How I Learned to Love Safari with G Adventures in Kenya

How I Learned to Love Safari with G Adventures in Kenya

never been entirely certain about “going on
“. I’d always had reservations about the impact of
tourism on both the wildlife and the native way of life – and I was
apprehensive of a trip that relied so heavily on my patience. But a
few days on a tiger safari in India had piqued my curiosity and
soon my first African safari beckoned. It took just a week in
for my hesitations to evaporate – in fact my complete change of
heart was down to one person.

When we met, I couldn’t picture him in the bush – in his skinny
jeans and designer trainers, our guide Joe looked every inch the
resident. He took us to a hip restaurant with
East London
-worthy interiors that serves delicious hamburgers
and is popular with the expat crowd. He pointed out the best bars
and told us about the various urban afflictions for young people
living in the capital – namely gambling.

But I soon found out that Joe was from a small farming community
on the rural and remote slopes of Mount Kenya and didn’t visit a
city, let alone Kenya’s chaotic capital, until he was an adult. By
our first night in the
, Joe was knee-deep in red mud with his trousers rolled up,
heaving and shoving at our Land Cruiser. It had been steered into a
ford and was stuck slipping and sliding. He lost his footing,
slipped and fell, but still emerged smiling. We attempted numerous
team pushes, but mud splattered everywhere and as the light started
to fade we spotted a buffalo, one of east Africa’s most
unpredictable predators. These 700kg beasts are not to be messed
with, so we piled back into the Land Cruiser, leaving Joe and our
driver Joseph to continue their noisy display right in the line of
fire. Eventually Joe built a makeshift ramp using nearby branches
and got us out just before a thunderstorm cracked across the sky.
He navigated us safely back to the lodge over streams and plains
that all looked identical to me in the starlight. He was every inch
the bushman.

G Adventures call its guides CEOs – Chief Experience Officers –
and despite my initial cynicism about the slightly Disney job
title, Joe fulfilled his role to the letter. In the Masai Mara he
showed us a cheetah called Malaika with her two cubs. And we
watched as she tracked a herd of Thomson’s gazelle, and encouraged
her young to stalk through the grass. He took us to the shallows of
a meandering river where hippos and their babies wallowed and
puffed boisterously, and told me that they could stay underwater
for five minutes at a time. In Nakuru National Park, we got just a
few metres away from a black-horned rhino with its baby. One
afternoon we crested the brow of a hill to find a male lion lolling
about in the shade, flanked by two sleeping females. His huge paws
splayed out in front of him and majestic golden mane rippled in the
wind – it was as if we’d jumped straight into the Lion King.

The Disney spell was soon broken when one of the females awoke
and started roaring and biting at his neck. I thought they might
fight but it turned out to be flirting – she nuzzled and licked him
and soon they were mating, while he bellowed out a deafening roar.
“They only mate for nine seconds, but they do it every 15 minutes
when they’re on heat”, Joe told us. Sure enough, the female lions
proceeded to take turns entertaining Simba a few more times before
we drove off.

Joe had facts for every creature, big or small – “we call
warthogs pumba, which is Swahili for dumbass, because they have
short memories”. (Disney’s casting was making more and more
sense…). Yes, there was a bit of that irksome patience required,
but every day he’d unlock the landscape with new information. He
and Joseph even had a secret code in Swahili so that they could
tell each other when they might have spotted one of the Big Five,
without getting us too excited. This group is so-called because it
was traditionally the hardest for game hunters to catch – and the
name has stuck. Finding a lion, elephant, buffalo or even rhino is
not impossible, spotting a leopard is no mean feat.

So when Joe found us a leopard out in the open, I could see from
his excitement that this was rare. Usually known for their shy
behaviour, this cat had just gorged on a jackal, which had clearly
made her cocky as she was slinking along just metres away, totally
nonplussed. She took up a spot on a little grassy knoll right in
front of us, ready for her photo call, and looked straight at

On our last night we were introduced to Rono Lagat, the Deputy
Warden of Amboseli national park, a very eloquent elephant expert
from the Kenya Wildlife Service. He told us about all the things
that threatened the elephant populations, like the shrinking
glaciers of Mt Kilimanjaro. Africa’s highest mountain towers over
the park and provides its water supply, but the diminishing ice is
compromising the 200l that an elephant drinks daily. But more than
climate change – which he saw as force beyond his reckoning – he
was passionate about tourism, which provides 10 per cent of the
nation’s GDP. “Tourism is about wildlife in Kenya – I’m sure you’d
rather see an elephant than my face”.

That day, we’d watched dozens of elephants yomping home at
sunset, as Kilimanjaro watched down from a perfect blue sky. The
territory these wanderers need is almost 25 times that of the park
so it is unfenced to let them roam. To us they were charming,
magical – and particularly the wobbly newborn being nudged on by a
nervous mother – totally divine. But as Ron explained, it was hard
to preach harmony to the neighbouring villagers whose crops are
trampelled twice daily by migrating elephants on their 10km
commute. The resulting retaliatory attacks are thankfully now a
thing of the past and with the help of the KWS, the locals have
reached an understanding with the elephants.

But elsewhere in Kenya this inevitable antagonism between man
and beast is still a big problem, as is poaching. I thought about
Enkesha, a baby elephant I’d seen at the David Sheldrick Wildlife
Trust orphanage outside Nairobi on my first day in Kenya. She had
been trapped in a poacher’s snare with the wires caught round the
trunk. Her panicking mother had clearly tried to drag her out,
making the snare tighten, and she’d been forced to abandon her
baby. When the rangers found her, she had a vicious wedge cut out
of her trunk.

With elephant tusks earning as much as $2,100 per kg in recent
years – more than double the average Kenyan salary per year – it’s
easy to see how Enkesha ended up with a hole in her trunk. The
majority of the wildlife does not live to tell the poaching tale –
the last male northern white rhino on the planet lives in Kenya and
is protected by armed guard because his two peers were both
slaughtered for their horns in the past 18 months.

At the end of my trip, I thought back to something that my
safari oracle Joe had said in the Mara (while sitting on a termite
mound so strong it could apparently hold an elephant). He’d told me
that he loved his job because it gave him adventure and opportunity
and even the chance to travel. But above all, he was proud to be
doing something good – giving back to both the people and wildlife
of Kenya.

The Lowdown

An eight-day National Geographic Journeys with G Adventures
Kenya Safari Experience tour is priced from £2,349pp. This trip is
also part of the Jane Goodall Collection by G Adventures; a
selection of wildlife focused tours endorsed by world renowned
primatologist Dr. Jane Goodall. Trip price includes accommodation
(two nights in hotels, one-night safari lodge, and four nights
comfortable tented safari camps), most main meals, transportation
in a seven-seat, 4×4 safari vehicle, a chief experience officer
(CEO) throughout, and a certified driver/guide. Prices do not
include flights. For more information or to book, please visit

Kenya Airways flies daily from London-Heathrow to Nairobi from
£460pp. Please visit

For more information on Kenya, please visit