Return to East Africa

By Bob Loveland
This item appears on page 14 of the June 2019 issue.

Cheetahs in the Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya. Photo: Bob Loveland

A safari that my wife, LaMerle, and I took to see wondrous wildlife and the awe-inspiring landscapes in Kenya with Gate 1 Travel in January 2013 was a trip of a lifetime. This safari in East Africa was our usual one-and-done experience, after which we moved on to the next adventure in another part of the world.

Fast-forward to November 2018, when we were discussing where to go in 2019 and beyond. Out of character, I said, “I wouldn’t mind going back on safari again.” My practical wife replied, “Well, if we’re going to do it, let’s go ahead now.”

Made possible by the Internet, many travelers book private tours with overseas companies, and this is exactly what we would do. I quickly discovered a website ideal for our trip needs: www.safaribookings.com. It lists over 5,000 safaris from over 1,400 tour operators and provides a wealth of additional information for safari planning.

Our tent at Kibo Safari Camp in Amboseli National Park, Kenya. Photo by Bob Loveland

To sift through the multitude of options, you set the criteria for destination, start date, tour length, comfort level, private tour or group tour, etc., and safaris matching your criteria appear.

This time, the focus of our trip was to be Tanzania, but we discovered that flying to Arusha from Atlanta was problematic with regard to both schedules and price, so we revised our criteria and looked for 10-night, mid-range safaris with good reviews that started in Kenya in late February 2019 and ended up in Tanzania.

Our choices generated 150 matching safaris, which were quickly whittled down to 20 that best matched our criteria. Safaribooking.com recommends soliciting formal quotes from several companies. We used their convenient quote-request form to get quotes from four semifinalists. Each company responded with good quotes within 24 hours!

We whittled those down to two finalists. One proposed accommodation in lodges and the other, tented camps. We opted for the camps, believing that that would provide a more “authentic” experience. That safari was offered by Nairobi-based Amazing Memories Safaris (Nairobi, Kenya; phone +254 725 118 928, amazingmemoriessafaris.com).

Arranging a private tour was so easy. We collaborated with Wangechi and Anne of Amazing Memories for fine-tuning. Specifically, to coordinate with our arrival, we added a night at an airport hotel in Nairobi and removed a night at Lake Nakuru (previously visited). Also, to provide a break from our tent itinerary, we exchanged a tent for a lodge at Ngorongoro Crater.

Mt. Kilimanjaro, in Tanzania, as seen from Amboseli National Park in Kenya. Photo by LaMerle Loveland

For $3,350 per person, our final itinerary included, in Kenya, arrival in Nairobi (one night), Lake Naivasha (one night), Maasai Mara National Reserve, which was the only repeat from our previous visit (three nights), and Amboseli National Park (two nights). In Tanzania we visited Serengeti National Park (two nights) and Ngorongoro Crater (one night).

Unfortunately, the trip got off to the worst possible start, with our perfect air itinerary on paper suffering a double whammy.

First, our Atlanta departure experienced a 4-hour weather delay, resulting in a missed connection in Paris and requiring that we rebook our flight to Nairobi from morning to evening. Then that evening flight was canceled, resulting in a second rebooking and an additional 24-hour delay. Finally arriving in Nairobi early in the morning two days late, on Feb. 20 we were off and running, still in our traveling clothes.

(Checking the flights history on flightaware.com [type in the airline name and flight number and click on “Track,” and any Activity Log will come up — Editor], I discovered that each of those flights had had only one serious problem, our dates, during the previous 90-day period. I calculated the probability of the two consecutive mishaps to be 1 in 8,100!)

Despite our initial setback, the safari was absolutely wonderful!

There is just something about being on safari that excites the senses and soothes the soul. It is a complete 180 degrees from “normal” daily activity, letting you clear your head and immerse yourself in the tranquility of the natural world.

The landscape at Serengeti National Park, Tanzania. Photo by Bob Loveland

The mixture of exhilarating game- and bird-spotting combined with the serenity of magnificent landscapes produces a near euphoric high of otherworldliness. With man as a mere insignificant spectator, it is as though this is the one time when animals are the masters setting the rules.

All of the accommodations were very nice. We especially enjoyed Basecamp Masai Mara, where all 17 tents have shaded porches overlooking the Talek River and the very good food is nicely presented.

Our other favorite was Kibo Safari Camp at Amboseli. Our tent was spacious and well lit, with the bonus of an entrance with a door and key rather than a zipper. The covered porch provided wonderful views of Kilimanjaro in the daytime and a firmament of thousands of stars at night. Even in this place, the busiest of our camps, the headwaiter, Duncan, found wonderful quiet tables for our dining.

One of the quirks in crossing the border from Kenya to Tanzania is a required change of guide/driver. Because we crossed the border in both directions, we ended up having three different guides/drivers. All were skilled and personable, and, with their different personalities, it was fun getting to know each of them.

For border crossings, be sure to have proof of a yellow fever vaccination.

A zebra at Lake Naivasha, Kenya. Photo by Bob Loveland

Alas, all too soon it was time to go back to our world, beginning with the tarmac roads and the heavy traffic we found as we returned to Nairobi. I am happy to say that the return home, via Johannesburg, was one of the smoothest ever.

When you visit East Africa, you soon discover that safari vehicles each seem to have the logo of a different company. That means that there are many, many choices available. With modern technology to ease the search, you too can find a wonderful company and safari to fit your requirements.

BOB LOVELAND
Gainesville, GA