Reluctant Traveler: What I Learned in Africa

My sister Bec concludes her wonderful tales of her time in Africa.

bec-closeup-twoBy Rebecca Borman

Without doubt, going to Africa was one of the most educational experiences of my life.  Here are some things that I learned….

* A little Swahili:
Jambo=hello; jambo-jambo=enthusiastic response to hello
Hakuna matada=no worries
Pole-pole=slow, but is often used to say “slow down” or “take it easy” (I heard that a lot.)
Asante=thank you; asante sana=thank you very much (I said both a lot.)
Karibu=welcome or you’re welcome
Sawa-sawa=okay, as in Sawa-sawa?  (Is it okay for me to do this?) Sawa-sawa (Yes, it is.)

* That they really do say “hakuna matada”—often.

* There are still those who live the traditional Masai lifestyle.  This Masai housemeans they live in small villages many miles away from any medical facilities or shopping.  They have no mode of transportation other than walking.  One can see 2-3 men or women in the distance, walking and talking.  We often wondered where they were walking to or from.  Their homes are tinier than I could ever imagine, dark and hot.  They earn money in several ways:  they might sell some of their cattle or goats in a market, to which they would drive them on foot; and the women make crafts that they sell at these markets and to visitors in their Masai villagevillages.  They use the money to buy clean water from the government.

* There are few highways.  And the ones there are do not accommodate driving very fast because they are two lanes, used by a variety of vehicles from large and small trucks to motorcycles, mopeds and bicycles.  Passing often requires an on-coming vehicle to slow down or move over, and no one seems to mind.

* Instead of highways, there are dirt roads, sometimes tracks barely visible in the high grass.  They are rutted and sometimes muddy.  They give passengers what they call an “African massage.”  They also take passengers to see incredible wildlife.

* Our driver, Mike, was amazing…wise, experienced, and generous.  He was probably the most important factor in our positive experience in Tanzania.

mike and truck

* Tanzania has an amazing variety of landscapes.  In one 4-5 hour drive, we passed through savannahs, plains, mountains, and a rainforest .  One place we stayed had flowers that reminded us of Hawaii.  It was all stunningly beautiful.

* The skies are beautiful, especially at sunset.

Sunset behind acacia

* Climate change is affecting eastern Africa in a big way.  In the past, the great migration took place in June and July.  But, it’s getting later, because the rains, when they come, are later.  Now, the best time to see wildlife is August.  Given how much the economy depends on tourism, this is an important point of information.

* We were often only one night at a hotel, so we didn’t often have the chance to get to know the staff.  But when we did, they were intelligent and interested in learning about us and in sharing their stories.

* People in Africa work very, very hard, in a way Americans cannot imagine.  They walk miles carrying potatoes or firewood on their heads.  Or they push heavy loads of food or fuel in hand carts.  Almost no one owns or has access to a car.

* Water is a constant source of concern; many people do not have access to clean water and most are constantly worried about whether there will be enough rainfall to sustain them in the long term.

* Eastern Africa is a place worth visiting.  Seeing literally endless vistas filled my heart with peace and contentment.  Watching wild animals in their natural habitat amazed me.  Having a sundowner drink on a patio overlooking the Serengeti was priceless.  Don’t let the challenges of the trip scare you out of going.

Reluctant Traveler: African Luxury

 

bec-closeup-two

In Part 3 of my sister’s series on her African safari, she tells us about their overnight experiences.

By Rebecca Borman

A big part of planning for our Africa trip was deciding on hotels.  Our travel agent mapped out a general travel plan and then we needed to decide where to stay on the journey.  I learned that there are different levels of hotel, and that they vary widely in cost.  They also vary widely in terms of amenities.  The first itinerary our agent sent included all top-flight luxury hotels.  The cost was daunting.  The second one she sent was substantially less expensive, but a quick search on TripAdvisor told me they were all much less highly rated.  “Isn’t there an in-between level?” I asked her.  There was, and when she sent the next itinerary, I was satisfied.  We also had the opportunity to upgrade a few for a reasonable price, and we took advantage of that.  But, despite the fact that I was comfortable with our choices and had looked at all of the properties on-line, I still wasn’t sure what they would be like, exactly.  And, in reality, all of them, while very nice, were quite different.

kirawira in situOne of the most interesting places was in Tarangire National Park.  This was our one and only treetop hotel, and we were eager to see what that was like.  The reception area was beautiful, and when we checked in we were told that every time we walked to or from our room we would need to be escorted.  When we got to our accommodation we noticed that we would have to climb stairs to reach the door.  Well, of course; it was in a treetop.  And it truly was, with a large branch growing through the room, in fact.  We had an amazing view of the savannah from our patio.  The room was large and tented, but with a door that locked rather than zipped.  When we wanted to leave the room, we used a walkie-talkie to call reception, who then sent someone to escort us.  We arrived late in the day and left early the next morning, so we didn’t have too much time to enjoy the view or the public area, but we were glad to have experienced treetop living even for a short time.

tentOur longest stay was in the Serengeti, at a hotel called Kirawira Camp.  We were there for three nights, two full days, and after moving from hotel to hotel for our first three days, we were ready to be settled for a while.  Kirawira was a great place for that.  It’s called a camp, and there was a bit of a camp feel to it.  Our room really was a tent, not in a treetop but raised above the ground.  Instead of a image (15)door and windows, we had zippers.  And yet, the bathroom had walls and modern fixtures.  The patio looked out onto the Serengeti…so awesome.  Kirawira also had a beautiful public area, open air, as all of them were.

Our last two nights in Tanzania were spent at Gibb’s Farm, about an Gibb Farmhour away from the Ngorongoro Crater.  Gibb’s Farm, which is a coffee plantation, was very different from all our other accommodations.  Each room was a cottage, and very spacious.  We had a sitting area that looked out onto a patio, two double beds, and a fireplace open to both the bedroom and the shower.  Each evening at dinner, our server asked if we would like a fire built in our room.  We said yes, and by the time we got back to the room, someone was there lighting it.  There was enough wood (from coffee plants) for us to keep it going until we went to bed.  How cozy was that?  Because we were on a coffee plantation, the views from the public area were spectacular, overlooking the coffee fields and the valley below.  We were surprised to see what looked to us like tropical flowers all around the grounds.  We felt like we were in Hawaii.

In some general ways, however, the hotels were similar.  For instance, Bec Kate eatingall of them had dining rooms that served three meals a day, because everyone who visits is on a meal plan.  There are no other food options, because these hotels are great distances from each other and from anything else.  It’s hard to describe how isolated they are and, in fact, hard to determine how distant they really are from each other, because there aren’t exactly super-highways connecting them.  But, for sure they are not near any towns or even villages; electricity is produced by generators and water is brought in.  They all offered wifi, most often only in the public areas.  And, the wifi was iffy at best.  At one place, we didn’t really have wifi the entire time, because the satellite it depended on was not working.

The hotels were definitely part of the Africa experience, and I’m glad we spent some time choosing them carefully.  And while moving around so much was tiring, I’m also happy that we were able to experience so many interesting variations in our accommodations.  I think I can say with certainty that I’ll never have anything like those views or those rooms again.

Reluctant Traveler: Wildlife Adventures

Enjoy the second in the series by my sister in which she tells us tales of her trip to Africa. Photography is courtesy of her daughter, who accompanied her. And spectacular photography it is!

By Rebecca Borman
bec-closeup-twoIt’s safe to say that most people who visit eastern Africa do so primarily to view wildlife.  Africans know this, of course, so they have perfected the art of showing visitors the best their continent has to offer in this regard.  But, in the end, there are no guarantees.  The rainy season, and thus the great migration, don’t always happen as predicted.  But one always travels there with the hope and perhaps expectation of seeing “the big 5”—lions, elephants, rhinos, Cape buffalos, and leopards.  Not to keep you in suspense…we saw all five!

It’s impossible to describe what it’s like to see these truly wild animals in their natural habitat.  We are all getting spoiled by our great zoos, and some of us are lucky enough to have visited the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.  So, is it really all that much better to see the animals in Africa?

Yes. It. Is.

And here’s why.  Because seeing them in their natural habitat means seeing them act like the wild animals that they are.

elephant and babyFor instance, on one of our first drives we found ourselves in the middle of a herd of elephants.  The group included a number of young, one of which was quite small (by elephant standards).  Mother elephant was staying very close by her baby and she was keeping a sharp eye on our truck.  We never felt in danger, but eventually our driver suggested we move on, as mama might be a little over our presence.  This was very cool.

Also early in our trip we saw a cheetah.  Cheetahs are elusive and solitary, so they are not easily found.  We were driving off-road in the Serengeti (I can’t believe I just wrote that!) in an area where it is allowed to drive off the dirt tracks for a few months each year.  Anyway, our driver slowed down, then stopped.  We saw a cheetah, quite close to our truck, with its just killed prey.  It had eaten a bit and was resting…and making sure no scavengers got to his prize until he was finished with it.  Truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

And lions…we saw lots and lots of lions, doing what lions do.  Lions in treeOne day we came across trees filled with female lions and a couple of cubs.  One tree had more than a dozen lions draped across its limbs.  Another time we saw a male and female, who had distanced themselves from the pride for mating season.  We watched them walk from place to place, always the female in yawning lion and babyfront and the male watching her back.  Best of all, we saw a lion with her two very small cubs.  They nuzzled mom, wrestled a bit, and scrambled after her as she climbed down from the rock they were sitting on.  They walked right in front of our truck to cross the road into the high grasses on the other side.  And, there was the time we watched a group of hyenas circling lions and their prey, trying to get up the nerve to challenge the lions.  We finally had to leave, so we didn’t find out who won that stand-off.

I won’t catalogue every animal we saw, but suffice it to say that wildebeests, Cape buffalos, and zebras are clearly not on the endangered species list.  We saw huge herds of all three.  And, that’s another thing you can’t see in even the best zoo.  There is something special about looking out over a plain with animals as far as the eye can see.  We missed the great migration, but this seemed pretty great to me!

Finally, I must talk a little about the giraffes.  In general, the animals didn’t pay much attention to us humans.  The zebras in giraffeparticular would stroll right in front of our truck, which would of course slow down.  Then they (the zebras) would notice us and, with great drama, bolt one way or the other.  But, the giraffes were different.  The truck would stop and we would stand up with our binoculars and cameras, staring at the animals.  And they, with those big beautiful eyes, would stare right back at us.  Occasionally they would walk along-side the truck.  They seemed to find us as interesting as we found them.

If you love animals as I do, Tanzania is the place to be.  There’s no better place in the world to experience the beauty and power of these beasts.

 

Reluctant Traveler: Into Africa

My sister Bec recently returned from a trip-of-a-lifetime, a safari to Tanzania and Kenya in Africa. Today, and for the next three Wednesdays, she will tell you about her exciting trip.

By Rebecca Borman

bec-closeup-twoFor a long time, one of my travel goals was to visit Africa to view the wildlife there.  A few years ago, my husband and I started some serious planning for such a trip, but life happened and the trip did not.  About a year ago, I wondered if I was ready to try it again.  I asked my daughter if she would be interested in going, and she gave me a resounding Yes!  And so, the planning began again.

tanzania kenya mapI did a little research and decided that Tanzania was where I wanted to go, and I hoped to visit another country as well.  I ended up choosing Kenya, mostly because it borders Tanzania and because most everyone I know who has been to Africa has been to Kenya.

To be honest, the planning was somewhat overwhelming.  There are so many things to consider.  For instance, it take over 24 hours to get to Eastern Africa from the west coast, so it seemed like we should be in Africa for at least 10 days to make the traveling worthwhile.  How and where to spend those 10 days?  I left a lot of that up to our excellent travel company, and was happy with what our agent came up with.  Once we had our itinerary in place, there was still lots of preparation.

I knew I would need some immunizations, so I looked on-line to get an idea of what that would involve.  A lot, apparently.  A trip to my primary care doctor was really helpful.  She took the time to research the areas we would be visiting and helped me to identify the required immunizations and to determine which of the optional ones I should get.  I did what I could in that office and then made another several trips to a travel clinic.  I was so impressed with the travel nurse.  She walked me through the immunization process, discussed insect repellent and sunscreen needs, and advised me to take an antibiotic along, just in case.  In my daughter’s case, her travel clinic actually prepared a personalized, bound document for her, describing the areas we would visit, their customs, and other pertinent information.  Note to self:  Travel clinics are awesome!

Another big question was what to pack.  I read the information sent by the travel company and verified that we were, indeed, limited to a maximum of 33 pounds, including both checked and carry-on bags.  And, said bags needed to be completely soft…no hard shells, or even wheels.  Yikes!  Everyone I spoke to and everything I read said that 2-3 outfits would be sufficient, and that it wasn’t necessary to buy special “safari” clothing.  Fortunately, however, I already owned two safari-type shirts and a pair of safari pants.  To those I added enough clothes to have a total (including what I wore) of three outfits, plus a somewhat nicer shirt for dinners.  I was advised that mornings and evenings might be cool, so I added a sweater.  The only things I purchased specifically for the trip were a pair of slip-on sneakers and a multi-pocket vest, both of which I wore the entire trip.

Of course, I didn’t just take clothes.  I brought a good pair of binoculars, a wildlife book, first-aid articles, medications, a flashlight, sunscreen, insect repellent, voltage adapters, chargers, etc.  It doesn’t sound like much, but it seemed like my suitcase was much bigger, bulkier, and heavier than my daughter’s.  And I never did figure out why.  I will say, though, that I did a good job.  There were only a couple of things I didn’t use or wear, and I feel like they were still sensible to take along.

And then there were those issues I worried about but couldn’t really prepare for.  The journey to Africa was daunting to me.  From Phoenix, I would fly to Detroit, change planes, fly to Amsterdam, change planes, and finally fly to Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.  My daughter was coming from L.A.; we would meet in Amsterdam and fly together from there.  But, what if one of the planes was late and we didn’t connect with each other?  How would we communicate?  How/when would the one left behind get to Tanzania?  Well, those problems couldn’t be solved until, well, they were actually problems.  But, we made “what-if “plans about how to communicate with each other and the travel company if anything went wrong.

Before I knew it, I was on my way to the airport, ready to start my journey.  I was often asked what I expected from the trip.  My honest answer was, “I don’t have any idea.”  Obviously, I hoped for good wildlife viewing; I had chosen a time that had the potential for it.  But, no one, not even the best guide, can guarantee that the animals will be around.  So, I hoped to see the “Big 5” but didn’t count on it.  Other than that, I had no idea what to expect.  Would it really be that impressive to see lions or elephants or giraffes in their natural habitat?  What does Tanzania look like?  Would we get a sense of the culture or would we be too programmed and isolated for that to happen?  What would it be like to spend a week with one driver/guide in an open truck?  What does the term “luxury hotel” mean in Tanzania?

When I got on the plane in Phoenix, I literally took a deep breath and stepped into the biggest adventure of my life.