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On Safari in Africa

Sometimes the pace of our cruise is such that we hardly catch our breath and it’s time again for a new destination. While we had several days at sea between the lovely Seychelles and Mombasa, Kenya, time on board just flew by.

We were in some now-infamous waters during some challenging times. During our time between Oman, the Seychelles and Kenya, the cargo ship Maersk Alabama was hijacked and it’s captain taken hostage. Our ship sailed in a circuitous route to avoid areas frequented by pirates, and we arrived at our destination safely.

Mombasa is a very old city with much history and many cultures. You don’t have to be there long nor travel far to figure out that it is a very poor city. The outskirts in particular have much evidence of poor living conditions, substandard housing and a high concentration of people living in a small area.

That said, the old town of Mombasa is fascinating. It surely felt old, mysterious and industrious in an almost medieval sort of way. There were craftsmen working on woodwork on the street. There were others working in metal in an open-air shop. There were a few craft and gift shops, but for the most part this old town was not reborn, renewed or redeveloped. It was not glamorized, westernized or romanticized. It looked, felt and smelled as if it were the 13th, 15th or 19th century.

The real excitement for many of the guests and the crew was about 110 km or about 70 miles outside of Mombasa in Tsavo National Park. This park covers more than 24,000 square kilometers. It is divided into two sections — Tsavo East and Tsavo West. East is about 14,000 square kilometers and that was the destination for 34 hearty crewmembers who set out on an overnight trip into the park.

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This was our first crew tour that the crew purser had organized. The crew purser organizes activities and events for the crew and generally looks after their welfare and morale.

In all we took three “safari drives” into the park. Our first drive started as we entered the park midday and drove about 60 km to our safari lodge. The drive started out pretty uneventful with a few sightings of some brownish blobs on the horizon.

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About 15K into the park we saw our first elephants. There were three — two adults and a young one at a water hole. It was thrilling and very exciting.

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We came upon a few zebra and something called a waterbuck. Waterbucks turned out to be pretty common in the area. They look a bit like a very large antler-less mule deer only super-sized.

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Things got really interesting when we got to a dam area called Aruba. This is where we saw our first herd of elephants. My feeling of wonderment and amazement at these massive and mostly stoic animals was rather like those first guests in Jurassic Park upon first seeing the dinosaurs. There were hundreds of these beasts in every direction.

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Then there were herds of antelope and deer of many sizes and stripes. We saw more zebra and a lizard that was pretty massive climbing over a pile of stone at the side of the road used to mark distance and direction to various points.

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We headed into our lodge at about 3 p.m., pretty grimy with lots of red dirt dust. Time to grab a quick lunch, a cool refreshing beverage and unpack. We were back on the trail at 4:30.

Our evening drive, which lasted about two hours, was really the pinnacle of the trip. Early evening is a good time to see animals anywhere, and here was no exception.

We first came to a magnificent young lion lying under a bush about 40 feet from the road. Here he was “king of the jungle,” sitting cool and calm while a bunch of tourists went positively wild about him. We stayed there for probably 20 minutes taking pictures of him and he never let on that he even noticed us.

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We continued on and saw scenery on a scale and with all the drama of a massive Albert Bierstadt painting — open plains with mountains framing the scene and bright shafts of light illuminating random areas of the landscape.

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As we drove down into the valley, we saw more waterbuck and then it got interesting. We came upon five giraffes coming toward the road. There was one very large buck in the lead followed by two smaller adults and two young. The largest had no fear and moved right in our direction without hesitation while the other four held back a little. The biggest one eventually just crossed the road a few feet in front of our van. We never realized how massive these things were until the get that close to you.

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We continued on and found another lion lounging in the shade of a tree waiting for the heat of the day to pass. On the way back we came upon a heard of about 50 African buffalo. The lead animal was massive and we were happy he didn’t feel at all threatened by our presence.

We finished off the evening drive spotting more zebra at very close range. We returned to our lodge to a hearty dinner. The after-dinner show was provided just outside the restaurant at the lodge’s watering hole. All kinds of birds and beasts came to pay a visit, get a drink and move along. The area was lit until about 10:30 in the evening and we stayed up and enjoyed the show.

The highlight of our second day was actually not a scheduled activity — a stop at a Masai village. The Masai are a people that live very traditional lifestyle. They make their way through life as their ancestors have from the beginning of time. They are nomadic herders that live in a tribe that is a family unit — the head of a family is the chief. In the village we visited the chief had nine wives and 36 children.

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These people welcomed us to their village and their home. They showed us how they live, how they survive and thrive in this harsh environment. The Masai were friendly, warm and hospitable. We all left really enriched and enlightened by our encounter with these rugged yet very gentle people.

Denise and Mike Feeney are future cruise consultants on Rotterdam.

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