East Africa: land of the extraordinary
Almost everyone who has done a tour of East Africa will tell you it’s fantastic. It’s renowned for being wild, authentic, spectacular and rugged, but Intrepid’s Skye Gainey wondered if it would live up to her high expectations when she finally had the chance to travel to Rwanda, Kenya and Tanzania…
“Let me start with the game viewing. Never would I imagine seeing so many animals in such a short period of time. In Rwanda we hiked deep into the forest to spend time with a Gorilla family – a silverback, mature males and females, juveniles and babies! Watching these primates interact with each other and recognise us as friendly visitors truly makes you believe in evolution.
We also trekked to see Golden Monkeys, an experience that filled me with the joy of a child. Watching these small monkeys swing, play, fight, feed and run through the jungle in their natural habitat was thrilling.
Then there was the Serengeti – WOW! Within less than an hour of arriving in the reserve we had seen herds of zebra, wildebeest, giraffe, buffalo, elephant, hippos, baboons and more! On an early morning game drive we saw a cheetah devouring its prey. We watched three, yes THREE, leopards, a mother and her cubs, feeding on a Thompson Gazelle in a tree. We watched as a lioness hunted down a warthog – just a snack.
That afternoon we spent time watching a pride of lions waking for their evening hunt. We saw hyenas, which later that night, uninvited, visited our camp site. Then the very next morning we quietly observed a pride of lionesses stalk a herd of buffalo and later spotted two male lions watching on the other side of the herd in wait.
In Ngorongoro Crater we counted seeing nearly all the same animals again in one day. At Lake Nakuru we spotted Rhinos! We watched as a giraffe casually walked the length of the local air strip and our group followed a lioness and her three cubs as they started their evening hunt. At Lake Naivasha we walked, yes walked, with zebra, giraffe, gazelle and more! We motored a boat past hippos and flamingos.
And the Maasai Mara – amazing! Again we saw beautiful herds of hoofed animals. We watched a pregnant cheetah finding a place to rest. We saw a leopard climbing a tree, male lions resting in the shade. Another male warning off his females as he devoured a buffalo they had caught and many more amazing wildlife scenes would follow!
But really what I enjoyed the most in East Africa was meeting the people!
Where to start… in the news at home we hear all the time that places like Nairobi are not safe. Granted my visit didn’t come at the best time, only a month after the Westgate mall attack, but unfortunately these days that kind of thing can happen anywhere, as we sadly see time and again. My personal experience was that the people of East Africa are friendly, welcoming, respectful people. They are working together towards a brighter future and particularly in Rwanda, where their knowledge of ecotourism astounded me.
I felt safe throughout my travels. I enjoyed visiting local markets and schools. I enjoyed walking through small towns seeing women making jewellery and knitting. I enjoyed dancing and singing with the locals everywhere we went, sitting around a camp fire late into the night with Maasai Warriors discussing their way of life.
The people of East Africa don’t have a lot, but they do have a great respect for their land and their people. Their education is improving and their culture is changing, but I hope with all my heart, that in the years to come when I return to East Africa (hopefully with three children, as one local predicted) that they will still be living the simple life, intertwined with nature and at peace with each other.”
Photos by Skye Gainey: cultural dancing in Rwanda, lion in Ngorongoro Crater, Maasai Warriors of Kenya.