YOUR VACATION IN LIGHTS
Back to Africa For a New File Of Memories
Connie Dupras of Vienna is the latest contributor to our "Your Vacation in Lights" feature, in which we invite Travel section readers to share the dish about their recent trips. It's a big, confusing travel world out there, and you can help your fellow travelers navigate it. Your hot tip could be the next guy's daymaker; your rip-off restaurant, the next family's near miss. To file your own trip report -- and become eligible to win a digital camera -- see the fine print below.
THE TRIP: Ten days in Kenya, including two nights in Nairobi, one at Lake Nakuru, several nights in comfortable tented camps and one night of luxury at the Mount Kenya Safari Club.
WHEN: End of September 2007, between the rainy seasons, during the wildebeest migration from Kenya to Tanzania, and fortunately before the tragic events that followed the disputed December election. Hopefully, Kenyans will soon figure out how to share power and everyone can enjoy this magnificent country again.
WHO: My husband, Dave, and I, and our two kids, Dominique, 22, and Dan, 26.
WHY: To give our children adult memories of the continent on which they were born -- Dan in Tunisia, Dominique in Rwanda. Also, it had been 18 years since I'd been back, and Africa beckoned. (In the 1970s, Dave and I served as Peace Corps volunteers in Cameroon, but at different times. We later met in Burkina Faso, became engaged in Mali and worked for six years as contractors with the U.S. Agency for International Development in Tunisia and Rwanda.)
PLANNING: An Internet search led me to Alana Hayden, owner of Born Free Safaris, an African tour company with offices in the United States and Africa. I gave Alana a list of our likes and dislikes, and she helped customize our trip. For example, we wanted to avoid large tour groups, so she recommended staying in small tented camps in wildlife conservation areas that would supply us with meals and personal safari guides.
COST: About $7,000 per person for flights, ground transportation, lodging, meals, park fees, tips, shots, etc. Our rationalization: Why leave an inheritance to the kids when we can leave them with memories?
GETTING THERE AND AROUND: From Washington, we flew Northwest nonstop to Amsterdam, then nonstop to Nairobi. We also took one short flight between Nairobi and Masai Mara. Born Free provided a driver to take us around the country and serve as our guide in Lake Nakuru National Park and Sweetwaters Game Reserve. The camps at Lewa and Leleshwa provided guides and four-wheel-drive Land Cruisers for our safaris in the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy and Masai Mara National Park.
HIGHLIGHTS: Up-close and personal encounters with many animals, including feeding and playing with Lola, a four-month-old orphaned rhino in Lewa; sitting in an open Land Cruiser a foot away from a pride of eight lions (the guide didn't need to tell us to be quiet; it's a natural instinct born of fear); and seeing thousands of wildebeest interspersed with elephants, zebras, giraffes, impalas and warthogs. Also on the list: the magnificent vistas, and swapping tales with the guides and guests at the camps.
THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY: We could not find the elusive leopard, though a cheetah and her cub almost made up for it.
I GRITTED MY TEETH THE HARDEST WHEN . . . the bucket shower at Leleshwa lasted only three minutes. (At least the water had been heated on a stove.)
HAPPY CAMPERS: We spent three nights up north at Lewa Safari Camp, a 12-tent camp in a private conservancy that sponsors rehabilitation programs for injured and orphaned animals. Then we flew to Masai Mara in the Serengeti, where we spent three nights at Leleshwa, a six-tent camp in a Masai-owned conservancy bordering the game park. Leleshwa offered an intimate tented-camp experience, complete with evening campfires under star-studded skies and growling lions outside the tent at night.
FAVORITE MEAL: On safari in the Lewa Conservancy, we ate a picnic breakfast under acacia trees surrounded by giraffes.
WHAT I'D DO DIFFERENTLY: Add an overnight in Amsterdam in both directions -- it's a long, long, long trip.
DON'T FORGET TO PACK: Wipes, a fleece jacket and a tolerance for dust.
IT MADE IT ALL WORTH WHILE WHEN . . . both kids declared the experience as "incredibly awesome and the memory of a lifetime."
NEXT UP: Visiting relatives and friends who will put us up for free.
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