Imagine dreaming of a wildlife adventure for more than fifty years, researching the possibilities for more than two years, and then having it all come together as easy as ABC.
That's exactly how I found myself getting off the plane in Nairobi, Kenya.
Finances were a major concern for me, and after looking at dozens of tour operators I finally lucked upon Club ABC Tours (www.clubabc.com/ ) the most economical operator that offers deluxe guided safaris to Kenya (starting at under $4,000 pp, ALL inclusive).
Nairobi is no Provincetown, but before I left the US I hooked up with GALCK (//galck.org), the leading LGBT advocacy umbrella group in Kenya. Don't miss "family friendly" venues like Gypsies, Tacos, Simmers, Changes, Black Diamond and Red Tape.
After a good night's rest at the Sarova Stanley (very nice accommodations, best Thai food in town) my real journey began in Samburu National Reserve. There, at the Samburu Sopa Lodge, a new and very pretty hotel staffed by super warm people, we sighted our first herd of elephants and a migration of baboons right from the outdoor dining area's veranda. Game drives took us into the park for dazzling views of more pachyderms, zebra, giraffe, our first simba (Swahili for lion), and even one cheetah hunting (a rare sighting!). Make the side trip to a Sambura village....these people will captivate your heart.
Next stop Mt. Kenya Safari Club. Old world luxury is very much alive at the exclusive five star hotel, with breathtaking grounds, superlative rooms (many overlooking majestic snow covered Mt. Kenya), gourmet food, and a stellar hotel staff. Go to the Animal Orphanage, or like me, take a free bird walk, soaking up vibrant colors in fauna and flora. Although we did not do a game drive here, I understand the park is also tremendous (Contact Charles Munyiri, email@example.com, an extremely knowledgeable safari guide at Mt. Kenya).
Onward to The Ark Lodge in Aberdare National Park, a more spartan structure affiliated with the lavish Aberdare Country Club. Staying at the lodge offers a unique opportunity to view mega ton elephants, rhinos, hyenas, warthogs, buffalo, and more, from secure blinds. I could literally feel the elephants breath on my neck. See manager Phillip Nyaga at the Country Club to arrange for a private walking safari ($10 per person), one of the most exciting experiences I had on the trip.
Crystal blue meets vibrant pink at Lake Nakuru where thousands of flamingos make their home. Endless skylines of mountains, lake, birds, zebras, elusive rhinos with babies, and giraffes. Photo opportunities are endless. The Flamingo Hill Tented Camp is anything BUT rustic camping: huge tents, netted beds, full electricity, full bathrooms, a new pool on the way, and THE best nan bread prepared every day. Try to get to Lake Naivasha to see the hippos.
Last stop Maasai Mara, the area that borders Tanzania (ABC offers optional trips there), the beginning of the Serengeti Plain, and home to the Maasai tribe. Another Sopa Lodge, great digs, epicurean food. Game drives were breathtaking, with migrating wildebeests, zebra, Maasai Giraffes, herds of elephants, many lions (we got to see cubs, and one eating her kill), and even a jackal or two. Also visited the Maasai Village, another incredible experience learning about culture, dance, music and more.
Shop in Nairobi, (try the market just below the Hilton Hotel) because many items you see along the way are much more expensive outside the city. On the other hand, you might not see an item again. Shopping outside Nairobi is open to bargaining, and varies from beaded necklaces, to wood carved bowls, to African motif batiks.
Group travel might not be your thing, so if you have the finances, check out Inside Africa Support, owned by IGLTA member Luc Deckers, who can offer you tailor made private itineraries (http://www.lucdeckers.com/). I was fortunate to have real nice folks on my tour, and given the exceptional accommodations, incredible games drives, consistently delicious food, and the price, Africa really was as easy as ABC.
Sheryl Kay is a freelance print and photo journalist based in Tampa, Florida. She's also a Contributing Editor at CURVE Magazine. Please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org