Safari: "1890 (attested from 1860 as a foreign word), from Swahili, lit. 'journey, expedition,' from Arabic, lit. 'referring to a journey,' from safar 'journey' (which is attested in Eng. as a foreign word from 1858)." from Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper.
My safari was a journey; a journey of not only witnessing the greatness of the cycle of life as experienced by animals in the national parks and conservation areas visited, but also of mankind in an area of the world that is still underdeveloped and struggling. The day-to-day challenges faced by the wildlife is not unlike what the people of Africa also contend with. The search for sustenance as well as providing for their young, both man and animal must continually be on the move to assure a future for their species.
My safari journey was 12 days/11 nights and during that time, our travel group of four faced several unexpected and in some cases, undesirable surprises. Some were a matter of inconvenience or comfort, others that of money. The good news is that through each of them, we survived. Nothing was of serious enough consequence like "life or death".
I cannot say that however, about those living in the areas of Africa that I had the privilege of visiting. Our safari was in fact, a microcosm of the very culture that I sought to experience. Sure the bathroom situation was deplorable by American standards and yes, I was inconvenienced and a bit unnerved by having to pee out in the wild. I did not like having to pee standing up over a pit much either, but you know what, I survived it. At the end of the day, it was not that big a deal.
One of my favorite movie lines is from "A League of Their Own" when team manager Tom Hanks tells the girls on his baseball team that "It's supposed to be hard. It is the hard that makes it great. If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it." Well that is a bit of paraphrasing, but I'm pretty darn close to the actual lines spoken in the movie.
Yes going on safari can be hard. The distances are far and road conditions terrible; the food bland and not very tasteful; and all around you there are deplorable living conditions. As Americans we are blessed in so many ways and take so very much for granted. I am glad that I was able to make this journey and take a safari of self-discovery that I believe will make me a better person.
I've been home for a week and the jet lag seems to have finally subsided. I'm going to bed and waking up around my usual times, so that has been much welcomed over the past couple of days.
I can say that while there were some unexpected surprises some of which remain unresolved with British Airways and my tour operator, this has been truly a once-in-a-lifetime journey that was so very worthwhile. It was not without sacrifice, discomfort and inconvenience, but that said, I would do it all over again if I thought my experience would be matched by all I got to see firsthand during my 15 days in East Africa.
My time spent in Nairobi prior to the safari was much needed if for no other reason than to acclimate to the eight hour time zone difference from the Midwest of America. Everyone at Ngong House was wonderfully accommodating and welcoming. I couldn't have asked for anything more from anyone!
I also enjoyed visiting many of the more well known tourist sites including the Karen Blixen House, the Giraffe Centre and Kazuri Beads. I am also proud to say I'm a supporter of the work being done by Dame Daphne Sheldrick and everyone involved at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. To be able to see their efforts first hand was quite humbling.
Once connected with my tour operator and travel companions, we were off on safari. I believe it is fair to say that the safari "experience" was not all everyone expected it to be. That is unfortunate and I hope each will take away and remember only what were their personal highlights. For me, there are many . . .
. . . seeing the sunrise and sunset in some pretty spectacular locales.
. . . watching the creation of life as elephants and lions mated.
. . . observing animals stalk and hunt for food . . . protecting their kill from other predators . . . scavengers dining on the remains left behind . . . and watching the migration that spans hundreds of miles in search of greener feeding land.
. . . learning about a culture and its people, being further reminded of all that I am fortunate to have in family, home and friendship.
To those inclined to take on an African safari, I encourage you to expand your boundaries and explore that which is beyond your comfort zone. Travel in a developing country will test your limits and abilities to be open minded and non-judgmental given your own cultural bias and perspective.
My personal advice is to not give in to the easier way of travel, flying from park to park, country to country. I believe that as important as having the opportunity to see nature in its most natural state, so is experiencing life "on the ground" as only seen through driving the long harsh roads between villages and camps. Admittedly not for everyone, but if you are looking for a comfy posh holiday abroad, perhaps an African safari isn't for you.