Author: Molly Rand, GED’13
I recently had the amazing opportunity to serve as an Alumni Relations staff-host for the Penn Travel trip: Treasures of East Africa. During the trip, I was joined by an adventurous group of 10 alumni travelers. Together, we experienced what makes Africa, and East Africa in particular, such a unique and marvelous place.
Each day of the two-week trip was spent exploring the vast land of savannahs and diverse local cultures of Tanzania and Kenya. We captured sights and snapped photos of the incredible wildlife and surrounding landscape. We enjoyed a breathtaking sunset each evening and then awoke the next morning to catch it rise again.
In some way, our group became a small family over the course of the trip, traveling together to take on the next adventure: to see or taste something new, to learn the next phrase for our Swahili vocabulary, and to experience another unknown treasure of East Africa.
We endured long hours and road trips in our safari vans where the bumpy and unsteady rides, or African massage as they call it, only helped bring us closer together. Our local drivers and guides quickly became our new best friends, sharing with us their vast knowledge and passion for the beautiful place they call home.
Before too long, I think we all became humbly aware of how different our daily lives were from the people we encountered. Yet despite those differences, the warm smiles and kind hearts of those who we met made us all feel right at home.
The trip offered us a unique opportunity to immerse ourselves in a culture we only knew from a distance before this journey began. It challenged us to abandon our own perspectives and approach each interaction with a pure sense of curiosity and appreciation for the unfamiliar. As each day passed, we gained a more distinct awareness for the little things in life that really matter.
As for the other stuff, “hakuna matata” as the locals would say.
At last, this would not be an accurate trip re-cap if I did not do my best to describe the unbelievable wildlife and conservation areas of Tanzania and Kenya. It is hard to truly comprehend how incredible it is to observe all of the animals until you are there, watching them run, eat, or sometimes even hunt, often only a mere 5 feet away. Our group was lucky to spot every single animal on the list – literally. We viewed all of the “Big 5” as well as the remaining four of the lineup to see what our guides noted as the “Big 9.” (Buffalo, Elephant, Leopard, Lion, Rhino, Cheetah, Giraffe, Zebra, and last but definitely not least, the Hippo).
At night, the lodge had security walk guests to their rooms after dinner, not because of any danger in the area caused by crime, but because of the animals nearby. At the Lake Naivasha Sopa Lodge in Tanzania, the hippos were notorious for coming onto the property at night. One evening, I asked a guard as he escorted me down the path, with his flashlight in hand, if the animals come up to the lodge because of all the people.
He responded very confidently, “No, no…they come close because this is their natural habitat. We are in their house.”
His reaction made me realize even more the unique beauty of East Africa.
When someone asks me the classic post-travel question, I struggle to find an answer as to what was my favorite part of our East Africa experience. Every moment we spent in Tanzania and Kenya was memorable – whether we were observing a mother elephant protect her baby, visiting a Masai village, watching a lion hunt its prey, or having a conversation with one of our local guides.
The people of Tanzania and Kenya ask no favors of travelers except for one: “tell your friends and family about this place, let them know they should come too. And most of all, make sure to come back.”
If I should ever get another opportunity to visit these countries again, I will be sure to let my new local friends know. In the meantime, make sure you add East Africa to your travel bucket list. I promise every single moment will be well worth it.