African Safari 101

I awoke with a start. My sleep-addled brain struggled to determine the unfamiliar surroundings. 

“What was that noise?”

A low heavy “harrumph” was emanating from nearby. Clarity and memory flooded back. I was alone in my tent in the Elephant Camp in Samburu National Park and that noise could only be one of the local pachyderms making their way to the river.   

I frantically started waving the flashlight we had been given by the staff to signal for assistance. Immediately, there was a calm, reassuring voice outside my door. 

“Miss Joy, it's OK. He is only scratching against your tent for a moment. There is nothing to fear.” 

My introduction to safari living had begun.

We arrived in Nairobi in the late evening as is the norm for most international flights. Clearing Customs was quick and efficient and the transfer to our overnight at the Sarova Stanley Hotel uneventful. 

The following morning we were introduced to our tour guides and our group of 13 loaded into our two seven-passenger Safari Land Cruisers and began the first of many long drives. 

Lesson 1

Driving in Kenya is arduous. Traffic is unrelenting and in many areas, the roads are no more than goat tracks. Being in the right vehicles is imperative. We saw other safari operators utilizing minivans and small jeeps and couldn’t imagine how restricting and uncomfortable their journey was. 

Good game viewing allows for you to stand up to take those epic shots as well as allowing equal opportunities for all occupants. 

During our safari, we stayed at three luxury, tented camps. 

This is beyond “glamping”! These permanent fixtures are furnished with king-size canopy beds, clawfoot tubs, outdoor showers and amenities that rival the best hotels in Europe. The staff are professional, kind and hospitable. 

Local Masai are employed as security for each individual tent between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. They are at your beck- and-call for assistance in getting to and from the main lodge area and in my case, getting rid of pesky elephants. 

Lesson 2

Accommodations in Kenya range from large, resort-style lodges to intimate luxury tented camps. 

The large resorts offer pools, spas, fitness centres as well as satellite TV and entertainment. 

The luxury tents are either fenced or un-fenced. The difference becomes the proximity of the local wildlife.  Unfenced allows the animals unrestricted access through the camp and limits your ability to wander freely in the evenings without mandatory security assistance.

WI-FI and electricity in the small camps are provided via generators and only available during set hours. 

By moving around to three different locations we were able to enjoy an ever-changing variety of wildlife. 

The game-viewing days began after a sumptuous early breakfast. We would head off into the national parks to see what awaited us. The guides from various operators all work together via radio to create a network of viewing opportunities. 

The result is that all the visitors have equal access to The Big Five. In fairness, we probably did wait 15 minutes before advising the others about our leopard. 

Lesson 3

Being in the bush in Africa is very different from Canada. The animals in Africa are more likely to hunt you than run from you. My request to “go for a run” was met with incredulity. 

“No, Madam, you cannot go for a run. The animals are everywhere whether you can see them or not.” 

There isn’t much exercise while on safari. And you need some to work off the incredible food they serve every day. 

Trust me, there is so much more to know and understand when planning your African adventure. Push your budget a bit where it counts. 

There’s nothing worse than “cheaping out” on a trip of a lifetime as you’re not likely to get a “re do." 

Ideally, find someone who can give you experienced advice and guide you to those suppliers who can work within your budget and still deliver an epic experience. 


Enjoy some Galapagos glory

During my hiatus from writing my travel column, I’ve been marking off my own personal travel bucket list.

One of the truly inspiring and wondrous times was spent in the Galapagos Islands.

The archipelago, a province of Ecuador, is 1,000 kilometres off its coast. The inhabitants refer to themselves as Gala pagans and are fiercely independent in governance and thinking.

The only time I would not recommend travel to the Galapagos would be in September/October as the seas are rough and travel between the islands is uncomfortable at best and hazardous at worst.

A Galapagos itinerary is best combined with a short city stay in the Ecuadorian capital, Quito. The city is rich in history, architecture and culinary experiences and is best toured with a local guide as many areas are prone to petty theft and nuisance crime.

The 2.5-hour flight from Quito lands you on the rocky outcropping of Baltra. From there, you make your way via ferry and bus to the busiest and most populated island of Santa Cruz.

This tourist-based island is full of great restaurants and nightlife as well as accommodations for all budgets. For those of you with lots of time, you can pick-up last-minute Island cruises. But for those who have a specific time frame, I recommend that you have pre-arranged reservations especially during the high
season — December through March.

Only five of the 18 islands are populated.

Travelling through the Galapagos is done either via sleep-aboard cruise ships or by utilizing the water taxis between the islands. This second option can be a choppy, windswept transit and is not recommended for those prone to motion sickness.

There are pros and cons to both ways of travel.

Land Based

You can plan an itinerary of your choosing. Your stays allow you to truly immerse yourself in island life and get a glimpse of typical day-by-day rhythms of the locals. 

Accommodations on islands such as Floreana and Isabela are basic to moderate. Food and drink options are basic though plentiful. Cost of living is a little higher than ours. Diving, touring and adventure tours will be at an extra expense.

Cruise Based

Options for cruising range anywhere from basic (not recommended) to ultra luxury. All food, drink, accommodations and tours with licensed guides are included.

Your adventure will include stops (not overnights) at uninhabited islands as well as the others. Close up viewing of wildlife both above and below the water line.

Cruising is the only way a luxury client can enjoy high-end accommodations and dining.  Evenings are spent with specialists who teach you about the history, ecological conditions and wildlife that have impacted the region.

Itineraries are set and excursions planned for the group benefit. Pricing for cruises range from $$$ to $$$$$.

The wildlife exhibit little to no fear of humans which allows for incredible close encounters with both land and sea-based creatures.

The land itself offers vividly gorgeous landscapes and countless swimming, diving and snorkelling options.

ne fact cannot be stressed enough. You must be in good physical condition to visit the Galapagos. You will be expected to walk uneven ground, climb in and out of zodiacs, swim and snorkel with marine life and generally partake in the daily activities

Bird watchers, divers, photographers and adventure travel enthusiasts will absolutely adore the islands. It’s also an ideal destination for families with children over 10 years of age.

Disney has nothing on this experience.

The Galapagos will leave you with a new appreciation for nature and simplicity. You’ll return home with a fresh spirit and renewed love of all this world has to offer. Travel there soon to experience this last little Eden lost.

Your travel bucket list

There are so many sad tales of unrequited travel plans from recently retired people. 

Either they’ve been struck by sudden illness or they simply hadn’t planned well enough to incorporate all the varied destinations and experiences they dreamed of while they were working.

Like anything worthwhile, a valid and achievable Travel Bucket List requires planning, research and direction. This is where a professional and knowledgeable travel consultant can be your guide.

Budgeting, planning, saving? 

It all sounds like a financial plan doesn’t it? Financial planners assess individual’s financial needs to help them achieve short and long-term goals. They recommend investments to match the client’s retirement goal. 

The travel adviser that’s right for you will assess your travel needs and help with planning, budgeting and sourcing out the travel suppliers to match your travel goals.

Find a travel adviser who wants to work with you to create the travel dreams and experiences you desire.  Someone who listens. Someone who asks questions. Why? Where? And How? are powerful tools in assisting us to tailor-make an itinerary that is customized to your requirements.

Create a five- to 10-year travel plan now regardless of age. The right consultant will determine which suppliers and destinations can deliver to your personal level of expectation. 

This travel “line” of sorts can incorporate short and long-term goals. Weddings and honeymoons, milestone events, multi-generational trips and retirement travel. 

As your travel budgets, requirements and expectations change, so too will your trusted travel advisor’s focus and direction.

Machu Picchu on your List? The right travel adviser will help you budget your time and money along with the right seasonality, the health and visa requirements and will offer optional inclusions to make this dream destination shine!

Ahh, Africa. This destination is the exotic gem that tops most Bucket Lists. Experiencing her vast wilderness and indigenous cultures is a daunting task to those without a plan. 

What time of year, how much time do I need, what sort of visas and travel restrictions apply?

An around-the-world cruise? Which cruise line is right for you? Big, brash and full of entertainment options? Or smaller, elegant and inclusive with an emphasis on the itinerary?

For those serious about starting or adding to your personal Travel Bucket List, you should check the following travel trade shows ( http://www.traveltime.ca/okanagan-travel-shows) in Kelowna and Oliver in June. 

Well travelled and experienced travel suppliers will be presenting short seminars on their personal product and will be on hand for one on one discussions regarding destinations and lifetime experiences. 

It’s a perfect opportunity to broaden your own travel horizons.

“And then there is the most dangerous risk of all — the risk of spending your life not doing what you want on the bet you can buy yourself the freedom to do it later.”Randy Komisar


Cuba, Part II

The direct nonstop service between Kelowna and Varadero is what predicates this area as being many of my clients' “first impression” of Cuba.

Like any resort town, it fluctuates to the needs and demands of its international clientele and is simply a slanted reflection of the real Cuba.

It is my role as a travel consultant to manage my clients’ expectations when discussing destinations and hence my observations regarding the level of service and amenities of the area and how they compare to former vacation hotspots.

Cuba is a diverse and complicated destination in and of itself. To enjoy it best is to be open to its political and economic challenges as well as it’s versatility and beauty. 

The island is the largest in the Caribbean, measuring more than 110,000 kilometres square. 

There are 16 international airports on the island, but few domestic flights between them, which makes the island best explored by car or bus.

However, in saying this, public transport is limited and unreliable. Local workers rely on a hitchhike-and-taxi-share process to get to/from their workplace. 

Car rental is readily available however extended travel is inhibited by a lack of gas stations once you leave the urban areas. Accommodations range from luxury hotels to unique “casa particulars,” which are their version of B&Bs. 

Again, the further you wander from the larger city cores, the fewer the accommodation options.

Our amazing tour guide during our two-day trip to Havana was a wonderful source of information. 

The government owns a controlling interest in all the hotels and resorts in Cuba. They own all the transportation vehicles, shuttle services and majority of the vintage taxicabs.

The country’s employer is the government. They own virtually 99 per cent of all residential housing. In fact, it is only within the last three years that it has been possible for Cuban nationals to purchase their own home or apartment. 

This is usually done with the assistance of overseas family as the government monitors bank accounts that show a balance above $1,500 Cuban pesos. 

Much is made about the low monthly income earned by the Cuban people, but technically the government looks after all housing costs, medical and dental requirements, food ration stamps and provides free primary, secondary and university education. 

It may surprise you to learn that Cuba is one of the leading providers of medical personnel to developing world countries in Latin America, Africa and Southeast Asia.

A drive through the agricultural areas of the Cuban countryside is a true eye opener. Time has truly stayed still for this section of Cuba’s population.

Small, simple corrugated roof homes with no running water and little power is the norm. Large water canisters are attached to elaborate bicycle trailers and hauled to the village centre. 

Our unannounced arrival by scooter prompted lots of big smiles and waves from the local children and a few women approached us to try to sell big blocks of fresh homemade cheese. 

It is here that you understand that all the supposed progress facilitated by the Castro government has been primarily for the city dwellers. 

As Canadian, we are taught that “the sky is the limit” when pursuing our dreams and goals. 

In Cuba, the “sky” is determined by Castro.

More The Joy of Travel articles

About the Author

Joy has long been a believer in the art of travel: the belief that a vacation is something to be anticipated savored and then long remembered as one of life’s great adventures. 
Website: thejoyoftravel.ca

You can contact Joy at [email protected]

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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