How (Not) to Show Up for a Safari

Simon, my ETrip Africa guide, was driving at speed back to Nairobi, where we barely had time to make my flight. I am laughing at myself at the moment, for when we stopped along the way for me to take out funds, I completely misjudged the exchange rate, and ended up giving him the equivalent of nearly half a flight to Africa for his tip (and my entire funds for scuba diving, but that happens when we’re in a hurry). Sigh. Travel, especially when you’re in a rush, and distracted. We’ll figure out. We always do. I’m not the only tired traveler to do such a thing. In fact, Simon and my favorite African travel firm, eTrip Africa, have already sorted this out (this is what pros do) in hardly fifteen minutes after I let them know.

Right now I smell like bloodhound and tracking dogs, after a morning spent at Ol Pejeta, learning about how they protect their precious rhinos from poachers. No time to shower, and no time to even wash my face. I am dirty, dusty, filthy, sweaty and supremely, ridiculously happy.

And I know how to show up for a safari.

Simon regaled me with some stories on the four-hour trip back to the city where I am catching my flight to Kilimanjaro. He said that he’s seen it all, and here are his favorites:

  1. Dumb shoes, as in wanting to go for a bush walk in flip flops or sandals. It isn’t just that there are deadly black mambas here and there, but more sharp thorns that you can possibly imagine, ants that bite (and boy do I know that story) and every kind of nasty bug and creature that might like a piece of your hairy leg. Not smart. Get real boots. I either use the half-chaps I ride in or a pair of seriously thick gaiters with heavy duty hiking boots.
  2. A suit and tie. Honestly. The Chinese do this, which means that not only are they going to attract all manner of nasty biting flies like tsetse (which love blue and black). Get Africa-appropriate gear, or at the very least, dun, sand or dark green -colored pants and shirts that blend into the background. That includes your coat. I had to get into the men’s gear to find a properly colored Goretex jacket for this trip for the women’s are all blue, pink, orange…yah. Impractical as hell. And nowhere near enough pockets. You want lots of pockets, which sends me over to the men’s section. No pink tax, and no goddamned pink shirts, either.
  3. A dress or skirt. Honestly, Part II. While that’s lovely for a photo shoot, or Out of Africa, not only will that billowing material catch and rip on every acacia thorn in sight, it will flap, scare and spook all the animals. Pants. Shirt. Safari appropriate, see #2.
  4. Show up late. Animals know when it’s safe to get water. That usually means right at or before dawn. So if you decide you’re going to sleep in because of your half-bottle of vodka- or the whole thing-the night before, you’re not going to see squat. Well, footprints. But animals don’t show up on your schedule. They show up on theirs. Your itinerary tells you when to be prepared, or be prepared to get no photos of animals at all.
  5. Inadequate sun protection. SPF 4 Chapstick will guarantee that you come home with lips so blistered, if you are out in the equatorial sun, that you will hardly be able to eat or drink or talk or sleep. For a long time. This is seriously bad sun, and you need seriously good protection, a lot of it, regularly reapplied. Don’t fool around with this. Your mouth is particularly susceptible, and this can do not only serious damage but the harsh intermittent burns are more likely to later cause cancer than getting your skin used to the sun slowly over time.
  6. Food. Vegan? Celiac? Whatever your proclivities, the time to inform the safari leader or hotel is not long after you’ve arrived. For if you’re out in the bush, the supplies have already been planned. Pitching a hissy fit because you can’t eat meat when you didn’t bother to inform folks way in advance isn’t their fault. People are very savvy about dietary needs here and they work very hard to please. But they can do nothing if you don’t inform them enough ahead of time so that they can plan to accommodate you.
  7. Come clueless. Far too many folks don’t bother to research their destinations. It can be monumentally annoying to well-educated, highly-trained Kenyans (or anyone else) when folks show up assuming that all Africans live in mud huts and have never seen a keyboard. Nothing could be further from the truth. It respects the guide, the country and everyone you meet when you and I take a little time to research where we’re landing, and at least be able to say hello and thank you in the local language. Simon was infinitely patient with me, for I kept putting the R in Karibu in the wrong place, until he said, Canada antelope. Got it. Caribou. Wrong spelling, right sound. I won’t forget again.

Simon’s been doing this longer than I’ve been doing adventure travel. Like most of my guides in Africa, he loves seeing people thrive here. It’s a hard, harsh country if you’re not prepared. We just spent four days together and I have come away reminded of why I love coming to Africa. The guides here really love it when you not only have fun, but come away with a lifetime of memories. His advice, above, is good advice for any country, but is particularly good for equatorial Kenya and Tanzania.