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Sunday, January 20 , 2019, 6:15 pm | Fair 60º

Here & There

Judy Crowell: On Safari Through the Eyes of My Grandson

Trip to 1920’s Safari Camp offers a vicarious opportunity to experience the land and wildllife

Elephants and buffalos are among the wildlife seen at Cottar’s 1920’s Safari Camp.
Elephants and buffalos are among the wildlife seen at Cottar’s 1920’s Safari Camp. (Photo courtesy Cottar’s 1920’s Safari Camp)

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What’s a bucket list without an African safari? My safari wish had been sliding down to the bottom of the bucket, until I realized it probably was never going to happen.

So when my son-in-law, Andy, and my grandson, Andy Busch, Jr., were invited by their friends, Matthew Grimes and his Dad, Brett, on a father/son foursome to Kenya, I jumped at the chance to experience my African safari through my grandson’s eyes.

I began our interview with the time-honored, quintessential "grandmother" question, “What was your favorite thing?”

“That’s a toss up,” he began, “between being so close to a hippo that I thought I could feel him breathing down my neck, and our first full-day game drive out to the Mara River. We left at sunup, had breakfast in the bush with sausages, bacon, cereal and bread, and continued on for a long drive in the land cruiser, sometimes at only 5 mph, to the Mara River.

You don’t see much water in Kenya, and suddenly we were at the banks of this huge river that never stops flowing, no matter what the season. Hippos, crocodiles and all kinds of birds are everywhere near the river so you can’t believe how many animals you’re seeing.

That first day, I think I kept my binoculars up to my face the entire day. Decided that the next day, I’d go without them and really experience the reality of these unbelievable sights.

“Wilson, a really cool guy, was our main guy, our spotter. He was born a Masai warrior, and told us amazing stories about growing up in Kenya, including the still- practiced rite of circumcision endured by 14-year-old males.

One of several guides, he was a walking fact sheet about the animal habitats, Kenyan history, the plants we were seeing, just about everything. He showed us one plant that he said would make our mouths numb, so I tried it and he was right. It made my mouth numb.

“That first long day, we got back in time for a shower before dinner, much needed. Hot water is available at camp two times a day, at 6 a.m. and 5p.m. Water is heated by fire in huge cauldrons and piped into the various sleeping tents and the mess tent where dinner is served.

Campers all come together for dinner in the mess tent and share their day’s stories.

“This is a real family deal”, Andy continued. “In the early 1900s, an American from Iowa named Charles Cottar brought his entire family to Kenya, and his family is still there running the 1920’s Safari Camp.

Family fun is always emphasized. Kids can even attend a Maasai warrior school and learn fire making, spear throwing, bow and arrow practice, dancing and singing.

The Cottars have won all kinds of awards, including “The Best Tented Camp in the World.”

Not bad! And it’s well deserved.

The white canvas tents, about 10 of them, are all great, but best of all is the privacy and incredible number of wildlife you see on their 6,000-acre private conservancy. The brand new pool and spa feel pretty darned good after a day in the bush also.

“With the highest number of gold professional guides, the Cottar guides are considered the best in all of Africa. Wilson was a perfect example of that.

I’m not sure of his Maasai warrior name, but I did laugh when he told me that he picked his English name, Wilson, out of one of the last pages of a telephone directory. I’d go back just to spend time with him again.”

“Well,” I told my grandson, “I may have to move my safari wish up a few notches on my bucket list. After seeing pictures of the luxurious accommodations and realizing that the “Out Of Africa” experience is actually doable (minus Robert Redford, I assume!), I’ll have to reconsider.

Knowing that no guns are allowed, and that this 1920’s safari is to observe and honor these magnificent animals makes it perfect.

One final question….is there anything you’d have changed about your trip?”

“Yes,” was the speedy reply. “After an exciting day in the bush, a cold beer sure sounds good and the only beer around was Tusker Lager, a Kenyan beer made by East African breweries.

"A Bud sure would have hit the spot.”

— Judy Crowell is a Noozhawk contributing writer, author, freelance travel writer and Santa Barbara resident. She can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). The opinions expressed are her own.

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