out of the bush

At the airstrip I am reluctantly coming to grips with the fact that the time to head home draws near. I’ve got a night in Nairobi and a weekend of housekeeping in Ireland before I head back to New York, yet still; the sudden chill in the air means summer’s grand adventure is rapidly approaching its denouement.

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ode to a giraffe

Giraffe, how do you still exist in the world?  Like some prehistoric throwback, it doesn’t seem possible that you’ve survived the millennia without falling prey to extinction. I take it as some kind of omen that on my last day in the bush I’m greeted by a parade of you, poking through the Acacia with that curious, quizzical look on your faces before galloping across the field en masse. I’m told you’ve got quite the kick, yet ever since Toys “R” Us marketed Geoffrey Giraffe as its cuddly, docile mascot, I’ve had to suppress the urge to squeeze you like a favored stuffed animal.

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stuck, or a brush with death

On safari you experience a near constant reminder of just how small your place in the biosphere really is. That’s part of the bargain, part of the rush. Mostly it comes in gasps of wonder and awe. Yet today’s run in with an unhappy elephant was a heart-pounding example that sometimes the reminder comes hand in hand with a dizzying fear. Watching this beautiful creature devour a thorny Acacia was mesmerizing until we were distracted by the howls of a jackal, whose cries signaled a lurking danger. It turned out to be a pair of male lions on the hunt, and seeing them cross our line of sight we decided to make pursuit.  What the driver failed to notice, however, was the big ditch separating us from them – until we went kerplunk. Thoroughly stuck, we sat there immobile, our rear wheel unable to gain any traction whatsoever.  As the driver gunned the engine, the axle emitted a high-pitched squeal which not only set my teeth on edge but also seemed to rattle the brain of an animal in mid-meal.  Add the howl of the jackal and the smell of the lions and we suddenly had a skittish and visibly unhappy pachyderm not twenty feet away.  With perfect timing a branch feel from the tree, thwacking it on the back. As if we were to blame it reeled on us like a bull, using its muscular trunk to toss branches left and right in a display of displeasure, if not downright aggression. It’s at this point that I became almost hyper-conscious of the animal’s large tusks – and my unfortunate positioning in the car, which puts me at the direct point of impact should we be charged. I flash back to the terrifying drive back from the condor nests in Patagonia last winter: a white-knuckle journey in which we narrowly escaped skidding into a ravine multiple times. My friend told me afterward that from the back seat she was wishing for death because she knew if we went over the edge she would never survive getting out of the gorge on her own. I’m wondering what we would do if this elephant charged the car? Where would we run? Outside are a pair of lions which would quickly pick up our scent. Plus, there’s not a  substantial tree in sight – and even if there were it’d be no match for a rampaging elephant.  It is so silent I can’t hear anything: I feel my heartbeat, however, and what I think is a low guttural rumbling coming from the elephant. If the driver fruitlessly guns the engine one more time, I think I might get hysterical, but he’s reaching for his walkie-talkie and radioing back to camp for reinforcements.  How anyone will find us is beyond me but at this point all we can do is wait – and watch. Time bends. The anticipation is agony. We are rescued, of course, by a pair of laughing Masai who, no doubt, will mercilessly rib and cajole our driver for weeks, if not years, to come. Almost incidentally they scare the elephant off with a machete. Trying to get some traction to the back wheels they attack a fallen log. The metallic ping as the machete hits the wood is enough to freak the elephant out: it whinnies and runs away as expeditiously as if we had pointed a shotgun at its head. I am pretty sure I exhale audibly, while simultaneously realizing that I am ravenous. We’ve spent all this time staring down death and managed to miss breakfast.

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breaking clouds

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at sunset the gazelle come out to dance

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scat fact of the day

Hyena poop is white.  The only scavenger in Africa that goes so far as to eat the bones of other animals, hyena build up an excess of calcium in their system which finds a way out through the back door, as it were. It is a most curious sight. Then again, the sound of the wolf-like hyena chomping on bone is something else you won’t soon forget.

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new views: naboisho

It was somewhat disheartening to leave the perfection of Sala’s Camp for a new untested lodge but my original plan for this trip had always included seeing two different parts of southern Kenya. At Sala’s I was on the great Serengeti plain, practically along the Tanzania border. Here at Naboisho Camp in the private Naboisho Conservancy I’ve left the Masai Mara for a few days and moved eastwards, up to a higher elevation in the hills. The landscape is full of thorny Acacia trees and lots of scattered rock. There’s less of the grand open space found in the Mara but at the same time there are a lot more places for animals to hide and I’m hoping this new site brings with it new experiences in the wild. One thing’s for certain, it’s aesthetically a lot more Wallpaper than Sala’s Camp.

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eggs to order

Even with expectations of a Spartan culinary spread, the bush breakfast promised during this morning’s game drive sounded too cool to pass up – and well worth the extra-early rise. A thermos of coffee arrived at my tent with the sunrise and next thing you know we were off in search of wildebeest. “In search” might be a bit of a misnomer, however. Across the river from Sala’s Camp a mega-herd had come to graze, which made the whole enterprise less White Hunter, Black Heart and more Jeeves and Wooster as we, in effect, toured the great herd. Nevertheless, driving in a hundred thousand-strong herd of animals brings is its own thrills and sense of adventure. Alighting on a large rock in the middle of the herd, the driver and tracker set up a proper table, chairs, a wash basin and I breakfasted on fresh fruit salad, yogurt, muffins and good, strong coffee amidst the most unbelievable surroundings. When the driver asked me how I liked my eggs I thought he was joking – until I noticed the sweet smell of bacon and sausage coming from the direction of the Land Rover, where they had hooked up a small gas stove. Who was I to argue? I went for two: sunny-side up, please.

 

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at the hippo pond

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unexpected orlando

Mention Orlando and one thing comes to mind – theme parks. And rightly so: Walt Disney World put this city on the map, and today the Magic Kingdom battles it out with EPCOT, Universal Studios, SeaWorld, and three other major parks for the attentions of 64.5 million travelers who come in search of rides, games, and Mickey Mouse ears each year.

But there’s a whole other side to Orlando.  Just steps from the fireworks, the roller coasters, the crowds, an entirely different group of attractions awaits.  From eco-safaris and astronaut training to canal cruises and historic gardens, America’s number one family destination has a whole unexpected side just waiting to be explored.

A short drive from the major attractions, Winter Park will charm you with tree-shaded avenues and a window into the world of Florida’s past. Once a major citrus-growing region, it became a popular retreat for well-to-do Northerners in the early 20th century. One of the best ways to get a peek at the Winter Park lifestyle is on the hour-long Scenic Boat Tour, a local attraction for more than half a century that takes you past lakefront mansions and through the city’s historic canals. Harry P. Leu Gardens is a 50-acre botanical park with the largest camellia collection outside California. Highlights include a butterfly garden, tropical stream garden, bamboo and palm gardens and a formal rose garden. It also includes the Leu House Museum, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

With nearly 50 museums, theatres, and galleries, the heartbeat of the arts district is the seven-mile “Cultural Corridor,” that stretches from downtown Orlando to Winter Park.  The strip includes the Orlando Museum of Art, the new CityArts Factory, which houses art studios and galleries like Keila Glassworks, where you can get hand-on instruction in the art of glassblowing and the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum, which features the world’s most comprehensive collection of works by Louis Comfort Tiffany, including an elaborate chapel interior.

Discover a habitat virtually unaltered by man in the wilderness of the Central Florida Everglades. Led by certified US Coast Guard Captains, Boggy Creek Airboat and Wildlife Safari Rides take you through the Florida wetlands in search of native wildlife.  Whisking across the water at speeds up to 45 mph, each ride offers a unique glimpse of eagles, osprey, snakes, turtles and alligators.  Florida Eco-Safaris at Forever Florida caters to all ages on its eco-safaris, guided horseback tours, and nature trails. They also offer the only zipline experience in the state:  a two and a half hour treetop adventure, reaching heights of 55 feet and speeds up to 25 mph through the Pine Flatwoods and wetlands.

With more than 2,000 lakes, springs and rivers, Orlando is an endless summer of outdoor fun for water lovers. For more adrenaline-pumping activities, you can get behind the wheel of a 600-horse-power Nextel Cup race car at the Richard Petty Driving Experience, skydive indoors in a high-energy vertical wind tunnel at SkyVenture Orlando, or lean to hang glide at Wallaby Ranch Hang Gliding Flight Park, the first full-time aerotow hang gliding flight park in the world. No experience is necessary. And for the ultimate rush, the Astronaut Training Experience at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex prepares intergalactic explorers for the rigors of space flight with a range of interactive, anti-gravity activities – plus the chance to take the helm at Mission Control under the supervision of an actual NASA astronaut.

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african skies

016_13AAfrica is many things, least of all a destination.  For the lucky, it is a journey – one both literal and metaphoric – into the wilderness and a chance to step outside the quotidian grind and see the world with fresh eyes.

Be it the heart-stopping sight of a hundred thousand wildebeest migrating across the Serengeti or the solace that comes from acres of stars crowding a midnight sky, there is something to be gained from recognizing one’s own insignificance in such overwhelmingly spectacular surroundings:  the mind sheds the useless baggage of modern life like a layer of dead skin.

Yet it also expands the heart, freeing it to redefine what’s possible from what’s anticipated.DSCN0471 The sun may reliably rise each morning to stir life on the plains, but its setting also awakens a mysterious jungle world that thrives in the dark.

Africa may be just a step on an ongoing journey – one of altered perspectives and acceptance – but oh, what a natural step it is.

004_2In an open-air cabana along the banks of the mighty Zambezi River, the smoke and thunder of Victoria Falls lie in sight as you lay on the table for Ukuchina (90mins, US$153), a traditional Zambian massage combining Thai and Swedish techniques along with hot exfoliating towels. It is utter bliss, in one of the most unspoiled places on earth: a herd of zebra grazes not fifty feet away, while vervet monkeys and baboons play in the trees and across the river the sun descends over neighboring Zimbabwe.

The Royal Livingstone, Mosi-oa-Tunya Road, Livingstone, Zambia

www.suninternational.com

DSCN0514Bubble away in the Baker’s Retreat (30min, R350) an open-air hydrotherapy bath overlooking a watering hole that is perfect for one and even better for two.  Scrub up with an assortment of Africology organic mud and bath products or lie back with a smoothie, enveloped in the sounds of the wild.  Noises start to fool you, until you snap to and realize that, yes, an entire family of elephants are walking across the field not twenty yards away. This is what spafari is all about.

Vital Source Spa, Tintswalo Safari Lodge, South Africa 

http://tintswalo.com

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