Eco

Africa Print

Going to Africa was Sue’s dream for years and when Jennifer did so for three months in 1999, the dream started recurring more often. When Mark Comon at Paul’s Photo put together a photo adventure to Kenya, I wanted to go, but not without Sue, so we signed up.

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We started thinking about what we wanted to see and there were some places Sue wanted to go that weren’t on Mark’s itinerary. After talking about it one night with our good friends Chris and Greg Olton, we decided that we should go together and do it in style. We opted out of Mark’s trip and, helped by Marilyn Dolan at The TravelStore in Palos Verdes, the four of us signed up for the Micato Grand Safari. On the way home from Africa, we spent three nights in London.  

Micato’s literature on the Grand Safari (which you can download and read here) described a fabulous trip, in the best accommodations available at the time, and all that was true.  And, as we had heard it would be, Micato's service was exceptional.  Our guides, Daniel and Renny, made it sooooo easy to be in Africa;  every night we had a lovely gift on our pillows (and I mean a lovely, useful, meaningful gift--we brought them allback home);  they met us and/or guided us at and through every airport in Africa;  they provided ear plugs as we boarded every flight;  they made the whole experience even more pleasurable--and unique--than it would have been otherwise.  Yes, we recommend them to one and all.

We started in Nairobiand then went to:  

Amboseli in southeast Kenya

Maasai Mara

Serengeti

Ngorongoro Crater

London

Details on each of those spots, our accommodations there, as well as photos taken while there, are available by clicking on the links above. ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHS:  there were four cameras involved; my Nikon D2X, my Nikon D200, my Casio Exilim S600 and Greg's Canon PowerShot A510.  When you click on the links above you will be taken to notes pages on those locations, and there are slid shows of photos at the bottom of each of those pages.  If my watermark is on a photo (as it is in the photo above) it was taken with one of my cameras.  If not, it's one of Greg's photos..

Here is Micato's map of the itinerary:

grandsafarimap.jpg

We arranged our schedule to spend a night at the Hilton Hotel at Heathrow on the way over, to break up the flying, and to arrive in Nairobi a day early, to make sure we didn’t miss the safari due to any possible airline problems. This gave us a free day in Nairobi and we had Micato arrange additional activities for us that day, including a visit to the Kazuri Bead Factory, the Utamaduni Gallery and Alan Donavan House. There is more detail about our stay in Nairobi, and the activities there (as well as photos, of course) in the link above.

We stayed at the Norfolk Hotel in Nairobi, which is a charming, elegant courtyard style hotel with important colonial history that is nicely insulated from the hubbub of Nairobi’s streets. Micato arranged for the Norfolk as part of the Grand Safari. When we came home through London, we stayed at The Stafford, a fabulous hotel in St. James that Marilyn recommended.

One of the concerns I had was working in my photography but I needn’t have worried; you can read all about my version of serious amateur photography on an African safari here. The number of people per vehicle was a concern too, since each vehicle can hold up to six people. On Mark’s trip, he arranged to pay extra so there would never be more than four photographers in a vehicle. I elected to take my chances and was really lucky—there were only two other couples on our trip, which guaranteed that there would never be more than four people in a vehicle, so Sue and I, and Chris and Greg, were together the whole time. We were also very fortunate that the other two couples were delightful folks, also from the Los Angeles area, with whom we enjoyed a fabulous safari.

Micato furnishes an excellent quality duffel bag and a wonderful little four-function flashlight along with good advice on packing. I also did extensive web research on what other people had done on their safaris to give us a frame of reference for our course of action.

Packing for the trip was an interesting logistical exercise—our weight limit for the duffel bag on our in-country flights was 15 kilograms (33 pounds). We agonized over that for some time, wondering how we could fit clothes for almost two weeks into a 33 pound limit. We were fortunate in that the luxury package we had booked included free laundry at every location, so we packed just three changes of clothes, which was plenty. Upon arrival at each new location, we would, the following morning, turn in two dirty sets of clothes and have them back that night. That worked very well.

We started out with bags that weighed about 34 pounds. Daniel, our Safari Director from Nairobi through the Maasai Mara, looked at our bags and lifted them and told us we weren’t going to have a problem, and he was right. The issue is one of total weight for each aircraft—if the plane isn’t too heavy to take off, everyone is OK. Most of our in-country flights were in DeHaviland Twin Otters, a great STOL aircraft for bush flights into camps with dirt airstrips. Our flights from the Mara to Tanzania were in a single-engine Cessna Caravan, which worked just fine, too.

In fact, baggage weight was never a problem—until we got to Kilimanjaro Airport in Tanzania to go back to Nairobi for our flight to London. There, Air Kenya weighed every bag and charged us for excess weight over 15 kilograms—at the rate of $3.00 per kilogram. Sue and I paid $27.00 and went on our way. Excellent revenue enhancement for Air Kenya.

For insect control, we bought Ex Oficio’s Buzz Off safari shirts and pants and that kept bugs away from me everywhere. In the Serengeti, we all added insect repellent because of tsetse flies and mosquitoes. (The Serengeti is at lower altitude and hotter than the other locations.) We used full-Deet Jungle Juice on our hands, arms and ankles, and 40% Deet Ben’s on our faces.

Medically, we got prescriptions for, and packed full series of (for each of us):

  • Cipro, in case of diarrhea
  • Compazine suppositories, in case of vomiting
  • Zithromax, in case of sickness involving bacterial issues
  • Malarone, for malaria

Regarding malaria, it's everywhere in Africa, so it would be foolish to go anywhere in Africa without being properly medicated.  The CDC web site has plenty of information on malaria and how to medicate for it.  Suffice it to say that we used Malarone because it has almost no side effects, it only requires two days of advance medication before departure, and it only requires seven days of continued use after returning home.  It's a daily medication, which wasn't any problem for us;  we took it at night.

Sunscreen was essential too, and we all used it, along with our hats. Micato furnishes very good quality safari hats and I used mine on occasion, but mostly used my Tilley hat, because I’m used to using it on photography adventures.

Footwear on safari was simple—I used only one pair of shoes the entire time we were in Africa, a pair of below-the-ankle boots made for REI by Merrill that I’ve worn for over a year and love. They were perfect for the trip, being very comfortable and more than capable of handling the terrain on which we were walking. Sue took a pair of lighter Merrills that worked very well for her. We bought REI socks made out of Cool Max that were perfect for the trip.

We both packed bathing suits and thong sandals so we could go to the pool wherever we were and never used them. Similarly, we both packed lots of books (we love to read on trips) and I didn’t crack any of them in Africa. We were busy all the time except for a few hours in the afternoon, when we usually took a light nap. I hasten to add that this was the kind of "busy" that was desirable—game drives almost every morning and afternoon that we looked forward to every time.

On one of our many trips to REI for clothing and equipment, an associate recommended that we each take a Buff.

A what?

A Buff turns out to be a tube-shaped piece of fabric that you slip over your head and allow to encompass your neck. It keeps your neck warm like a scarf and when it’s dusty you can pull it up over your mouth and nose to keep out the dust—kind of like the kerchiefs that cowboys wear in Western movies. Dust on the game drives is plentiful in many parts of Africa, and can be beyond belief on game drives in Amboseli. If you’re going to Africa, we highly recommend taking a Buff.

If you’re considering taking your cell phone, remember that it must be a quad-band phone capable of supporting international cell phone systems. Cell phones that are built solely for systems in the U.S. will not work abroad. When I bought my BlackBerry, I researched carriers to make sure I could buy one that would work internationally. I settled on T-Mobile because they have loads of international service available and their phones are made to work in Canada and Mexico right out of the box without any service enhancements. Kenya is a GPRS-enabled country so I was able to receive internet email and send text messages in Nairobi, Mt. Kenya, Amboseli and the Maasai Mara. I could have made cell phone calls too, had I needed to. Tanzania is not a GPRS-enabled country so neither internet email nor text messaging were available. Cell phone service does work, though, so you can stay in touch that way, understanding that the calls were $4.95 per minute when we were there—which explains why we didn’t make any calls.

A few thoughts about beverages:  

-- You can NOT drink the water ANYwhere in Africa. You must keep your mouth closed when you shower. You must not use the tap water when you brush your teeth. Bottled water use is a must, at all times. It’s plentiful everywhere, including on board the safari vehicles, so just get used to it.

-- Kenyans love their beer and they make some good ones. Tusker Lager is somewhat famous in and around Nairobi and it’s good. However, Tusker Malt Lager is the best—it’s a hopsy beer, reminiscent of a great German or Belgian beer, it’s 5% alcohol, and it’s really good. It became our beer of choice at all times when we could get it.

-- On a trip like Micato’s Grand Safari, alcoholic beverages are included—everything available at every location, except champagne and some premium spirits. However, some camps won’t understand the concept of gin straight up, if that’s what you want, and you may have to explain what you want. But generally, drinks were always available and everyone was always eager to please.

Having spent the night at the Hilton Hotel at Heathrow, we had also pre-arranged with The Stafford to store our large suitcases there. We left them with the bell captain at the Hilton so The Stafford could pick them up and then had the Hilton drive us across the bridge in their golf cart to the British Airways terminal connecting to the hotel so we could check in for our flight to Nairobi.

If you're planning to go to Africa--actually, even if you're not--I highly recommend reading The Africans by David Lamb.  Buy it, read the whole thing, go through all the pages on my site, and look elsewhere on the web for information.  You can always email me by using the Contact Me button.