`Bucket list' trip to Africa a wild time

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The decision to satisfy a “bucket list” item and take a photo safari in Kenya proved to be a good one as the two-week trip exceeded all my expectations.

Part of the success of the trip was the decision to book the safari for my daughter and me though Kensington Tours. The company representative tailored the trip to our schedule and we spent 12 days in the field, with just our driver/guide in the van with us.

When my daughter and I arrived in Kenya on Oct. 28, culture shock came early when we moved into Nairobi traffic that was a nightmare on steroids.

Traffic signals seemed to be out all the time, so it was a constant case of four or five drivers working to get in the flow of vehicles on a two-lane road.

Many times, I figured another coat of paint and the entire side of the van would be demolished. But our driver was an absolute magician as he maneuvered through the traffic jams without incident.

The first full day in Kenya ushered in new and amazing experiences. We visited a sanctuary dedicated to saving an endangered species of giraffe and my daughter kissed one of them.

The next stop was the elephant orphanage, where we saw keepers bottle-feeding young elephants ranging from a baby only weeks old to a couple that were 3 or 4 years old.

There was a stop at the chimpanzee rescue sanctuary and my daughter got to feed a rhino. The final stop of the day was a thriving business making beaded jewelry. What made it special was the business was started to provide employment for two single mothers. Now there are 350 single mothers and young women just out of school with no job experience turning out beautiful jewelry and filling orders that are sent to distributors around the globe.

Out in the field

The next day, Nairobi was in the rear view mirror as we began the first of 12 days in the field, traveling the narrow dirt roads of national parks where millions of animals roamed free.

Because hunting of any type is illegal in Kenya and we were in national parks, the animals were unafraid and it wasn't unusual to have an elephant grazing by the side of the road undisturbed by the fact the van was 10 to 15 feet away.

The trip showed the different aspects of the Kenyan terrain. Our first stop was quarters at Samburu National Park at an altitude of 5,700 feet. A four-hour drive the next day and we were at a park at about 700 feet.

Daily, we saw herds of different members of the antelope family, like the Thompson gazelle and the impala. There were wildebeests by the thousands and zebras were plentiful.

A turn in the road might provide sighting of a herd of elephants or a group of giraffes peacefully eating the leaves of the thorny arcadia tree.

Daily we were also on the lookout for elusive animals like lions, cheetahs and leopards. Thus, each day was an adventure as we traveled the roads seeking to get the opportunity to take good photographs.

Even so, a couple good photos were missed because I was so fascinated by the beauty of the animals he didn't focus and click the shutter.

That didn't happen with the male lion that seemed almost on cue to come out of the brush, lie down and survey his kingdom undisturbed by the van just 25 feet away.

Another rare photo came when we saw a young male cheetah in the brush. The animal was moving around and gave chase and pounced on a large mouse.

Surprising sounds

Evenings were spent in nice quarters with all the modern amenities.

However, we were still in Africa, and at Sopa Samburu we were awakened about 5:30 a.m. and warned that there were elephants in the courtyard. One of the beasts was about 50 yards away. It was apparently upset when the lights came on and knocked down a large tree before storming off into the brush.

The influence of our country was evident at the Sweetwater Lodge where I heard what sounded like a recording of Willie Nelson singing, “On the Road Again.” However, further investigation showed it was a young Kenyan singer doing the song in perfect pitch and rhythm.

All the new experiences made it seem like we were in Kenya for a long time but, in another way, the time just flew by, so all too soon it was time to get on an airplane to return home with a head full of great memories and about 1,400 pictures to go through.

Tom Munds is a reporter/photographer for Colorado Community Media. He has covered Englewood and south metro-area happenings for 35 years.