On a cold and rainy January day in Mississippi, my thoughts travelled back in time to Africa, a continent I have visited three times, so far away and so different from the world I know. I decided to relive the most recent experience (summer 2019) through my myriad photographs that captured where we went and what we saw and did. So often pictures have enhanced my memories and given me thoughts to be shared in the written word.
As I looked at the pictures, I thought of our Micato Safari Director, who led us — a group of 12 excited and, perhaps, somewhat anxious tourists — on a life-changing safari. My Jackson roommate and I met our leader and our travel mates in Nairobi, Kenya, where the adventure began. Our seasoned director/leader/guide stayed with us and was ever present until we all parted 14 days later at the airport for our homeward bound flights. During our time with him, we flew to five different sites—three in Kenya and two in Tanzania—with two-night stays in each place. Over the course of this memorable passage, we pilgrims and our guide became friends for our African moment; we now have become cherished memories for a lifetime.
In the bustling, historic city of Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, our leader took us to the home of Karen Blixen (pen name Isak Dinesen), author of “Out of Africa.” We saw the chair on her patio, strategically placed so she could see the nearby mountain where her true love, Denys Finch Hatton, was buried. Inside the house, we saw a photograph of Denys hanging very near her husband’s. We heard stories of lavish parties she gave for visiting and local dignitaries and for her friends who, like Karen, had chosen to become pilgrims in Africa.
Our director also took us to the Nairobi National Museum and to a giraffe sanctuary to see and feed the endearing, endangered Rothschild’s giraffes. Lunch was in the beautiful home of Felix and Jane Pinto, where we were embraced by warm Pinto hospitality. There we heard safari stories and saw framed photos of famous world leaders who preceded us on the same journey we were about to make.
The Pinto family owns Micato Safaris, and they are hands-on operators of this award-winning company. My roommate and I were fortunate to have learned about Micato from Frontiers International Travel. We were even more blessed to have had Kathy Schulz, Frontiers Africa Department Manager, guide us in preparing for the journey. She was the kind, reassuring voice on the phone with knowledgeable advice as we secured visas and made visits to our doctors for the required and recommended vaccinations and for routine and contingency medication prescriptions. There would be no nearby medical care in the camps. She also shared valuable firsthand knowledge about the places we would visit and how to pack with a 30-pound total weight limit in a duffle bag that weighed eight pounds of the limited 30.
In Nairobi, we had opportunities to shop for handcrafted jewelry, clothes, furniture, wood carvings, soapstone pieces, beaded works of art and paintings — all made in Africa. On a visit to the Fairmont Norfolk Hotel — a century-old, beautifully maintained, open-air landmark—we experienced a step back in time to the days when Teddy Roosevelt might have been among the guests. Photographs of famous people who have stayed at the Norfolk were a part of the rich, comfortable decor.
Escorted by our Micato leader, we left Nairobi in the early morning hours and flew to Tortilis Camp, located in Kenya’s Amboseli National Park and situated where Kilimanjaro, Africa`s tallest mountain, provided a majestic backdrop with breathtaking views for all to see. During our two days and nights there, we travelled by Jeep on early morning and late afternoon game drives in search of animals that inhabit the land. At this first camp, we saw gazelles, wildebeests, monkeys, water buffalos, lions, zebras, elands, hippos, hyenas, elephants, warthogs, ostriches, impalas, giraffes, leopards and baboons. Our leader and the local drivers went the extra mile to ensure that we saw not only animals but also birds, plants, and everything else of interest in their native land. The animals gave no attention to our presence and had no fear of us as long as we were in the jeeps, a familiar and non-threatening part of their world. We often were a mere few feet from them as we silently watched their natural behavior.
We visited a Maasai village and heard about the tribe’s history, customs, and herdsmen’s lifestyle from the tall, proud chief wearing a traditional red and black checked toga-like outfit We met the small, barefooted midwife who, in the ninth decade of her life, continues to deliver babies; and we walked along narrow, dry dirt paths winding through the settlement of rounded, one-room mud huts darkly lit by only a single, small window to the outside sunlight. The visit ended in an open field with an outdoor market where handmade Maasai jewelry, wood carvings, and pottery were for sale.
At each day’s end after a bountiful meal, staff escorted us to our tents, assuring protection from unseen wild animals freely roaming. Inside the tents, we found hot water bottles to keep our feet warm during the cold nights. Sounds of the wild pierced the darkness as we waited for sleep to come, knowing that tomorrow our guide would lead us in seeing more of the mystery and beauty of Africa and also knowing we would have moments that would be uniquely ours, unlike any others, before or since.
God’s blessings, too numerous to count, were everywhere — in the people, in the animals, in the sights and sounds, and in the privilege to be a part of it all. And there was so much more to come. I gave Him thanks.
Edrie Royals is a Northsider.