|wildlife meets city life: |
a Coke's Hartebeest roams the savannah while Nairobi's skyline pokes in the distance
"This isn't the Bronx Zoo anymore", I quipped as our van hit the rotted road past the entrance gate. There were 2 other New Yorkers with me. Mike, a local guy with bucked tooth, was driving the three of us on a van. We were about to explore Nairobi National Park, Kenya's first, established in 1946. It sounds personally fitting, this being my first safari.
Having only arrived the night before, I was still battling with jet lag. Traveling to Africa from the US often involves a hop via Europe, in my case flying through Amsterdam on KLM. While the air ticket was free and my Intrepid overland journey was generously discounted, that still didn't guarantee a restful sleep nor my body clock adjusted accordingly.
When Mike showed up at the hotel lobby to pick me up early in the morning, my yawns turn to smile, helped by cups of strong Kenyan coffee. Here I was feeling finally energetic, fueled by the thought of seeing my first wild animals in Africa. For many of us, animal viewings are limited to what's available in the local zoos. Now that I'm really kicking it up a notch, the last thing I want to be seen by animals is yawning back at them.
Safari is Swahili word for "journey" - which in itself already explains what one has to go through just to travel to Africa. What this also means is the associated costs and they're not always cheap. Even planning an indie trip for those with limited time and budget is difficult as there's hardly any infrastructure that supports it. Which boils down to hooking up with reputable tour operators.
|Vervet monkey - equipped with blue balls & red penis|
In my case, this urban safari was part of Intrepid's Urban Adventures. Considering the hefty conservation fees to enter Kenya's national parks and the distances involved while on a game drive, having all logistics taken cared of by Intrepid was definitely worth its weight in Xanax.
We haven't gone far past the park's main gate and we already spot wildlife. "Giraffes!", we all exclaimed. My tour mates Dean and Jessica opened the sun roof for a better view. Out in the savannah were more wild animals grazing as they normally would, looking back curiously, if not suspiciously, at our car and its camera-wielding occupants.
|Lioness ponders her next meal|
|Several choices of prey for the lioness|
Mike drove us further away, stopping the car with every animal sighting and explaining animal behavior at the same time. Park regulations prohibit us from feeding animals, making noises and stepping off the car. After what seemed like an endless slow drive, we reached an area where we were allowed to finally walk - with an armed escort no less.
|Stay close to the one with the gun|
|No To Ivory Trade!|
Monument marking the burning of 12 tons of ivory (the mound at the back is what's left)
While we dodged animal poo along the trail, walking just like this felt like going back to the old days when safari began with the first European settlers in Africa. It was exciting, it was unnerving. Only God knew what's lurking behind those bushes.