“I had a farm in Africa at the foot of the Ngong Hills. The Equator runs across these highlands, a hundred miles to the north, and the farm lay at an altitude of over six thousand feet. In the day-time you felt that you had got high up; near to the sun, but the early mornings and evenings were limpid and restful, and the nights were cold.”
Channeling my best Isak Dinesen for nine days, I recently returned from a safari in Africa. Not to be confused by the [strong sarcasm follows here] supposedly similar Six Flags Safari Off Road Adventure; this was the real deal. And while the initial arrival in Johannesburg felt rural enough for this city girl, things got a whole lot more authentic as the days progressed. I quickly realized – despite my research and time spent reading the #natgeo tour materials – how ill-prepared I was for what was ahead.
Not Everyone Likes Us: While Americans walk into most situations thinking “You Like Me! You Really Like Me!” we aren’t terribly popular at the moment. Since our group included travelers from the U.K., Germany and Canada (and we didn’t want to spend the entire safari discussing politics,) downplaying our natural bravado was apropos. In fact, at the end of the tour, one participant confessed that we were the first Americans she’d ever met. And she thought we were OK. We smiled. Make America great again: less bluster results in better friendships.
Trust Me - You Don’t Need It: As a professional road warrior, I can pack for 10 days in a small roller bag. It’s become such a source of pride that others ask me to pack for them. Always able to squeak by the weight limitation, everything is rolled, cubed and contained in a picture-perfect manner. Except, in this instance, at least 50 percent of it could have been left at home. Did you know that no one needs make-up on safari? Or hair products, hoodies or nice lingerie? Take two pairs of pants, three tees, a fleece and some socks: wash, dry and repeat. Wear sunglasses and a baseball cap. No one is there to make a fashion statement. And the animals don’t care what you look like.
For the record, my traveling companion, Achille Girl #1, kondo’d several times during the trip. Somewhere in Zimbabwe is a youngster wearing a snazzy pair of size 6 hiking boots.
You’re On Safari Now: The first morning out was painful on several levels; most noteworthy, the early morning roll-call (usually a 4:30 a.m. wake up followed by a 5 a.m. start-time) coupled with no bathrooms for hours. Think three, sometimes four. The roads are bumpy and dusty, the mornings chilly. The trackers and guides are searching for elephant tracks, not the nearest Wawa. Plus, the safety of the group depends on its ability to maintain an unobtrusive profile, which precludes bio breaks. There are no options – none - so plan on forgoing coffee and enjoying the adventure. Your morning joe will be there upon your safe return.
Initially apprehensive about making the long and unpredictable journey, I returned home in a state of new found calm and giddy exhilaration (few moments can elicit that reaction in an adult; weddings and childbirth come to mind.) What was first-framed as “once-in-a-lifetime” is now a firm goal to explore further and more frequently. Next stop: Botswana.