Sunday, January 28, 2007

Seeing Wildlife in the Wild

I always dreamed of going to Africa, as far back as I can remember. My parents never traveled much, certainly not for recreation. They raised a large family on a single and modest income, living below the poverty line most of their lives, and never accepting any form of assistance. Travel was something people with money did. We were not encouraged to pursue such folly. If you were ever lucky enough to have extra money, you should save it for the times when you had none. A sound, conservative philosophy – but one I no longer subscribe to.

I worked full time all through college and graduate school, and still came out owing a small fortune in student loans, enough to buy a very nice home in most places in America. While I still dreamed of travel, it seemed much more prudent to pay off loans, and I was, if nothing else, very responsible. But then something happened that changed my perspective. My father, who had always dreamed of seeing Scotland, died without doing so. It was one of the things he wished he had done, but never did. I didn’t want to let that happen to me. Still, for a few more years I didn’t travel, I just had an increased commitment to finding a way to do so in the future.

Then I realized, at 30, I could be halfway through my life, or get hit by a bus tomorrow, and what would I really regret? Not having seen the places in the world I want to see. So, I started traveling. Africa still seemed too far off, too expensive, the ultimate, once in a lifetime trip…so I started smaller, with Europe, which is easy and can be inexpensive if you plan well. For a few years I enjoyed travel, but finding a bargain was always very important, as I did still have those loans to pay off. I found I could live with having a little debt for travel, not just for my education, and I could pay it all off, eventually.

I wanted to go somewhere special when I turned 35, and as I was researching costs I thought fleetingly of Africa. I decided to look into the cost – and I was surprised that it wasn’t as expensive as I thought. You can actually get to Africa and see wildlife for $2,000 to $3,000. (Budget Travel magazine has the best travel specials, IMHO). I ended up taking a more expensive trip to go with a company I really trusted, since I was traveling as a lone female, and far away from modern conveniences. I wanted air evacuation in case of medical emergency, I wanted the Land Rover that doesn’t break down, the English speaking guide who has a satellite phone, the company that does not go bankrupt on the eve of my trip, etc. I chose Deeper Africa, which arranged a wildlife intensive trip through Kenya for me in October of 2005.

I don’t have the words for what a rewarding experience it is to see wildlife in the wild, as it should be. If you have dreamed of Africa too, find a way to go there. Save, sacrifice, do whatever it takes, but do not deprive yourself of the chance to see the vast continent with its incredible animals. I thought it would be a once in a lifetime trip, but instead it made me vow to go back as often as I can before I die, to see as many countries and habitats as I can. It is easy to fall in love with Africa.

In part, this blog will catalog my attempts to see wildlife in the wild, and I hope I can encourage anyone who’s “animal crazy” like me to explore too. In 2007, if all goes as planned, I will be back to Kenya to see some places I loved and some I missed last trip. I’ll also be going to Uganda and Rawanda to see endangered Mountain Gorillas, and to Madagascar to see lemurs and other rare and endemic species.

I took the photo above, of a young male cheetah, on my last morning in Kenya, in the Masaii Mara. He let me sit three or four feet away from him as he ate breakfast, a hare. There can't possibly be a cooler way to start the day than sitting next to a cheetah. Go see for yourself.

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