Africa Stories and Tips

Safari Day 2: The magic carpet ride

First glimpse of Africa Photo,

Air travel can be a magic carpet that truly gives one a view of the earth over time and distance, with time dragging but distance shrinking. This 10-hour flight covered some of the most diverse areas of earth I had ever seen on a flight. We deftly rose above the green of the English countryside, moving quickly along the Thames River, then above the clouds into the blue, brilliant sunshine. In a relatively short time, we were looking down upon the farmlands of France, and a short while later, the blue Italian-French Mediterranean coastline. As we flew over the azure waters of the Mediterranean, I could see the rocky islands of Corsica and Sardinia. It seemed not more than a couple of hours later when I caught my first glimpse of the African coast in the Bay of Benghazi, Libya. There was such a contrast between the azure-blue Mediterranean, harsh brown desert, and the deep-blue sky at this high altitude. We continued over the vast, white rippled surface of the great Sahara Desert. Here and there were a sand dune, stony outcrops, and salt pans. There were remnants of rivers and ruins of small villages. A smoke column in the distance marked a lone nomadic camp. Desert mountains came into view. We were now over the Darfur region of southern Sudan as the darkness of the enveloping night caught up with our magic carpet. The peacefulness made it hard to believe that over 1 million Africans had recently been butchered below. The darkness was broken by lightning in the distance as we flew over the Uganda, Sudan, and Ethiopian airspace corridor leading into Kenya. And now we descended from the darkness into Nairobi. I strained to see anything I could of this land, but there was only darkness, with a few street lights and house lights here and there.

Every kind of person was in the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport: priests, nuns, missionaries, students, elderly with their grandchildren, Americans, Europeans, Asians, Africans in three-piece business suits, Moslems in drab traditional clothing, and Indians in bright traditional clothing. And there was us, decked out in safari clothing for the wilds of Africa. We were met immediately by a representative from Vintage Africa, who deftly escorted us through passport control, baggage claim, and customs. The airport was surprisingly clean. There were no beggars and nobody tried to attack or rob us or con us as so often is written. We climbed into a Toyota Land Cruiser. It was large and a light safari brown, built like a tank, with a large two-way radio antennae, rugged suspension, black steel bars protecting the front of the car, and three steel hatches for viewing animals. The interior was steel-reinforced, with military-green canvas seat covers and leather bottle holders with Vintage’s own labeled bottled water. This is safari!! I was excited but also dead-tired (in total, I had gotten about 2 hours sleep in the last 72 hours) as we drove the long distance around Nairobi and to the Safari Park hotel. I could not see much at night: roundabouts, some attempts at artwork, bars and night clubs, street signs in English, advertisements for all kinds of consumer electronics, very gaudy buses with florescent purple lights, and strange names imprinted in scrolling letters. Here and there was a very badly mangled car, with its occupants staggering about.

The manager of Vintage Africa, Evans Munanga, met us at the hotel. He gave us each a big bear hug. Not sure if he was glad to see us or had heard about the bombings in London and was glad to see us! He briefed us on what to expect on safari, but all I could think about was sleeping, and I could hardly remember my name, let alone what he was saying. Our room was four white-washed walls and dark wooden beams with old European maps of Africa, dark-wood furniture, dark-wood floor, and a mosquito-netted bed. The bathroom was marble but rather used. I sprayed the mosquito nets with permethrin and the rest of the room with insecticide. I needed sleep, and that is what I did next!

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