I have just returned home from my 15th safari. No matter how many times I have had the privileged to do a safari, I always learn and notice new things. And most of all, I deeply love being part of Africa, even if it is during a limited amount of time. For me a safari is many things. First of all, it is seeing animals, of course, all great and small one´s, none forgotten, not even the snakes and scavengers, but it is also the feeling of being part of this inner feeling of somehow being an integral part of Africa. Maybe it is the genetic thing, since we most likely all once originated from Africa. I am talking human beings. Homo sapiens sapiens to be correct. I know that I am not the only one feeling this strong emotion. Quite a few of the people I have had the honor to do a safari with throughout the years, suddenly feel free and more happy than ever, almost in an inexplicable way. Same for me, I feel more content than ever and I get a great urge just to head off into the sunset and never again return to the life I know very well. I want to be out there.
I once was, back in the year 2000, when I spent many months walking across certain parts, not all, of the former Masaailand. Sure I came across quite a lot of the well known wildlife, like elephants, hyena and buffalo, whilst walking, but this time was plagued by other issues. Like not fully getting integrated into a completely different culture, like the Masaai one. I am happy I had a chance to do it, but I would not do it again. The cultural gap is far too big. It is better to do short visits, like you do when being on a safari. That keeps the romanticized image of these legendary people alive!
Sleeping in a tent is vital for fully enjoying a safari. It gives you an opportunity to lie there in the darkness listening to roaring lions or woouping hyenas, or barking hippoes or arguing baboons. I am really against staying at hotels, that is, if you are inside the game reserve or Nationalpark. Once outside, it doesn´t matter much. Lately, during my last safaris, I have had an opportunity to enjoy the top end of lodgings and safaris and I enjoy it fully. But more important is the other people you travel together with. I have always been very lucky. Either good friends or the best of clients, who are very interested in Africa in every way. Truths which makes discussions at the dinner table lively and interesting!
As important is to travel with a knowledgeable driver/guide. Obviously the more experience, the better the guide and driver. A good and guide is somebody who knows the animals and their behavior at the back of his hand, but also understands that the wish of a client isn´t more important than how to behave together with the wild animals. On the last safari, I saw quite a few young drivers, very eager to please and get good tips, causing a lot of distress to some of the greatest game, like lions, cheetahs and herds of buffalo. I understand their need for survival, but it will cause problems in the future. Animals will change behavior and will be harder to see and view. And I can see quite a change in these 26 years that I have on and off had the great privilege to be on a safari in East Africa!
When I did my first safari back in 1988 it was on the cheap. Which meant lots of white travelers in a small van, all wanting to take photos and sleeping all together in tents, having reasonable food cooked for them by an accompanying local chef. A great adventure no doubt, which really through me into this world with a wish to experience East Africa over and over again. Those days we all looked for the Big Five. Leopard, rhino, lion, elephant and cheetah. Nowadays everyone wanna see the great crossing at Mara river or Grometi River, the so called migration. It fascinates me how it has changed. Sure, the crossing is spectacular in every way, and unique, but as I see, tourists spending a lot f time just waiting for herds to arrive, is just a waste of other possibilities. Wild animals are unpredictable and wild. And there´s no doubt this enormous amount of vehicles on both sides, well, it disrupts the natural way to cross for the wildebeest in particular. I can understand the emphasis on seeing it, but all within reason.
Another issue which has changed since 1988 is the travelers. There´s fewer and fewer white European and American tourists, which I think is great, and much more local tourism, plus Chinese and Russian, even if they still seem to be caught up in the fact the they´re suddenly rich and wanna show off for their friends more than understanding the savanna and its animals. But given reasonable time, this is a very good development!
On the last safari, from which I came back a week ago, we explored Masai Mara for a few days, followed by three days in Grometi Game Reserve in Tanzania and topped this up with Serengeti and Ngorongoro. My favorite was Grometi. Less tourists, less cars and one had much more time to understand the environment. We returned to the same spots on and off during three days to see the developments between three male lions trying to attract the same female. Fantastic in every way!
Masai Mara is always good. Especially if you take a balloon trip for a birds view of life and the last balloon trip we did, piloted by Kevin Pilgrim, was the best ever. Mainly due to the piloting, but also duw to the drieness which mad eme see hippos walking back the the river early morning. Quite a few of them. What a spectacular event! We ended the trip by eating an English breakfast on the savanna with the great migration in the back ground. However, I did see less animals of a certain kind compered to before. We saw hardly any hyena, mongoose, snakes, very few lions and monkey´s.
Serengeti is just amazing with its endless plains plus the fact that this is the best place to see the Masaai in their rightful free way. Masai Mara is to overwhelming in a negative way, I think. This was the first time I saw a cheetah kill, which i followed among hundreds of other tourists, but was a highlight in every way. But Serengeti also means a huge migration of tourists.
The same applies to Ngorongoro, but it is such a beautiful place on earth, so one hardly notice the other 150 vehicles. It is a stunning place of natural beauty, which even overwhelms the wildlife down in the crater.
Five tips to anyone going on a safari!
1. Most important is to take things really slow and easy. Take your time to get to know each animal and its behavior.
2. If you can, start with an easy safari, like going to Lake Naivasha and Crescent Island and take a walk and meet some of the big game, like giraffe, buffalo, warthog, zebra, wildebeest and much more AND have your feet placed on African soil, before you start viewing them inside a vehicle.
3. A good guide, local or foreign, is extremely important to get the right perspective and see the animals in the proper way. I understand the price makes a difference, but if it is a once in a life time trip, get the best guides.
4. Share your time and meals with the local guide. My personal opinion is that the local guide and driver is in every way a great personality with a wealth of information, not only about the wild animals, but also about life in Africa. demand that they become part of every meal!
5. Read as much as you can before leaving. As a guide, there´s nothing more challenging and inspiring as having a group of clients who are well read. It makes a great safari! Sure, the idea with a guide is of course to give you all needed information, but there´s so much to be told, so one needs a bit of a background on everything.
Most important, I would say, if you have the money and the will power, a safari should be on your three most important wishes on the bucket list before you die!
*See the photoalbum from the latest safari here!