Animal sightings weren’t limited to the drives, either. For a laugh, we had only to sit on the patio and, before long, monkeys would swoop down from the trees and into the outdoor restaurants to swipe packets of sugar before being shooed off by servers.
Lions and Lions and Lions! Oh My!
These elusive predators are hard to spot, their tawny coats blending so seamlessly with the grasslands. Most of our sightings occurred in the Serengeti, a Swahili word meaning “endless plains.” There, we saw a lone lioness crouching in the shrubs to ambush an approaching warthog. Fortunately for the warthog, it caught her scent in time and toddled briskly in the opposite direction. Another time, we encountered a pride lazing in the shade after feasting on a zebra, their muzzles stained red, lapping blood from their paws.
The most memorable sighting, though, occurred one dewy morning when a pair of lions mated in full sight of our group gawking from our open-top jeep. The lioness barely glanced at us, but the male turned his golden eyes to us every now and then, monitoring our proximity.
Danger in the Wild
Like most of the animals we encountered, the elephants tolerated our presence with calm indifference. Only once did we ever feel endangered, and that was one morning when we stopped to observe a 30-strong herd plodding across the open plain. It had been a peaceful procession until a baby elephant’s sudden squeal set off a ripple of alarm and the entire herd turned to face us, heads dipped and tusks at the ready. “Don’t move,” Frederick whispered.
After several tense seconds, the elephants determined we weren’t a threat and, one by one, turned away to resume their march. As Frederick explained, “It’s hard for animals to survive in the wild so they prefer to conserve their energy and only attack when they feel threatened.”
Elephants at Kenya's Amboseli National Park
We found some at Kenya’s Amboseli National Park, known as “the best place in Africa to get close to free-ranging elephants.” It wasn’t an exaggeration, either: we got so close to some, edging our jeep right up to a watering hole, that we could smell the mud on their bodies. If you were quiet enough, you could also hear them munching grass. They’d tear it out by the root with their trunks, shake off the dirt and stuff it into their mouths. It was an action performed so rhythmically, so repeatedly, that it was hypnotizing to watch.
A major reason anyone goes to Africa, of course, is to see wild animals. At first, we were awed by the zebra and Cape buffalo, and Frederick would stop the jeep and patiently wait as we snapped pictures. We didn’t know then that by stopping to admire these creatures we were advertising our status as newbie visitors. Deeper into the trip, we would chuckle at fellow tourists who were fussing over such commonly seen creatures. By that point, we were motoring past zebras with hardly a passing glance, on the lookout for far more exotic animals.
Thankfully the grittiness and gloom soon gave way to golden grasslands and broad blue skies as we arrived at the Great Rift Valley – the birthplace of humankind – and entered the Masai Mara, home to a semi-nomadic tribespeople called the Maasai.
These hunter-gatherers, distinctive for their blood-red shoulder cloaks, have somehow managed to resist evolution as we know it, and in the 21st century, still live as simply and as coarsely as our ancient ancestors, complete with mud huts, wooden spears, loincloths and warrior paint. While shunning modern ways, they have developed a keen interest in American greenbacks, descending on our jeep at every stop, tapping at our windows to peddle beaded jewelry, carved bowls and animal figurines.
Some of them would offer to pose for pictures, but it was a privilege that didn’t come cheap: “Five dollar U.S.!”, they would insist, grinning so impishly that it was hard to resist.
The Potted Roads of Africa
The next morning, I joined four fellow travelers, all hailing coincidentally from Vancouver Island, to embark on our tour led by an affable Kenyan safari guide named Frederick. For hours, we bumped violently along pot-holed roads – “A free African massage,” Frederick joked – past scenes of shantytowns, litter-strewn streets, roadkill in varying states of decomposition and trucks spewing clouds of exhaust fumes.
Africa has some of the most amazing wildlife in the world, and one adventurer set out to experience this legendary country in the wild
There’s nothing like a milestone birthday to get you thinking about bucket lists. That’s why I decided, after years of procrastinating, to turn a decades-long dream into reality. And so on a gray Vancouver day, I booked a safari to Sub-Saharan Africa. Though my will wavered at the $9K price tag, I knew the journey would be worth a wealth of memories.
I chose Goway’s East Africa Explorer, a 12-day tour through Kenya and Tanzania that includes luxe lodging, all meals and stops at such fabled locales as the Great Rift Valley, Kilimanjaro and the Serengeti.
Armed with a two-week supply of anti-malaria tablets, I touched down in Nairobi, Kenya, after an 18-hour flight via Amsterdam. As I stepped onto the tarmac at Jomo Kenyatta Airport, I recalled reading that Africa is said to have a distinctive scent, an aroma unlike anywhere else on Earth. Testing the theory, I drew in a lungful of the humid air. It was tinged with an exotic aroma, one similar to roasted coffee beans – rich, spicy, earthy.