From the very first moment I heard about it, I knew I had to do The Great Walk of Africa. Imagine! Being on foot, boots on the ground, kicking up the same dust as the wild animals of Africa. Yes, this trip became an instant “must-do” item on my Life List (a term I adopted long before the “bucket list” terminology that seems so much less appealing to me).
After a four year wait, I crossed the Atlantic in September with my travel buddy, Margaret. We joined six others (including three old friends from North Carolina and Australia) in Nairobi for our pre-trip briefing and an overnight stay at the classic Norfolk Hotel. On September 2, we left the “civilized” world for a twelve day journey of walking beside the Tsavo River and then the Galana River in the Kenyan national parks of Tsavo West and Tsavo East.
For ten of those days, we left camp promptly at 7:10 a.m. and walked in silent single file for between six and ten miles. Some days, we added an afternoon walk of six or eight miles, for a total, they told us, of about 100 miles. On some evenings, we also went on old-fashioned “game drives” in the LandCruisers.
I loved the silence! To see the unfolding landscape without the distraction of chatter was amazing—and it yielded incomparable wildlife viewing opportunities, which was the real point. Elephants were my favorite, of course, plus…well, everything you could ask to see and more (except rhinoceros which are, sadly, poached out in that region). Hippopotamus, giraffe, dik-dik (aptly described as “the chihuahua of the antelope world”). Fish eagles, Cape buffalo, crocodiles. Baboons, leopards, grey heron. Kudu, impala, ostrich. African harrier hawk, maneless (and maned) lions, mongoose, wildebeest. The list! Each sighting was cause for a thrill in my heart. Some animals were closer than others, but I never felt the prickle of real danger.
We were safely bracketed by people who knew thoroughly what they were doing, including Great Walk creator Iain Allen, along for his 61st time. His business partner and our guide (familiar to four of us from a different trip last year), Alex Fiksman. Out in front, Mohammed, a six-foot-three, 66-year-old gun-toting Samburu (and veteran of Kenya’s 1970s Poaching Wars) who has led each of the 65 Great Walks since its inception in 1979. Spotters at each end, either Wochi or Lejori, carrying traditional Samburu spears. Bringing up the rear, Tioko, also a Samburu—and a crack-shot (according to Iain), with his gun.
Not that it was a Spartan event; another blog will cover camp life, and the delicious food that appeared like magic and seemingly without effort. And then there’s the part about fording the river twice a day. Stay tuned for blog postings that will explain those aspects of this unique trip. And maybe one more about elephants.
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