**Note: I’m going to put up my best animal photos in a subsequent post. I’ve got too many to add here!**

“If I see a giraffe in the wild, I might cry from joy,” I had been saying ever since booking the Kenya trip. The plan was to do at least one (hopefully more) day safaris to Tsavo East National Park. It looked close, as the crow flies, to our hotel but I was vaguely aware that the road was made up of dirt, potholes, and small boulders, so I was not sure how long it would take. Also a mystery was the cost, but how much could it be?

The reason we were going to do day safaris instead of overnight was because the package we had booked through the Italian tour operator included seven nights in the hotel and all meals – so those had been paid for. Overnight safaris in tents were, I knew, quite expensive, so we’d be wasting a ton of money. Plus, the Internet informed me that day safaris were fun and totally possible.

When we arrived, we learned that the day safari one could book through the hotel was 160 euros per person (about 220 dollars). We were really surprise; this is Africa, and we were told that the average salary is about a euro a day. Basic, high school economics indicates that the cost of the safari was disproportionate to say the least. Are the safari guides living like kings somewhere near the resort? We found out later that the entrance fee to the national park alone is 65 euros per person, so that made me feel better. I asked the guide, “So that goes to the Kenyan government for the maintenance of the park?” He laughed and said nothing. I pressed: “What’s the joke?” He said, “Yeah… to the Kenyan government…[laugh again]….” Take from that what you will.

I would have paid an arm and a leg to do a safari – we had come all that way, after all, and I had had safari dreams for as long as I can remember – but this price meant we would do one day, not two. So we needed to really make the most of it!

It turned out, while the park was not geographically far, it would take about three hours to drive there because of the road situation. And because it is advisable to arrive at dawn, were to be picked up at 4:00 a.m. with a 3:00 wake-up call (and 3:30 breakfast, which we were strongly advised to eat because of the long journey ahead). Once again, this meant that we zonked out the whole way to the park and missed seeing the countryside. Every time this happened, I wanted to kick myself, but my friend reminded me that when you go to bed at midnight (tried to sleep earlier, but with jet lag we felt like it was hours earlier) and get up at 3:00, staying awake is simply not possible.

We ended up using a safari tour company booked through another resort, where by coincidence our Italian friend was staying on her vacation. We were picked up at 4:00, then drove to Malindi to pick her up and two more Italians. No sooner had we picked them up, at 4:30, that the truck broke down. We were informed that the truck would not make it on the safari.

I was too sleepy to get worked up. I figured, these things happen, and we’ll get a ride back to the Jacaranda, go back to bed, and do the safari another day. I actually started thinking that it was destiny, and that it was a sign that we should forget the day trip and fork over the cash for an overnight excursion, staying in tents.

But the guy kept saying that another truck was on its way. It would be there in 15 minutes. He said that for two hours. Everyone was really upset, but I think especially me.

I’m getting angry just writing about it. The truck showed up at 6:30 and we had missed two hours of safari. We were still a 2.5 hour drive from the park. THEY were the ones who had told US that it was imperative to arrive at dawn to see the animals, and now we’d be arriving in late morning. Not to mention I was exhausted and sitting on a curb for two hours at a pre-dawn Malindi gas station.

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I wouldn’t have been angry, honestly, if we had just been allowed to go home and take the safari another day. I do understand that these things happen. Heck, I got a flat tire on the way to the bar exam. But when the truck arrived at 6:30 and I said I would like to be dropped back off at the hotel and do this another day, immediately – I mean IMMEDIATELY – I was swarmed with friends of the driver telling me that it was impossible! That they had reserved the truck for 5 passengers! That I couldn’t “cancel” this late! I had to cancel by yesterday if I was going to cancel! They would NOT be taking me back to my hotel.

No exaggeration, I was probably surrounded by seven people – adults – all talking to me at once in very broken Italian, all with voices raised. I do not think there was any intent to intimidate me, but there’s a difference between what they intended to do and what actually happened (there was actus reus but no mens rea).

My travel companion agreed with me in principle told the people we wanted to, at this point, do the safari another day, but the crowd surrounding us were not going to let that happen. The other Italians we were with sat in the car and said nothing except “Let’s just go.” Obviously, once they had made it clear they were accepting the situation, there was no chance I was going to get a ride back to the hotel or my money back.

I really had no choice; I couldn’t let myself be abandoned in the middle of Malindi at 6:30 in the morning while everyone else went on safari. My heart rate was through the roof and my face felt like it was on fire, but I said “OK” and got in the truck.

Before getting in the truck, I told the driver that obviously we expected some of our money back. “Impossible” he said! He already had it, and we had no recourse. What were we going to do, call the police to get a $20 refund?

So we departed, and I was obviously in a horrible mood. I really hope it didn’t show too much. I was afraid that the Italians (who, I’m sorry, are used to these sorts of things living in Italy (See This, This, and This)) would think I was pill.

And herein lies an example of a big cultural difference between them and me. Italians seem to be able to shrug things off that I find, and probably will always find, totally unacceptable. They have an “oh, well” attitude about things that make me want to hiss “Let me speak to your supervisor.” The difference is how we grew up. You can’t even return an item to a department store in Italy. Neither attitude is necessarily better than the other one. Perhaps the Italians have lower blood pressure than we do, and that’s great. On the other hand, maybe just getting used to being ripped off doesn’t make it right. Anyway.

The driver had promised, in Malindi, that we were only an hour from the park. Two-and-a-half hours later, and five hours after leaving our hotel, we pulled into Tsavo East National Park. The Jedi mind tricks I had played on myself to get over my anger worked and I was totally psyched to be there. I had been waiting for a safari my whole life.

Tsavo East National Park

Tsavo East National Park

My family and my friend Jonathan can tell you that I will stop a car on the side of a highway to take a picture of a deer. During a dozen family trips in Yellowstone, the greatest of American safaris, we sometimes completely skip Old Faithful and just drive around looking for buffalo. I take pictures of lizards on patios.

And I have always had a thing for giraffes. Kids used to say I was a giraffe in elementary school. Kids are so nice. Also, I remember reading that the ancient Greeks explained giraffes this way: Zeus, wanting to create horses as a gift to his wife, Hera, tried loads of prototypes before finally coming up with the modern horse. One of the throwaway prototypes was the giraffe. Is there anything stranger looking than a giraffe? Is there any animal that better demonstrates evolution than the giraffe? I love them. Love them!!

Tsavo Est National Park is mostly flat and dry, and the road that cuts through it (from which the day safari trucks to not veer) is the bright rust color of a backyard flowerpot.

First we saw wild boars, then zebras – scores and scores of zebras, then elephants in small groups, then two lions. We waited and waited while the lions sunbathed in the grass, barely visible to us, for them to get up and walk around a bit, which they finally did, and it was a bit of a spiritual experience. Nothing can make you care for the environment more nor, if you lean this way already, feel closer to God, than seeing giant mammals in their natural habitat, who could kill you if they wanted to but ignore you instead. Most of my photos are bad because I was just staring, practically drooling.

After lunch, our Italian friend and I started joking about how it was time to see a giraffe. We knew the driver couldn’t conjure up a giraffe, so really, we were just joking.

BUT THEN… a few minutes later, some trees parted, and there he was. A giraffe in the wild, eating from the tops – the tops! – of gigantic trees and slowly prancing around with those awkward skinny legs. He was far from us, but I zoomed in as best I could and just watched him through my zoom lens. And took some pictures.

Satisfied, we drove on. Then there was another one! And another one! Each time they were closer and closer. I didn’t cry like I thought I would, but I did have a bit of a moment, ignoring the Italian chatter around me and just watching him. He was a beauty, and I loved him.

At some point, by the way, the truck (the second truck!) got a flat tire in the middle of the savanna and the driver and guide jumped out to change it. The whole thing probably took twenty minutes, and you know, these things happen. We all stepped out to stretch our legs and we were strongly cautioned not to stray from the immediate vicinity of the truck. COOL!

Who gets a flat tire on safari? The same girl who got one on the way to the bar exam. (I'm not as far from the truck as I look, Mom! Wide angle lens.)

Who gets a flat tire on safari? The same girl who got one on the way to the bar exam. (I’m not as far from the truck as I look, Mom! Wide angle lens.)

On our way out of the park, we saw a crocodile in some shallow water, about 50 yards away. He was sitting on a little sand bar sunning himself. The guide told us that crocodiles can never attack on land, only in water. If you’ve ever seen Animal Planet or The Discovery Channel you know that’s not true, but all the Italians there accepted this as a scientific fact and I just shook my head. This guide was well-meaning, but really did not have a lot of credibility with yours truly. His comment, and the Italians’ acceptance of it, made me imagine a great bar exam question about safaris, assumption of the risk, and negligent misrepresentations.

We slept all the way back to the hotel. Again, it was impossible not to. I was so beat, that apparently at one point some adorable children started reaching into the open window with their little arms right in front of my face and I did not wake up. The few times I did wake up, everyone else was asleep. So once again, I missed out on seeing the African countryside because of the location of the resort requiring 3:00 a.m. departures.

This is the moment I decided I shall return to Africa and do a safari right. Five minutes later, I was asleep.

A rare moment with neither animals nor napping.

Despite feeling like I could burst from anger a few times during the day, it was one of the most thrilling days of my life. It was so marvelous, that it made me wish even harder that I were spending more time safariing and less time hokey-pokeying in the resort by the sea. THIS is what we should be doing, I thought, and I now know that my next big trip will be a full, tented, multi-day safari. I’ve got safari fever now and I don’t mean malaria! Broken down trucks and delays can still happen, but if you’re in a rush they can become little tragedies.

Anyone have any tips on where to safari next? South Africa? Botswana?? What kind of safari did you do?