Day 17: Our last day in Africa

Tonight, is the last night. We have been in Africa for three weeks, and have seen a million strange and wonderful things. We have been bounced around in a Land Cruiser for a thousand kilometres, been on several different small aircraft with varying degrees of comfort, stayed in eight different beautiful lodges and ate way too much fabulous food. I’m tired and sore. Stiff from the travel, stinging from more than a few Tse Tse fly bites and sick and tired of wearing the same few clothes (laundered along the way).

But nowhere near ready to leave. Just now I heard a hyena calling in the night. On the drive to tonight’s lodge we saw lions and a black rhino, ostriches, and so much game I can’t process it all. We are in a lodge at Nairobi National Park. Forty minutes drive to the airport, through a nature preserve in an 870 square km urban park. Before the flight we will do one last game drive, and see a thousand wonderful sights and probably take a couple hundred more photos. I can see and hear airplanes taking off. Can see the bright lights of the city just over the hill that obscures the modern world from the natural cornucopia we have been feeding from. I don’t want to leave. Kwaheri and asante sano. Goodbye and thank you very much.

We WILL be back!

Walking Safari

Driving on a safari is truly a wonderful experience. There is so much to see and our western sensibilities make us want to do it all. But, as with the rest of life, the rush to get it all means we have to give up something. The give-up is the seemingly never-ending parade of animals. The take-up is in the fine detail. When going on safari the cure is to ensure you pre-book a walking safari, and book you must. Most places you will go are in national parks, and, with lions, Cape buffalo and other nasty critters you need a very experienced guide. Not all guides can conduct a walking safari, and they have to be accredited, licensed, knowledgeable and armed for your safety.

Now that I have scared off the less adventurous, we can begin.

Be prepared to walk five steps and look at tracks, two more steps give a lecture on termites, or a particular bird. Single file you carefully walk through the bush. Perhaps on a hippo path, maybe just through the grass but always aware of where you put your feet (the thorn bushes are CRAZY) and where the guide is. You do see animals, and try not to scare them. Try to get within 50 meters of some warthogs without them high tailing it away. The guide will keep you far away from a nasty looking Cape buffalo. See the birds, and reptiles, and grasses and trees and your entire viewpoint of the safari experience is changed and enhanced.
I went on three walking safaris this time around and was privileged to see three entirely different worlds. In central Serengeti we saw the detail of the bush through the eyes of a seasoned tracker. In the south Serengeti with an endangered tribe of hunter gatherers, and again with a safari guide. Each ended with the satisfaction of having learned something new and exciting. In the case of the last group, we ended our safari with the surprise of brunch in a treehouse. Ok we are not entirely roughing it here, after all, this is a Civilized Adventure.

P.S. Don’t forget the bug spray.

Days 14 to 16: Our extension to Mwiba Lodge – Southern Serengeti

What an incredible experience. We went on a two hour walk with one of the last tribes of hunter/gatherers left in East Africa, and I had no idea what to expect. National Geographic can only show so much and then you need to experience for yourself. We drove for a little over an hour in the Mwiba Conservation area to a meeting place. Because they go wherever there is food the Habzabe people are not super easy to find, but the guide who went out before us did indeed find a group of eight.

Smiling, happy, and kind of jokesters, the group greeted us warmly, and THEY SPOKE CLICKY!! Ok. Thats not what it is called but that’s exactly what it sounds like.

Our guide could communicate with them and we started to follow them through the bush. The oldest of the women showed us, this plant was good for the stomach, that one for birth control. These plants had eatable tubers. They found a tree with African killer bees and went right to work building a fire with sticks and chopping a hole in the tree. Bees were all around the two guys and they never got stung. The fire took two or three minutes to start and soon the smoke had driven the bees away. The man opening the hole had his arm in a beehive right up to his shoulder pulling out honeycomb. All eight shared the honey and they offered us a taste. So good. And just like that they put the fire out and were on the move.

We hurried to catch up in the medium heavy bush and came upon them at a kopje where they had cornered and whacked a rock hyrax with a stick. Lunch. And they were gone again. This time through heavier bush. They spread out and you could hear them communicating with a series of whistles. A slightly more urgent series of whistles and everyone congregated around a tree with another hive. Another fire was started and I was asked to give it a try. I got some smoke but didn’t want to hold them up so they took over and were done in a minute. More smoke, more holes, more honey. And then they threw the hyrax on the fire, cooked and shared it around, and in a couple of minutes were done. The fire was out and we were on the move looking for water.

It was starting to get hot, and it was time to part. We had been walking for the better part of two hours through all kinds of bush and they had brought us to within a hundred meters of our vehicle.

For me this was such a rare honour. The Mwiba Conservancy allows these people to hunt and gather as they have done since the beginning of time. The area where they can do this is shrinking however, and its not clear how long they will be able to continue their traditional way of life. I am extremely grateful I was able to experience this adventure firsthand before this dying culture is lost forever.

Day 13: Last day on safari

Today our group splits up. Half are going on to Rwanda, a quarter are back home to Canada, and 4 of us are going on to the south Serengeti. Before we leave however, one last game drive brings a pride of 10 lions. There were several cubs in the pride and cooler weather just before evening had them playing and wrestling. Magic. As light started to fade, we drove to a hilltop to be welcomed with a sundowner to finish the trip.

Those going to Rwanda are going gorilla and/ or chimpanzees trekking. Those headed to Canada find the start of winter, and the rest are looking to slow down and enjoy a more relaxed pace for a few days. I know its a tough life but being on Safari is not a “feet-up” kind of holiday. Generally, you are up before the dawn and on the road to get to the location of the day before the nocturnal world disappears. The day ends quite early, normally before 10 pm, but you are outside pretty much all day long, tiring as that can be. I’m looking forward to a walking safari, a night drive and a slower pace without the long distances. The herds are smaller and so is the terrain.

Day 11: Hot air ballooning in the Serengeti

Ticking an item off the bucket list.

It’s so iconic it is almost cliché. A hot air balloon ride over the Serengeti at sunrise, is so much better than you could possibly imagine.

The 4 am wake up call was not as magical as you think, and the bleary-eyed scramble to get ready for 5 am take off was somewhere between tragic and comical. An hour of bumping along something between a disorganized set of ruts and an invisible track through the predawn light brings us to a balloon being filled on the ground.

We get a pre-flight briefing, get loaded into the basket, the balloon fills, and we take off. No wind as we slowly rise, barely clearing the treetops. The pilot explains what is happening as we rise and descend over hills and trees. In a few minutes we are over the Mara River and a favourable air current has us following a straight stretch of the river. The pilot descends below the height of the riverbanks, and we are just a few meters above the water. Crocodiles and hippos are easily seen as we float lazily upriver. The river bends and we rise up. From the air, herds of wildebeest make their appearance as do elephants, zebra, warthogs, antelope, and the beauty of the Serengeti fills our senses. We rise way up, and the view is spectacular.

In the distance, those of our group that didn’t make this trip are on a game drive. The guides have positioned themselves so we will overfly them. The pilot descends so low we are only a couple of meters above the roof of the trucks, and we are taking photos of people taking our photo. Good natured banter back and forth for the seconds it takes, and we are past them and rising once again. The flight continues for another half hour and the pilot expertly places us about 100 meters from a table set with our champagne breakfast.

As the saying goes…. You got to try this.