Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Cecil the Lion: Hatred and Hunting

Last month in Zimbabwe, a collared lion named Cecil was baited out of a National Park, wounded by bow and arrow, tracked for 40 hours, and eventually shot with a rifle.  The carcass was ultimately found – beheaded and skinned – from the signal of the satellite collar left behind.  A  miserable end for a fierce lion who managed to survive for thirteen years, overcoming the many challenges from other lions, defending his territory, regularly finding prey to feed on, and entertaining thousands of tourists with his magnificence.  He also provided vital information to Oxford University for nine years through his GPS collar.  Yes, this special lion was studied by an Oxford research team for nearly a decade.

The “hunt” for the culprits went viral.  The amazing power of social media revealed to the public the identities of both the (un)professional hunter and his client, a dentist from Minnesota.  I read yesterday that this dentist is now the most hated man in America.

Hatred and rage seem to be the primary emotions fueling this viral reaction.  Trophy hunters are perceived as disgusting murderers who contribute to the destruction of wildlife.  Are they?  Well, let’s examine this more closely.  Follow this narrative, and bear with me as I discuss the relationships among hunting, conservation, and tourism.  For the next few minutes, put aside all prejudice and, if you can, your emotions.  You will get a clearer picture of the issues at hand, which is a true necessity in the fight to protect Africa’s amazing wildlife.

I am Kenyan, and I will share with you an interesting Kenyan story.  Trophy hunting in Kenya was banned overnight in 1977 – an emotional decision fueled by something not so different from Cecil’s demise.  The story begins a few years earlier when Jomo Kenyatta, our first President (father of Uhuru, our current President), made a fateful decision.  He saw the East African Professional Hunters Association as the last enclave of colonialism.  He took away the association’s control of the hunter licensing process, which included a required apprenticeship.  As a result, very unprepared and totally unprofessional hunters were soon licensed to become Professional Hunters (PHs) and to take clients on safari.

In those days, the country was divided into hunting blocks.  PHs reserved the hunting blocks for their clients and purchased hunting licenses for different animals, both of which required government fees.  Those fees financed the Game Department, which was the agency in charge of the National Parks and all wildlife in the country.

So what happened next?  Well, a lot of the newly unprofessional PHs were doing bad things, like hunting in Game Conservation Areas, the buffer zones bordering the parks where hunting was strictly prohibited.  Animals were lured outside of the parks and shot, just as Cecil was.  That certainly cannot be called hunting.

In 1977, the WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature) donated a huge sum of money and asked for a ban on hunting to stop these wrong doings.  The ban happened overnight, and it caused a conservation disaster.  How and why?  It’s fairly simple: an industry was destroyed in an instant, leaving thousands of Kenyans jobless.  The crew members for the PHs had no alternative job options; all they knew in life was hunting, so some of them turned to poaching.  The Game Department did not receive additional funds to patrol the former hunting blocks that had been controlled, patrolled and protected by the PHs.  Those areas were teeming with wildlife, all of which had monetary value.  Think of a bank full of cash.  If the owner goes away on a Friday evening and leaves the gates open, good luck finding that cash on Monday morning!  The ban on licensed trophy hunting effectively ended control of the wilderness areas and removed the active protection of wildlife.  This caused an immense spike in illegal hunting.  Immense is an understatement.

The word “genocide” comes from Greek, and it means the killing of a race.  We normally use this terrifying term only for the mass murder of humans.  But what about animals?  Isn’t genocide the destruction of an entire group or species?  To me, it is.

Let’s take a look at the outcome of the trophy hunting ban in Kenya.  There were two genocides, one of rhinos and one of elephants, both caused by poachers.  Rhinos were killed for their pricey horns (desired in the Asian and Arab markets), and elephants were killed for their ivory.  Over 20,000 rhinos were annihilated in Kenya. Only 400 survived the massacre. In the ecosystem where I live and which I have dedicated my life to protecting, they were finished almost completely.  If you’d like to learn more, read this interesting paper.  In Tsavo National Park alone, 25,000 elephants sank to 5,000 in just ten years.  You can read more about that here.

In the era of legal hunting, poachers were unable to operate because the presence of Professional Hunters, accompanied by Game Wardens, enhanced the protection of wildlife.  Hunting was carried out in a controlled and sustainable manner that was regulated by the government.  When trophy hunting was outlawed, the control system implemented by the hunters was not replaced but simply removed.  Clearly the ban on trophy hunting destroyed wildlife and failed miserably to protect it.

Can we reverse this and magically get our rhinos and elephants back by reintroducing trophy hunting?  I certainly do not think so.  In the ‘70s, there were about 15,000,000 Kenyans.  Today there are 300% more, approaching 45,000,000 (if not more).  There is no unused wilderness that can be turned into hunting blocks.  However, we now have fantastic tourism infrastructure where the hunting blocks once were.  Tourism is the solution.  It is tourism that can create employment, that can reintroduce control of the wilderness and wildlife, and that can ultimately create sustainable income to protect the land and the animals that live there.  I will discuss this more later.

What happened to lions after the hunting ban?  Their numbers plunged as well.  Conservationists generally agree that 35 years ago there were about 300,000 lions in Africa.  Then 15 years ago, their numbers dropped to 100,000.  Today there may be as few as 14,000 to 18,000.   The African lion (Panthera leo) is now an endangered species.  But that’s not because of poaching for skins or meat.  The lions’ decline can be attributed to human-wildlife conflict and the disappearance of habitat.  Humans whose economic lives depend on livestock do not tolerate predators.  For example, when wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming ranchers shot them because the wolves were predating their livestock.  Africans are no different when their lives depend on herding.  If predators kill their cattle, they will retaliate by killing the predators, especially when population growth forces them to live in close quarters.

So what can we do to protect the astounding wildlife of the African continent?

I speak with direct knowledge, having written my doctoral thesis on “Sustainable Development and Environment Conservation: Wildlife as a Natural Resource in Kenya.”  My argument is straightforward: make wildlife profitable and it will be protected.

There are several different ways that wildlife can turn a profit.  Let’s examine them.  Use of wildlife can be categorized in two tiers: consumptive and non-consumptive.  Non-consumptive use is intuitive: tourism.  Consumptive use can be divided into three parts: trophy hunting, game cropping and live capture.  I will discuss each of these below.

Trophy hunting is licensed by governments.  As controversial as it is to say so, I believe the administration of trophy hunting in Africa is often badly managed (to say the least).  Many PHs are not professional at all, as was clearly demonstrated by awful killing of Cecil.  There is too much money at stake, and the pressure is too high.  PHs often fall to pressure from their clients, taking an animal that is too young, hunting from a car, luring animals outside of protected areas, or even shooting from aircrafts.  All of these things happen, and it cannot be denied.  I am sure most of the PHs feel even more strongly than we do about these dreadful practices.

Yet I know that many PHs are ultimately conservationists whose work is contributing to the preservation of the species that they hunt.  How?  In order to have certain areas set aside for wildlife, those areas need to procure income, either for private landowners (who could otherwise turn to ranching or farming) or for the government.  So hunting concessions ensure that habitats are maintained for wildlife that would not otherwise  be living there.

Game cropping is even trickier.  Game cropping is the practice of killing wildlife for their products, such as meat, hide, horns, or hooves.  The argument here is even more straightforward than for trophy hunting.  If a person is allowed to make a business out of wildlife, he will dedicate land and resources to protect the animals that generate his income.  Therefore, wildlife will thrive.

In practice, it is not so simple.  The Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust, which I founded 15 years ago, was created precisely to avoid game cropping on the Maasai reservation where I live.  Why?  Game cropping in the Maasailand nearby was carried out by contractors, not by the landowners.  The contractors were overstating the wildlife census in order to procure higher quotas of shootable animals.  We certainly did not want that to happen here!  My wife Antonella and I completed a local wildlife census, adopted the cropping quota, and hired Maasai rangers to protect the animals, making a statement that live creatures are worth far more than dead ones!

In my experience, game cropping in communal land was marred by corruption and conducted unsustainably.  My findings eventually contributed to the Kenyan government’s ban on game cropping a few years ago.  I am proud of that accomplishment.

The third consumptive use of wildlife is live capture.  Imagine buying horses or cows for your ranch at a livestock market.  A similar practice can exist for wildlife.  If you can own wild animals and use them for profit, you might purchase them to stock your land, perhaps transforming it from a livestock ranch into to a wildlife ranch.  For this purpose, some African countries permit wildlife markets.
Again, if done with proper control and licensing, live capture can actually be great for conservation.  To give an example, I’ll tell a brief story about the bongo, an endangered species of antelope.  In the ‘60s, many bongos were captured in the Aberdares and on Mt. Kenya to be sold to zoos.  Ugly, right?  Indeed, but this story has a happy ending….  The remaining bongos in the wild were annihilated by poachers.  In the last ten years, bongos have been reintroduced to Mt. Kenya and the Aberdares, coming from those very same zoos that bought their great grandfathers 50 years ago.

To sum things up, hunting is a complicated issue.  I am sure there are cases in which hunting could help conservation.  That is, if I think objectively and unemotionally.  If you love wilderness and wildlife as I do, you must be objective to find the best possible strategy to protect them.  Once you have the strategy in place, you can let your emotions kick in again and allow yourself to be fueled by passion.  Take away my passion and I become nonfunctional.

So… with my full emotions in gear, I would feel completely defeated if 21st century conservation still had to rely on hunting to protect wildlife.  It is so anachronistic; hunting does not belong in the 21st century.  To derive pleasure from killing an animal is something I cannot embrace as a conservation policy.

Tourism is by the far the best conservation tool, yet it is not so easily put into practice.  Last year, ebola devastated tourism all over Africa, even in nations like South Africa, Botswana, Zambia, Tanzania, and Kenya that were separated from the outbreak by thousands of miles, the Sahara desert, and the Congo forest.  Kenya in particular has also suffered because of travel warnings.

Hunters often overlook travel warnings. So, most likely, the dentist who shot Cecil would still come to Kenya to hunt if it were legal, and his hunting might support some sustainable conservation policies.  But I refuse that.  I do not want to think that hunting is the way forward.  Tourism is.

But Africa needs more visitors.  Iran has more tourists each year than all of East Africa.  Hard to believe, isn’t it?  The number of annual tourists in France exceeds the country’s population.  Africa needs that surge of tourism.  National Parks, game reserves, and conservancies all depend on tourism revenues to operate.  Conservation relies on tourism.  The tourism industry provides both park fees and employment, the two best weapons against poaching.

At Campi ya Kanzi, for example, each visitor pays a $101 conservation fee per day.  That money funds Wildife Pays, a compensation program that reimburses Maasai herders for livestock killed by predators. Thanks to this program, the Maasai have agreed to protect predators instead of hunting them in retaliation.  Our lion population is thriving.

I would guess that at least 500,000,000 people have been disgusted by Cecil’s horrible death.  I dream that 1 in 10 who have channeled their hate against hunters instead use those emotions to plan a safari in Africa.  There are choices for every budget.  Book a one-week trip in the next ten years.  If you come, you would support Cecil’s 14,000 lion cousins, the elephants, the rhinos, and the many impoverished Africans whose lives depend on tourism.

If you want to take a stand for Cecil and African wildlife, plan a safari.  You will save many, many lions.

Without tourism, lions can face a brutal fate.
This one had its mane and paws removed.

Tourism  offers lions the protection they need
and allows them to thrive in the wild.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Epic Air Safari: Final Reflections

What was I thinking?  Nearly 7,000 miles in just over a month...  Why do I love challenges so much?

I cannot even recall how I conceived of this incredible air safari.  Perhaps when I started exploring the north of Kenya by air and flew to the Chalbi Desert, Lake Turkana, and the estuary of the Omo River.  Those earlier adventures led to this big one: Kenya to Namibia and back in 34 days.  We visited eight different countries, fifteen camps, and two oceans, flying from one side of the continent to the other for the ultimate African safari.

The route flown: Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Namibia,
Botswana, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Kenya

The planning was intense.  It took me about eleven months of work, with many days in which I dedicated at least three to four hours to the preparation of this safari.

The biggest challenge?  You will not believe it, but it was finding avgas (aviation gasoline) for my Cessna 206.  And, of course, choosing the route, applying for the air permits, confirming entry points for each country, obtaining visas, getting the required vaccinations, and choosing the ideal itinerary and the right lodges.  There was a lot to  be arranged.  But we did it!  And now that the air safari is over, I am already thinking about the next one!

Who were the travelers on this trip?  Well, an oddly assorted group that turned out to be fantastic!  Four Belgians, one French/Swiss or Swiss/French man, depending on the mood, an American female 747 pilot who hates flying and being flown (especially by me!), a Californian couple on their third air safari with us, an Instagram-addicted young lady from New York, a Zimbabwean/British writer, two pilots, Michael and Vikash (who was hoping to fly his Caravan, but I ended up taking the yoke from him most of the time...), my wife, Antonella, and me, the white flying Maasai.  We took two aircraft: my giraffe-spotted Cessna 206 and a beautiful Caravan.

The biggest fright of the trip did not come from lions, buffalo, or elephants… but from a Botswanan woman in Kasane who would not allow me to file my flight plan to Kariba, Zimbabwe, because she said we had to file 24 hours in advance.  Luckily my meticulous planning paid off: I called Kariba Tower and the controller remembered talking to me three weeks earlier so he allowed me to fly in!

The biggest fright was not from elephants!

The most magical moment?  All of them actually.  But if I have to choose one, it would be when I was back at Campi ya Kanzi, relaxed that all went well, and asked my guests to name their three highlights of the trip.  Pierre said, I believe honestly, “Campi ya Kanzi, Campi ya Kanzi, Campi ya Kanzi.”  That was magical for me.

So let me take you through our 34 days of flying over the best safari spots in Africa.  I will let the images speak louder than words…

May 3-5: Campi ya Kanzi, Kenya
Location: Chyulu Hills near Mount Kilimanjaro
Highlight: Ernest Hemingway’s "Green Hills of Africa"

Our safari began with a full moon.  Late rains made the sky steely as it rose dramatically over the Chyulu Hills.  The next day, our guests hiked to the cloud forest, enjoying the Green Hills of Africa at their very greenest after the rainy season.  We then launched the air safari in magnificent fashion with a lamp-lit dinner in a lava cave.

Full moon rising over the Chyulu Hills

May 6-7: Nomad Serengeti Safari Camp, Tanzania
Location: Serengeti National Park
Highlight: The Great Migration

Great low-level flight with shining Kilimanjaro dominating the sunny plains.  Game everywhere feasting on the new grasses: zebras, hartebeests, impalas, giraffes, Grant’s gazelles, and more.  We land with a self-made GPS approach in cloudy Nairobi.  The first, and luckily only, weather challenge of the whole air safari.  Great flight over the Mara River all the way to Lake Victoria.  We enter Tanzania via Musoma.  The Frankfurt Zoological Society makes my trip possible by providing the needed avgas.

Nothing can prepare you for being in the middle of the Great Migration, especially when you can see endless plains with literally hundreds of thousands of wildebeest.

The Great Migration

Kopjes in the Serengeti as viewed from our camp

May 8-9: Kungwe Lodge, Tanzania
Location: Lake Tanganyika, Mahale National Park
Highlight: Chimpanzees

Great flight over the migration to Lake Tanganyika.  Visiting the oldest lake on the planet makes you feel insignificant.  This body of water is 12,000,000 years old….

The chimps like us, and they decide to have a picnic in the bamboo on the lake shore just a couple hundred meters from the lodge.  Perfect!

Chimpanzee in Mahale National Park

Making new friends on Lake Tanganyika

May 10-11: Kaya Mawa, Malawi
Location: Likoma Island, Lake Malawi
Highlight: Island paradise

A night with fever is soon forgotten.  I am back in the cockpit.  We exit Tanzania via Songwe and enter Malawi via the super-modern Mzuzu.  (See the photo below!)

Kaya Mawa is the perfect place for relaxation.  My paddleboarding is quite unsuccessful, but enjoying the beautiful lake is not!

Mzuzu Airport's international terminal

The view from our cottage at Kaya Mawa

May 12-13: Royal Chundu, Zambia
Location: Zambezi River
Highlight: Victoria Falls

Today all our guests fly in the Caravan with Vikash, while Michael and I decide to fly light and stretch the endurance of our Cessna 206.  We fly a very long leg all the way to Livingstone, Zambia.  The winds are good enough, so we avoid Plan B (flying via Lusaka).  Just three hours and twenty minutes -- no problem!

Victoria Falls is the world’s largest waterfall, a true wonder to behold.  My highlight here is the fabulous helicopter ride that Pierre generously offered Antonella and me.  We fly over the falls and into the gorge: fantastic!

The immense Victoria Falls

Taking a bubble bath next to the mighty Zambezi

May 14-15: Ongava Tented Camp, Namibia
Location: Etosha National Park
Highlight: Rhinos, lions, and diverse wildlife

A fenced private reserve is not my idea of the most thrilling setting for a safari, but the game is incredible.  Four white rhinos come to drink twenty meters away from the dining table.  Lions are next, and they keep us noisy company for the night.  Beautiful!  What I find less beautiful is that wood is burned in this delicate environment to provide guests with hot showers.  I’d be glad to take a cold one and keep the trees alive!  I am learning that lodges spend a lot of money to look good but not enough to truly be good.

White rhino mother and cub

Greater kudus in Etosha National Park

May 16-17: Serra Cafema, Namibia
Location: Hartmann Valley, Namib Desert
Highlight: Quad biking over the sand dunes

“Wow” is the only word I can think of to describe flying into the Hartmann Valley.  And “wow” is also the word to define Serra Cafema, which is a three-day drive from the nearest food supply.  It is wonderful to be back, but we all miss Clement, our guide here last year.  A super dinner under the stars next to the Kunene River is simply spectacular.

Flying over the Hartmann Valley

Quad biking in the desert at Serra Cafema

May 18-19: Naankuse Lodge, Namibia
Location: Naankuse Wildlife Sanctuary
Highlight: Rescued wildlife and bushmen stories

The flight over the Skeleton Coast is incredible.  Simply stunning.  I can’t believe we are already halfway through our air safari.  Time and miles are literally flying by!

Naankuse is a lovely conservation lodge that hosts rescued wildlife, including lions, caracals, and wild dogs.  We have the special privilege to walk with tame cheetahs here.  My highlight is spending a chilly night with four bushmen and  listening to their story of Orion and of Scorpio.  I am already planning to do more with them next year.

The Skeleton Coast of Namibia

May 20-21 Wolwedans Dunes Lodge, Namibia
Location: NamibRand Nature Reserve
Highlight: Sprawling desert landscapes and dramatic sunsets

As we prepare to fly to Wolwedans, we encounter the first hitch of the trip.  The micro switch quits on the fuel pump in our Cessna 206.  Michael makes a temporary repair.  We take off for Walvis Bay in search of a new switch, but we soon learn that the airport is closed because of fog.  We turn around and fly to Windhoek, where we find great maintenance service and a new switch.  As it turns out, the fog did us a favor – we later learn that Walvis Bay has no maintenance department. We got lucky!

NamibRand Nature Reserve is the realization of a visionary man, who has returned hundreds of thousands of acres to the wilderness.  However, plastic water bottles and a generator at the pool are less visionary choices for an ecolodge.  The place is stunning, though, and our guide, Cecilia, is fun and entertaining.

A comfortable spot to view the expansive NamibRand Nature Reserve

Michael (my mentor pilot), Veronika, Vikash, Antonella, Bill, Sheri, and me

May 22-23: Jao Camp, Botswana
Location: Okavango Delta
Highlight: Elephants and mokoro (local canoes)

Today we fly from one of the driest deserts to the most incredible wetland – what a contrast!  The flying is simply superb.  And so is the lodge – magnificently built.  But once again, money is spent to look good instead of to walk the talk.  The lovely manager tells us, “This is a five-star ecolodge, where we run our generator only sixty percent of the time.”  The highlight for all of the guests is the sunset safari on mokoro, or local dug-out canoes.

Flying over the Okavango Delta

Adventure among elephants

May 24-25: Mana Pools Safari Company Tented Camp, Zimbabwe
Location: Mana Pools National Park, Zambezi Valley
Highlight: Walking among wildlife with excellent guides

We fly from the Okavango Delta to Kasane, Botswana, where, as I mentioned above, I have the nightmare of hearing that I cannot file a flight plan to Zimbabwe.  Luck is still with me; I call the tower in Kariba and magic happens. I file my flight plan, and we are up in the air again.

I initially felt intimidated by Zimbabwe, so I expect anything but a warm welcome here.  It is a Sunday, and even if I called three weeks ago to assure that a customs officer will be present, I sort of doubt it.  Yet when we arrive, everybody is super welcoming – a fantastic experience.

The flight to Mana Pools is beautiful, and the park is simply magnificent.  So are our guides, Bob and Gary, and our host, Milo.  I love everything about this place.  The simple but absolutely lovely camp, the food, the guides, the experience: the Mana Pools Safari Company Tented Camp is my FAVORITE of this air safari.

Our camp at Mana Pools

Not dwarf elephants, just giant trees!

May 26-27: Mvuu Lodge, Malawi
Location: Shire River, Liwonde National Park
Highlight: Boat rides among wildlife on the Shire River

We leave Zimbabwe with nostalgia.  In fact, we don’t want to leave at all!
The flight over the Shire River is spectacular.  I have never seen so many hippos and waterbucks… literally hundreds of them.

At the lodge, we are surrounded by bushpigs and bushbucks.  The birdlife is great here, too.  Our evening boat ride on the river is very special.  As we glide through the water, we see an elephant swimming and a greater kudu enjoying the sunset.

Evening boat ride on the Shire River

An amazing sunset among hippos and bathing elephants

May 28-30: Vamizi Island, Mozambique 
Location: Quirimbas Archipelago, Indian Ocean
Highlight: Scuba diving

Our next stop is Mozambique, which we approach with a bit of bitterness.  Just a week before leaving Kenya, I learned that Mozambique Civil Aviation would not grant us permission to fly within Mozambique.  We are allowed to fly in and out but cannot fly internally.  The only solution is to hire a charter plane, and we are certainly not happy about it.  But all is forgotten when we arrive at beautiful Vamizi Island.

My favorite place on the Indian Ocean has always been Kiwayu Safari Village, a paradise in northern Kenya created by my friend Alfredo Pelizzoli.  When I arrive at Vamizi, I think of Alfredo.  He would have loved it here.  This is my new Kiwayu.  It is simply the best spot on the ocean that I have ever seen.  And I have the best dive of my life here at Neptune’s Arm, which is considered one of the top ten best diving spots in the world.  Even before we leave, we already long to be back.

I am counting starfish...

Best al fresco lunch of the safari

May 31 - June 1: Mwagusi  Safari Camp, Tanzania
Location: Ruaha National Park
Highlight: Abundant elephants and baobab trees

Ruaha remains one of my favorite parks in Africa. Maybe because of the elephants or maybe because of the baobab forests or the Mwagusi River or the birds…  It is simply beautiful.

Mwagusi Safari Camp is charming, but the manager is less so. We definitely miss the one we met last year, but the staff and surroundings are as lovely as we remember them.  Our most memorable moment here is a sundowner surrounded by elephants feasting on baobab bark.

Elephants are great  well-diggers.

Magical sunset light over baobab trees in Ruaha National Park

June 2-3:  Mnemba Island, Tanzania
Location: Zanzibar
Highlight: Swimming with dolphins

Alfredo Pelizzoli along with two other Italians created this gem nearly three decades ago.  It is magnificent.  The food is amazing, the water gorgeous, and the full moon over the ocean unforgettable.  The water is as turquoise as you can imagine. Dives and snorkeling are fabulous. But most special of all is swimming with dolphins – that memory will remain forever.

The amazing turquoise water surrounding our private island

Getting ready for a full moon sundowner!

Michael, Luca, Pierre, Antonella, Bill, Sheri, Lisa, Veronika, Vikash
(Rebecca, Louis, Anne Marie, Robert, and Claire were only on the first part of the trip.)
June 4-5: Campi ya Kanzi, Kenya
Location: Chyulu Hills
Highlight: The view of Mount Kilimanjaro

How can it be?  We’re home already?  No, 6,808 miles went by way too fast.  Laughing moments, contemplative ones, exciting ones... they all passed by too quickly.  We saw so much on our safari and explored a huge portion of Africa.  I learned a lot and saw many beautiful places, yet I feel so happy about what we have here at Campi ya Kanzi and have not found elsewhere in our 34 days of travel: Maasai hospitality, a real community ecolodge, and a conservation partnership.

I am pleased to hear that everybody is contemplating the peacefulness of our plains before majestic Mount Kilimanjaro.  The last sundowner of our epic safari is on top of Olkiri hill with the most magical light wrapping the Chyulus.

The next morning, it is time to say goodbye to our friends, with whom we shared 34 memorable days.  Nearly five weeks spent together in harmony and great fun.  We say goodbye with a bit of sorrow.  We do not want this to end...

It took a long time to arrange the trip, but the memories of our adventures and the bond of friendship will remain for much, much longer.

Matasha contemplates his paradise.  I am grateful that the Maasai have opened their land to me.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Epic Air Safari: Zanzibar to Campi ya Kanzi

4th June

Today we fly from Tanzania to Kenya, the last 261 miles out of 6,800 over 34 days.  We take a boat to Matemwe Beach and then drive to the airport.  Time to fly home.  It feels a bit strange… these 34 days have really flown by.  The flight from Zanzibar to Mombasa is lovely, but even  more scenic is the one from Mombasa to Campi ya Kanzi.  Tsavo is unusually green thanks to unexpected late rains.  The waterholes are full, and we see some elephants bathing in them.  The Green Hills of Africa are home, and today they emerald green.

We land to find Stefano and Samson welcoming us home.  Jacopo, with his broken arm, and Lorenzo are with our Maasai team, all lined up to greet us outside Tembo House.  It is nice to be home but also a bit bitter, as it means we will soon say goodbye to our friends who have been on safari with us.

The short game drive to Olkiri gives all of us a sense of peace and tranquility.  The vast green plains, the glimpse of Kilimanjaro, and the zebras, impalas, and hartebeest all welcome us home.  Barbara makes the night even more special when she plays the Out of Africa theme on her violin before dinner at Tembo House.

 5th June

Today is the last day of our air safari.  Some of us go for a walk, while others opt for a restful morning watching impalas, hartebeest, baboons, and warthogs at the waterhole.

My highlight of the day?  When I ask our guests to name three highlights of the air safari at lunch and Pierre, always very sharp with his honest and raw comments, says “Campi ya Kanzi, Campi ya Kanzi, Campi ya Kanzi.”  It is a nice feeling to know that our friends feel as much at home as we do and that they leave with the desire to come back soon, feeling that this 34-day safari was too short!  All went smoothly, and everything worked out as planned.

It is with a bit of sadness that we have dinner outside the Tembo House, watching the moon rise over the cloud forest.  Tomorrow will be farewell time.  We have a lot of memories to treasure from a fantastic month spent together discovering the beauty of Africa.  We toss to the next air adventure.

Thank you for reading my diary over the last month.  I hope I have transmitted some of the amazing emotions that this air safari has ignited for us.