hard to ensure guests who visit us have protection, as well as privacy through our private airstrip, private guides, private conservancy, private groups, and more. We also wanted to ensure, given how tough the last few months have been, a good amount of spoiling and pampering with complimentary massages and bush baths. Lastly, we encourage everyone choosing to stay with us, to share our purpose of supporting all our conservation efforts while we provide a highly professional and truly memorable safari experience for our guests. We have also added a ‘Stay Longer’ safari in the Maasai Mara to help clients mitigate further Covid-19 risks of moving from one camp to another and from one flight to another.
For us, September is the start of our emergence. We are sharing our thinking and some of our future plans with you, at the same time we invite you to join us on our journey. Over the next four months, we will dedicate time and energy to evolving. Be assured we are more committed to the success of our members than ever before, and seeking out more visionary, authentic, sustainable and trusted experiences across Africa. It is amazing what opportunities arise in a crisis.
Countries Currently Open to International Travel
All of the countries in which we operate are currently open to international travelers with enhanced COVID entry requirements.
Details and procedures are constantly changing as each country has its own phased reopening plan, and many airlines have also implemented new protocols. Please check the links below or get in touch for our current recommendations.
- US State Department – https://rw.usembassy.gov/health-alert-covid-19-information/
- Country State Department – https://irembo.gov.rw/rolportal/en/web/dgie
- US State Department – https://ke.usembassy.gov/covid-19-information/
- Country State Department – https://immigration.ecitizen.go.ke/
- US State Department – https://tz.usembassy.gov/covid-19-information/
- Country State Department – https://immigration.go.tz/index.php/en/
- US State Department – https://zm.usembassy.gov/covid-19-information/
- Country State Department – https://www.zambiaimmigration.gov.zm/for-visitors/
- US State Department – https://za.usembassy.gov/covid-19-information-2/
- Country State Department – http://www.dha.gov.za/index.php/immigration-services
- US State Department – https://zw.usembassy.gov/covid-19-information-2/
- Country State Department – http://www.zimimmigration.gov.zw/index.php/visa
Namibia (Technically open to tourists, but access is generally through South Africa)
- US State Department – https://na.usembassy.gov/covid-19-information/
- Country State Department – http://www.mha.gov.na/
- US State Department – https://ug.usembassy.gov/covid-19-information-page/
- Country State Department – https://visas.immigration.go.ug/
- US State Department – https://bw.usembassy.gov/covid-19-information/
- Country State Department – https://www.gov.bw/immigration-civil-registration?txterm=114
In many ways, air travel is the biggest challenge as international tourism resumes. Entry requirements, flight connectivity and airport protocols are in flux, and there isn’t a lot of consistency across countries and carriers.
We’ve found the following airlines have distinguished themselves in terms of reliability, managing schedule changes and leading on-board health & safety plans:
Even before the covid pandemic, most major gateway airports in Africa had mandatory temperature checks and other measures in place to support disease control. Here’s a glimpse at what these airports are doing now to welcome international travelers back.
We’re excited to see African countries safely reopening and welcoming international travelers back to their borders. With a careful understanding of new protocols and entry requirements, it may be a great time for some travelers to take advantage of a safari in the near-term over the next 3-9 months.
Some considerations for travel in the near term
- Uncrowded parks & nearly-exclusive wildlife viewing and trekking
- Great value especially during the green season
- Plenty of availability at preferred camps
- Guides and camp staff are eagerly awaiting guests
- Camps can pull out all the stops with upgrades and added value experiences
- Your presence safeguards wildlife and benefits community programs in the areas you visit
- Navigating flight and airport protocols is more onerous and uncertain
- Countries have implemented advanced health screenings and entry requirements
- Reduced options for multi-country itineraries
- Some camps and domestic flights have not yet resumed operations
- Travel insurance policies vary by provider and specific coverage and benefits can be unclear
The following countries have now opened their borders with responsible Covid protocols, and commercial international flights have resumed:
Kenya – Rwanda – Tanzania – Zambia
Tips for developing an itinerary in the coming months
- Single country itineraries are key
- Reduce interactions with other guests through:
- Less moving around in country
- Longer stays at fewer camps
- Private charters for transfers
- Families or groups of friends can take advantage of exclusive-use of camps, lodges and safari villas.
- Get familiar with the risks associated with air travel
- Review the specific health protocols at the camps. Some examples below.
The camps and communities in these destinations have done an incredible amount of work to sustain vital services in the absence of tourism and to prepare for the resumption of tourism through extensive staff training and implementation of stringent new protocols.
Here are some favorite achievements and messages from our colleagues who are keen to welcome guests back to their countries:
Epic 350km fundraising walk in the Luangwa Valley
Zambia Migration Safari in December 2020 is on!
Enhanced health protocols at safari camps and lodges:
Safaris are inherently a lower risk travel option as good quality safari experiences steer clear of crowds and offer intimate camps, small professional teams and wide open spaces. However, our colleagues have gone above and beyond to design and implement the highest health and safety protocols. Here’s a few examples:
For people who love to travel, the covid pandemic grounded us literally and figuratively, and it’s given us an opportunity to revisit and appreciate some of our favorite travel moments. Any type of travel is an investment in an experience, and we believe the memories made on safari are particularly vivid for years to come.
As we think about how international travel will be changed by the pandemic, we’re reminded of our early days visiting Africa. Not only was the experience much less luxurious, the entry requirements were complicated, there were more required vaccines and immunizations, and moving around was much less efficient and straightforward.
Travelers had to be more intrepid, but, with good advice and great partners on the ground, we could find a way. Next Adventure founders Dick and Louise McGowan certainly found a way, and they took their daughter, Next Adventure’s current CEO Kili McGowan along for the ride.
We hope you enjoy these images of Kili’s first adventures, and we hope you’re inspired to get out there and make some memories when the time is right for you.
I had come to the Namib to shadow Stander in his research on a trip organized by Wilderness Safaris as part of the outfitter’s Travel with Purpose program of small-group itineraries, which emphasizes conservation and community engagement.
Our base was Wilderness Safaris’ Damaraland Camp, a collection of ten bungalows on a rocky slope overlooking the Huab River Valley, with rooms that were luxurious by desert standards, excellent food, and attentive service. But the greatest privilege was the chance to see Stander at work. For more than two decades, Wilderness has provided him with financial support and lodging, but this was the first time it had collaborated with him on a trip—”an experiment,” as Stander called it—that gave guests the chance to witness his efforts firsthand.
The opportunities Wilderness’s Travel with Purpose program offer don’t just satisfy a growing demand for deeper and more exclusive safari experiences—they support a greater mission to build community-based conservation. “Tourism gives value to wildlife,” Stander told our group of four over dinner the first evening. “It provides income and job opportunities and a whole range of other benefits to the communities. Without tourism, we would not be able to justify lions in this area.”
Kili McGowan, the chair of the Safari Pros consortium of travel advisors, organizes and leads trips that venture beyond sightings of the classic Big Five–elephants, lions, rhinos, leopards, and buffalo. As an expert on the region, McGowan was guiding a tour of conservancies in Kenya, which is bouncing back after a half-decade hiatus during which security concerns kept some travelers away.
McGowan is one of a growing number of specialists who are willing to go above and beyond for clients. She will even, on occasion, accompany them every step of the way, providing on-the-ground knowledge and a deep understanding of conservation issues. Once this trip was complete, McGowan would turn around and fly back to the continent with a group of women who will only travel in her company.
Given the unprecedented disruption to global travel, Next Adventure and our partners share, respect and understand your concerns about your future travel arrangements. We are all committed to helping travelers find an appropriate resolution for their specific circumstances and to make this process as positive and straightforward as we can.
Generally speaking, there are three paths for travelers to consider:
- Wait-and-See: We can wait until closer to your departure date to see if it will be possible for you to travel as planned. Next Adventure is automatically delaying final payments until 6-8 weeks prior to departure to allow this assessment time.
- Postpone & Reschedule: We can work together to reschedule your travel arrangements. Next Adventure is having success rebooking trips (often for identical dates) in 2021 with minimal rate changes. We are currently focused on rescheduling trips on a case-by-case basis for departures in the next 60 days as our partners are addressing requests in order, and we appreciate patience and understanding as we navigate availability.
- Cancel: You may cancel your trip without rebooking and forfeit the deposit as per our Participation Agreement. In this case, you may consider filing a claim with travel insurance and provide documentation per the policy details. Please note, canceling out of concern for travel or government restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic are not usually a covered reason unfortunately.
What to expect when postponing your trip
While it is surely a disappointment to wait even longer for your safari, Next Adventure travelers have a great team working for them. Generally, there are 3 major components that are involved in re-booking travel:
- Ground Arrangements (with Next Adventure) – Based on your preferred travel window, Next Adventure collaborates with our partners to re-book services in Africa.
- Insurance (with Travel Insured or another provider) – Travelers can easily change the dates of travel for existing travel insurance policies to cover the new travel dates
- Flights (with AirTreks, another flight agency or booked direct) – Most airlines are issuing credits or vouchers to rebook tickets, but in many cases it is a slow and mysterious process.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these components and how the processes are unfolding:
Ground Arrangements – Next Adventure
As we work with hundreds of partners in East & Southern Africa, it is not possible to have one single approach or policy. Generally speaking, we are able to offer travelers a postponement within 10-18 months, depending on the destination and partners. Deposits are kept as a credit towards rescheduled trips, but please be aware that seasonal or annual rate differences may apply when shifting to new dates. The balance payment will be due 10 weeks prior to the new date of departure.
Once we have identified new available dates for your trip, most services, including gorilla permits, light aircraft transfers and accommodations, can be transferred seamlessly. You may encounter minor changes and cancellation fees, but the overall change in cost will be kept as minimal as possible. Most partners are able to honor the same rates, unless there is a change of season i.e. from low to high season.
This step usually takes about a week or two to fully rebook the ground services, and Next Adventure will send you a revised Confirmation Voucher outlining the new dates and services.
Insurance – Travel Insured or another provider
- If you wish to release your reservations without rebooking, standard cancellation penalties apply per our Participation Agreement. We need your notification in writing to begin this process. Travel insurance coverage and policies vary widely, so please review your insurance documents carefully.
- When rescheduling a trip, travelers can shift existing travel insurance policies to cover the new dates (https://help.travelinsured.com/s/article/How-to-Modify-Your-Travel-Dates).
Here is a Travel Insured link with further information on coverage during the current circumstances: https://www.travelinsured.com/coronavirus/. Other insurance companies have released similar statements.
Flights – AirTreks, another flight agency or booked direct
This step is completely dependent on how your flights were booked, and it is also the slowest and most mysterious part of the process. Most airlines are issuing credits or vouchers to rebook tickets, but their customer services systems are completely overwhelmed and refunds are scarce or slow. Please be aware that flight schedules only open 11 months prior to departure, and we expect we all need to be patient with this process.
For guests who are Canceling or Postponing travel or for New Bookings:
- Even though this may not yield the swiftest of results, continue to contact AirTreks at [email protected] (or the airline or ticket issuer) to notify them about your preference to cancel or reschedule your trip.
- In some cases, AirTreks (or the airline or ticket issuer) will start the refund process right away. In others, they may advise waiting until closer to departure to see if the airline offers more flexible options with COVID-19 policies that cover your specific travel dates. AirTreks will work with each guest and accommodate them based on their particular booking.
- When AirTreks has confidence that the flight schedules are updated/accurate and unlikely to be cancelled or changed, you will be advised in order to start rebooking. For guests traveling in 2021, flight schedules will not be available until we are within 11 months of the travel dates. As stated by AirTreks, “We are in daily contact with our peers at over 80 global airlines monitoring the situation so when the gates open, we will notify you.”
- AirTreks is building a new Customer Portal, which allows guests to log in and see their trip, and the status of refunds/credits/cancellations.
- They expect it will take 2 or 3 months until airlines reach full resolutions on the exact refunds and credits will be met.
Next Adventure continues to monitor and evaluate the health intelligence reports we receive from governmental and private sources. We have an unprecedented record of safe operations in our 25 years of existence, and we will continue to exercise our established risk management program. Safety and the well-being of our travelers is our highest priority.
We hope this overview offers a helpful perspective on the various players and processes at play, and we are so grateful for your support, patience and understanding during this difficult time. Our thoughts are with our ecotourism and conservation partners in Africa as they weather the storm. Hopefully, we will all be enjoying Africa’s spectacular wilderness areas and warm hospitality very soon, and we encourage you to get in touch with us whenever you have any questions.
After decades of guiding and working in adventure travel around the world, my parents, Richard & Louise McGowan, started a new company in 1996 to focus exclusively on crafting custom safaris for independent travelers. They called their new company Next Adventure. They understood that an African safari is unique in how deeply it connects with us, and so often a “once-in-a-lifetime safari” inspires a return to Africa, an appreciation for wilderness and a lifelong interest in conservation.
While the entire planet reels from this pandemic, our hearts are with the extraordinary array of people who make up the African safari travel industry: the guides and camps staff, the pilots and cooks, the housekeepers and laborers, and especially the communities in and around wildlife areas. The absence of visitors to these regions will have a dramatic impact where livelihoods and essential services are supported entirely by tourism. For those of us who promote and work in sustainable travel, it is a time to buckle down, reconnect, focus on gratitude and make a plan.
Though Richard passed away in 2007, we have kept true to his vision, and here are 3 things we’re grateful for as we stay the course in this challenging time:
We have strong relationships both with our clients and all our partners throughout Africa. It’s a joy to get to know each and every traveler, to match them with just the right experiences, and to hopefully build a long term relationship. Our tagline is “We take safaris personally,” and our work is truly personal for us.
We’ve deliberately kept Next Adventure a small family-centric business. While there are lots of benefits to being a larger company, safaris are special, and we want to be special. We want every aspect of the experience to be positive, and we’re grateful we can be nimble, flexible and creative through difficult times like these.
We’re committed to an ecotourism model that benefits the land, wildlife and communities we visit, and we have the freedom to focus on safaris that matter to us and are meaningful to our clients.
Over the years, we have weathered many storms, and we have no choice but to look beyond today’s crisis toward a time when we can get back to doing what we love: sharing the best of wild Africa via our most trusted colleagues and friends.
The good news is that while our ability to travel can come and go, our human curiosity and wanderlust will always be strong. This is why we are so confident in the resilience of the travel industry, and we look forward to how sweet it will be when we can all start traveling again.
Keep well, and, whether you are a past client or just interested in learning more about who we are and what we do, we’d love to hear from you!
Kili McGowan, CEO & Co-Owner
“It was amazing to be so close to so many animals and to not only see them, like one does on TV, but to hear all the sounds – elephants walking through the grass, giraffes pulling off and chewing on the leaves from trees, doves cooing constantly in the background… After 10 days, I was not ready to go home and was hoping for more time in the Bush…” — Sheryl
I flew on Ethiopian Airlines from SFO to Washington DC to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (ADD) to Kilimanjaro, Tanzania (JRO). Arrived in JRO about 1pm. I was picked up by our Driver/Guide – Harry Richard. We drove about 30 minutes west to Arusha and 1st night lodging – Rivertrees Country Inn. Had a lovely room on the ‘river’. I kept hearing noises on the roof and when I went outside I saw small Vervet Monkeys climbing in the trees along the river and roofs of the buildings. Took lots of cute pictures.
Wandered around the beautiful grounds to help stay awake. Laura had spent the prior week in Arua, Uganda and arrived at the hotel shortly after 1 am. She felt like she was in heaven compared to her experience in Uganda
26 June – 27 June
We enjoyed a nice buffet breakfast and Harry picked us up to start the trip around 9 am. His boss from African Horizons joined us for an introduction and drive into Arusha. We had to stop at the cellular store to get the ‘hotspot’ for the Land Rover working so we could have WiFi along the way. (Laura was happy!) We dropped him off and headed out to Tarangire National Park. Once arrived at the park we drove only a short distance before we started seeing all kinds of animals – antelopes, giraffe, elephants, deer, zebras, vervet monkeys, … We could not believe our eyes! We had scheduled a ‘hot’ lunch at Tarangire Safari Lodge so we could explore the park on the way to our night’s lodging. We barely made it before lunch closed as we kept seeing more animals and wanted to watch/take pictures. The Lodge looks out over the park and has some beautiful views.
After lunch we headed out and saw lots more animals. The roads, like all the roads we traveled on were very rough and bumpy, but we got used to it. It is called an African Massage, and my back actually never felt better during the entire trip! Our lodge for the next two nights was Kichuguu Camp towards the southern end of the park. It was a long drive but very nice camp. There are about 8 tent cabins and a central dining/gathering tent cabin where we had our meals. We got to experience a bucket shower; we scheduled a time for a shower and the staff brought hot water, filled the bucket outside the tent, hoisted it to the top of the cabin with a pulley systems and then we would control it from within the shower through pull cords. We heard animals nearby in the evening.
We were awakened with tea and biscuits delivered to our tent cabin. (This became a daily tradition that we really enjoyed!) After another great buffet breakfast with fruits, cereal, eggs, etc, we headed out about 8 am going south towards Nguselororobi Swamp. Tarangire is known for its birds and we saw a lot along with some interesting animals. One of the cutest ones is a “Dik-dik” a very small (12” tall) antelope. And more Vervet Monkeys…
We weren’t seeing a lot of animals, so Laura and I were wondering if the best was over (NOT!) Harry headed back north and we continued to see more elephants, zebras, giraffes, etc. Laura was really wanting to see a lion and then all of the sudden 2 female lions started walking towards us on the road. They stopped on the side of the road and we drove up next to them. Shortly after that a couple young lions came down the road and joined. What a thrill to see them so close to us. And there were some giraffes nearby on the other side of the truck.
Shortly after the lions wandered away we had to take a break due to elephants in the road! We just sat, watched and listened until they were ready to move on.
We continued wandering the middle of Tarangire continuously seeing animals, some on their own, some in large groups. We saw an occasional Ostrich and plenty of antelope and gazelle.
We arrived back at camp around 5. Had our bucket showers and joined the campfire / “bush TV” before dinner.
28 June – 29 June
We bid good-bye to the staff at Kichuguu Camp and started our trip to Karatu. On the way we continued to see lots of animals, always stopping for more pictures.
We were glad to be back on paved roads for a little while on the drive to Karatu. Along the way we stopped at a Masai village. While the ‘village’ catered to tourists, we did learn a bit about how the Masai live (small huts) and what they eat (cow’s blood and meat). When we arrived, we were greeted with some singing, dancing and a jumping competition for the men. They demonstrated how they start a fire and we went into one of the huts. They also showed us their “Kindergarten” class that was learning their ABCs.
We arrived about 2pm at Plantation Lodge where we had a late lunch on a beautiful patio before settling into our “upgraded” suite. The room was spacious with 2 sleeping areas and 2 patios. The avocado tree kept dropping avocados on our roof, but the fresh avocado we had with our meals made it all worth it! Plantation Lodge is in the ‘highlands’ at 4000 ft. It was cooler than we expected, but pleasant. They served afternoon tea in the English tradition, even though the Lodge was run by German woman who had been in Tanzania for 40 years or so. The dinners and breakfast were very good. There was also a nice bar and a sitting area with TV, where watched a bit of the World Cup Soccer games.
We got an early start for a trip to Ngorongoro Crater. We had about an hour drive to the edge of the crater and then down into the crater on a very steep road. The crater has a very high concentration of animals due to the geography and environment. We saw many, many animals, including a Rhino (very far away), Hippos, Lions, Wildebeest, Buffalo, Hyenas, Zebras, … No giraffes as there aren’t any trees for them to feed on.
The crater was full of safari vehicles, and they communicated with one another via radio to share sightings.
We left the crater mid-afternoon after a very fulfilling day. It was foggy on our drive into the crater, but we had a great view when we got back to the top.
We enjoyed a late afternoon tea back at the Lodge and relaxed before dinner.
We headed west towards Lake Eyasi to visit two tribes: Hadzabe and Datoga. We met our guide who grew up with the Datoga tribe and also speaks the Hadzabe language. We drove through the bush, across dry river beds to visit the Hadzabe. They are hunter/gatherers who live in the bush and go hunting for their food every day. The young men demonstrated and, through our guide, told us about how they live and hunt, showing us various types of arrows and describing how they hunt for different types of animals. They also demonstrated their bow and arrow ‘practice’, letting us give a try. Several women and children were gathered around as well. Apparently, all the children are offered the opportunity to go to K-7 public school. If they do, they need to leave the tribe and stay at a boarding school. Not many of them do that; and some that do, don’t like it and return to the tribe. After 7th grade, schooling can continue if students score high enough on tests. If not, they return to the tribe. Two unique things about the Hadzabe – they speak with a ‘clicking’ dialect which is one of the first known forms of human communication. Also, they seek shelter during the rainy season in the Baobab trees which are tall and hallow inside.
We drove about 30 minutes from the Hadzabe to see the Datoga tribe. Datoga are ‘pastoral’, living in small communities where they keep their animals. The group that we visited had several wood frame buildings and did metal-working. They gather scrap metal, melt it down and then pound it into shapes. We sat inside one of the buildings with the women from the tribe. They showed us how to (and let us try to) grind corn which they cook for their meals. We did a little Q&A with them. One of the questions they asked me was “where is my husband?” I said that he was at home, didn’t travel with us. Our guide had to do quite a bit of explaining so they could understand that a woman from the US can travel independently from her husband. They asked if Laura was married and (jokingly, I think) offered me 20 cows if she would stay to marry one of the boys in their tribe. That is actually common practice with the tribes and throughout Tanzania – the men have to offer something (traditionally animals; today money or property) to the women’s family if they want to marry.
1 July – 2 July
We drove Northwest from Karatu area to Serengeti National Park. The first part of the drive was the same as the route to Ngorongoro Crater. Then we dropped down towards Olduvai Gorge made famous by Mary and Louis Leakey discoveries showing earliest evidence of the existence of human ancestors.
As we entered Serengeti National Park it was noticeably drier and less green vegetation than Tarangire and Ngorongoro. We stopped at the Serengeti Visitors Center and took a tour with a young guide training to be a Safari Guide. He took us on an exhibit/walk showing some of the animals, habitats and skeletons of animals in the park, and explained how the park was formed in 1951.
During our game drive that afternoon, we saw a lot of the same animals, but the vegetation was much more open. It was interesting to happen upon a group of baboons in what seemed like the middle of nowhere.
We stayed at Kiota Camp in central Serengeti for 2 nights. It is owned by the same company as Kichuguu and was very similar in layout, style and operation. As with Kichuguu, we were able to join the ‘bush TV’ before dinner.
We set out as early as we could the next morning for pictures of the sunrise and hot air balloons. Laura got some great shots.
After watching the balloons, we went out looking for animals and happened upon a lion family wandering down a path off the road. We stopped, and they came right by our vehicle and decided to take a break nearby. A very nice morning greeting and lots of nice pictures.
We spent the day driving all around the Central Serengeti and saw many animals, but quite spread out. We were looking for leopards and cheetahs. We did see 2 leopards, at different times, at a distance and hanging in trees.
We also saw several crocodiles as well. We saw an interesting scene with several elephants near a stream and some lions resting nearby. One of the elephants was pregnant. She was walking around slowly and at one point a male elephant walked up to her and reached out with his trunk touching her belly as if to sense the baby. A couple other younger elephants were nearby as well.
3 July – 4 July
After our usual, full breakfast, we left the Central Serengeti and headed over to the Western Serengeti near the Grumeti and Mbalageti Rivers. We didn’t see a lot of animals on our way to the west until we were about half-way there and we ran across the ‘Great Migration’. All of the sudden there were hundreds of Wildebeest and Zebras in every direction, crossing the road in front of us and slowly heading toward the North on their clock-wise migration around the park.
We stopped to watch them for quite a while. At one point, some baboons came down by the water on the side of the road to join the fun.
The Wildebeest make a lot of bellowing noises, so it sounded like we were in middle of a barnyard as they were crossing all around us. We continued heading west and came to a marshy area where we saw some Storks along with the Wildebeest and Zebras.
We spent out last two nights at Kirawira Tented Camp in the “Tembo” tent. The camp is located above the plains at 4100 feet at 20 Latitude and offered beautiful views from our ‘tent’.
And gorgeous sunsets.
On our final full-day we drove all around the Western Serengeti, mainly by the 2 nearby rivers. We saw some Hippos ‘sun-bathing’ and spent quite a bit of time watching some Wildebeest and Zebras trying to approach some water. There were a male and female lion nearby ‘waiting’ for them. The zebras apparently let the Wildebeest go to the water first and then they follow if it’s safe. They seemed to sense trouble ahead and took quite a while to head down to the river. The lions didn’t seem too hungry or aggressive. They laid back but as the wildebeest got to the water they made their move towards the wildebeest who quickly climbed back up the banks away from the water and into the open again. Everyone was still safe and sound when we left.
We did see a Cheetah at quite a distance working on its prey, but no close-ups. Back at camp we enjoyed our last sunset over the Serengeti.
Our last day… We had a nice breakfast at Kirawira. We were sitting at a corner table which was open to the outside in the usual style of the tented camps. The Vervet monkeys had been wandering into the dining area a bit. Much to our surprise one of them jumped down from a post, onto the table and grabbed a piece of fruit off a plate that Laura had set aside! On our way to airport we had to stop for a small Tortoise in the road. We said good-bye to our faithful guide Harry Richard at the Grumeti airstrip and headed to Arusha for our trip home. We touched down to drop-off and pick-up others at the Central Serengeti Seronara airstrip. Along the way to Arusha we flew over Lengai Crater.
Back in Arusha, we met with Godfrey from African Horizons our guide for the afternoon. We had a leisurely lunch at the “Coffee Lodge” and then a city tour. We drove by many open air markets where people buy their clothes, household items, etc. They are set-up each day as people bring the items into the market. Our guide pointed out one market that was less expensive as it sells all the things that get shipped/donated from the US. (It was quite large and full of clothing, etc!) We arrived at Kilimanjaro airport in mid-afternoon. We flew to Dubai, arriving about 6 am. Dubai is an incredibly modern place and the airport terminal was a very abrupt change from the environment we had been in. It was nice to have a direct flight to SFO on Emirates.
Overall, it was an incredible, once in a lifetime trip for me. I’ve been interested in doing a Safari since I read Beryl Markham’s “West with the Night” in 1987, but I never really expected I would. I’m so glad Laura convinced me to explore the idea and to learn that it really is very doable. Laura was a great travel companion; the accommodations and food were superb. Most of all, it was amazing to be so close to so many animals and to not only see them, like one does on TV, but to hear all the sounds – elephants walking through the grass, giraffes pulling off and chewing on the leaves from trees, doves cooing constantly in the background… After 10 days, I was not ready to go home and was hoping for more time in the Bush…
Follow Laura’s travels on her Instagram account @laura_morgannn
More of Laura’s Photo’s
The big takeaway for me was that South Luangwa should be on more peoples’ lists, and travelers should consider really exploring the park with a 6-8 night stay visiting a few different areas. For me, I think a wonderful trip would start off in Livingstone/Vic Falls, then continue on to the Luangwa Valley for big game wildlife viewing followed by canoeing and river safaris on the Lower Zambezi, and maybe a nice city finish in Cape Town.
The good news is that connections into and around Zambia are getting better every year. I flew directly into Lusaka from Dubai, and there are now direct flights from Nairobi to Livingstone to Cape Town, so Zambia can be easily combined with other destinations in East and Southern Africa.
Photos & Report by Jeremy Townsend
Early-November was an exciting time to visit Luangwa, right at the end of the dry season when all the guides and the animals are eagerly awaiting the first rains. I was lucky to visit some of the remote bush camps as most were getting ready to close in preparation for the coming rains, and it was fascinating to see the variety of landscapes and ecosystems at this dynamic time of year.
You can see the evidence of the park’s dramatic seasonal changes everywhere. It seems impossible that the vast sandy river banks, some half a kilometer across and 10 feet high, could fill and overflow during what is known as the Emerald Season in January and February. When the rainwater from the Muchinga Escarpment at the southern end of the Great East African Rift funnels into the Luangwa River and its tributaries, the area becomes a waterworld with boating safaris over what was parched open plains during the dry season of June-October.
With these seasonal fluctuations, the backcountry dries up, and an amazing diversity of wildlife congregates along the river and the oxbow lagoons scattered throughout the park. Over the course of 9 nights, I saw lion and leopard on almost every drive. I saw impressive numbers of zebra, Thornicroft Giraffe, Cookson’s Wildebeest, huge herds of buffalo and families of elephant making their way from the forests to the dry riverbeds and across the plains in search of water or mangos.
I saw 4 packs of wild dogs which was unbelievable, and a very rare sighting of wild pigs, a wide variety of antelope including eland, kudu, reed buck, bush buck, waterbuck and the first of the tiny baby impala and warthogs that arrive with the first rains. The night drives were especially exciting with genets, civets, hyena, lots of different mongoose and porcupines, twice!!!
There’s such an amazing contrast between the cracked dry earth and the busy waterholes. In one area, we watched a lonely hippo and a baby crocodile sharing a shrinking puddle with yellow-billed and saddle-billed storks, a hammerkop, kingfishers, egrets, spoonbills and a fisheagle awaiting its turn on the bank.
Out near the hot springs in the Nsefu sector, I watched a five-minute boxing match between two Egyptian geese that will go down as one of my most interesting and exciting wildlife sightings as they locked their beaks and traded punches while the rest of the flock cheered them on!
And perhaps the best part was that we weren’t crowded or jostled by multiple vehicles; it seemed like we had the park all to ourselves… The guides are excellent, and they take special care to spread out into the park and give guests a great experience.
There are so many things that make Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park a special destination, but perhaps it’s best feature is that it is relatively unknown to the masses. In terms of wildlife viewing and the quality of camps and guiding, the park offers incredible value while avoiding the crowds that we find in more popular destinations.
I was struck by the intimate size of most of the camps and lodges in the park. Mfuwe Lodge, famous for the elephants who stroll through its lobby during the mango fruiting season, is perceived as being a big lodge, but, with only 18 chalets, it’s still pretty cozy compared to the safari resorts found in some other destinations.
Once travelers get out to the more remote parts of the park, most camps have only 4-6 units which makes for a truly special and personalized experience. The small camp size has roots in the park being the home of the walking safari, and a lot of the camps still offer morning or even multi-day hikes so you can really immerse yourself in this wild environment. With a wide range of options from top-of-the-line luxury like Chinzombo and the new Puku Ridge Camp to comfy classic lodges like Kapamba and Nsefu to true backcountry adventure camps like Nsolo, there’s something for everyone at every budget.
We’re so grateful to see Zambia staying true to its wild African character as a leader in conservation and ecotourism with exceptional guides, spectacular wildlife and so many possibilities!!!
“We sat quietly as they ate around us, we were no more than a few feet from the majestic beasts – it was the most incredible experience of my life” — Jessica
It really was unreal – we saw amazing animals on every drive, but the top 2 scenes were a pride of lions chasing a leopard up a tree, robbing its dinner, proceeding to finish off the impala, then a pack of hyenas sniffing for scraps once the lions moved on, and finally the leopard making its way out of the tree and running off.
The other, absolutely moving experience was our first night at Lions Sands – there were a herd of elephants just outside our room, so we skipped the evening safari – the herd eventually made their way right up to our plunge pool and deck (pictured on the right) – we sat quietly as they ate around us, we were no more than a few feet from the majestic beasts – it was the most incredible experience of my life.
Visit their blog www.roadtowelltravelled.com and follow their travels on their Instagram account @road.to.well.travelled
More of Jessica’s & Gearóid’s Photos
“We had the most amazing time on our trip! It was truly life changing. We have probably overshared our adventures with anybody that will listen!”– Penny & David
We really enjoyed having the same guide Mibuko at both Chem Chems and the same guide and tracker Hussein and Puis at both Alex Walker camps. We formed a real bond experiencing all those extraordinary adventures with them. They were the best of the best! We also did two walking safaris and loved every minute!
We particularly loved just sitting and watching all the amazing wildlife! We happened upon Omo the white giraffe (pictured on the right) which was a nice surprise. We witnessed two wildebeest crossings and we watched one build all day so it was a big one. Hundreds of the wildebeest died because they couldn’t get up the steep enbankment in some areas.
We watched a younger looking hippo actually save a number of exhausted wildebeest from drowning by escorting them to the edge of the river. One large wildebeest he had been popping up around did drown. The hippo was pushing his body to the edge when a crocodile came toward them. The hippo went into attack mode and the croc disappeared. It was fascinating!
Camps & Lodges
We liked the luxurious accommodations at Chem Chem but then was nice to have a more authentic mobile tent experience with Alex Walker. There’s nothing like a hyena whooping in the middle of the night directly on the other side of your canvas. The White Sands Villas and especially our beachfront property were a real treat! The accommodations, food and service exceeded our expectations immensely.
We would definitely like Next Adventure to plan our next African safari trip. In a couple years we are interested in seeing the gorillas in Uganda or Rwanda. We are also interested in experiencing the calving season in South Tanzania. In five or six years we would like to take our family and stay at Giraffe Manor and family friendly camps like Chem Chems.
MORE OF PENNY’S PHOTOS
“This was my best vacation EVER. I’d gladly try another safari.” — Eric
I’d like to start by saying that this was my best vacation ever! We had great accommodations, great guides, great food and good weather. I’m glad we went to three different places. Of the three I liked Lewa best because it had a little bit of everything and had more activities.
HERE ARE SOME OF ERIC’S PHOTOS FROM LEWA
Eric’s HIGH-POINTS OF THE TRIP
- The cats in the Masai Mara
- The Walking Safari in Lewa
- The trip to the waterfall in Lewa (pictured below)
- All the elephants
- The sundowners (Michelle & Eric enjoying one here to the left)
- All the meals (FANTASTIC!)
The local team in Nairobi was above and beyond GREAT. They held our extra bag and helped with everything. The hotel staff at all three lodges was very sociable. They were always there mingling with the guests. Our guides worked much harder than the other guides that we came upon to be sure we saw everything. They kept hunting for game, often for 6 hours. Let me reiterate, this was my best vacation EVER. I’d gladly try another safari.
MORE OF ERIC’S PHOTOS
Kili returned to Rwanda to find a country that has made tremendous progress toward its goal of being one of Africa’s leading countries and most dramatic stories of renewal. Rwanda has successfully positioned itself as a luxury destination with extraordinary wildlife and cultural experiences.
Aside from new luxury lodges near Volcanoes National Park, there are a lot experiences in Kigali and throughout the country that make Rwanda more than a gorilla extension.
Kigali is a unique among African capitals, and it is clear from the moment you leave the airport. The roads are clean and in good condition, and the city center is safe and vibrant enough to have a walk through town. It has become an international hub and a shining example of progress. Here are some interesting experiences we recommend:
The area around Musanze, the nearest town to the gorilla trekking headquarters in Volcanoes National Park, has seen the most development with a number of breath-taking new luxury lodges as well as some old favorites. In addition to being a base for gorilla trekking, there are a lot of other things to do like visiting the Gorilla Doctors facility, the Dian Fossey Center, the spectacular twin lakes, the Iby’wacu Cultural Village or just having a walk around the Musanze town and markets.
Akagera is a national park that is being successfully restored into a great conservation story, and we’re hearing excellent feedback from some of our first clients to visit the far northern corner of the park. Lions were re-introduced in 2015, and there has been excellent recent leopard sightings. This project is in collaboration with the Rwandan government and the surrounding local communities. You can learn more about this project here, and also on the African Parks website. If you’re up for visiting a unique area while also supporting groundbreaking conservation work, Akagera is at the top of our list!
In addition to soon-to-reopen Gorilla’s Nest Lodge in Musanze, One & Only Resorts has introduced Nyungwe House in the south western corner of Rwanda, a spectacular option for including chimpanzee trekking in your Rwanda itinerary. Plus, they’re offering scenic helicopter transfers between Nyungwe and Volcanoes for an unbelievable bird’s eye view of Rwanda’s incredible topography.
Some of Kili’s Gorilla Trekking Photos
While Tanzania is best known for being home to the iconic Serengeti plains, the Serengeti can be known for peak season crowds especially concentrated around river crossings and migratory herds.
However, we see the Serengeti as a 10-month destination with lots of options for shoulder season and off-peak travel which offers great value, expanded access to unique wilderness areas and a wider variety of activities.
Maybe no country has seen the buzz of the travel world like Namibia, and it’s been fascinating to watch it grow from a specialist desert destination to a model for conservation and ecotourism done right.
With new attention comes new opportunities, and there’s a great range of safari options including overland packages with under-canvas camps to convenient flying itineraries that connect Namibia’s vast and far-flung points of interests.
While Botswana has grown to be seen as one of the more luxurious (and expensive) safari destinations, we’re glad to report there are still great options for high-quality mobile camping safaris at a range of budgets.
Some are based completely within exclusive concessions while others utilize private campsites in public wildlife viewing areas, but the goal is the same: to truly immerse yourself into the rhythm of the of the Okavango Delta.
Kruger & Cape Town are a popular combination, but South Africa has much more to offer with an abundance of Big 5 reserves like Madikwe, Marataba and Kwandwe and extraordinary art, food and wine touring.
One area we love to visit is the Cape Whale Coast & Floral Kingdom where you can hike among incredible wildflowers, go sand boarding or fat biking on the dunes, spend the day tide-pooling or whale watching from your bed…
Here are a few spectacular lodges from which you can play, explore and experience more of South Africa’s stunning Cape region…
Lekkerwater Beach Lodge
Morukuru Beach Lodge
Grootbos Forest Lodge
De Hoop Collection
Zimbabwe has a well-earned reputation for some of the best guides and most picturesque wildlife and wilderness areas in Africa.
We’re excited to offer creative walking safari packages that let you explore on foot with expert guides between lightweight fly-camps and spectacular camps & lodges.
I had a fantastic time in Africa. We saw a vast amount of wildlife, virtually everything one could hope for, except for rhinos, which we knew we would not see. We did see elephants, lions, leopards, cheetahs, giraffes, hyenas, wildebeests, buffalo, hippos, warthogs, African wild dogs, baboons, crocodiles, jackals, nine kinds of antelope, and more! The real highlight for me personally was finding, identifying (of course with the benefit of our guides’ expertise), and photographing over one hundred bird species.
Each one was a new thrill. After returning home I uploaded all one hundred or so bird observations to “iNaturalist.org”. Every one of them was seen and commented on (i.e. my identification either confirmed or corrected). Many were picked up by various “projects” within iNaturalist, such as Birds of Botswana, Birds of Southern Africa, and Owls of the World. One photo (Hooded Vulture) was selected as Observation of the Day, and was nominated for Observation of the Month!
Our guides were fantastic in their knowledge of animal behavior, birds, trees, etc. We had KK in Botswana, and Douglas at Davison’s Camp. Douglas was my favorite. He was absolutely delightful, not only in sharing his passion for the wilderness with all its living things, but also in sharing his own personal stories of life in Zimbabwe.
I loved the trip to the village (called ngamo) in Zimbabwe. This may have been my single favorite part of the trip. It was a moving experience to see the enthusiasm and optimism among the 7th graders we met. They sang songs and danced for us. Their joy in doing so was obvious. The principle was very engaging. We met the Head Man of the village and his wife, who shared with us the structure of the village political system, the local diet, the moral code they live by, their views of their government, etc. This was extremely interesting and educational. I also loved the two boat trips, one on the Khwai River and the other on the Chobe River. These provided very nice variety among many game drives in the jeep.
The transitions from one part of the trip to another worked perfectly! In every case, there was someone at the airport or at the border to receive us and guide us along to the next phase. This was amazing.
Some of the highlights/striking things from the Botswana trip were the abundance and variety of animals. And of course our guides knew every single bird. We saw many lions, their cubs, leopards, cheetahs, giraffes, wildebeests , warthogs, hyenas, wild dogs, hippos and crocs and of course too many elephants to count. One striking event happened near the Chobe River after our boat ride. A herd of of elephants just finished drinking and were lingering near by. It was early evening and a male lion was scouting them out, appearing nonchalant. Suddenly, the herd coalesced and charged the lion who ran right past our vehicle. We broke the quiet rule and burst into applause for the elephants.
The amenities/food that stood out in Camp Davidson were the care the staff took to accommodate my gluten intolerance. The meals were all excellent. In Botswana, the mobile camp staff couldn’t do enough for us. The primitive conditions hardly mattered. The safari vehicles in Camp Davidson were far superior to those used by Wilderness Dawning. We hope they will upgrade them soon.
Planning our safari with Next Adventure was fabulous. We couldn’t imagine more knowledgeable, accommodating and eager professionals. I have recommended Next Adventure to several people and will continue to do so. I don’t think there was anything Jeremy could have done differently to prepare us. There were no surprises and the whole trip went off without a hitch.
Describing to a friend what it’s like to be on safari, well, you are awakened at 5:30, breakfast at 6 and in the vehicle by 6:30. The guides take out out for game drives with a cup of tea at 10 and continue on until lunch. Each day is quite different in that you never know what you will see and the guides always seem to know where to find the animals. You think it can’t get any more exciting and then it does. Seeing these animals in the wild is really breathtaking. Usually there is an afternoon siesta then back to the vehicles for more animal encounters. The guides always seem just as excited as we are at each discovery.
Some of Lance’s wildlife photos
A wise colleague of ours says, “Rwanda has ambitions to be the best in the world, and it’s making quick progress. Uganda, on the other hand, is content with being The Pearl of Africa.“
While these two countries have certain similarities, what they offer travelers is very different.
The Kazuri Story
Lady Susan Wood
Kazuri Founder – Lady Susan Wood had humble beginnings. Born (1918) in a mud hut in an African village, her parents were missionaries from England in the Ituri Forest. Lady Wood was sent to England in order to be educated and ended up marrying Michael Wood, a surgeon. They came to Kenya in 1947 and became dedicated to making a difference. Lady Wood started a coffee plantation on the Karen Blixen estate, famous from the award winning movie “Out of Africa” , which is at the foot of the Ngon’g Hills (about 30 minutes from the bustling Nairobi city center in Kenya). Lady Wood was a visionary and unsung hero of her time. She assisted her husband in founding the East African Flying Doctor Service, which expanded into the African Medical Research Foundation (AMREF) of which Michael Wood was Director General for 29 years. Michael Wood was knighted in 1985.
Kazuri Beads Origins
In 1975, Lady Wood set up a fledging business making beads in a small shed in her back garden. She started by hiring two disadvantaged women, and quickly realized that there were many more women who were in need of jobs. Henceforth, Kazuri Beads was created and began its long and successful journey as a help center for the needy women, especially single mothers who had no other source of income. In 1988, Kazuri became a factory and expanded hugely to include over 120 women and men. Here, women are trained and apply their skills to produce unique and beautiful beads and jewelry. The beads are made with clay from the Mt Kenya area, thus giving authenticity to the craft. The factory acts as a social gathering with the hum of voices continuing vibrating throughout the day. With unemployment so high, one jobholder often ends up providing for an “extended family” of 20 or more. Kazuri is a member of the Fair Trade Act.
Kazuri Beads Present Day
Today, Kazuri (the Swahili word for ‘small and beautiful’) produces a wide range of hand made and painted ceramic jewelry that shines with a kaleidoscope of African colors. Kazuri’s beautifully finished products are made to an international standard and are sold worldwide. These standards are maintained through high training regimens and a highly motivated management team.
In 2001, Mark and Regina Newman bought the company. Their goal is to further increase the size and maintain the central guiding philosophy … to provide employment opportunities for disadvantaged members of Kenyan Society.
“I always cry when the small plane lands on a dirt airstrip, and I always cry when I leave.” — Gayle
I’m a writer, but I would have to be a poet to be able to describe what it’s like for me. This was my fifth trip to Africa, and it still takes my breath away to see my first elephant. But it’s more than the animals, and it’s more than the remarkable Zambians, Botswanans, and South Africans I’ve met.
It’s the sensuality of the place – the way it looks, smells, sounds, and feels. It’s the light and the sense of pre-history I feel when I first set foot in the bush; a sense of having returned home to where we all began. I always cry when the small plane lands on a dirt airstrip, and I always cry when I leave.
Gayle’s Wish is Granted
Three lions attempted to separate a buffalo from a small herd. The lions took turns going in for a buffalo, only to be chased out by the large bulls. It was a game of cat and mouse, and mouse and cat, for several minutes.
The dust was flying, the buffalo were freaking out, and I was hoping to NOT see a kill. I ended up getting my wish when the buffalo made their escape across the river.
I had a skilled tracker and expert in animal behavior. He read the warning behaviors of different animals such as baboons, impala, and birds in order to successfully locate this leopard (pictured to the left).
“On the first day, we went out looking for lions, and we certainly found them. In fact, not only did we find them, but we found 4…two males and two females. Both sets were mating to the left and right of the vehicle. We learned that they actually mate every 15 minutes for 4 days in a row. Wow. I felt like I was intruding on some private time…I needed to have a cigarette.” — Mari & Alex
To really be there, going to Africa for the first time, the true surprise is simply being there. You think to yourself, ‘Am I really seeing zebra, giraffe and kudu?’ To be able to see all of these creatures up close – as close as you want to be (and we definitely pushed our boundaries) – is something you really don’t expect.
One time, we were especially close to the female lions – from 1-20 feet, and what was surprising to me was that I never felt like our family was threatened. There was a certain respect that the guides held for the land and the animals. They just knew the environment, and we could tell they weren’t going to put us at risk. Honestly, the fact that we could camp out in the Savannah in the middle of the night, allowing our own children to stay watch – you have to have a lot of faith to make a big leap like that. Not once did we ever feel scared because ever-present was the mutual respect between humans and animals; a certain understanding. It was very cool.
It happens from the very beginning, too. We left Johannesburg and took a long drive to Botswana where the adventure literally began at our border crossing – from South Africa to Botswana. We went out in an open Land Rover with one of the more experienced guides…sort of like a Grand Uncle kind of guy who was very hospitable. As soon as we were loaded up, we drove across – or actually, through – the river, which was the boundary between South Africa and Botswana. Everything was dirt road from that point onwards, and we’d only made it 100 yards when our driver pulled over so we could watch some zebras. He told us to look back – he’d seen movement – and sure enough, out of the bush came an elephant, and then another, and then a whole herd of elephants. Our jaws dropped in amazement – we’d only just crossed over, and here we were having animal experiences.
Just the presence of these animals…to be greeted by the most beautiful of beasts…is incredibly moving. It’s the entire reason we went, and there it was, unfolding before us in only 100 yards. Zebras, giraffe, Impalas… I’m even forgetting the names of all the creatures we saw. It was a wild kingdom.
A Sensual Adventure
At our second stop, or concession, we were having our orientation and they said that they wanted to pitch an idea to us. This was when they asked us if we wanted to sleep out in the Savannah, hiking out about 3 miles…along with two guides and their guns. Doing this meant that each of us would have to stay awake for 2 hours per night to keep watch. My first reaction was YES! I mean, what other time in your life would you be able to camp out in the Savannah with wild animals? It was the most amazing experience.
It’s difficult to portray what we witnessed…through all of our senses. Infinite stars…stars beyond what you could imagine. We’ve been to Yosemite. We’ve been to Yellowstone. There is just no comparison. You’re serenaded by a cacophony of the sounds, too. The laughing hyenas, the hippos, and what’s called bush babies, which are little monkeys that live in the trees…and they literally sound like babies.
Over one outdoor dinner, we could hear lions roaring in the distance while we were eating. There was nothing between us and the lions, which could seem unsettling, but part of what gave us comfort was the fact that the guides called each lion by their name – simply by knowing the sound of their roar. Oh, and the smells! The smells were things we’d never smelled before. The basil and African sage, which had a sweet lemony smell to it, was sweet and very pungent.
Late Night Surprise
One night, we were on safari driving around. It was much later than we usually stayed out, but it was probably only two hours after sunset. Our drivers seemed a little disoriented – like they were lost – but they kept driving. One of the guides was holding a big spotlight, and we were looking for elephants. He was shining the light on either side, and suddenly we saw a campfire in the distance. They told us they thought it was an anti-poaching crew; that they go out there and sometimes catch poachers and keep them in camp until authorities pick them up. There were a couple other trucks parked when we pulled up, and it was clear we were going to talk to these guys. Admittedly, we were a little concerned. As we approached the camp, we could see a fairly large group, shadowed by the firelight, and as we got closer, we realized that it was a group of student guides. Whew! Turned out it was planned all along, and they’d made a great dinner for us, and one of them was showing us how to take night shots.
They had tables, chairs, and table coverings. They had amazing food there – Mealie Pap, kind of like a porridge, or polenta, that’s served with a meat, or a stew. You use your fingers and you scoop it up and just eat it. My family also enjoyed the Mashatu chili, which was a flavorful and spicy chili prepared by two amazing women, Nomo and Rosena. The night before we left, my son’s girlfriend wanted to bring some home, and they gave her a jar of it along with the recipe. Can you believe that? At the next stop, we had to put our food in the storage container, and accidentally forgot it there. That was probably the biggest disappointment of our whole trip.
We’d go back. In a heartbeat. It would be great to go back to the same places for the nostalgia, but on the other hand, we’d probably want to see something different. It’d be great to go to Kenya to see the mass migrations…where they have herds of millions of animals. Now that we’ve gotten a flavor of Africa, we understand there is so much more to see. It was such a wonderful experience, and Jeremy and Kili had so much to do with that. From one conversation where we shared our vision, they took exactly what we described and made it happen. We didn’t want to travel like privileged Americans where we were driven around, etc. We wanted to go where they had good labor practices. We wanted the opportunity to touch the land with the dirt going through our fingers, touch the trees, and smell the environment. We didn’t need champagne and chocolate fountains (well maybe a little), but from the very beginning…the languages, the sounds and the sights, the people, the environment. It was just such a whole medley of sensations.
Here’s Some of Mari & Alex’s Photos
“We’re a gay couple that has traveled the world all on our own, from the Galapagos Islands to the Bosphorus Strait, but, given the vastness of the African continent and the remote, seasonal safari areas, we benefitted greatly from Kili’s expertise and thoroughness. We found the whole experience rewarding and truly, not one person missed a beat.” — Rick S.
This was our very first trip to Africa, and the first thing we noticed was the vastness of the continent. Even though we conceptually understood the size, and Kili had certainly prepped us, we truly had no idea how big Africa was. I mean, as we were flying over Morocco, we still had 9 more hours before landing in Cape Town. We just didn’t really get it.
What was impressive was that immediately upon landing, we were in a jeep and transferring to the lodge while incredible wildlife was running all around us. We were instantly ‘in the experience,’ and we were giddy like two kids on Christmas Eve. There are so many stories from our trip that it’s impossible to identify a single favorite story. It’s interesting – we used to say that about the countries we’d traveled to (that we couldn’t identify a favorite), but now we say that about Africa…that there really isn’t one story that stands out. The entire trip stands out.
I still vividly remember the first night, falling asleep while listening to lion roars and hippo grunts. One day we woke up from our siesta to an elephant staring into our tent…maybe 15 feet away. We had another, similar experience where we woke up, and we heard rhythmic crunching. It turned out there was a hippo eating in the daytime, which was rare, right outside our tent. He was essentially mowing the grasses.
We watched a cheetah eating an Impala – it sounds gruesome, but it wasn’t. They kill quickly and methodically. We were so close that we could hear the crunching of the bones. We watched the Cheetah lick the blood off its face. We were that close! It really sounds gruesome, but it honestly isn’t. It’s also odd because we cheered for the predators. It isn’t like the TV programs you see where you hope the prey gets away. You simply understand the order, and see that there are millions of Impalas, and only a handful of lions. They have to eat, and they work incredibly hard for a meal.
Deepening Our Ecological Awareness
The other impression, too, is what a closed ecosystem it is. Every animal has a little niche to play. It’s why you can get behind the predators. We thought there would be smells and bones everywhere, but there isn’t. It was an ecological lesson; it really was. We try to do our bit in terms of reducing, reusing and recycling and our footprint – but this really helped us realize what a puzzle of a world we live in, and how each thing plays its part. You just kind of see how it all works. It was a very sensory experience – very visual. There were smells, but they weren’t bad. The kills didn’t last long, so there was no rotting meat. There is a sort of pecking order of everything and it all just goes away.
The main predators kill, say, an Impala, and eat the main parts of the animal. Then, the Jackals and Hyenas take what they need, and then the vultures come…and nothing is left. I mean absolutely nothing. We did find some hippo skulls, which was fascinating…with the jaw…because we got a real sense of just how powerful they are. But, that was about it.
The guides were fantastic – every day was like one long school day in the best possible way. We watched a pack of wild dogs hunt, and try to spook a herd of Cape buffalo. There is a strategy to the hunt. The dogs were on the track, and we were following. Their strategy was that they worked as a group, and they tried to spook the group so they’d run, and in the panic, the dogs could single out their prey.
At one point, we also found some lionesses that had climbed into trees, which is rare. There were only a couple prides where this was happening. Our guide said that it was only the second generation of lionesses that were doing that – climbing into the trees. One was calling to her cubs, but they couldn’t find her because it didn’t occur to them to look up. It felt like we were watching an ecological shift in real time.
Emerging with a Thirst for More
In our planning phase, we gave Kili our wish list of animals to see – which didn’t include birds (we aren’t birders), so she designed our trip around our wish list. And unbelievably, we saw them all.
The food was excellent. We didn’t really have expectations. We did a lot of research once we decided on places, but we weren’t there for the food, if that makes sense. The camps were really luxe. We were really pleased with that. I mean one of the places was off the charts; just the presentation of their food alone was impressive. This was a surprise because it’s so remote. They don’t have access to a lot of stuff, food and otherwise, and they don’t even have a cell signal, so they have to fly everything in. We were confused as to how would they begin to understand the levels of luxury that they did. It really was excellent.
We are very well traveled – we started out hesitant to take a trip that was all planned, and we don’t do group tours. We’re a gay couple that has traveled the world all on our own, from the Galapagos Islands to the Bosphorus Strait, but, given the vastness of the African continent and the remote, seasonal safari areas, we benefitted greatly from Kili’s expertise and thoroughness. We found the whole experience rewarding and truly, not one person missed a beat. Kili had designed the itinerary for us to see a wide variety of species and surroundings. We usually saw elephants, but each time, it felt different. We never got bored. We were always a little sad to leave, but eager to see the next place. Kili had the camps build upon each other – the first one was nice, but unbeknownst to us, it was the least special. She was very thoughtful.
We are definitely going to go back to Africa, but we are going to go to different countries. We’ll go back and to Kenya and Tanzania, and we might go to Namibia, and certainly Rwanda. Some places you travel to see the terrain, and others you go to see the buildings and the history. I see now that traveling to see history and architecture means having a more static experience. When we go back to Africa, it will probably be completely different. It’s dynamic; always changing. You can never go and have the same experience twice.
“There aren’t very many places where we’ve been and are dying to go back. Patagonia is one we’d go back to…but on a scale of 1 to 10, I’d say Patagonia is a 5, and Africa is a 9.9.” — Linda & John
From the moment we landed, East Africa made an impact. We’d been to Africa before, on what we called our ‘beginners’ trip which included Botswana, Victoria Falls and Kruger National Park, but this one was what we considered a ‘quintessential African experience.’ Every place we went; every day was filled with animal interactions, up close and personal. You name it – we saw it all!
The very first vision our bleary eyes saw after we stepped off the plane was Mt. Kilimanjaro. Seeing that mountain was the most impressive thing… so distant and seemingly so close, enshrouded with snow and clouds. It’s massive and interesting because being a volcano, it raises up from a low-level plane rather than from a graduation of foothills, which makes it unusual. I would conservatively guess it’s maybe 19,000 feet high, straight up from its base. It’s an impressive site, and a most memorable way to arrive.
It’s virtually impossible to pinpoint which particular memories to share from this trip because the experiences we had were so plentiful. For example, can you imagine this…at one point, we saw 7 or 8 lion cubs playing with each other while their moms were hunting. We stopped the car about 30 yards from them. I would never have anticipated that kind of proximity to an abundance of lion cubs without their mothers. We had lions literally walking by the safari car we were in..and could have reached out to touch them. The same with the elephants. We were blown away with the photo opps there.
Another day, we pulled right up to a leopard that was eating a small zebra it had killed, and then a lion came walking up. We thought certainly there’d be a conflict, but the leopard just calmly left. We also saw a pack of hyenas chasing two baby warthogs one night, so we were literally driving across the plains chasing them, keeping them in our headlights.
The biggest surprise was when we went to our camp in the Serengeti. We thought that because of the time of year we were visiting, we would have missed the migration, but we quickly learned that the animals are constantly migrating. So depending on the time of the year, the strategy is to just go to the part of the Serengeti where they’re still migrating, and we saw it…thousands of animals moving slowly across the landscape.
A Cut Above
Everywhere we went on our trip was amazing. The food was delicious – the game meat was fantastically good, served like a filet mignon. There were abundant animal sightings, and the accommodations were definitely nice. But if I’m being honest, to us, everything else seemed to pale in comparison to our camp in the Masai Mara.
Three things set this place apart. One was the absolute luxury of the accommodations. We had a gigantic copper bath with an adjacent indoor and outdoor shower. The place we stayed in was about 12-1400 square feet with a deck overlooking a stream where every day, hippos and crocs were floating and wading by for our viewing pleasure.
Two, their commitment and ultra knowledge about all things photo…our driver was a Masai and extremely articulate and knowledgeable about photography, so we were able to capture everything we witnessed as if we worked for National Geographic. One afternoon at sunset, he even maneuvered our car simply to allow us to frame 5 giraffes against the setting sun. They will even lend you a top-end camera, or Swarovsky binoculars if you don’t have your own.
And three, aside from the lodge, they also have 6, 7 or maybe 8 of the suites where people can stay in luxurious proximity to the natural surroundings. If we go back, we might just go straight there and stay for 10 days.
Travel…and we’re not the most widely traveled individuals…but it does invariably change you. The people you meet in Africa give you perspective on your personal background. You see the fragility of the environment, and are moved by cultural experiences… It all expands your experiential universe. It makes you a better person for it. It definitely has had an impact.
There aren’t very many places where we’ve been and are dying to go back. Patagonia is one we’d go back to…but on a scale of 1 to 10, I’d say Patagonia is a 5, and Africa is a 9.9. Italy has an impact, various places in Europe certainly have an impact, but in terms of depth…Africa’s impact is more visceral than anything else. It’s a visceral, moving impact. Our friends want to go to Italy every year, and visiting the wine country, but they aren’t as interested in the natural world as we are, which is totally fine…and man made wonders are spectacular, but not as moving…to us…as seeing the beauty of nature.
Some of Linda & John’s Photos
- Travel with one of Namibia’s most reputable and well-known naturalist guides.
- Visit the world renowned AfriCat Foundation and learn more about conservation initiatives involving Africa’s large cats.
- Sleep under canvas in the tree tops overlooking one of the most productive waterholes on the Onguma Private Game Reserve.
- Memorable and exciting guided game drives within the renowned Etosha National Park, from the vantage point of a specially modified, air conditioned 4×4 with pop tops.
- Explore the Damaraland region whilst staying at the exclusive-use //Huab Under Canvas.
- Search for desert adapted elephant in ephemeral river systems.
- Track for the endangered black rhino in conjunction with Save the Rhino Trust.
- Visit and explore Namibia’s central coastal region with canyons, dunes and lagoons.
- Explore the private Namib Tsaris Conservancy on exploratory nature drives and guided walks whilst staying in the exclusive-use Sossus Under Canvas.
- Climb some of the world’s highest free-standing sand dunes at Sossusvlei and enjoy a magic box picnic in the Namib Naukluft Park afterwards.
- Enjoy spectacular star gazing of the Milky Way on the Namib Tsaris Conservancy.
- Enjoy refreshing moments in desert pools on the Namib Tsaris Conservancy.