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Neha Kirpal Neha Kirpal
Recommendations: 2

Out of Africa

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Out of Africa

A family of four, the Robinsons were going for a holiday to east Africa. Mr Robinson had been working out all the details carefully months in advance. As soon as the children’s autumn break in school would start, they would be off.  First, they would be going to Kenya where they would be staying with an old friend of his, followed by Tanzania, where they would do a weeklong safari. The children, Harry and Angela being only 14 and 11, were very excited about their upcoming vacation. They had watched ‘Lion King’ a hundred times over and were eager to see animals just as they were in the movie. As soon as they heard about the trip, they couldn’t stop humming lines from the song:

“Hakuna Matata! What a wonderful phrase
Hakuna Matata! Ain't no passing craze
It means no worries for the rest of your days
It's our problem-free philosophy”

An old saying which means ‘no worries in Africa’ and that was just one of the many things they were to learn about this wonderful continent. Harry and Angela were soon to realize that it’s the animals that are the true celebrities here, living in their ‘Jungle Book’ style of life, as they often seem to pose and smile for the hundreds of shutterbugs (read paparazzi!) that crane their necks to capture a rare moment in their cameras. They were also about to get to know all about Nelson Mandela, David Livingston, and Joy Adamson (of ‘Born Free’ fame) – some of the first persons to make Africa famous and bring it on to the global map.

‘Karibu’ to Kenya

‘Karibu’ means ‘welcome’ in Swahili and it was the first thing they heard as they got off the plane. On landing at Nairobi airport, the Robinsons headed to the Sarova Stanley hotel, where they were booked to stay. Located in the very heart of Nairobi, near its vibrant city center and other shopping markets, this heritage hotel had been voted best in Kenya at the World Travel awards, described by the Wall Street Journal as the ‘Oscars’ of the global travel and tourism industry. The children thought it was quite grand indeed. After checking in, they went for lunch to its famous outdoor Thorn Tree restaurant which had functioned as the oldest post office in Kenya many, many years ago. The kids were absolutely fascinated by it! After finishing their food, they went and posted their own little messages on the notice board – something that people do to this day.

“Dear Africa, Here’s hoping we have a great trip,” wrote Harry and smiled.

Mr Robinson had been advised by the authorities that if they would like to venture outside, they should walk around the area of the hotel, but not go too far out as Nairobi was notorious for its incidents of crime. The manager also mentioned that they should be careful about their belongings, since snatching and theft was also a common occurrence. On hearing that, Mrs Robinson promptly went back into the hotel room and left all her jewelry safely in the room safe.

The Robinsons then started their sightseeing in Nairobi. It began with a visit to David Sheldrick’s wildlife trust animal orphanage. Born following the death of Sheldrick in 1977, the trust was established in the memory of this famous internationally acclaimed naturalist. It now served as a shelter for many black rhinoceros, tortoises, and elephant orphans whose parents had been hunted down or killed and traded for their body parts. Thus, the elephants had been literally brought up by the caretakers and provided milk which they drank through bottles. The children squealed with delight as they watched the elephants come out and play in the mud and drink milk as a kind of show in front of a teeming audience of tourists that had gathered to watch.

After that adorable visit to the animal orphanage, their next stop was to the giraffe center. This was a place where baby giraffes were enclosed in a safe area and fed food by visitors. Once again, Harry and Angela were thrilled as the tall and graceful animals walked right up to where they were standing and ate food right out of their hands! What struck Harry most about the giraffes was the look of utter serenity, peace, and calm that filled their majestic selves at all times. “Wow! I love them,” said Harry smitten.

Next up, the Robinsons paid a visit to Karen Blixen’s museum. It was a lovely house that belonged to the author of the famous book ‘Out of Africa.’ Blixen was one of the first few persons to have come from Britain and made Africa her home. The house in which she lived had now been converted into a museum which tourists come to see; it was also the setting for where a film by the same name had been shot. Later, they had dinner at the beautiful outdoor Karen Blixen restaurant next door.

Back in the hotel that night, Harry and Angela animatedly discussed all the electrifying experiences they had encountered that day. They were soon cut short by Mrs Robinson who asked them to go to bed early, as they would be tired and had another long day tomorrow. In no time, the children were fast asleep. Mr Robinson sat awake, making a note of all the accounts for the day, while Mrs Robinson slowly drifted into sleep.

The next morning, the Robinsons set out for an authentic Kenyan shopping experience. The hotel had advised them to go to the Village market, which was a mix of several shops styled in the way of an outdoor complex. The Robinsons thoroughly enjoyed themselves here as they found lots of local designer labels. Angela bought herself a neat beach bag from the Kikoy store, which also sold clothes and household items made of local cloth in ethnic designs. Mrs Robinson bought some ethnic Kazuri beads – ceramic beads, jewelry, and pottery – that were handmade in Kenya. She had a hard time deciding between a wide variety of colorful and attractive necklaces, earrings, and bracelets that were made by village women, and reflected the culture and wildlife of this fascinating country. Mr Robinson also bought himself something authentic – a tiny bottle of the delicious South African fruit-based chocolate coffee liqueur, Amurula. Harry chose to spend most of his time looking at some big international brands and finally bought a cool T-shirt at Zara. The Village market also had its own private home theater, but there was no time for them to watch a film. After doing their shopping, the Robinsons headed towards the food court, where they ate lunch.  

The Robinsons then headed back to the hotel where they packed their luggage and checked out. After their short but exhaustive stint at Nairobi, they were now going to Nakuru where they would be staying for the next few days. On the way to Nakuru, they came across the Elementaita Lake where they stopped for a tea break at a pretty little place called the Sunbird lodge. After tea, they headed for a short visit to the Menengai crater, which was quite a natural wonder. The children were enthralled by the huge land masses that surrounded them, bereft of any vegetation and completely hollow in several parts. A guide told them that it was something that the government was trying very hard to cultivate in recent times.

Finally, they reached Nakuru. It was a little town in Kenya, far from the madness of the main city. That’s what made it more peaceful and friendly. They reached the address of Mr Robinson’s childhood friend, Sally. Aunt Sally lived in a spacious, charming house with her daughter Betty. They were both extremely pleasant and warm and the children loved them instantly. The house had lovely big lawns in which to run around, there were also many swings, trees, and flowers. It was like paradise for Harry and Angela who kept jumping from place to place. Since they were tired, they all ate an early dinner as the next day would be a long one for them.  

Early next morning, the Robinsons accompanied by Aunt Sally and Betty left for the national park. After they reached the gate, they had to wait for sometime as all the formalities of getting a ticket and vehicle needed to be completed first. Harry and Angela waited patiently with bated breath for what was in store for them. Soon, it was time for them to enter. Imagine the exhilaration of the children when they spotted the carcass of a slain zebra right at the entrance itself! In hushed whispers, they spoke to each other as they learnt that it was the early morning prey of a lion’s kill. Undoubtedly, it was one of the most shocking sights they had ever witnessed in their lives, as the blood was still fresh and the insides of the zebra’s stomach had been completely devoured by the lion!

Angela felt a little sorry for the zebra. “It’s all part of the vicious cycle of life, my dear,” her mother gently explained. But her thoughts were interrupted. Because just a little distance away, Harry caught a glimpse of the entire family of lions that was responsible for the kill, silently walk away. “Where?” jerked Angela. But she missed them and they had already gone. Driving further into the national park, the Robinsons delighted in the sight of several other animals – there were giraffes, rhinoceros, wildebeests, gazelles, elephants, baboons, wart hogs, deer, and even some pretty, pink flamingoes. Angela loved the flamingos most of all, whereas Harry still preferred the graceful giraffes more than any of the other animals.    

While they ate lunch at the Sarova lion hill game lodge, Harry and Angela had many arguments over which animals were better than the others. “The flamingos are the nicest!” screamed Angela, while Harry defended his favorite animals, “No, the giraffes are still the best!” After lunch, they finally called it a day. They were to leave Kenya the following day. They thanked Aunt Sally and Betty for giving them such a superb time in Nakuru, complete with all its culture and diversity. The next morning, they drove back to Nairobi, from where they were to take on the next leg of their journey.

‘Jumbo!’ Tanzania

The flight from Nairobi to Dar

es Salaam was a short one and on the way there was a pause at Mt Kiliminjaro. The Robinsons looked outside their plane window as Africa’s highest peak stood stately on the left side of the aircraft. It had a flat top that was covered with ice! On the right side, Mr Robinson pointed out Mt Meru to them, another notable peak in Tanzania and the tenth highest mountain in Africa. Finally, on reaching Dar, the Robinsons got into a vehicle that was booked for them as a part of their safari. “Jumbo” was how their chauffeur, Kisali greeted them as they got into the cab, something that the children found quite amusing. They were soon to realize that it was a way of saying ‘hello’ in Tanzania, and they would need to get used to it!  

At the very outset itself, Kisali warned them all against the tse tse mosquito, whose sting caused sleeping sickness. Mrs Robinson made sure she kept spraying the anti-repellant in the vehicle at regular intervals. After some time, they halted at Arusha, a small town with a population of about 3 million people. Here, Kisali took them to the New Africa hotel to freshen up. After that, he stopped by at an interesting shop called ‘Cultural heritage’ where a number of local artifacts were being sold. Further up, they reached the Lake Manyara Serena lodge, where the family ate lunch. A pleasant little resort enjoying a great view of the scenic jungle and the lake, the stop was indeed refreshing. The Lake Manyara national park also had a host of several interesting birds like the yellow-breasted stork, pelican, egret, Egyptian goose, common sniper, wagtail, and the red buck.

It’s safari time!

After that rather welcoming break, Kisali next drove them into the barren terrain of the Serengeti Game drive, where the Robinsons spotted several animals along the way, like the gnu, guinea fowl, impala, mongoose, bustard, super sterling, vulture, topi, wild buffalo, dik-dik and crown crane. By now they had driven several miles into the jungle and it almost seemed like there was nothing but sand and barren land surrounding them on all sides. The children actually felt a little scared being surrounded by nothing but animals!

In the midst of the wilderness, they suddenly reached a retreat called the Kirawara camp, a luxury tented camp in western Serengeti where they were to stay the night. After settling into their little room which was like a hut made from mud, the Robinsons came out to have dinner. While they ate dinner, a unique tribal dance had been organized for the guests by the maasai people who were in charge of the resort. It was a very cultural experience and brought them closer to the lifestyle of the locals.

After a restful sleep that night, the next morning, the Robinsons continued their drive further in Serengeti. They reached a huge expansive area which meets and joins Maasai Mara national park up ahead. It was exciting for them to know that the animals often migrated in hordes from one park to the other and could even be seen walking in herds during the autumn season. From Serengeti, they then reached the Ngorongoro national park, where they were booked to stay the next night.

Kisali had advised the Robinsons to start the day early in the morning in order to spot some really big game, which they did. First up, they managed to see a host of ostrich and hyena, which was a first for them. Further up, there was a water body, where they spotted some crocodiles and hippopotamuses! The water animals were so well camouflaged that one could barely tell the difference between them and a rock!

And just then, they saw it sitting silently … As if nothing had happened, a cheetah lay fast asleep under the shade of a tree! The children could hardly contain their excitement, but Kisali signaled them to keep calm. Several other cars had stopped to take pictures at the site and everyone spoke excitedly in whispers. But even as the protagonist of all this, it appeared that the cheetah was unfazed by all the attention it was getting and not in the least bit frightened, even though the cars were only inches away from it. Being strangers in their natural habitat, the humans who had come to see it should probably have been a bit afraid, but the cheetah seemed completely sure and secure in his home, knowing that no one would cause him any harm.  

After driving away from the spot, the children had barely gotten over the euphoria of this spectacle, when just a few meters up ahead, they sighted another big game … this time it was a lion! Harry was almost gasping for air as he watched the lion roaming about freely and casually before his eyes, looking majestic with its main. The lion too didn’t at all seem threatened by all the exhilaration he had caused all around him and sometimes, it even seemed as if he was actually posing for the shots people were taking of him in their cameras! Just the mere vision reminded Harry why the lion was indeed called the king of the jungle.

Kisali told them that it was probably their lucky day, because later that afternoon, he suddenly stopped in front of another quiet area. It was here that the Robinsons saw a lioness sitting under a tree, focusing all her energy and attention in the direction of her target – a herd of deer gathered a slight distance away. Angela watched in panic as the deer seemed blissfully ignorant of the lioness’ presence, and the latter continued to carefully concentrate on their nimble movements. Mrs Robinson said that the lioness was the one who did all the hunting and killing work for her family, while the lion simply sat back and enjoyed the ‘lion’s share’. “So true in the case of all species,” she added with a little laugh. The lioness gave the impression that she was in no particular rush to attack, just slowly and deliberately eyeing her bait and contemplating her every move, waiting for the perfect moment.

After that very fruitful day, in which the Robinsons saw some sights that would stay with them for a lifetime, the next day, they went further ahead. They reached the Ngorongoro crater, a hollow mass of land where red lily grew throughout the year and a number of animals lived. They went and saw the Olduvai Gorge and museum on the way, another natural phenomenon that was quite interesting to see. That night, they stopped at the Plantation lodge, a charming resort that was under the care of a German couple. With beautiful gardens, unique wood furniture, and an old, majestic feel, the resort was a great escape, and the family enjoyed its stay here thoroughly. It was also a great way to end their memorable African safari.

Dar Es Salaam

The next day, the Robinsons left for Dar es Salaam. Mr Robnson had heard that there were plenty of interesting things to do and see in Dar, the capital city of Tanzania. They began their sightseeing with the national museum. It was here that they learnt that in 1964, Tanganyika had united with Zanzibar to form Tanzania. Bagamoyo was the capital before the unification. They then walked around the same area which had other places of tourist interest like the Uhuru torch (also known as Mnazi moja), the clock tower, the Askari monument, the botanical gardens, and the Aziana front church. Mnazi moja was a great place for buying traditional cloth and dress material. Close by, was another shopping area called the Kariakoo market.

The next day, the Robinsons headed out to experience some unique shopping in the city. For this, they went over to Slipway in Masaki, which was a kind of interesting flea market along the coast. Another similar market adjoining the same was Sea cliff, also full of shops and restaurants. Mrs Robinson discovered some really stimulating stores in this area, like a book shop called ‘A Novel Idea’. It was extremely well-stocked and had a very impressive collection of all the latest books on many different subjects. Another store that she loved this side was ‘The Green Room’ which had various interesting handicrafts that were recyclable and eco-friendly. Owing her fascination for jewelry, Mrs Robinson went to take a look at some typical Tanzanite gems based on her birthstone. She couldn’t resist buying some for herself when she heard that even though Tanzanite was discovered on the slopes of Kiliminjaro in 1967, it is believed to have been about 600 million years old.

The family then stopped for lunch at ‘Addis’, an Ethiopian restaurant on Urisno street. Harry loved a dish called YeBeg alicha wot, which was a delicious lamb-based delicacy. There were also many other eateries in the area that served Italian, Japanese, and other cuisine as well as of course, lots of seafood.

The next day, Mr Robinson was in the mood to spend a lazy day by the beach, so the family headed to South beach. They also went across to Oyster bay area which was relatively more calm and serene. On the whole, he found Dar Es Salaam to be an interesting mix of east and west, having a whole range of activities that everyone could enjoy. The next day, they were to go to the island of Zanzibar.

24 hours in Zanzibar

Having only a single day to spend in Zanzibar, the Robinsons decided to make the most of it by seeing the best of everything there was to do here. They checked into the Zanzibar Serena inn, which was situated in the heart of the city. It was an elegant and romantic resort, one of the finest in the city. The inn was also adjoining a beach and one could actually drown oneself amidst the sounds of the Indian Ocean. There were some things that Mr Robinson instantly noticed on reaching this gorgeous island city. The hotel authorities had informed him upfront that Zanzibar was predominantly Muslim. Thus, visitors needed to be a little careful about their dress code and behavior. That having been said, there was plenty to see which one could do mostly by walking, definitely the easiest and fastest way to get around in the city.

On the evening of their arrival, the family took a walk

around the main city and first went over to Forodhani Park. A central public area, the park would come alive mostly during the night when it was brightly lit up. There were also a number of local stalls selling food that came up in the evenings. The children found themselves some unique items like chocolate and mango pizzas, which they had never tasted before. Later, they all went to a quaint little restaurant called ‘236 Hurumzi’ where they ate dinner. Located in the heart of Stone town, it was a fine-looking restored palace, once the home of one of the richest men in the Swahili Empire. The tower top restaurant undoubtedly made for one of the most extraordinary eating venues in the world! The Robinsons even had a female singer come and sing songs for them while they ate their food!

The next day after breakfast, the Robinsons decided to do the Stone town walking tour. They found that Stone town had over 50 mosques, two cathedrals, and a couple of Hindu temples. They saw many other historic sites, including the house of Arab trader, Tipu Tip and several African, Arabian, and British style buildings. They also crossed many ancient hotels like the Dhow palace and the Africa house (an old British club which became a hotel in 1850). One of the bigger Catholic churches was built by the French in 1862, after destroying Islamic graves which were in its place. The Robinsons also came across the ‘house of wonder’, which was built by the second sultan of Zanzibar, for government conferences. Zanzibar’s largest building, it was the first one to have electricity, water supply, elevators, and telecommunication.  

To get a taste of Zanzibar’s latest shopping experience, Mrs Robinson unearthed several local shops like the Zawadi chest, Zanzibar secrets, and Treasure trove. She managed to buy herself a bunch of quality handicrafts, books, CDs, clothes, caps, and mugs to carry back as gifts for friends and family. All in all, the Stone town walking tour gave them all a very clear idea of the old city. After completing that and grabbing a quick lunch, the Robinsons next headed towards the area of the Mangapwani beach.

This was the area where the slave trade chambers of World War II were located. Their guide, Omar walked them through the troubled history of the African slave trade that was riddled with periods of suffering, strife, and hardships. The Robinsons came across bunkers on the beach, which were used as defensive military fortifications by the British during the war. They were also used as a hospital for wounded soldiers as well as a storage area to keep their guns and ammunition. Angela was horrified to know about some inhuman realities of how people were treated during the days of the slave trade. There were separate chambers for men and different ones for women and children, with almost 75 people stuffed together in one, without any food, water, or light. The slaves were also chained and tied to trees, whipped and later auctioned and sold.    

After witnessing the shock of the slave trade chambers, the Robinsons next proceeded towards the spice plantation tour. Located close by, it was a beautiful area where a number of crops grew – from bananas, to pineapples, jackfruit, coconut, rice, maize, and peas – it was all there. The children found the tour interesting as the guide actually took them through the entire plantation, showing them different plants and then educating them about their different uses and properties. Among the spices, there was turmeric, cardamom (which is used for making curry), vanilla, lemongrass, cinnamon, clove (for making toothpaste), cocoa, jasmine, tangerine, ginger, and black pepper.

The guide also pointed out spices from where the red color of lipsticks came from which Angela tried on her mouth. Mrs Robinson was more interested in the spice which was used to make curative soaps and internationally acclaimed perfumes like Chanel no. 5. What was appealing to see was that the cosmetics that we used in our daily lives were made so scientifically and naturally from an ecological perspective. As the Robinsons were about to leave, their guide quickly and creatively  made them a cluster of souvenirs like little baskets, hats, purses, and necklaces out of coconut leaves, which the children happily took back home.

On that sweet note, came the end of their marvelous African adventure and the entire family felt extremely enriched to have been a part of it. In fact, Africa seemed to have left a peculiar glow on their faces at the end of the trip; it was almost a kind of inner happiness that its people seemed to have passed on to them – one that stayed with them for a long time after they had returned home…

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