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Destination: Africa!

Safari Offers Unexpected Discoveries

The elephant was less than 15 feet away, slowly and methodically strolling and grazing, when suddenly, she stopped, swinging her enormous head over to face me. She stared for a minute, let out a big whoosh, and then resumed eating. I must have looked nervous because our guide turned from the front seat of our open Jeep to say, “Hakuna Matata, Susan.”

No worries? Really? This enormous creature was so close I could feel her breath. Nothing separated me from her except a small patch of grass and the frame of a safari vehicle.

Although we spent months researching, what surprised us most about our 2023 African safari experience was how close we got to the animals. The binoculars we were advised to bring went unused. There was no need. Expert game drivers took us underneath trees of sleeping lions, beside families of elephants mud bathing, and into the middle of thousands of wildebeests and zebras on the migration move. Their only advice was to be still and watch.

Deciding to go to Africa was not easy. After many weeks of debate about everything from required vaccines to expenses by early January, it was crunch time. Safaris fill up fast and if forever boyfriend and adventure buddy Jim Miller didn’t start booking, the window would close, along with our desire to tackle the required preparation and 30-plus hour travel time.

The first and most important decision was choosing a safari company from among a dozen proposals. Elewana Collection was a fantastic choice, as we enjoyed a seamless adventure, from arriving in Arusha to ending in Zanzibar, along with comfortable accommodations.

Thankfully, after back-to-back long-haul flights, we arrived in Nairobi, Kenya, at night and went straight to our hotel to recover. Palacina Residence and Suites was a perfect respite in the middle of this huge city. Two days here offered us a chance to visit the American Embassy and Memorial Museum and Garden—the embassy was bombed on Aug. 7, 1998—along with seeing 360° views from the top of the city convention center and a stroll through the Nairobi National Museum.

The next day features a stop at Kobe Tough Beads and Leather, where Maasai women create ceramic jewelry, trinkets and leather works. The Daphne Sheldrick Elephant and Rhino Orphanage admits 200 visitors per day for one hour to watch their babies eat and frolic. What a delight. The core of its operation is the rescue and rehabilitation of orphaned elephants and rhinos to return them to their native habitat.

From there, we drive to the Giraffe Center, dedicated to reintroducing the Rothschild species into the wild. Visitors can feed these gentle creatures and learn about their history and anatomy here. At the end of the day, we stop at the Karen Blixen Museum, at one time the centerpiece of a coffee farm owned by Blixen, whose pen name was Isak Dinesen, author of Out of Africa.

Early the next morning we fly to Arusha, Tanzania, in a plane the size of an SUV. The drive from the airport to our lodge features a miles-long and blocks-wide traffic jam of honking cars, buses and vans. After one night in a swanky cabin at the Arusha Coffee Lodge, we are off to a small airport:  a collection of metal buildings and dirt airstrips. Our 30-minute flight takes us to a landing field, where we are met by our guide, Mokili Olesokoi, with whom we spend the next three days touring Tarangire National Park.

Home to one of the largest elephant populations in Africa, our time here was magical. Our hotel was a treehouse built into a massive, ancient baobab tree. We enjoyed hours-long game drives with one at night, as well as an early-morning walking safari, a visit to a Maasai village, and an impressive sunset happy hour overlooking the savannah. Mokili teaches us so much about the environment, animals and their ecosystem, and the Maasai tribe, of which he is a member. 

As he drives us out through the park to transfer us to our next guide at Lake Manyara Airstrip, we pass traditional Maasai villages of dirt and straw huts, children tending to sheep and cattle, and women carrying water and baskets on their heads. Amazing.

Two days at Ngorongoro Crater with a stay at The Manor at Ngorongoro, a grand mansion situated on a gorgeous, hilly coffee plantation and we are off to the famed Serengeti. A truly remote wildlife wonderland, this rolling savannah is dotted with acacia trees and riverine woodlands. We are treated to the sight of millions of wildebeest migrating north as well as hippos that roam our camp at night after spending the day in the Grumet River which runs through it. Giraffes regularly stroll past the deck of our tent. Here we could watch lions and hyenas feast on freshly killed meat and sit in the middle of the migration while sipping coffee.

After three days of game drives, picnics and sundown celebrations, we bid farewell to the incredible animals, along with our guide-in-training Angela, and fly to Zanzibar. After days of flying and riding in open-air Jeeps on dirt roads, we are ready for some quiet time at Pongwe Beach. Two days here is plenty, and we head over to the old city of Stone Town for two days of sightseeing.

The most daunting part of the trip was the 34 hours of travel time required to get home. It was worth it! FBF Jim and I made many unexpected discoveries. Flying in light-weight planes is fun! We were scarily close to hundreds of animals! Our pilots, guides and camp caretakers were the best!

Africa is a huge continent composed of 54 countries, thousands of cultures and varied landscapes. From the pyramids of Giza to the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro, the savannahs of the Serengeti to the beaches of Zanzibar. Go. You won’t regret it.

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