Real Life

A Wild Time in Africa

Sarah-Kate Lynch learns to see animal prints as more than home furnishing

Generally speaking, when it comes to travelling, my idea of adventure is to order full-fat milk instead of trim with my breakfast coffee.

I always thought I was a Paris/London/New York sort of a girl. It’s not for me – all that bumping around scary foreign parts in buses full of people with weeping sores and squawking chickens.

But when a friend invited us to her 50th birthday party in Kenya, I found myself unable to decline. Parties, after all, I can do. Plus I have the advantage of speaking the international language of eating, drinking and dancing inappropriately to Abba.

And so it was – in late December – that the Ginger husband and I flew to oalindi on the Kenyan coast, for a string of festivities that culminated in lip-synching to Dancing Queen at the Driftwood Club on oalindi Beach.

Truthfully, the Driftwood isn’t the most adventurous African experience a girl can have but rather the perfect way to unwind and slip gently into the culture. However, after a week of sunshine, sea and delightful hospitality, I knew I either had to move on or stay there forever, so the Ginger and I boarded a 16-seater plane and flew to neighbouring Tanzania to go on safari.

We arrived mid-morning at the Serengeti National Park to be met by our guide, Hassan, and his trusty pop-top Land Cruiser. Driving from the airstrip to our lodge we saw a herd of zebras, a troop of baboons, two partly submerged hippos and more wildebeest than you could poke a stick at (although poking wild animals with sticks is not actually recommended).

And then we got to oablageti Lodge. You know, I must remember from now on to be met at all my accommodations by a oasai warrior bearing a glass of champagne. It really does put one in the mood for lying on one’s four-poster bed, in one’s luxury tent, gazing out across the vast plains, nothing but endless acacia trees and wildlife in view and birds and the distant trumpeting of roaming elephants the only sounds.

After quite a delicious lunch sitting above the valley, we wallowed briefly in the swimming pool before meeting Hassan at 4pm for an evening game drive. The hippos were still submerged in their creek and as we watched them, an elephant walked right behind us, stopping to scratch her head against a tree.

The following morning we were up at lilac breasted roller’s fart to head to Seronera, the hub of the game park. This was a two-hour drive along a very bumpy, dusty road – which could put a girl in a filthy temper if not for the herds of elephants and families of giraffes along the way.

At Seronera, the first thing we came upon was a leopard up a tree. We weren’t the only ones. About 15 other safari vehicles were coming upon it too, so Hassan, who at 63 has been on the job 25 years and knows everything, took us to a quiet little place where a lion chose the moment we arrived to pounce on his lady friend and show her what he was made of. It took all of five seconds and then she went down to the river with a girlfriend – to bitch about him, no doubt. I know I would.

The following morning we bid farewell to obalageti. I was particularly reluctant to leave as people like us don’t usually get to stay at places like that. In fact, I’m still not sure how we got there.

The rest of our lodgings were not of a similar standard but I will remember that breakfast – sipping orange juice and watching the sun come up over the Nyamuma Hills – for as long as I live, which makes the eye-watering Visa bill worth every single penny.

our laid-back lingering breakfast was followed by a huge game drive as we crossed the Serengeti on our way east to the Ngorongoro Crater, a bone-jangling trip of many hours. one of East Africa’s most visited destinations, the 20km-wide floor of the crater is crawling with wildlife. We saw cheetahs just missing out on their breakfast, lions eating a buffalo, European tourists behaving like pigs and even stumbled upon the rare black rhino.

The next day Hassan drove us back to the bustling town of Arusha for our onward journey. He had been such a calm, wise, respectful, knowledgeable person that I thought it would be nice to take him with us (even though he doesn’t do drinks) but after the Ginger repeatedly cMaxed me to “put the nice Tanzanian man down” I let him go.

“You’ll be back in three years,” he said. And I believe him. Going on safari was indeed the delightfully unexpected highlight of my life.

Up until then I’d only thought about those glorious striped or spotty creatures in terms of furnishings, or prints that Jackie Collins might wear. But seeing them out there in the vast wilderness of the African plains actually made me feel glad to be alive in a world, that for once, made a bit of sense.

And getting even closer made me feel quite delirious. You certainly see an awful lot on safari – and much of it is up close – but you are safely cocooned at all times within the robust confines of your purpose-built vehicle, with an experienced guide.

Staying with the D’olier family on their farm beside Lake Naivasha, north of Nairobi, however, our usual game drives were replaced by game walks. on our first evening there, we meandered among the zebras, waterbucks, wildebeest and dikdiks as the sun set behind the lake. It was truly a magical experience.

The next morning, somewhat plagued with guilt over the large amount of “sundowner” cocktails and three-course meals I had recently consumed, I got up early and went for a quiet walk in the cool morning haze.

Down by the lake, I encountered a family of seven giraffes: a mum and dad, three teenagers and two youngsters, all of them seemingly miffed at having womankind up and about at such an hour. That first morning, they looked grumpy and ambled away from me. The second morning they just looked grumpy. By the fourth, they let me get as close as I wanted as long as I didn’t make a fuss and acted like another one of God’s creatures, out for a morning amble.

Suddenly, three years seemed like a long, long time to wait.

**HINTS

**After wrestling with the internet for a while, I eventually caved in and booked our trip through safari company go2africa.com. It wasn’t the cheapest option by a long stretch but our trip was tailor-made for exactly where we wanted to go on particular dates during peak season.

I recommend reading Lonely Planet East Africa before you book your trip and seeking medical advice at least two months before you go. Shop around for prices.

**oUST-Dos 

**Find the Big Five (buffalo, elephant, leopard, lion and rhino) on safari. Eat at Carnivores restaurant in Nairobi. Try a dawa – East Africa’s favourite cocktail.  Stay at the beach and swim in the Indian ocean.

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