Our African safari


My husband, Jim, and I took the trip of a lifetime in August ’05. It was both an experience and an education.

Since selling our business six years ago, we have taken two or three trips each year to exotic destinations. Thus far, most of our travels have been to Asian countries. Because of the distance, we typically stay a month at each place. While working, we had been limited to shorter trips to less distant destinations.

We always travel with groups of no more than a dozen persons. As we journeyed, I made it a point to ask members of our groups which countries they enjoyed most during their previous excursions. Almost without exception, the answer was either Mongolia or Africa or both. Africa was most always mentioned as a must-see destination. Many said they’d return, given the opportunity.

As a combined Christmas and 65th birthday present, my husband gave me the thrill of planning an African safari for the two of us.

Using the copies of ITN that I always save, I searched for readers’ recommendations. Several had named Leora Rothschild of Rothschild Safaris USA (1685 S. Colorado Blvd., Ste. 197, Denver, CO 80222; 800/405-9463 or www. rothschildsafaris.com). I contacted her by e-mail.

Our criteria was a trip of 17 or 18 days to Kenya and Tanzania, preferably during the annual migration period. We wished to stay at a variety of campsites, with the stipulation that each must be small and intimate. We had been warned to avoid large groups where there were many vehicles radioing back and forth and racing each other to see game. If possible, we wanted to fly in a hot-air balloon over the migrating animals.

Leora worked out an itinerary that turned out to be fabulous. It was somewhat more expensive than the typical tour, but we used chartered private aircraft that allowed us to see a greater diversity of the country with both celerity and comfort. The cost for the two of us was about $18,000. This included everything except air to and from Africa, and tips. (Leora does work with people within their budget and time constraints.) We arrived in Nairobi on Aug. 19, ’05, and departed from Dar es Salaam on Sept. 5.

Our first night, we stayed at Giraffe Manor in Nairobi, KENYA. This is a 1930s baronial home which looks like an English country estate. It is situated on 500 acres where the owners have founded a center for endangered Rothschild’s giraffes. There were four guest rooms, and we were treated like royalty. We could feed the giraffes from our second-story bedroom windows as well as from the breakfast room. It was a real treat for both man and beast!

From there we flew in a Cessna 182 to the Maasai Mara and took a short drive from the airstrip to a temporary tented camp in the game reserve. Elephant Pepper Camp is open nine months each year.

We loved this camp. There were eight tents, which were spacious and complete with “safari” showers, flush toilets, glass sinks and king-size beds. We never missed not having electricity. The food was great and we had our own guide/driver every day.

We saw so much game in those three days, we could have gone home happy. Because the camp was outside the national park, there were no restrictions on where we could drive. This is a very important thing to realize when planning a safari.

We spent three nights there and then our guide, Richard, drove us to Little Governor’s Camp in another part of the park. I wanted to do the hot-air balloon trip, and balloons are launched from there at 6 a.m., so staying very far away is an issue.

The balloon ride was good, but it was very windy that morning and the captain had to use lots of gas to keep us on course, so it was very noisy — not the serene floating over animals that I had anticipated. We also were grouped with two other balloons and were to meet at a special location where breakfast had been set up. We arrived 20 minutes sooner than planned.

We stayed at Little Governor’s for three nights, then flew to Ol Malo in the northern frontier of Kenya’s Samburu territory. Ol Malo had four guest houses and we were treated as houseguests. The owners and family were so wonderful and the houses so beautiful that seeing any animals seemed secondary.

The animals there were not as plentiful and were different from those in the Mara. We saw reticulated giraffes, Grevy’s zebras, dik-diks and greater kudu as well as elephants and the occasional leopard. The Samburu tribe was fascinating and we shared 5,000 acres with them. The land is hilly, cliff-like and more arid. We went on a camel safari here.

A private plane took us to Ngorongoro Crater in TANZANIA. We stayed at Ngorongoro Crater Lodge, which is dramatic and architecturally unusual. The guidebooks describe it as built in the African baroque style, and over the top it is. We had our own house and personal butler, and the food was exceptional.

The crater is very interesting and I recommend it highly. Once a volcano equal to Mt. Kilimanjaro, it collapsed into itself about two million years ago and now covers 100 square miles. The rim is unbroken. We saw many of the same animals here but in a unique ecosystem.

We stayed at the lodge two nights, which was just right. It was much colder there. The lodge is at 7,000 feet, but the crater floor is 1,500 feet lower and considerably warmer.

We then were driven to Lake Manyara Tree Lodge, where there are 10 tree houses nestled in a mahogany forest. You see thousands of baboons and many elephants here. Flamingos and pelicans are in large flocks part of the time, but the lake was low during our visit and they had moved to another lake.

After two nights we flew on to our last camp on the Grumeti River in the Serengeti. The camp had 10 tents, which were equally comfortable. The river was just 50 feet away from the camp. We saw hippos peering through the green carpet of water cabbage and heard them grazing outside our tent during the night.

If you have never been on safari in Africa, DO contact Leora at Rothschild Safaris. You will not be disappointed.

MARI BUCHMAN

Savannah, GA