You guys! I was sitting around today doing a big bunch of nothing and thinking I really need to do something. It’s weird being in Abu Dhabi by myself. And when I say by myself, I mean by myself. All my friends are gone off on holidays, and I’m just hanging out until I leave again. Which means there is no one here to pop over for coffee, or chat to, or hang out with. And that is BORING. It’s so hot right now, too, so getting out is not something I really want to do. And there is only so much Netflix I can sit and stare at. So I decided I would write about my dream of dream trips–to Africa. AFRICA!! I told Victoria after this trip, I could die happy. And I am not changing my story.
Now before you guys get all crazy about my calling my trip to Tanzania, my trip to “Africa” let me explain the love affair I’ve had in my imagination with Africa since I was a little girl. (I do, of course, realize that Africa is a continent with many countries, but I’m calling this my trip to Africa because I can) When I was around 12 years old, I saw a movie called “Born Free.” I think the movie came out in the 1960’s, but it was on television, and I watched it. It’s the story of some British (I think) veterinarians who cared for orphaned lion cubs in Kenya and rehabilitated them and released them back into the wild. I loved this movie so much despite the fact that I was completely overcome with emotion and couldn’t stop for crying for days after seeing it. My father threatened to take me to “a doctor” if I didn’t straighten up. But this is when I think my love affair with Africa began. Never mind all the crazy Tarzan movies and other series that were popular in the 1970’s about places in Africa. Later on in my life, I read Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen) which is a memoir about her life in Africa. And I have since read this book probably 25 times. It’s so beautifully written…her words and the emotions behind them transported me to a place where I’d never been but still loved so deeply. Then the wonderful (IMHO) film Out of Africa came out with Meryl Streep and the beautiful Robert Redford (swoon). It was so gorgeous to watch and has one of the most haunting soundtracks ever. I used to use snips from the soundtrack in my creative writing classes and always got such interesting writing from them. So it was through these various mediums I somehow cultivated my love for the “dark” continent of Africa. No wonder (much to my students’ dismay and moans and groans) I love Heart of Darkness so much. It seems like anything/everything having to do with this mysterious, magical place peaked my interest and swept me away to a romantic tented safari where everyone was dressed, you know, safari style in the dusty khaki beiges just like what I’d seen in the movies. Oh, I couldn’t WAIT to get Africa…one day.
So it seemed only natural when my friend, Zoe, decided she was going to conquer Kilimanjaro, that I should seize the opportunity and tag along with her to my beloved Africa. Of course, there was absolutely zero chance that I would be trekking the mountain paths with her, so what could I do while she climbed the mountain??? What would I like to do? Beaches? I love lolling about on beaches, and guess what? There are FABULOUS beaches in Zanzibar! So she was off to Kili, and I was off to the beach (which was great by the way) and we’d meet up 7 days later for our safari…aka my DREAM. I even bought a new lens for my camera before the trip to make sure I got ALL the amazing photos I could. And I had a khaki green utility jacket and my Ray Ban aviators to give me that real safari feel. Yep! I was ready.
One thing you should know is that our safari was tacked on as a final part of her trip which was planned through a company called Exodus travels. They were really helpful, and provided us with all we needed. You should also know that safaris are EXPENSIVE. But we both really wanted to go, and splitting the cost made things easier for us. When we met up in our safari jeep in the early morning, we were both elated! She because she summited Kili, which is just wow!! And I because well…African safari. We happily chatted in the jeep as we were driving to our “tented” camp. I’m not really sure what I was expecting. Well, that’s not entirely true. What I was expecting was beautiful, crisp white, canvas tents, all draped in filmy mosquito netting and outfitted with gear from a Ralph Lauren photo shoot in the middle of some fantastic national park preserve. Like for real. Instead, when we arrived at our camp, it was more like little shacks in a shabby little village. And there were monkeys everywhere. And we hate monkeys. I hate monkeys. HATE them. And here we had landed in monkey land. We did, however, have a working toilet in our “tent” so that was something. We had breakfast and dinners in a common, open air dining hall…which weren’t terrible. And they boxed up lunches for us to take on our ventures through the parks we visited.
I don’t want to talk too much about the parks because I’ve already posted on Facebook and Instagram about the parks we visited as well as photos/videos I took. But I will say this. One of the reasons that safaris are so expensive is the entrance fees into the nature preserves are VERY expensive. And this is a good thing because it helps maintain the parks and helps to care for the beautiful creatures who inhabit these parks, and conservation with only minor exploitation is always a good thing. And let me just say this. While our accommodations were less than 5 stars, what we saw and experienced on our outings completely made up for it.
At first, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Would we even see anything at all? Zoe and I both commented that we kind of felt like we were visiting Jurassic Park. Remember in the movie, when they all climb aboard the electronic “jeeps” that were going to transport them into the world of dinosaurs and how excited they all were? Then jeeps take off and they are all craning their necks and straining their eyes looking this way and that to see the dinosaurs and then…nothing? Yeah. It really was kind of like that. Because at first, we really didn’t see anything. And we’re driving around this huge national park and I’m starting to think to myself, man, what a big, fat bust. And just as I was about to completely lose it and start cussing our driver, we see them. Off a little ways in the distance, but we see them…zebras!! And wildebeests, then elephants, and giraffes, and monkeys and pretty, little colorful birds. It was SO cool. And this was just the first day!
The second day was even more even more AMAZING. We left really early in the morning. And we’re going to the Ngorongoro Crater. This park is reported to have the most diverse wildlife in one place. We were not disappointed. We even got surprised by an entire herd of giraffes at the crater’s rim. Picture this: it’s a cool very foggy morning. We are being bounced mercilessly along battered roads in our safari jeep. The fog is so dense you really can’t see much around you at all–just a few feet in front of the jeep. Your friend sitting next to you is somehow dozing off, and suddenly, you round the corner and GIRAFFE!!! I yelled it so loudly I startled the driver and woke Zoe from her drowsing and she sleepily goes, “where?” I point outside the jeep “THERE” standing in the road a giant giraffe. Now it wasn’t a scary encounter like seeing the T-Rex in Jurassic Park, but it was just as cool. No. More cool. Because the giraffes don’t eat the tourists! And so we stopped right there on the road and watched them. We got some cool shots of them in the mist, and I got a little video of one of them munching on some leaves of a tree. They are so lovely and graceful and peaceful. It was incredible. I still think it’s incredible that we got to see them so up close like that. Unreal…
Next LIONS! I had heard it was difficult to get pictures of lions or any big cats in the parks. Some people would say they saw lots of them, others would say they never saw them at all. But I really, really wanted to see lions. And we DID!! One female came right up to our vehicle! Like she walked across the grassland, straight up to our jeep. I was delighted, Zoe was terrified. Delighted also, but terrified. I was hanging out the window of the jeep to get the best photos until our guide reminded me that this might not “be safe” and maybe I ought to close the window and stop hanging myself out of the truck like fresh meat. But I got some amazing shots, and Zoe and I both got cool videos of our lioness friend who enjoyed the shade made by our vehicle. It was surreal and just the coolest thing ever. EVER.
Our third day wasn’t as cool as the other two, but we got to see lots of birds because it was the great stork migration apparently, and that was pretty neat. And we got to see a bunch of a flamingos in the distance which was very cool, too. Oh, and we finally got to see the Cape buffalo up close.
As we were leaving to head back to Abu Dhabi, I was thinking about my bucket list of places I’d always wanted to go: The Maldives, Santorini, Africa…all really big, amazing trips, and I got to do them. I got to do them all. And I started thinking how really lucky I am to have gotten to do all that I have done. I am SO very lucky and privileged to see and do all the things I’ve seen and done. I am BEYOND grateful for these opportunities. So when I’m sitting around here, sulking and feeling all pitiful, I am reminded that these few days here alone are NOTHING compared to what I get to do. Living here has provided me with the opportunity to live my dream. And you know what? It IS a dream. A great big beautiful dream, that just took a little faith and a big fat leap into the unknown…and it’s been the BEST thing!
I highly recommend getting out there. I’ve said it before, and I will say it again. Stop buying stuff. Save your money, and see the world. It will change you. It will change you for the better. Trust me.
Thanks for indulging me and reading these posts. It wouldn’t be nearly as much fun if I didn’t get to share with you guys.
Till next time,
There are more pics/stories over on Instagram…if you’re interested.