“To experience Africa with all senses. Hear lions roar, taste local food, touch an elephant, see the Serengeti, and smell the rains of Africa.”
This was my entry for an Intrepid Travel contest. You had to write – in under 25 words – why you deserved a place on a trip they were giving away. I never win anything, but thought I’d give it a go. And two months later, I received a letter that I’d won a tour to East Africa.
I knew going to Africa would be an amazing experience. What I didn’t know was that it would change my life.
My dream is coming true, now what!?
As a kid growing up, I was always fascinated with the spreads in National Geographic magazines. I never read the articles, just admired the pictures. Whenever there were photos from a safari in Africa, my reaction was always the same: “My dream.”
For months leading up to the 15-day Masai Heartlands trip, I was on cloud nine. One of the first purchases I made was my first SLR camera. I was determined to take pictures like the ones I saw as a kid, so I went for walks around Vancouver taking pictures of birds and squirrels. I just pretended I was on a walking safari taking pictures of vultures and lions! Friends told me the key to good pictures isn’t the camera, it’s the operator. So, I’d advise you practice as much as you can before you go.
Group travel is all about sharing experiences
One of my favorite parts of a group tour is the people traveling with you. Think about it for a moment. If I’m on super excited about going to Africa, it’s safe to say the rest of the group feels the same way. Who knows, maybe they also pretended to be on a walking safari back home!
The point is, everyone is there for the same reason. If there is anyone I want to share this magical trip with, it’s like-minded travelers. Sure enough, in less than 24 hours, our group became one family.
The feeling of seeing wildlife for the first time
As we left Nairobi, we saw our first group of animals. Our local leader, Julius, yelled back and said, “Look everyone, wildlife!!!” You should have seen how fast everyone whipped out their cameras. Before you know it, everyone was taking pictures like their camera was a machine gun. You might be thinking we must have seen a lion or an elephant. Nope, we saw what looked like a cousin of Bambi: gazelles. You laugh, but when your adrenaline is that high with excitement, you’ll take a million pictures too.
What are the best game drives?
This tour was pretty special because we were able to visit Lake Nakuru, the Masai Mara, the Serengeti, and Ngorongoro Crater. Jam-packed with famous national parks, what won the title? Where would I finally get that National Geographic level picture that I have been practicing for? The answer is all of them!
But although leading up to the trip all I could think about was taking the best picture, I realized that being on a safari isn’t about that, it’s about being in the moment. And it’s those memories from being in the moment that stand out for me. Listening to the hyenas laugh kilometers away from our campsite, witnessing a lion have a wildebeest locked in its jaw, smelling the fresh air after a downpour.
It didn’t matter what game drive I was on. You can have these experiences anywhere. The key to having the best experience is start your day with no expectations and embrace what Mother Nature provides. Although, did I get the pictures? YES!
Going beyond game drives to have a local experience
I have always viewed traveling as another form of education. My teachers in elementary and high school always talked about history and different cultures around the world, however it wasn’t until I started traveling that I felt like I understood what I learned in school. Meeting people from local communities is not only vital for learning about different customs and cultures but it’s also to feed your soul.
One of the best experiences I had on the trip was visiting a Maasai village in Loita Hills. The ambassador for the community gave us a lesson on their history and gave us a tour of their village. It was amazing to see how all the homes there are built with a combination of mud, grass, sticks, and cow dung. But the part that enriched my soul the most was learning the traditions they have followed for centuries.
The moment that changed me
That evening after visiting the Maasai village, I had a profound feeling of happiness. I was sitting around the campfire with a handful of fellow travelers. The fire was just perfect, and the stars lit up the sky with the most stunning view. All I could do was stare into the stars and that was when it hit me. I realized I needed to make travel part of my life. I needed to see the world. I needed to learn about different cultures. I needed to feed my soul with more enriching experiences.
I knew the only way to make this happen was to work in the travel industry. Within months of returning home, I was working as a travel agent. Several years later I’m now working for the very company that made my dream come true, Intrepid Travel.
Ready to safari and adventure through this incredible country? Check out Intrepid’s range of trips in Kenya.
(Image credits from top to bottom: Intrepid Travel, Rino Falvo, Intrepid Travel, Rino Falvo x2.)