|After leaving Nairobi, we headed for Amboseli National Park|
As we pulled away from the hotel in Nairobi, the excitement of a whole summer in Africa welled up inside of me. There were six of us from the states and we were off on a two and a half month journey through some of the most interesting parts of the country. I had signed up to travel as a single, something I frequently did. I would be rooming with another single who was maybe 20 years younger than I. There were also two couples
For the past three months I’d studied Swahili and prepared for the trip. I decided to go with a well-established travel company and had selected a package that would include shopping in Nairobi, a two week safari in Tanzania, and a gorilla trek in Burundi, a small country in between Zaire and Rwanda.
Our SUV veered out onto the highway and headed for Tanzania. Salim, a big burly black man with a gorgeous smile, was our driver. Each morning he greeted us with “hujambo,” which meant good day. During the trip he let me practice my Swahili on him.
|We stayed here at the foot of Mt Kilimanjaro|
Our first stop was at the Amboseli Serena Safari Lodge, about five hours out of Nairobi. Salim parked the van directly in front of Mount Kilimanjaro. The lodge sat just beneath it, surrounded by beautiful Acacia trees.
With the help of Salim and several other drivers who had pulled up around the same time, we found our rooms and stored our luggage. We were treated to a wonderful dance by Masai warriors at sunset and wandered over to the dining room across a little bridge covering a stream of melted snow that had trickled down from Kilimanjaro.
Dinner was amazing. I didn’t know what to expect. But I will never forget walking up to that beautiful buffet table on our first night. There were fruits and vegetables of all kinds. Beautiful braided breads, and a variety of meats from roast beef, pork, and lamb to whole grilled chickens on a spit. And the desserts? Chocolate, lemon, vanilla, banana and coconut confections…tempting and irresistible.
|The Maasi people are very friendly and welcoming|
Early the next morning, I peered out of my window mesmerized by the hundreds of monkeys playing on our front lawn. We were scheduled to have an early breakfast before venturing to the Masai Mara. Again, the food was more than I ever expected.
We piled into our RV and took off for parts unknown, ready for anything. We arrived at the Masai Mara village enclosed in a circular fence built by the men and thorned by Acacia trees. At night, all cows, goats sheep are placed in an enclosure in the centre, safe from wild animals. Maasai houses, designed for nomadic people on the move are impermanent in nature and constructed by the women. The framework is formed of timber poles fixed directly into the ground and interwoven with a lattice of smaller branches, which is then plastered with a mix of mud, sticks, grass, cow dung, human urine and ash.
We were welcomed with a performance by the women and invited to come into their homes and to purchase their fabrics and jewelry. They were very friendly and allowed us to take all the photos we wanted.
|This tent is almost identical to the one I stayed in.|
We stayed a couple more days at the lodge and then took off for the open plains of the Masai Mara and the Serengeti for a two week safari. We were told we would be staying at the Mara Plains Camp. But we had no idea the tents would be huge suites with marble baths and mahogany four poster beds and oriental rugs. It was like no camp grounds I’d ever seen. And, again, the food was sumptuous, creative, and delicious.
|Hippos love muddy water|
Each morning we would climb aboard our land-rovers and spend the day photographing animals in their own habitant. There were elephants, giraffes, lions, many varieties of wild cats, and wonderful birds. The monkeys didn’t hang out on the plains, but we drove to wooded areas where we saw many different varieties. And, for a look at the hippos, we drove to a muddy river and watched as they played and scrapped with each other diving in and out of the water.
|We spent a couple of nights in beautiful Mt Kenya Safari Lodge|
We were also treated to several side trips such as three amazing sanctuaries, one for elephants where we had lunch out on the lawn amidst beautiful flower gardens, and two others one for giraffes and one for rhinos. Then there was a night’s stay in a tree house at Ngorogo, where we watched the animals drink at a watering hole in the evening, beneath our window. In addition we stayed over night at the Mount Kenya Safari Club owned by Bill and Stephanie Holden.
In the mid 1950’s William Holden went to Africa on a hunting safari with two friends. There was one inn that was the favorite “repairing” spot for Bill and his pals and by some quirk of fate it was for sale! After many drinks and lots of dreams the three bought the inn and turned it into the Mt. Kenya Safari Club.
|An evening boat-ride on Lake Kivu|
|Gorilla trekking up in the mountains of central Africa|
Next on our agenda, was a short flight to Burundi, where we would go gorilla trekking up high in the mountains, stay on Lake Kivu in a small hotel owned by a couple of brothers from the Netherlands, and venture into areas were the locals fished and grew bananas. On either side of Lake Kivu are Rwanda and Zaire. We visited the entire area, including the city of Kigali.
The evening conversations at the hotel were interesting but took on a political bent, which I wasn’t too happy about, as it made for some arguing. The subject of how the locals made a living came up. They were under the rule of Mbutu at the time, a dictator, and they lived a very sparse existence, bartering for food and working at hotels and businesses run by the Dutch, where they were paid one dollar a day for eight hours labor. Since that time, Mbutu was ousted and the Hutus and Tutsis, who once lived in peace, ended up fighting a civil war in Rwanda in 1994, about which the movie Hotel Rwanda was written. The area is once again safe and open to travelers from all over the world.
Rwanda is now as safe as (if not safer than) most other countries. However some common sense precautions should be taken. Do not flaunt your wealth by wearing expensive jewelry or carrying large wads of money openly. Avoid changing money in the streets. Likewise avoid overcrowded streets.
There are many travel companies listed on line that incorporate some of the same trips I took during the time I was in Africa. I would definitely recommend this kind of trip if you are interested in other cultures and curious about how other people in the world live. It was one of the best trips I every took.
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