Our 14-day dry season safari in Kenya and Tanzania ended with a beautiful morning in the Mara, hardly a breeze and high wisps of cloud suggesting afternoon rain. The quantity of big animals we’d seen threatened my past records, and like every guide on earth, my greatest wish was that all my clients had a great time.
People who choose to go on a safari do so with a lot more thought and consideration than just a quick hop over to Europe or golf holiday in Arizona. And it isn’t just the money. They know it isn’t a typical vacation of R&R, but a journey that involves a lot of personal energy.
So having already made this decision, no matter what goes wrong – no matter how dusty it might be, or hot, or cold(!), or how long the wait for the charter aircraft, or lodge check-in or delivery of the much needed cold beer, there is a tolerance from virtually every safari traveler probably not to be expected from travelers on a more ordinary trip.
And so it’s sometimes hard for us as guides to really gauge how people feel. They’ll insist they had a great time, but did they really?
Our trip was pretty typical of my designed safaris. It starts off with some pretty good game viewing, and with the least comfortable of the accommodations, and then grows into greater comfort and a slightly slower pace, and then regains superb game viewing towards the end.
But even this formula demands some serious personal effort. To even partially grasp the magnificence of the wild and the fragile political and social systems in which it’s found, there’s a lot of information you’ve got to grasp.
I always spend time in Nairobi, discussing history and culture, and this time I think the folks were really blown away by the dynamism if over busy-ness of Nairobi. But I’m so optimistic about Kenya at the moment, that I think I conveyed this positive feeling well.
Anyone can bop over to the Mara for a few days and almost always get the Big 5, yes including rhino, now that the rhino rehabilitation projects have proved so successful. And the Mara is one of the most beautiful places on earth.
But to grasp the East African wilds, and how dangerously close they are to self-annihilation, other goals are necessary: like finding the migration or some arcane animal like a serval or ratel. To sense the importance of preserving the wild, you have to stick with some event – like an elephant family on their way through a forest to who knows where, or a lion with a bloody face, or a limping antelope – to recognize the intricacy of everything with one another.
And this takes time. And driving, and believe me, the park roads aren’t like ours at home! There’s a lot of bumping, and swaying and probably heavy handed grasps of the nearest window rail!
But when properly prepared and fully cognizant of what you’re getting into, It think it ends up being one of the most satisfying and memorable of life’s experiences.
I won’t list the animal or bird count on this safari, because so much is dependent upon atypical conditions, but we did very, very well. Personally, my greatest memory will be finding the migration in the northern most reaches of the Serengeti, a month or longer before it was due there.
We were able to see the world changing, climate change at work. We can see how great animals are adapting, and the hazards they are encountering doing so.
I know that others were mesmerized by the seven kills we found. Many people can’t take these for very long, and I understand that. But certainly one of the most amazing encounters we had this time was seeing a lone hyaena that had just killed a yearling wildebeest.
It was exactly 42 minutes from the time that lone hyaena began to eat, that the entire wilde was essentially gone. Ten other hyaena arrived, jackal nibbled away, vultures cleaned off the last pieces. It was amazing. For its speed and efficiency.
Seeing the wild southern elephants of Tarangire was another great memory. Few people go down that far into Tarangire, content with the incredible encounters with the more resident and friendly eles to the north. We were surrounded – literally – by eles that don’t see a lot of people. They were wild, vicious perhaps, and most of all, incredibly powerful.
I had a fabulous time. My clients said so, too, and I hope as they reflect as I am now on the innumerable special moments, their appreciation for the wild and connection with East Africa will be established for the rest of their lives.