That moment. (Falling in love with Africa.)

Underwhelmed. That was the only word to describe how I felt after my very first week on safari in Africa.

After hastily planning a trip only a few days after being hired to manage North American marketing for the tourism board of Kenya, I’d spent seven days in East Africa and was not impressed. I hadn’t properly planned and was traveling with a cheap outfit that was running volume trips in a place that doesn’t deserve mass tourism. The experience was less than impressive. I wasn’t really “feeling” Kenya, or Africa, for that matter.

Between the insane Australian missionary and the mute, elderly British man traveling solo, I hadn’t connected with my fellow travelers whatsoever, and to be honest, I was just plain lonely. I was seeing Kenya for the first time on a standard packaged safari tour. The guide was merely going through the motions, our lodging was well worn, cold and drab. Not at all what I expected.

But, fast-forward 24 short hours and I was in love.

After an early morning bush plane flight over the Great Rift Valley, above Maasai villages, rich green grass and bright red soil, I arrived to a dirt airstrip in the Maasai Mara, Kenya’s most popular safari game reserve. I was quickly collected off the plane and settled into the back of a Land Rover, kitted out for safari with canvas seats, binoculars in the seat back pockets and completely open air sides with a shade roof on top. I found myself creeping deeper and deeper into the African bush.

Lion in Africa

We stopped to admire elephant, Cape Buffalo and a pride of lion all within a mile or so of the airstrip. My guide chatted softly the entire way, so as to not disturb the animals. He spewed facts and information about the animals and landscape.

“See that one there, she is the matriarch of the herd,” he said. “Watch her movements and if you can listen carefully you’ll hear her quiet rumbles, pushing the others on when she’s ready to move.”

elephant africa

We soon arrived at our destination, a small, traditional safari camp tucked into the woods near a river. Comprised of only six, well appointed canvas tents, the king-sized beds, en suite bathrooms and leather chairs under a massive covered verandah made these tents way better than any tent I’d seen before. After a warm greeting by the staff and camp hosts and a quick tour of my tent, I had a seat and took it all in, finally catching my breath

I sat in the calm before lunch, with a cold beer in hand, listening to the calls of the massive herd of wildebeest that had gathered on the horizon before me. I was left alone for several minutes, and as the warm sun rose further in the sky, burning off the last chill of the morning air of the African savannah, I closed my eyes.

safari camp africa

I could hear the birds, the wildebeest, and sounds of the camp staff preparing lunch and chattering away in Swahili. But at the same time, there was a vast silence engulfing me in this massive open African wilderness. The sun on my face felt fresh and warm. I was relaxed, but highly sensitive to what was happening around me.

This was the moment I fell in love with Africa.

As the years wore on, I learned more about the rich and exciting history of safari in East Africa, came to understand the complexities and passion it takes to run a safari camp in the middle of the African bush and began to count some of these interesting characters who make a life in the safari industry as friends.

masai safari guide

I wasn’t in love with Africa after a week on a simple packaged safari. But after slowing down, connecting with people, learning about the bush and carving out my unique view turned one bummer of a week into a lifelong passion for Africa.

Traveling with a safari operator who hires the best guides, gets you off the beaten path and deep into the magical African bush, and creates an environment where you can learn to love and respect the magnitude of Africa makes all the difference.

I recently landed at Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, the hub for most East African safaris. Disembarking from the overnight flight from London for at least the twentieth time, the sun was rising over Nairobi National Park, immediately adjacent to the airport.  Nairobi, sprawling out before me, was a landscape dotted in the flickering light of fires as coffee and tea were being made in thousands of small homes, fueling the morning in this urban hub of Africa. The smell of the air as I entered the jet way, a mixture of sweet smoke and moist, organic air entered my nose and I immediately relaxed.

It was great to be home.

masai mara photo

Have you fallen in love with a destination? Tell me about that moment by leaving a comment below!

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Categories: Africa and Solo Female Travel.
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  • Nikki H

    Beautiful. I have yet to visit Africa.

    • http://www.aweekatthebeach.com/ Sarah Fazendin

      Thanks! Certainly a lot that is worth exploring. People tend to fall in love their firsts visit and get back time and time again. Thanks for reading!

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  • Travel Agent Jay

    I love this post! I watch Big Cat Diary on cable (every single episode), and all of their footage is in the Maasai Mara. So, ever since watching that first episode – and every other program about big cats and African safaris – I, too, have been in love with that area of the world. I just have not visited it yet. The closest I have come is Mogadishu, Somalia. I was stationed there years ago with the U.S. Army.

    Also, I love how you highlighted the differences in tour operators. Having never been on a safari, I guess I just assumed they were all the same. I wouldn’t want to be on a “simple packaged safari” either, so I will definitely ask a lot of questions and check on reviews of different ones before I book. And, I work with over 20 tour operators, so I have plenty to choose from.
    I have travel clients going to Cape Town in June/July, and they will be touring the Kruger National Park and Swaziland. They are interested in a 5-day tour. So, I am looking forward to hearing more about their adventure once they return here to Minnesota.
    Looking forward to following :-)

    • http://www.aweekatthebeach.com/ Sarah Fazendin

      Jay thanks so much for the comment! Selling Africa can be very rewarding – it’s a trip of a lifetime for many people AND there are a lot of excellent guides, operators and hotels across the continent. If you’re a Big Cat Diary fan, Kenya and Tanzania should be in your travel plans soon:) Thanks for reading!

  • Silvie

    Sarah, I am in love with Africa actually since I first stepped on the African soil. I can´t get it out of my head. I wish I could go back, but my current situation does not allow it financially. There is not a day that passes without me thinking of Africa. Camping with the masais in the middle of the African bush, in Masai Mara, Samburu, Serengeti…and others, grilling a goat over fire and talking under the stars…unforgettable. I need to go back. It feels like home. It is the other half of me. I wish we could chat more over a coffee …:-)
    Great blog
    You are writing wonderfully well. It is so readable and easy to imagine every moment. One can almost smell the air when you describe it.
    Keep living your life to the fullest! It´s a talent to combine all – family, career and your dreams!

    • http://www.aweekatthebeach.com/ Sarah Fazendin

      Silvie thanks so much for the kind words and thanks for reading! Isn’t it interesting that Africa, unlike almost any other destination in the world, has the ability to profoundly impact people? Traveling in Africa changes you. It’s an easy destination to write about too:) I have a lot of other stories about Africa, hope to get some of them written soon! Have a great weekend!

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  • http://www.aweekatthebeach.com/ Sarah Fazendin

    I DO love photography and will definitely check out the competition! What a great idea!