My memories of Africa remain vivid. There was the morning I awoke to snorting hippos wallowing in the river just below our riverside camp.I can still smell the sweet grass of the Masai Mara, and saw a leopard drag her meal up a tree to safety. And you don’t soon forget being nuzzled by a baby pachyderm in an elephant sanctuary.
To paraphrase Montana-based artist John Banovich, appreciating wild lands and wildlife should lift our minds, replenish our spirits and renew our passion for living, and that’s what we experienced during a two- week trip to Kenya last year before the coronavirus pandemic took hold. It’s also a perfect description of what travel should do for you. Our wildlife safari combined the exhilaration of a bit of strenuous activity with an adventure of learning about conservation and the respect we should have for all of the species with whom we share our planet. Equally valuable was gaining insight into various tribal cultures through the efforts of experienced and knowledgeable guides.
My wife, Martha, and I have been lucky enough to have spent most of our adult lives in Colorado and have always been active. Individually or together, we have been backcountry ski guides; skied the state’s many resorts; hiked or ridden horses throughout Colorado (and played polo); and walked most of the Highline Canal.
Along the way, we would be inspired by reading adventure magazines, but we no longer seek an adrenaline rush from physical activity during travel— which is why a safari in Kenya was appealing. The word “safari” in Swahili means “journey” and ours was magnificently organized by Sandy Cunningham and the brilliant team at Outside GO. Sandy, a native South African, worked closely with us—and our Australian traveling companions Lisa and David—to maximize the experience. We opted to keep our trip only in Kenya, for example, so as not to waste precious time in transit or border crossings to other countries. The trip cost was packaged to include travel, meals and lodging.
Our first stop was The Emakoko Hotel in the Nairobi National Park, a 30-minute ride from the airport. The park is a huge expanse of savannah, with all of the major animal groups, many of which we got to view while driving the park in a Range Rover. Our first dinner was a traditional Kenyan feast with beef and local vegetables. We left early the next morning for the local airport, along the way spotting elephants, giraffes and a sauntering lioness looking for her next meal.
Safari on horseback
After a short flight in a 12-passenger twin-engine plane, we landed in the airport serving the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy. We were picked up by Ben, the guide who would lead us for the next four days. A member of the Turkana tribe, Ben spoke perfect English and proved to be an expert in all things flora and fauna, as well as the local culture.
Our destination was Borana Lodge, located in the highlands at an elevation of 6,500 feet northeast of Mount Kenya. The lodge is located on a private land conservancy that is part of the larger northern trust conservancies. These privately owned conservancies benefit not only the wildlife but also the local people. Borana was founded by the Dyer family, which has established a community of area residents as well as foreign investors to conserve their land.
The lodge has a series of cabins spaced apart to maximize the views. The roomy cabins have hot water and electricity, and we shared the front porch with a family of small monkeys that were most interested in any meal we might have on the deck. As for our meal with the other guests, it was served in a common dining hall and was a delicious seven-course affair with a carefully chosen wine for each course.
The next morning, we visited the farm where the food served at the lodge is grown. Run by the passionate third-generation Dyer, Peter, the farm was established 60 years ago by his grandmother. All of the meat served also comes from the herds that the conservancy raises.
A horseback safari was on the schedule for the following day. As we were mounting up, we were told that lions would not attack a mounted rider. (The horses were relying on that, but I wondered who checked in with the lions.) We rode Kenyan thoroughbreds through the hilly plains, at one point coming near a white rhino with a calf happily grazing in the belly-high grass. Fortunately, the Kenyan lore about lions and horses proved true.
On our last day, we stalked rhinos on foot, accompanied by an armed ranger. We approached a white rhino and got about 50 yards away. White rhinos are said to not be aggressive. While their eyesight is poor, their hearing and sense of smell is quite good. This rhino let us approach and back away without twitching an ear. Later that morning, still on foot, we came upon a black rhino which by reputation is much crankier. We kept a large bush between us.
It was about an hour by air to our second camp, Sarara, which is part of the northern conservancies We were picked up by Peter, our guide, and learned conservation efforts at Sarara over the last 20 years have restored many nearly extinct animals back to robust numbers. It is on mostly tribal land and operated in conjunction with the local tribe, the Samburu. Our stay included a visit to a native Samburu village, where the residents were gracious and proudly showed us around.
The highlight of the Sarara camp was a visit to the Reteti Elephant Sanctuary. It has successfully rescued more than 20 baby elephants, returning three, 3-year-olds back to their native habitats and herds. It was uplifting to see a herd of baby elephants rumbling into the stockade for their daily bottle of formula and then have them come to you for a pet and scratch. Our time at the orphanage was spent with Dorothy, the highest-ranking female officer.
A member of the Samburu tribe, she was a knowledgeable and well- educated guide.
Our stay was highlighted by a short bush plane ride to the airfield. The plane could only hold three people, so the pilot made two trips. We flew over herds of elephants and giraffes, which from a view above is stunning. The plane flew at about 60 miles per hour, not much faster than the gazelles we could see running below.
Our last camp was in the Masai Mara, on the Kenyan side of the Serengeti. Our guide was Jackson, a high-school-educated Masai born on the Mara and an expert on the national game reserve. The Mara consists of Masai tribal lands, part of which have been put into national reserves or private conservancies.
The Mara Plains camp made me think of an Ernest Hemingway safari. The camp was created by filmmakers and conservationists Beverly and Dereck Joubert. Accommodations were in the fanciest tent I have ever experienced. With wooden floors, hot water, electricity, plush robes and copper bathtubs, I finally understood the term “glamping.”
The Mara is millions of acres of grasslands famous for the vast migrations of grazing animals like the wildebeests and hartebeests, zebra, buffalo, warthogs and every form of antelope, all of which roam freely. Predatory animals are also present, including lions, leopards and cheetahs. Because of the unusually wet year, the grasses were tall and thick; the roads were often running rivers.
One afternoon while in Land Cruisers we came upon a pride of 20 lions, females and juveniles lounging about in the mid-afternoon sun. The lions have grown up with Land Cruisers, intruding on their afternoon activities, but humans outside the vehicles become prey.
Our guide, Jackson, could spot a lion 100 yards off from the flick of its ears. He sighted a leopard in a distant tree that we had to have binoculars to view. On one of our morning game drives, we saw a cheetah running across the plains followed at some distance by two lionesses. The cheetah escaped with her prized prey. We also saw all of the big cats, elephants, rhinos, giraffes, zebras, warthogs, cape buffaloes, hippos, alligators and members of the antelope family.
The safari was amazing. While we didn’t blaze new trails, climb to great heights, ski until our knees ached, ride until saddle sore or run to exhaustion, we had an adventure which broadened our minds and made us ever-grateful for what we experienced: a trip of a lifetime.
A longtime lawyer in general practice, Goldstein served on the Greenwood Village parks and trails commission working to preserve the High Line Canal trail as well as the community’s other parks and trails.
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