Two Wellington residents — Linda Hustad-Johnston and Linda Tonks — have checked off a big “bucket list” box on life’s scorecard. They recently returned from a three-week excursion to Kenya, where they went on daily safaris.
While out traveling in the African bush, they saw lions, leopards, cheetahs, elephants, zebras, hyenas, warthogs, black-backed jackals, gazelles, elands, crocodiles, black rhinos, white rhinos, hippos, impalas, topi, bushbucks and buffalo in their natural habitat. They also learned that there are several different types of giraffes, including the Masai, reticulated and Rothschild — which they learned about during a visit to the Giraffe Centre in Nairobi.
Along the way, Hustad-Johnston and Tonks saw more bird species than they had ever seen in their lives. The list of birds included ostrich, ground hornbill, eagles, spotted thick-nee, pied kingfisher, secretary bird, blacksmith plover, black-headed heron, cattle egret and Egyptian geese, to name a few.
“We also saw the oxpecker, which is the bird that eats insects and ticks off the bodies of other animals,” Hustad-Johnston said.
Both women, who are neighbors in Wellington, began preparations for the trip more than a year ago. Plans turned into reality when they flew from Miami to Nairobi, Kenya (via Frankfurt, Germany) on March 22. They returned home on April 12.
During this African excursion, they joined a 13-person contingent ranging in age from 25 to 72, which was affiliated with the Dallas Zoo. The main purpose of the trip was to call attention to global conservation and preservation of rhinoceros and elephants, along with having a great time. They achieved both objectives.
Both women agreed that it’s one thing to visit Lion Country Safari, but it’s another thing to travel to Africa for an actual safari.
“It’s the most magical place in the world,” recalled Hustad-Johnston, who had visited Kenya once before back in 2019. “I just love to see the animals.”
“It was far beyond my wildest expectations,” Tonks agreed.
While seeing animals in the wild was eye-opening, what stands out for both women was the overall atmosphere.
“I remember the clearness of the sky and the freshness of the air,” Tonks recalled. “We had beautiful sunrises and sunsets.”
“The Kenyan people are genuine and friendly, and our tour guides were so knowledgeable,” Hustad-Johnston added.
Upon arriving in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital city, they spent two nights at the Wildebeest Camp near Nairobi before heading out to the bush. During their time on the African savanna, they had long days and short nights, so getting daily rest was important.
“We were awakened every morning at 5:30 a.m. with cookies, tea and orange juice delivered to our tent,” Tonks said. “Then, we walked to the lodge for breakfast at 7:30 a.m. We had a wide range of items to eat, such as bacon, eggs, pastries, yogurt and various kinds of juices. We didn’t go hungry or thirsty.”
Soon after breakfast, they ventured out to see Mother Nature in action. Naturally, they took many pictures and recorded lots of video footage.
“On our first day, we saw a lion kill and eat a zebra,” Tonks said. “It got our attention. It was the food chain at work.”
“The animals are used to seeing people in jeeps, so we never felt threatened or in danger,” Hustad-Johnston noted.
The 13 visitors would always return to the lodge by mid-afternoon. They would then eat lunch and relax. Soon after their mid-afternoon break, when the animals were also resting and avoiding the afternoon sun, the group would travel by jeeps for a late-afternoon glimpse of the animals.
“The guides knew where to go to see animals moving around,” Tonks said. “We also stopped for a late afternoon ‘sundowner’ beverage where we would watch the sunset.”
Tusker Lager, produced in Kenya, was a popular beverage choice, as was a drink featuring ginger beer and vodka. The group would eventually return to the lodge by 7:30 p.m., eat at 8 p.m., and then go to bed.
“It was not difficult falling asleep at night,” Tonks said.
They would repeat the experience the very next day. While there was a pattern, each day was different and memorable.
Out in the bush, Tonks and Hustad-Johnston were roommates in a tented enclosure. While their temporary home did not have air conditioning or heating, they didn’t need it.
“We had cool nights and cool mornings,” Hustad-Johnston said. “And during the day, we were out on a safari.”
Each tent had access to an indoor toilet, hot showers and comfortable bedding.
During their trip to Kenya, they visited five wildlife preserves: Lewa, Il Ngwesi, Borana, Sand River and Manda Bay. Their favorite one was Lewa, while Manda Bay was adjacent to the Indian Ocean. Their visit to Manda Bay included an excursion on the Indian Ocean on a hand-crafted sailing ship called a dhow. When they visited Il Ngwesi, the open-air accommodations were on the banks of the Indian Ocean. They saw Mount Kenya, the second highest peak in Africa, in the distance.
To get from one game preserve to another, they traveled by a small plane or in jeeps.
Because the group was traveling in tight quarters, each person’s luggage was limited to a small backpack and a suitcase weighing no more than 30 pounds. Because they had luggage limitations, there was complimentary laundry service at each camp.
In addition to a passport, visitors to Kenya are required to have a visa to enter the country.
For the trip home, the luggage restrictions were lifted, so both women bought an extra suitcase in Kenya and filled it with souvenirs, gifts and memories of their African safari experience.
Hustad-Johnston and Tonks had such a memorable trip that they will be talking about this safari experience for the rest of their lives — and they are not ruling out a return visit, either.