Sunday, December 18, 2011

Lucky Woman

Mama & Baby (Tanzania)
On two occasions I've had the rare -- but oh so wonderful -- experience of being on safari with no other folks sharing the safari vehicle.  This may not sound like such a big deal so first let me explain the best and the worst of strangers in closed spaces.

The best of stranger safari companions come from Australia.  I've experienced this ilk twice -- once at Chief's Camp in Botswana (more about those folks in a bit) and once at Serengeti under Canvas in Tanzania last year.  Julia (my niece) and I had just landed at a bush airstrip where we shared cookies and cakes while waiting for our Aussie jeep mates.  Trevor, Louise, and Liz arrived and we were off to the camp in a burst of dust.  Given the prevalence of rather large guns at the airstrip (something about the government picking up taxes?!?!), I was quite glad to get going.  We chatted amiably as our driver took the leisurely route back to the camp.  Treating us to cheetahs, vultures, and assorted small sightings on a bumpy ride through the Serengeti.

Vulture Preening (Tanzania)
The threesome were two sisters and a very funny partner of one who were on an African adventure together. I think it was Liz who had been the year before and fallen in love with Africa.  Just as I had back in 1994 on my first trip to Malawi and Zimbabwe.  Their itinerary pretty much mirrored ours with a substitution of the camp featuring the tree-climbing lions for our choice of that paradise found that is Mnemba.  Safari jeeps are pretty close quarters for strangers but these were the most wonderful of strangers -- very funny and also very mindful of the sharing of space when trying to get that perfect shot of lion cubs playing in the tall grass.

Lone 'Grumpy' Bull Elephant (Tanzania)
Our stay at Chief's Camp in Botswana had the best and the worst of companions in a jeep.  The worst were an American couple on their honeymoon.  Let's call them E&E for short.  It was his second and her first marriage.  It was Julia's and my very first safari stop on our run through southern Africa in 2007 and so we were not quite up on the protocol.  We would show up at the jeep on time and climb into the very back seat.  It offered a fine view out the back of the jeep and although a bit bumpy we didn't particularly mind. E&E were always early and always in the front when we arrived.  The best were the Australian couple -- another Liz and, sad to say, I've forgotten his name.  They were from Melbourne and Liz in particular had a wry sense of humor that made for lighthearted going.  On one drive, Liz asked about switching seats.  We declined.  E&E grumbled but eventually exchanged seats.  The next day, E&E were early and again in the front seats and no offer to switch was forthcoming that day.  I've since learned that the protocol is to rotate through the front seats so all get a chance at what is considered the most comfortable seats and the best view.

Baby Giraffe (Tanzania)
The worst thing about them was the patter though out.  "I missed that with my video, can you make the animals move again?"  "Are you sure I can't take those bones home in my luggage?"  "We're done you can leave now."  (Thanks goodness for Liz because she would say gently, "maybe we should see if Nancy and Julia are done" which always incurred a scowl from E-femme.  When a lion would roar, our guide Ali would sit and listen and then ask if we were ready to go South  to see if we could find it.  E-femme would point off in the distance and say it's over there and Ali would gently correct her.   Perhaps my favorite exchange occurred on our last morning when we were filling out our "check lists of animals and birds we had seen" and Liz asked Ali -- "Ali, did I see a kangaroo on this trip?" with a quiet smile and a gentle lilt to her voice.  E femme without batting an eye said -- "NO, you did not see a kangaroo.  Those are only in Australia."  Liz's response, priceless.  "You don't say?"

Mother Love (Tanzania)
It was that same trip in 2007 where Julia and I also encountered what I thought was a once in a lifetime experience at the Ivory Lodge in the Lion Sands Private Game Reserve in South Africa.  On that trip we had been  building to this moment (as orchestrated by Joel Zack and his team at Heritage Tours Private Travel) of total decadent luxury.  Little did we know how luxurious.  We arrived to find that a company had taken over the other camp in the reserve for a corporate outing.  Although there were a few guests staying at our lodge -- all meals and all drives were staged out of the other.  This meant that we had a driver and guide to ourselves as well as memorable breakfast and lunch buffets.  The highlight of that time alone in a jeep was when we stopped in the midst of the great plain of South Africa with the milky way spread out above us.  Silence.  The smell of wood smoke.  Memory made.  No camera needed.  It was here that we rounded out our big five with hippos, a Rhino and a leopard sighting.

Yawning (Tanzania)
Last year at Klein's Camp we had the camp virtually to ourselves on the first night and again had that glorious experience of having a guide (Rabin) and tracker to ourselves which meant we could choose where we wanted to go and set our own pace.  It was quiet at Klein's Camp -- the Wildebeest migration had long gone and the season was winding down.  We spent our morning drives in leisurely searches for lion cubs, herds of buffalo, elephants, and various assorted hoofed creatures.  We took a bush walk and learned about how the Masai and others would use the many plants and examined the damage that a herd of elephants could do a grove of trees as it methodically stripped the trunks of their bark.  And we saw an elegant giraffe in the distance.  On one glorious day, Rabin drove us to the Mara Mara to see the hippos and the giant crocodiles.  We enjoyed a picnic lunch by the side of river.  Peaceful and alone in the glorious African landscape.

One could get a little spoiled having the luxury of a jeep and guide to oneself.  This is, after all, something that most safari lodges will offer for a price.  And I've experienced it twice -- for free.  I am a lucky woman.

Flamingo Reflections (Tanzania)

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