As the airplane engine silenced, our smiles and idle chatter stopped short. We looked around and saw nothing but shades of brown, dulled by the mid-day sun and a cloudless sky. The African sun was hot, heavy and the wind was gusty and disconcerting.
“So, who is picking you up?” the pilot asked as he piled our bags onto the dirt runway. In Africa, someone is always there to help, carry bags and guide us to our next destination. When no one appeared, my mind went blank, paralyzed by uncertainty.
A ranger strolled over to us, dark eyes squinting in the sun and wind. With a nod of his head we followed him with our bags to wait in the shade of his small shack at the far end of the dirt airstrip.
But I wasn’t worried. Even as my traveling companions began to worry, I trusted we would be ok. The sun was intense and the wind gusted even more. No birds in the sky, brown bush all around. So much wind.
Finally, we saw the telltale wisp of dust on the horizon, indicating an approaching vehicle. And just like that, Kitongo, who would be our guide for the next few days, bounced out of the safari vehicle, beaming and welcoming us to our next adventure; a walking safari in Kenya with kids!
While travelers for over one hundred years have fallen in love with Africa through her epic wildlife, it wasn’t until recently that someone like myself would be found wandering around Africa on foot.
That’s right, walking! In the wild African bush. With elephants, rhino and buffalo. We had only taken a few steps when we spotted fresh lion tracks.
While it may sound crazy, there is perhaps no better way to experience African than on foot than with a walking safari in Kenya with kids.
With my 9-year old daughter by my side, I found myself somewhat reluctant to fully trust our guide and his team. They had to earn my trust.
Between the careful briefing at the start of the journey by our guide, to the unique, otherworldly way in which the Maasai camel handlers commanded via guttural grunts and lyrical vocalizations the gentle, patient, hardworking creatures who carried our entire camp (and sometimes the children themselves!) – I began to trust that all would be ok.
And in doing so we were rewarded with some of the most amazing wildlife encounters I have ever experienced in my nearly 20 years of traveling around Africa.
What is at the heart of every encounter? Trust.
But the following morning, I questioned everything as our guide walked us closer and closer to two white rhinos. Like an obstinate donkey, we kept stalling, refusing to proceed further, shuffling forward with tiny steps.
Patiently, Kitongo explained that because we were down wind, quiet and not threatening to the animals, we were in a safe spot. And I trusted him, despite the fact that I felt like we were way too close for comfort, the Mom in me on high alert. We marveled at the sight. It’s always moments like these that make me question how in life I found myself in that place, that moment. Truly special.
Just then, we saw our camel caravan emerge on the horizon, loaded down with camp as they made their way to our new campsite for the night.
The rhino got spooked and ran straight towards us. Our guide very calmly motioned for us to stay still. I am not going to lie, the children screamed and the adults turned to run a few steps before we all realized we had broken the first two rules of bush walking; don’t scream and don’t run!
Again, Kitongo calmly motioned with his hands and this time we followed directions. Trust.
The rhino trotted off and we all took a deep breath. When asked about our two-week safari in Kenya, this moment is the one my daughter talks about the most. Real adventure in Africa! A walking safari in Kenya with kids is an absolute must if you are planning an African safari with your family.