“There is something about safari life that makes you forget all your sorrows and feel as if you had drunk half a bottle of champagne — bubbling over with heartfelt gratitude for being alive.”
Karen Blixen (Danish author best known for “Out of Africa”, her account of living in Kenya)
…. And so begins my journey to Kenya, Africa
The exotic lure of Africa, rife with rich culture and history, was a destination I had been anticipating for years. Having spent the past seven years building Elephanatics, I knew the time had come to heed the call of the elephants and make my sojourn to the land of mystical sunsets and magical people. Nothing could prepare me for the exhilaration of viewing lions, elephants, wildebeests, warthogs, cheetahs, and numerous other species in their natural settings, as close as four feet from our jeep. Not to omit the bellowing hippos outside our tent on the Mara River that woke us up every morning and charmed us all day long as they fought for territory and kept other animals at bay! Adventures come in all sizes and shapes, but an open jeep safari is as big as it gets! The trick to remember is – NEVER laugh when an elephant has its back to you! I found out the hard way after giggling from a funny episode an elephant had performed – she rightly turned around and gave us the ‘ears forward’ charge position, lunging at the jeep and stopping at 3 feet away. Thank goodness she sensed I was not a threat and retracted. My stomach hasn’t been the same since!
Our first stop was to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust where we visited our three adopted orphans, Larro, Nabulu and Panda. The keepers explained the situation of how the orphans arrived and what their due diligence and care of the orphans entail. The keepers spend day and night with the babies, sleeping in the same quarters, tending to their every need and comforting them when they have bad dreams – yes, elephants have bad dreams, too! They slowly integrate them back into the wild, but it takes years of love and patience to get them to that point. It was a tender moment; my appreciation for what they do has no bounds.
The Karen Blixen Camp came by recommendation from the Mara Elephant Project. (MEP) Dr. Jake Wall, director for MEP and also for Elephanatics, and Marc Goss, CEO of the Mara Elephant Project, were instrumental in making sure our stay was as comfortable as possible and it most certainly was! The genuine friendliness and service of the staff at Karen Blixen was articulated in every meal and activity we took part in. I would highly suggest KBC as your first choice when searching for a luxury safari experience. They are best known for responsible tourism, making sure their business benefits the environment and the people working at the camp and communities nearby. After a tour of their facilities, it was evident they are leaders in this genre.
Our guide, Jack, led the way with his knowledge of the local flora and fauna and introduced us to a world of stories about the Maasai people, their culture, the landscape area and rules to be obeyed between the conservancies and farmers. Storytelling is still the way used by most communities to pass cultural knowledge and history from one generation to another. Because of the varied heritages and cultures in East Africa, storytelling is a way to help bring them together. Each group, lending flavour to their own unique tale, interprets versions of the same story differently. I experienced this ‘bush telegram’ communication upon receiving news that someone had been killed in the village earlier that day. When I heard the same story told to us by our guide on our nightly safari, it was slightly different but the crux of the story was the same. It appears storytelling continues in our Western culture as well. The only difference to note in our culture is the opposition of differences of opinion, as opposed to a respectful appreciation of another’s interpretation.
We were fortunate to visit MEP a few times and learn about the ambitious initiatives they are working on. Jake gave us a tour and a presentation about what he is responsible for as the new director of research and conservation. He leads MEP’s applied research agenda aimed at enhancing the protection of elephants and the habitat upon which they and other wildlife depend. He tracks many variables related to the area, including collared elephant movements, human-elephant conflicts, and environmental variables related to elephant movements. He showed us the snares rangers have collected from the Mau forest and the old GPS collars they’ve removed from previously tracked elephants. We met Marc Goss – MEP’s CEO – and learned more about the education program. were also fortunate enough to meet elephants Hugo, Freddy and Kegol who are tracked with EarthRanger, a real-time technology used for tracking elephants and rangers. Dr. Jake Wall was one of the architects in building this software when working with Vulcan, a Paul Allen company. It was wonderful to see first hand the outstanding work they do, what their future plans are within the Mara to protect elephants and where Elephanatics’ donation dollars go.
The famous wildebeest migration that takes place every year between May and December starting in Tanzania’s Serengeti plains in the south and moving north to Kenya’s Maasai Mara in Kenya, started early this year in the Maasai Mara due to drought in the southern areas and early rains in the north. The best time to see the migration is typically in the dry season between July and October but we lucked out! We avoided the hundreds of tourists that come at that time and endured some rain much to the benefit of viewing one of the seven wonders of Africa. Unfortunately, we also saw the perils at which these great animals risk their lives to find food. Many don’t make it across the river due to high river currents, crocodiles, or going back to find a relative or friend from the herd. The banks can be steep on the river causing slippery conditions in the rain leading to death from a broken leg or becoming maimed, making them a target for prey. The migration is extremely stressful for these beautiful animals and I must admit, I felt somewhat guilty adding to the possible stress they endure by being a tourist. Every year almost two million wildebeests and a host of other animals migrate, making it a prime example of the ‘circle of life’. It was a sight to see and is one of the greatest shows on earth.
The daily tours became a natural way to start the day and end the night while relaxing during the day took on its own meditative quality. Hypnotized by the Mara Rivers gurgling flow and the abundance of animals that came sporadically throughout the day for a drink, sank us all into a state of wonderment and reverence for this beautiful land. The endless beauty of open skies and savannah plains blended with it a sense of calm and caution, a primordial response to the raw nature of the surroundings. Ones true existence can be found in the winds of Africa. Purpose becomes transparent as trees whisper messages of hope, faith and deliverance of justice for all wildlife. We need to listen to these messages and act accordingly – for all our sake.
I could continue to elaborate on the significance of visiting Africa and its benefits to my well-being, but I will not. Some experiences are beyond words. All I can say is if you have been contemplating a trip to Africa – do not hesitate any longer.
“When you leave Africa, as the plane lifts, you feel that more than leaving a continent you’re leaving a state of mind. Whatever awaits you at the other end of your journey will be of a different order of existence.” Francesca Marciano
A special thanks to Karen Blixen Camp staff / Dr. Jake Wall / CEO Marc Goss, MEP
A big thank you to Tessa, Leanne and Jett for all their hard work in my absence.
President / Elephanatics
Some ‘Did You Know’ moments from our safari:
*Jackals, who eat leftovers, bark at lions to wake them up so they hunt.
*Hippos are the most dangerous animal to humans and are responsible for more human death and conflict than elephants!
*Water buffalo is the second most dangerous animal
*At night, Warthogs back themselves into holes dug by Aardvarks for safety and in order to charge out quickly to defend themselves
*Giraffes have chaperones from the family to take care of the young during the day while the mothers graze a short distance away. They head to the village at night for safety from lions but venture far and wide during the day.
* Hyenas are more closely related to cats than dogs. Their dung is white because of the calcium in the bones they eat
* One type of Dung Beetle can navigate by moonlight alone and prefer omnivore feces to herbivore.
*The word elephant in Swahili is ‘ndovu’