Africa: an unparalleled adventure
February 27, 2012
One of the advantages of being stationed in Europe is the ability to travel to many destinations that are on thousands of "bucket lists," those special places that people want to visit before they kick the bucket. Whether it's floating through the canals of Venice, climbing the steps to the Parthenon in Athens, or riding a camel among the Great Pyramids of Egypt, all are within easy reach of Germany.
Many people share a dream of going on safari in Africa, and there will never be a better time than when you are stationed here. Most flights from the States stop in Europe, so in a sense, you're halfway there.
There are as many different ways to visit Africa as there are individual desires, and trips can be individually tailored to suit any budget or itinerary. Whether you wish to wind your way through dense jungles in search of gorillas, climb the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro, or see vast herds of wildebeest bolting across the Serengeti, there are literally hundreds of tour companies capable of arranging your dream trip.
With 53 countries in Africa, the variety of travel possibilities are endless, and well beyond the scope of this article. But having just returned from two weeks in Kenya and Tanzania, perhaps I can tantalize you to begin your own research with a glimpse of the adventure that could await.
The following is an example of a single day while visiting the Maasai Mara National Reserve, a 15,000-square kilometer parcel of protected land in Kenya.
We left camp at 6:30 a.m. and within 10 minutes discovered a pride of three lionesses and various cubs (perhaps as old as 7 months) gathered around the half devoured carcass of an antelope. The mothers were stuffed and lazy, but the energetic cubs leap about playfully, wrestling with each other or attacking their mothers' twitching tails. The lions seemed totally uninterested in our vehicle, allowing us to approach within 10 feet.
Life abounds on all sides. Hundreds of birds of varying hues, vast herds of antelope, zebra and giraffe; in every direction the landscape is dotted with a variety of wildlife.
Driving is like embarking on a Disneyland ride. The rain last night left the road slippery, and we slid and bounced along, sometimes literally moving sideways. Our driver, Dominic, took it all in stride while steering us over rivers, through defiles, and across swamps with nonchalant aplomb.
Next, we came across six elephants, three mothers, each with a calf of varying age. The youngest was about knee high, its ears still fuzzy, and its tiny trunk waving about haphazardly. Elephants have over 100 muscles in their trunks, and it takes time to learn to control it completely.
One baby walked along in the shade under its mother's belly.
We stopped for a picnic breakfast on a bluff above a bend in the river. Below, half a dozen hippos frolicked, breaking the surface with grunts and blows, sometimes only their nostrils poking out. On the far bank, crocodiles bathed in the sun.
Dominic spotted a rhino across the river. "I think there's a river crossing near here, I'll try and find it," he said.
How this man navigates is a mystery to me. We had driven off into the middle of nowhere to follow a wounded hippo, and the river is marked only by a winding strip of trees and bushes through the grass plain. The tracks that are loosely referred to as roads are nowhere in sight. Yet Dominic unerringly steered us through bushes and around boulders to a river crossing.
"Wait here and I'll check it out," he said as he bounded out of the truck and ran forward, clearly just as excited as we were. There had been heavy rains lately, and the river was much higher than normal so there was a good chance this crossing was flooded.
Dominic ran back, leapt into the truck, cranked the engine and said, "I think we can make it."
We careened through a gorge, and down a cliff in what can again only be compared to a Disney adventure ride. This was not a road but a river bed; full of rocks, deep ruts and surrounded by forest. The crossing was narrow, the water deep, and the climb up the other side slick with mud. We headed sideways into some bushes, fishtailed the opposite direction, skimmed past some trees, then plopped on top of the hill and into the field.
Creeping along, we spotted the rhino lying down in a mud hole. He bounded suddenly to his feet, snorting. He is huge, easily the size of our land rover. He danced to and fro, pawing the ground, jogging toward us, his horn lowered menacingly. Then suddenly he wheeled and darted into the forest.
Less than a quarter mile from camp, as the sun sank, we saw five lions sprawled atop a gigantic termite mount. Storm clouds gathered in the distance and a rainbow arced overhead, making a once in a lifetime view.
And that is a snapshot of what you'll find on safari -- a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.