A while back, Travel Bloogers Unite and Intrepid Travel announced a contest to go on a Safari in Africa to, among other things, trek into the jungle and see the Mountain Gorillas. These are the giant gentle critters that were brought to the world’s attention by Dian Fossey.
I entered the contest and somehow, maybe I was the only person who entered, I won.
This was a 16 day safari through Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and back. I had taken a wonderful safari exactly a year prior and I could not imagine that Africa had changed much, but I wanted to see the gorillas. So I accepted and signed on.
I must say that being I had won this trip and I was a guest of Intrepid Travel, I want to be nice. I want to be gracious. I’ll try, but this is after all an IRREVERENT TRAVEL BLOG. So I am going to tell it as I saw it. Please be aware this was my first and only experience with Intrepid, so pardon my ignorance.
First I want to deal with the name of the company INTREPID TRAVEL. Intrepid can be defined as audacious, brave, dauntless, and unfearing. Intrepid Travel is none of the above, except at times audacious. I’ll cover this audacious thing a few times in following posts. For now let me say that when I was young, I traveled in a much more intrepid manner. I went where I wanted, when I wanted to with no agenda except being sure I was back at University when classes started. When I set out I had a few destinations in mind, but transportation and lodging were all adhoc.
When you travel with Intrepid, every moment of every day is professionally planned out for you, using years of experience a a guideline. Where you are going, what you will eat, what you will see and where you will sleep are pre-ordained and as sacred as scripture to a Baptist. That is not really a complaint. It is very convenient for most people. Please remember, this was my first experience with Intrepid and I am certainly not too proud to say I am ignorant of the other thousand trips they offer.
The adventure started with the hotel Intrepid assigned us to upon our arrival in Nairobi. I will not say much about it except that I gave it the lowest level review possible on Tripadvisor. It felt great to vent my spleen there, I will resist doing it for my faithful readers here.
The group met for the first time on Sunday night before our Monday departure. We introduced ourselves to each other and ponied up the per-person US$1250 kitty. Very cute of Intrepid to call this a kitty. What it really is is the second half of the cost of the trip. You pay the first half when you register and that is nonrefundable. That was the part I won. The trip notes clearly stated that they would not accept anything other than US$, and only in currency minted after 2003. Well, one of my hundred dollar bills was minted in ’96, and I figured, they cannot be too serious. They were. They would not accept it. Nor, as it turns out would it pass muster anywhere in Kenya.
As the group started the self intros, “hi, my name is…” stuff, one guy immediately started in on what I would learn to be an incessant urge to prove he was the smartest person on the trip. He told us all that he had convened with the world’s leading authority on tropical diseases and that we should all be taking one of three malaria medicines. I have been in malaria regions enough to know that if you are paranoid, use a lot of deet.
The group went to have dinner together, in the hotel restaurant. People compared travel notes and expectations for our safari. When someone asked me why I was there I said that I had won the trip, and all I wanted to see were the gorillas. “What about the game drives, all the animals?’ someone asked. “Been there done that, bring on the gorillas” was my response.
The average age of people on Intrepid trips is 36. This trip was probably right in that neighborhood. The oldest was a 77 year old woman from New Zealand, who by the end of the safari I rated as the heartiest of the bunch.
We somehow got a good night’s sleep. The next morning we met at “the truck”. I was only half surprised, the trip notes DID say it was truck, not a bus,
Please do not be discouraged about reading the next chapters of this trip. In all, it was a wonderful experience, definitely outside my normal way of traveling, so any snide comments or cheap jokes I make are just me being irreverent. Intrepid is a very professional organization, and I thank them.
Please read on. When I take you with me into see the gorillas, you’ll know why you came, I sure did.
First, let me say that if I can get internet access anywhere outside of Nairobi on this trip I will be disappointed. My fantasy for this adventure is that Mary Ann and I have to fight off lions, beware of snakes and wade through streams and rivers to get anywhere. I want baboons swinging at me from the trees and vultures circling overhead waiting to feast on my corpse.
OK, OK, it will not be that way. This is 2011, not 1811, or 1911. I am no Marlin Perkins although I am dressed like him for the trip. You should see me. I look ridiculous in my great white hunter outfit. I do not care, I am here for fun. I am here to fulfill a fantasy that developed back when I watched the Mutual of Omaha Wild Kingdom show with Marlin Perkins on television, in black and white, every Saturday afternoon. He and his sidekick Jim Fowler always had to fight off the big animals to get the exciting footage for an eight year old boy to watch.
I was always afraid that the Africa they showed me would be kaput by the time I was old enough to go see it. I thank my spiritual angels that first of all, there is some of it left, and second that I am now married to a woman that is making it possible.
As I write this we are about 35,000 feet above the Eastern coast of Africa on a five hour flight to Kenya. Getting on the plane in Sharjah was probably the hardest thing we will have to do for the entire trip. When we get to our destination airport we will be met by a first rate safari operator, and just follow his lead for the next week. I know he will take one look at me and laugh, at least secretly. Hope he calls me Bwana, I deserve it. And I would not dress like this if I didn’t want him to.
I am sitting here in this cookie cutter airplane seat typing away on my reliable wonderful lightweight mini HP laptop. I have my Ipod plugged into my ears listening to everything from The Grateful Dead to Frank Sinatra. I also have my super Coolpix Nikon P7000 on my lap, which what was inspired me to pull out the mini.
I am still learning how to use this camera. This is the third or fourth trip I have taken with it. I have probably taken 10,000 photos (maybe 50 are really good) and I am sitting here reading the manual. This manual is longer than the manual for my HP, or for Windows 7. All I have to do is open it to any page and my reaction is “Really? I can do THAT?”
The digital age of photography is as complicated as the future. It is also as full of possibilities. It is also as full of fraught. While the possibility exists that with the right settings selected, and the proper opportunity presenting itself I could take a photo not only worthy of my readers, but of National Geographic , the possibility also exists that I will take 10,000 pictures and none of them will be worth elephant dung. I’ll never know unless I just do it. So I better get back to the manual. Or maybe I should just put it on automatic and point’n’clik.
My Ipod just shuffled to the Rhythm Devils which for those of you unlucky enough not to know is the fancy title for a Grateful Dead drum solo. I was instantly reminded by a shuffle of my mind of a Dead Head friend of mine who made this trip many years ago. He brought along a Walkman (like I said MANY years ago) and of course some dead tapes and a pair of big old headphones (YEARS AGO!). Anyway, he was watching some Masia warriors dance to the locals drum solo and thought, “sheet man, why not.” He fast forwarded the tape (EONS AGO) to the start of a drum solo and put the headphones on the warrior. He showed me pictures of the warrior jumping like Michael Jordan with a huge smile on his face. THAT’S what I call great international relations! I am now inspired to do the same thing and capture the moment for you my faithful readers. That is if I can master the Coolpix 7000.
We just crossed over the “Horn of Africa”. Mogadishu and all that is below us. We are probably less than two hours out of Nairobi.
Now we are crossing the equator, and Nairobi lies just one degree of latitude south.
OK we are in Nairobi. Everything went fine at the airport. The oly thing is that this is yet another country that uses a full page of my passport for a simple visa. I do not have that many pages left, damn.
The hotel, a five star hotel, deserves every star. Wonderful service in a beautiful neighborhood. There are even beautiful birds hanging out by the pool!
AND, the beer is damn good. The brand of choice here is Tuskers.
In the morning we head for the bush. My next post may not be for a while. Please tell a friend and click on the share button below.
Next post, I just do not know.