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African adventures September 22, 2009

Posted by tracybarnett in Adventure, Africa.
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This week I am living vicariously through the adventures of three Houston couples who experienced three very different safari adventures. The article, which will appear in the November edition of The Buzz Magazines, will detail the highlights of each adventure and some tips for traveling to Africa.

Three of the travelers shared some spectacular photography, which I’ve put together in a slide show for you here. The first two photographers, Fred Tooley and Patti Allender, went on photo safaris in East Africa; the third, Suzanne Shelby, went on a big game hunt on the South African border with Botswana.

Sharon Tooley and Suzanne Shelby shared some tips, lessons learned from their travels, which I am including below; they’re an excellent resource for those who might be contemplating a trip to Africa. Meanwhile, sit back and enjoy the splendid photo tour that their labors yielded.

East Africa by 4×4

Sharon and Fred Tooley of Houston, Texas, travel as often as they can and always on a very tight budget. Fred is an architect and Sharon is graphic designer. This May they took a 1,600-mile 4×4 ride through the Great Rift Valley of East Africa, starting in Nairobi and making a loop through the great parks of Kenya and Tanzania.

Sharon penned an extensive guide to travelers; read on and be prepared.

Flight details:

We flew British Airways direct from Houston to Heathrow and then British Airways direct from Heathrow to Nairobi. Our tour company was able to secure a good fare through one of the airfare wholesalers that they use. Several months after we purchased our tickets, Continental offered a r/t fare between Houston and London that would have saved us $200. per ticket. We were OK with that because having the same carrier (B/A) for the entire trip allowed us to check our bags straight through to Nairobi–giving us a better chance of having our bags make it to Kenya the same time we did…and they did. Continental doesn’t fly to Nairobi so it would have meant a carrier change to take advantage of the lower priced tickets.

Itinerary Summary:

Our trip dates were May 15 through 27. We did take a bit of a risk since this is still at the very end of the rainy season. Our tour representative had told us that “rain doesn’t stop a safari…it’s just the mud that’s problematical”–we did see a couple of “mud disabled” vehicles but for the most part we saw very little evidence of rain. Scheduling our trip when we did, however, did introduce us to a cool, green, lush Africa when we were expecting heat and dry arid plains–it was worth the scheduling risk. And, we were there during the beginning of the “Great Migration” which we witnessed in the Serengeti.

Day 1: Arrive Nairobi
Day 2: Nairobi to Naivasha
Day 3 and 4: Masai Mara National Park
Day 5 and 6: Serengeti National Park
Day 7 and 8: Serengeti to Ngorongoro
Day 9: Ngorongoro to Arusha
Day 10 and 11: Arusha to Amboseli National Park
Day 12: Amboseli to Nairobi
Tour Company: Kensington Tours (listed as “One of the Best Adventure Travel Companies on Earth” by National Geographic)

Accommodations:

Nairobi Safari Club—Nairobi, Kenya
Navaisha Simba Lodge—Lake Naivasha, Kenya
Masai Mari Kensington Safari Tent Camp (a Kensington camp only for Kensington clients)
Serengeti Kensington Safari Tent Camp (a Kensington camp only for Kensington clients)
Ngorongoro Serena Safari Lodge—Ngorongoro, Tanzania
Serena Mountain Village—Arusha Tanzania
Amboselli Serena Safari Lodge—Amboselli National Park, Kenya

Without exception, we had 5 star experiences at all.

Miscellaneous expenses to include in the budget:

Inoculations: This is what our primary care doctor wanted us to have…check with your individual doctor for his or her recommendations. Tanzania requires a Yellow Fever vaccination, however.
Our second shot in the Hepatitis A series (we’d had our first earlier in the year)
Polio
Typhoid
Meningococcal meningitis

Medications:

Prescription Anti Malarial medication (meds started several days prior to our departure, the full time we were in country and taken for one full week after our return)

“Cipro type” antibiotic prescribed by our doctor in case of serious illness while in country

Visas: (purchased in country)

Kenya: $25 per person (this was a pleasant surprise for us, the cost had been $50. pp a few weeks prior to our trip

Tanzania: $50 per person

Trip Insurance (included in the cost of our Kensington Tour:

This was a big “chunk of budget” but it would have been an even bigger hit had we been forced to swallow the full price of the trip, that was payable in full prior to departure as well as airfare, should for unforeseen circumstances had we been forced to cancel.
The medical insurance portion of the policy was, as far as we were concerned, mandatory. Our tour fee included the services of “The Flying Doctors of Africa” to air-vac us out of the bush and to Nairobi should one of us be injured or become seriously ill. However, we wanted insurance that would air evacuate us back to the US to the hospital of our choice…i.e. Methodist or St. Luke’s, Houston Texas. The cost of the policies are based on age and levels of coverage.

Miscellaneous tips

It’s important to verify with your tour company prior to signing a contract: do they cover all entrance fees to the national parks in your itinerary? Those fees can range from $20to $60 per day, per person. Our tour was all-inclusive. It included all accommodations, breakfast, lunch and dinner each day (even tea in Arusha), all transportation and all entrance fees to the multiple national parks that we visited two times per day, each day.

Pack light. Everything needs to be lightweight and preferably quick-drying. There are very good packing lists for safaris available on line. Also, we used the laundry services available in two of the lodges that we stayed and it was inexpensive and good. Don’t pack black or dark navy clothing–they attract Tsetse flies…and we experienced them and felt their blood sucking vengeance. In Africa, regular flies are known as “sweet flies” as opposed to the Tsetse…think Houston mosquitoes on steroids. They were only a problem in the Serengeti and only when we were on foot in camp or stopped in the vehicle–as soon as we were traveling, the wind sent them on their way.
I griped and complained about packing my lightweight hiking boots but after a 3 inch acacia thorn to the toe on my first wildlife adventure hike (wearing my nifty Keen sandals), I was glad to have my boots along for all other day hikes.
* Having a digital SLR (Single Lens Reflex) Camera makes photo taking pure joy. We used a small point-and-shoot digital camera in Costa Rica; however, the nature of wildlife photography makes it much more successful to focus on the subject with a good SLR. Plus you are not hiking, so the camera weight is not that much of an issue.
* Take the information seriously about packing a fleece and a jacket…it was very cold in the early mornings and evenings around the camp fire at night in the camps.
* I always travel with an inflatable neck pillow when we fly and found that taking it on the long road trips from camp to camp made the bumpy roads (they call it the “African Massage”) less punishing to my head and neck.

* Pack light. Everything needs to be lightweight and preferably quick-drying. There are very good packing lists for safaris available on line. Also, we used the laundry services available in two of the lodges that we stayed and it was inexpensive and good. Don’t pack black or dark navy clothing–they attract Tsetse flies…and we experienced them and felt their blood sucking vengeance. In Africa, regular flies are known as “sweet flies” as opposed to the Tsetse…think Houston mosquitoes on steroids. They were only a problem in the Serengeti and only when we were on foot in camp or stopped in the vehicle–as soon as we were traveling, the wind sent them on their way.

I griped and complained about packing my lightweight hiking boots but after a 3 inch acacia thorn to the toe on my first wildlife adventure hike (wearing my nifty Keen sandals), I was glad to have my boots along for all other day hikes.

* Having a digital SLR (Single Lens Reflex) Camera makes photo taking pure joy. We used a small point-and-shoot digital camera in Costa Rica; however, the nature of wildlife photography makes it much more successful to focus on the subject with a good SLR. Plus you are not hiking, so the camera weight is not that much of an issue.

* Take the information seriously about packing a fleece and a jacket…it was very cold in the early mornings and evenings around the camp fire at night in the camps.

* I always travel with an inflatable neck pillow when we fly and found that taking it on the long road trips from camp to camp made the bumpy roads (they call it the “African Massage”) less punishing to my head and neck.

* Keep a Journal–Fred ordered “African Safari Journal” by Mark W. Nolting and it became our constant companion on the trip. It was small and lightweight. It had not only ruled pages for actual journal entries but exceptional mammal and bird checklists, illustrations and descriptions of mammals, birds and reptiles as well as an illustrated map directory, including maps to each of the National Parks and a language section with keywords in Swahili, Shona, Tswana, Zulu and French—all of that in a half-inch thick book that fits in your jacket pocket.

What we would change about the trip:

We’d make it a few days longer, stayed an additional day in Ngorongoro, and we would have taken advantage of the 4-day Seychelles extension that Kensington offered so that Fred could have fly fished. Oh well, there’s always next time.

We would travel with as many school supplies as we could carry without penalty for overweight baggage. A tip for anyone traveling to Africa: go to the Dollar Store and buy bulk loads of pencils and ballpoint pens–the children beg for them. Bandannas are also sought after. I bought a beautiful Masai bracelet and a pair of carved candlesticks at amazing prices because I threw in my bandannas with each purchase. We took two dozen bandannas between the four of us but wished we had taken twice that many. We gave most of them to the school we visited in the Masai Mara and would have loved to have more to give to the children we met during our trip. School supplies in Africa are incredibly expensive and one teacher told us the kids often have to practice writing with no pen or pencil.

Big game hunting in South Africa

Suzanne and John Shelby of Houston made their trip to South Africa in July. John is a veterinarian; Suzanne is an architect by training and a full-time mom by trade. Here are her words of advice.

* Don’t try to do this trip on your own.  Research outfitters that specialize in your interest (i.e. Photographic Safaris, Big Game Hunts, etc.) We hired a Professional Hunter (PH) and fantastic guide, Henry Van Schalkwyk, who can be reached at wildlife@lantic.net. His knowledge was so integral to the success and enjoyment of the trip. It would not have been the same trip without him.

* Remember that our summer is their winter…pack accordingly. Plan on wearing layers so that you can peel away as the sun warms up the day.

* Check with your doctor for any special prescriptions or immunizations in advance.

* Pilanesberg National Park Reserve http://pilanesberggamereserve.com/index.html Incredible landscape and many, many animals to see.

* If hunting: Be sure proper paperwork is filled out before arrival to South Africa and make sure you have contacted the U.S. Customs Dept prior to your trip.

* Consider renting a Global Satellite Phone for the trip.  We rented ours through our cellular phone company.

* Be prepared.  Relax and enjoy a trip of a lifetime!

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Comments»

1. 11 tips for a successful photo safari « Roads Less Traveled - September 30, 2009

[…] us an extra. For a more extensive collection of his photos, and other Houston safari travelers, see African Adventures, and keep an eye out for their story in Buzz […]

2. 11 tips for a successful photo safari | Roads Less Traveled - October 23, 2009

[…] an extra. For a more extensive collection of his photos, and other Houston safari travelers, see African Adventures, and keep an eye out for their story in Buzz […]

3. marcia Stuart - March 8, 2010

Can anyone tell me if they have gone on a kennsington safari to south africa and if so, how was the lodging, were the 4×4 safe and was everyone at a window seat? Any children along di you go to Victoria falls, but most importantly I am checking into Kennsington tours and their reputation…any advise


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