21-Day African Safari and Cruise

(highlights and impressions)
November--December 1998
by Nancy Vogel

     It was the first time we've been away from home at Thanksgiving time. After a horrendously long flight, we were taken to the Nairobi Hilton, expecting luxury quarters. The hotel could best be described as "ratty," however.

     Looking out the window the next morning, I saw the (black) people of Nairobi scurrying about on their way to work. Many on our tour commented that no white people at all were seen on the streets.

     First day, we took a tour of the city, went past the recently bombed embassy. That afternoon we attended a lecture by a member of the Leakey family. He reminded us that mankind had begun here in East Africa, and said, "Welcome home."

     I heard "Jambo Mama!" addressed to me frequently. A compliment? No--a polite greeting--like "Hello, Ma'am."

Nancy the Safari Driver      Next day we started out for the Amboseli game lodge. Bad roads, very bumpy, jerky, through a vast flat area that once was a lake bed. "Like being inside a washer/dryer," someone said. At that time we didn't know what lay ahead--this road was NOTHING compared to what was to come.

     We saw many tall, blanket-clad Masai along the road. When we stopped for gas, tall thin Masai ladies with long white teeth tried to sell us trinkets. Someone told me later (not necessarily true) that the Masai pull their bottom front teeth so that the upper ones will grow long, like those they admire in their cattle.

     Suddenly we saw a giraffe! Great excitement. Later we calmed down as we saw lots of zebras, elephants and other animals. No predators except one hyena and much later a family of lions. Our driver told us we couldn't get out of the van--the elephants might charge. "Why?" "They are afraid they know your intentions."

     We spent a restful night at a nice lodge. But the road to the next lodge was even worse than the one we'd been over. And our jolting caravan of many vans was stopped for half an hour, while many officials conferred in Swahili. We never did find out what that was about; something about security, apparently.

     This second lodge was much older, with antiquated plumbing--probably one of the first ever built. Much mosquito spray--at night a young man came in to spray under the beds, even, and to let down the netting that hung above the beds. Yet with all these precautions against malaria- carrying mosquitoes, the main dining room was open, without walls on one side. When we dined in the evening, the lights were so low (to prevent bugs from coming in) that we couldn't read the menu. Any enterprising mosquito could have come in and had its fill of tourist juice.

     At breakfast, there was much laughter over what some people will do to avoid the usual Thanksgiving dinner. "Someone else can deal with Uncle Louie this year."

     At bedtime I noticed a lizard on the wall, so with it as background I took a picture of Grant sitting on the bed wrapped in his mosquito net.

Grant with mosquito net and lizard      After three days of safari (daily game drives, with views of elephants, giraffes, zebras, many other kinds of animals, and one ostrich) we started out for the cruise ship. The road was unbelievably rough. The potholes and ditches were the GOOD parts of the road. This lasted four hours, with much swerving, narrowly missing oncoming cars or trucks that were swerving too, and a bit of playing chicken. Our driver was very aggressive, and the opponents were the ones to give in and jerk aside into a ditch while we remained on the main "road." It occurred to me that gall bladder surgery would be greatly simplified now for anyone who needed it--all gall bladders (and everything else) must have been shaken loose and were now hanging by a mere thread. It did have one effect on me: it cured my long-standing double vision (but unfortunately only for a few days).

     You've heard of the guy who loved banging his head against a wall "because it felt so good when he stopped." Well, for setting up unimaginable heights of joy and ecstasy, a safari is ten million times more effective than banging your head against a wall. We were all extremely happy and relieved to reach the Marco Polo and to begin our cruise.

     At Zanzibar, we drove to an area of jungly trees, where they grow spices of many kinds, cloves, lemon grass, etc. I bit into a cocoa bean, found dark stuff inside. It was interesting but definitely lacked the Hershey touch.

Nancy and the lemurs     Often we had to take tenders (lifeboats) to shore, or to an intermediate craft which would take us to shore. At Nosy Kamba, we took a tender to a Zodiac landing craft (a big rubber raft) and then had to wade the last few yards to shore. After a long walk we came to Lemur Park, supposedly the only place in the world where these lemurs can be found. The equatorial sun was HOT. I wore sunscreen, sunhat and gloves. Grant took a picture of me with the lemurs and a native. The people in this area and several other areas we have visited paint their faces with fancy white patterns.

     In Mayotte, a more civilized area, the people spoke French. We thought surely we could get and send email from here. We found an English-speaking French woman, and tried to explain what we wanted. She was very puzzled by my request. I simplified it: "E-mail? Computers, you know? Internet?" Finally she shook her head and said, "I speak English. But I don't understand." I found a beautiful blouse made of some unusual material. and tried to buy it--but they wouldn't take American money.

     DURBAN: Big buildings, one with what looked, from the ship in the morning, like a huge elephant sculpture on top. Actually this was just the shadowed part of a dome. In some areas of Durban, you see only black people. Many of the women are fat. Our tour guide said the population is 6 percent white, 60 black, 15 Indian, and the rest mixed. She said they have affirmative action, and "our own education is suffering because of it." Another guide said the blacks are coming in from outside and squatting on other people's land; they are hungry and desperate. "But I think we have a way to solve this problem."

     In Durban there are lots of beautiful homes, many owned by people who fly in periodically from Johannesburg. The scenery is lush; the roads are built on what were once elephant walks through the jungle.

     At Plattenburg Bay, it was obvious our cruise ship had never been there before, and whoever had planned the visit had failed to do his homework. Getting there wasn't so bad--tender to a different type of landing craft, then ZOOMING onto shore, up onto the beach, stopping with a sudden jolting thud, with the crew members holding the tourists so they wouldn't be hurt in the sudden stop. But after the not very interesting visit, there was much delay, much waiting in the hot sun for transportation; finally many people chose to wade to the rubber rafts rather than wait for the expected lander. Half the price of that tour was refunded. On the ship that afternoon, the movie shown on TV was, to my great surprise, "Titanic." I had thought for sure that movie would never be shown on a cruise ship.

     Some of the entertainers on cruise ships are quite good. One comedian told one which I thought was funny: He said, "I don't do any of those low-class Polish jokes. In fact in Poland I did an American joke: I asked a bunch of Polish people how many Americans it takes to change a lightbulb, and when they couldn't guess I said 'One,' and they laughed and laughed."

     One evening a Zulu group came aboard and entertained us with traditional dances. About half of the women were casually and unsexily barebreasted. They were all CHUBBY.

     Cape Town, like Durban, is beautiful. The population in the area is made up mostly of the "Cape Coloreds"--a mix of the original Bushmen, the Dutch, and slaves dropped off by the Dutch. I was surprised to hear that the black Africans came to the area later, and that the slaves were Malaysian and Indonesian.

     An important feature of Cape Town is Table Mountain, with its big flat top which in the afternoon sometimes gets a "tablecloth"--a beautiful veil of fog lying over the top. We were fortunate enough to be able to see that. Cape Town has an area of Malay houses--mostly square stucco, in pastel colors--lavender and green, etc. Our tour driver was a Malay. He told me his kids are in a private school. His wife works too, to make this possible. A later tour took us to a winery in possibly the world's most beautiful area--jagged mountains, rolling hills, green everywhere, trees, vineyards, flowers.

     For the detailed and exact story of our trip, written by Grant, who kept a daily diary, click here.

Nancy Vogel