A Guest Story
Life has a fickle and frustrating habit of throwing hurdles in our path.
Often, it is as simple as a dead battery or flat tyre, a late pay cheque or heavy traffic. But for some, those hurdles are almost insurmountable.
Yet it is in these challenges, when our patience, tenacity and determination are tested to their very limits, that we truly shine, making the rewards and accomplishments infinitely more satisfying.
It is our duty and responsibility at Rothschild Safaris to avoid or overcome these often trivial inconveniences before our clients become aware of them. Should they eventuate, we immediately resolve any issue that may arise.
However, no matter how experienced our client managers and travel designers, even they aren’t talented enough to rewrite the past.
A Dream of Africa
Rothschild client Andrea Ogg had always dreamed of visiting Africa. As a child, her dog-eared encyclopaedia was numerously bookmarked at every entry of lion or giraffe or hippopotamus. She was born and raised in Texas, but her heart thrived on the plains of Africa that she would paint them endlessly upon the canvas of her mind.
“When I was a very little girl,” she recalls, “my parents got us a set of encyclopaedias; that’s what Google was for us back then. I couldn’t read – I was, like, 4 when we got the books – but within a couple of days my parents said that they saw little pieces of paper sticking up out of books because I was bookmarking all of these African animals. They just lit up my imagination.”
From childhood fascination, her imaginings of Africa would go on to influence her career as a writer:
“The first short story that I ever wrote was called The Lion at the Library. It was a story about a little girl who goes to the lions that sit outside of the New York Public Library. They’re magical and they contain all of the knowledge that’s inside the library. And so this little girl asks them to teach her about these African animals.
“So from four or five years old, this has been something that has inspired and lit me up and that I have just always wanted to do. But of course, it’s quite expensive.”
Along with her like-minded husband Derek, Andrea saved diligently, the pair squirreling away their savings knowing that, when the time came for their first visit to Africa, it simply had to be the very best of experiences. For the better part of a decade, their savings grew along with their excitement and anticipation. Research began in earnest and the puzzle pieces were falling into place, the last remaining challenge to accumulate enough free time to make their dreams come true.
…then life cast the mother of all hurdles in their path.
“We were both like ‘we’re going to do this and we just don’t do anything unless we pay cash for it. So we were saving up and waiting until we each had time to take the time off from work. Because who gets three weeks off? That’s the only time you get for the whole year; so we kept putting it off and then I got sick.”
“I got sick” – with this perhaps one of the greatest understatements of the millennium, Andrea dropped dead.
A longstanding congenital heart issue had resulted in Andrea requiring a defibrillator implant, a surgical piece of trickery that thankfully immediately kicked into action and brought her back to life.
While life is the greatest gift we can receive, this blow placed Andrea on the transplant waiting list, erasing any hope or dream of visiting Africa.
“We had to put it off and waiting on the transplant list is a very intense anxious thing. Maybe even the worst part of the entire transplant experience was just waiting for that phone call, knowing that it might not arrive and that you just might not get the fairy tale or do all the things that you want to do.
“It was pretty traumatic,” she continues, “but one of the ways that we passed the time was to plan our trip. We started researching and reading more about it. In the past, I’d never let myself really focus on it too much because I knew we couldn’t afford it or have the time and so it was like, ‘well, I’m just going to set that off over here as something that we’re doing in the future.’
“And then suddenly it was all I could think about.”
Inspired by Africa
Motivation is a powerful ally. However you find it, even in the most abstract of ways, holding onto a specific objective can create strength and determination to overcome both physical and mental challenges. For Andrea, her lifelong dream of one day visiting Africa and seeing the animals she had dreamed of since childhood drew her away from fear and anxiety and gave her the perfect distraction from her pressing health issues.
But life wasn’t done with her just yet. To visit Africa, yellow fever vaccination is essential, but to have such an injection can prove fatal to post-operative heart transplant patients. With a decision that could change her life in the most significant way, Andrea relinquished her position on the transplant list and took the required vaccine. Some, including her doctors, thought she was crazy, but the deepest, most heartfelt desires have a habit of nullifying rationality, and those that knew Andrea best completely supported her decision.
True to the doctors’ fears, Andrea suffered through the vaccine. Being already immunocompromised, her blood pressure plummeted. But in a quirky twist of fate, rather than threaten her life, it saved it. She was elevated up the waiting list and soon received a new heart.
And so it was that we took Andrea, her husband, and her new heart to Africa.
“Since I first learned that these animals existed, it’s always been important to me to go and see them. What I didn’t know is how much I would fall in love with the people and the various landscapes and geographies.
“You know, we as Americans tend to think of Africa as one thing: a grassy plain, a savanna, and there’s like one elephant off on the horizon because we’ve been taught for years about the struggle of wildlife. We haven’t really gotten the message that some of it has recovered and that it’s much more plentiful.
“And so you get there and there’s like 17 elephants standing around our car right now, immediately.”
Andrea and Derek’s journey had taken years for them to research, finance and achieve. For our Travel Designers, the task was simple: make a lifelong dream come true.
The Africa Adventure Begins: Nairobi
A gorilla trek in Uganda notwithstanding, their safari took them across the landscapes of Kenya, beginning in the capital of Nairobi.
Nairobi National Park is as much a wildlife reserve as it is an animal defense barrier for the city. Fenced on only three sides, animals can roam as they please, but an impeccable ranger service, veterinary care and a carefully managed ecosystem make it a highly desirable home for much of Africa’s most iconic species.
Despite covering 45 square miles (117km²), it is still right next to the capital city of Kenya and a population of some 4.4 million people. Was this the perfect start to Andrea’s dream safari?
“To be perfectly honest, out of the whole trip, that was the segment that we were like ‘ I don’t know. Like, is that going to be the right thing for us,’ but we trusted out Travel Designers.
“We arrived and it was just immediately like, ‘Oh my God’. I mean, we had no idea where we’re going to be driving through the park to get to the Emakoko Lodge. I remember on the way I was thinking we’d better enjoy this, but I needn’t have. We saw one lion, we saw rhinos, we saw giraffes all just on the drive from the airport. So it was a really great surprise, and it was also incredible to see this coexistence with nature, to see such a huge city just going right up to the edge of this park, but these animals still just living their lives there, you know, undisturbed.
“It was sort of mind-blowing. And it was the first of many times on this trip that we were like, gosh, this is a developing nation and they understand conservation so much better than the United States does.”
Within an hour of arrival in Africa, the dream had begun. The first day in a new country is usually a miasma of paperwork, customs requirements, airport rigmarole and a temporary hotel in which to freshen up, find one’s feet and make a start on the recovery from a long haul flight and the subsequent jetlag.
For Andrea and Derek, as with all Rothschild clients, they were expedited in person through the airport and driven straight onto safari. Expecting a whitewashed, formulaeic hotel, the couple were amazed to find themselves in the warm embrace of Emakoko, in the heart of nature and far, far away from the bustling world they had left behind.
Nairobi was little more than a stepping stone, and after a couple of days to collect themselves, they journeyed onwards to Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in the north of Kenya.
Lewa Conservancy & an African Connection
Lewa House is a rarity of safaris in Africa. It is among the elite few properties established many years ago for the protection of nature, and consistently maintained by the descendants of the same early colonials. For five generations, Sophie MacFarlane’s family has been protecting the wildlife of central Kenya. Originally established as a means to allow farming to coexist with the natural ecosystem, Sophie and her husband Calum have opened their family home to guests, building additional lodges on the property, but all still very much embodying a certain sense of homeliness.
“[Some properties can feel] more like a hotel and less like a camp,” reflects Andrea – “there are proprietors here and we are staying at their lodge. But then you arrive at Lewa, and you’ve got Calum and Sophie. And they make it so clear that this is their home, and you’re their personal guests.”
“It just sort of felt like they were our friends and they wanted us to have a nice day.
“In all of the camps, there was still a high level of service but with a familiarity, a sort of kinship. It felt African as opposed to ‘here’s what we think Americans want.’ It felt authentic. And of course, they were also kind about making it clear that they knew about my immunosuppression and about my standards for water and food and all of those things. They just they made us feel so much better and at ease.”
As with many destinations across the continent of Africa and throughout Kenya, Lewa delights guests with an abundance of wildlife. The conservancy has re-established the balance of nature in a region that was decimated by farming, hunting and poaching. Now, guests marvel at the wealth of creatures and the untouched landscapes. But it is with Sophie and Calum’s hospitality that the magic of Lewa lies.
At any of the residences we arrange, clients are impeccably cared for, but at Lewa, they are treasured as guests in the truest sense, connecting with the owners, hearing generations-worth of tales and feeling an irreplaceable sense of belonging.
Samburu: Another Side to Africa
Bidding farewell to their new friends, Andrea and Derek ventured to Samburu county, expecting to find elephants, but finding an even more profound connection.
“The pacing of our itinerary was so great because at Samburu you slow down a little bit. The wildlife is plentiful, but it’s not quite like at Lewa, you know?
“They have a big watering hole, so you can just be there during the day and the animals come to you. But it also gave us the chance to focus on the people a little more. We did get to know our guide pretty well at Lewa, but I felt like I got to know more about the Samburu people because our guide told us so much about their traditions, their culture and courtship, and about elders and warriors. It was so beautiful.
“And of course the singing wells you know, where you just you feel so fortunate to be there. We went to a Samburu village and they let us go into one of their houses. I mean, this was not a touristy thing. This was an actual village that one of the junior elders took us to and it was just so humbling. They’re so happy and, compared to us, they have so little. It’s an impossible comparison, but I did tell Derek that if you ever hear me say I need something again, tell me to just stop talking.”
The Samburu, like their neighbours the Maasai, have an acute relationship with the world around them. Their livestock is treated with kindred compassion and there is a pervasive sense of unity with the world around them.
The ritual of the singing wells embodies this perfectly, the herdsmen digging fresh wells for their cattle each morning, the previous day’s well having been collapsed by visiting elephant. But rather than try to remove or discourage the elephant, the Samburu recognise their equality in this symbiotic land.
“The way that they coexist, and the way that they view these animals, it’s almost like brothers and sisters.”
Conservation in Africa
Conservation was an integral aspect of Andrea and Derek’s Africa adventures. The nearby elephant sanctuary of Reteti provided an opportunity to see firsthand the efforts that have been and continue to be made to protect, preserve and nurture the wildlife of Samburu. Knowing Andrea’s passion for wildlife, we suggested such visits as an element of her greater itinerary, opportunities passionately embraced:
“We did Sheldrick Wildlife Trust on our last full day in Nairobi. At first we thought maybe we weren’t going to go. This was the very end of the trip, we were wiped out and it was like what are we going to see there, right? We’d already been to Reteti, but we were like, ‘nope, let’s just go’, and we were so glad that we did. We didn’t know we were going to get to pet them; are you kidding? I mean, like how many videos can I post of me crying, right?! You know, it’s like ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe this is my life’.
“They did such a wonderful job of telling us about each elephant and what their story was and telling us about their personalities and learning about them.
“There was one elephant that had something wrong with his legs, so he was a very slow walker. They talked about how when they have elephants like that they place them into a herd that has other slow-moving elephants so that they’re not ostracised or left again. Watching these people take care of these animals was just so beautiful.”
Only in Africa
Andrea and Derek left Kenya for the penultimate leg of their journey, fulfilling another of Andrea’s dreams; to visit the mountain gorillas of Uganda.
This incredible conclusion to their trip of a lifetime was the quintessential metaphor, not only for their trip, but for the months of planning, the years of operations and heart complications, and for the lifelong love of Africa’s wildlife:
“We did the gorilla trek and I recorded a video for my transplant cardiologist while I was out there. I had a mask on of course, and you can see my mask. I’m breathing so hard because it was a really tough trek. I told her, ‘I finally did it. Thank you for saving my life because without you, I wouldn’t be here.” Her passion, motivation and perseverance, up the mountain, across oceans and over decades, had given her the greatest gift she could wish for.
The challenges we face in life, no matter how insignificant they may be, can seem overwhelming when we are consumed by them.
For Andrea, those challenges were, in the most literal sense, of life and death. And yet her ebullient positivity and absolute fervour in fulfilling her dream gave her hope, inspiration and a shining light.
We revel in our clients’ enthusiasm and work tirelessly to create the perfect vacation, but to craft the Africa trip of a lifetime, one first imagined by a four-year-old girl thumbing through her parents’ encyclopaedia in the heart of Texas, and one which she might not have seen come true, was nothing short of the most humbling privilege.
Andrea’s story is a lesson to us all; we should follow our dreams, embrace our passions, live for the moment and, when the opportunity arises, pour every ounce of our being into making it the very best we can.
All Photos: © @derekjohnson1969