Reflections: What were my top 5 travel adventures of 2014 – 2015?

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Masai Mara

My favorite place on earth. Majestic landscapes, interesting animals, fresh air, peace. Something spiritual happens to me when I enter the Mara. It’s hard to explain. I have now been on safari in three other places (Ol Pejeta in Kenya, Rwanda and South Africa) and while each safari is unique and amazing in its own way, nothing compares to the vistas of the Mara. Savannas for days. Open. Wide open. It’s really the most remarkable place in the world to me.

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Mountain Gorillas in Rwanda

This would be my most remarkable experience in the world. Trekking through the Virunga Mountains to find a family of 16 mountain gorillas and watching them from just a few feet away for an hour. Gentle. Beautiful. Unassuming.

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South Africa

South Africa is a beautiful country and offers distinct experiences throughout its land. Two of my best friends flew there to meet me at the end of my time on the continent. We enjoyed Cape Town for a week then flew east to Johannesburg on the way to safari in Sabi Sand Game Reserve. It’s not only a beautiful place, the people are friendly and the infrastructure makes you feel like you are in Europe. It offers the comforts of Europe yet the exoticness of the African continent. We all agreed we would return one day.

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Grand Prix, Monte Carlo, Monaco

This was a bucket list item for my Dad and I was just lucky enough to tag along. For years, on the Sunday before Memorial Day, the TV in our living room blasted the sounds of open wheeled racecars zooming through the streets of Monte Carlo. It’s one of those nostalgic sounds for me that will forever remind me of my Dad. He loves Formula One racing. Since I’ve been an adult, I’ve said, “Dad, we have to do that one day. Go to the Monaco Grand Prix.” 2015 was the year. I was living in East Africa, and we could meet half way in France for vacation and check that item off the bucket list. It was all you can imagine and more. We attended the practice rounds on Saturday and the main event on Sunday, watching from a suite on the famous hairpin turn. In addition, to the race, we explored Cote d’Azur, enjoyed amazing weather, food and wine and had one of the best vacations of our lives.

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Uhuru Peak on Mt Kilimanjaro

Saved the best for last. Watching the sunrise at 19,341 feet is by far my best travel adventure of 2015, maybe of a lifetime. Of course getting to the summit was the highlight, but the entire experience of climbing the mountain, camping under the star-lit skies and laughing hysterically with two amazing friends will forever be seared into my mind.

3 Reasons to Go on Safari

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Since living in East Africa, I have become a safari junkie. It’s ridiculous, really. Most people may go on one safari in their lifetime if they are lucky. On average, I have gone on safari about every other month since living in Kenya. I am currently on safari in Kruger National Park in South Africa. Now, I must say that I am bias towards Kenyan safaris but this place is pretty incredible too. So, today’s blog is dedicated to the African animals and land that I love. Here are my top 3 reasons everyone should go on safari.

#1: Safari is one of the most peaceful yet invigorating experiences you can have.

Being in the African bush is very peaceful for me. Miles away from the busyness of a city, limited access to technology and media, and the sounds of nature are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to reasons why the bush is so peaceful. Fresh air, moderate temperatures, and sunny, blue skies make for great safari weather. In addition, there are few distractions and lots of space to think, breath and dream.

But, then, you jump in a safari vehicle with a rough and tough local ranger (see photos below of Jackson and Rein – two of my favorites) and you are in for an adventure! These guys love the land and the animals and showing them off! Every ride is different. You could go on safari every day for a year and see something different every time you go out. The mystery is part of the adventure. You never know what you will see. This morning, we started by tracking a pride of lions including 3 cubs. We found them pretty quickly and began slowly following them. Once they stopped, they treated us to some magnificent photography! Next, we found the oldest and largest leopard on the reserve.  He was huge – definitely the largest leopard I have ever seen on safari. After driving past a breeding lion couple lying in the middle of the road, we were surprised by our second leopard sighting. This guy was only a year old and sat on top of a termite mound. These three sightings were all in our sunrise drive and also included animals like giraffe, elephant, and many types of antelope.

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My sister and I having coffee with Jackson, our ranger in the Mara.

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Rein, our South African ranger, sitting on top of a termite mound in Sabi Sand. Don’t worry, the gun was for protection only.

#2: Safari is good for the local communities.

The animals, the land – they are the natural resources of the people and country where they are found. This natural resource can be used for so much good towards the local community. The Kenyan government has done a reasonably good job protecting its land and animals, but it’s the private reserves that are leading the way in conservation efforts. One in particular, is the Northern Rangelands Trust in Kenya. Not only are they conserving the land and animals but they are doing it in a way that benefits the local economy – giving jobs to locals, building schools and health clinics, and promoting local and foreign tourism which boost the overall GDP of the nation.

#3: Safari gives you a deeper respect for nature and all of God’s creation.

For me, as I have grown to love the African bush and animals, I have grown in my understanding of God and His creation. He is so creative and orderly and His creation shows that so clearly. Consider a lilac-breasted roller, the official bird of Kenya, and the warthog, Pumba from the Lion King. Beauty and the beast. Yet, each have their unique qualities and roles in nature and reflect a beauty that only the Creator can give.

The lilac-breasted roller and the warthog.

The lilac-breasted roller and the warthog.

This isn’t to say an animal is more important than a human, but I have come to have a deeper understanding of the stewardship we, as Christians, are to have towards the earth and all of God’s creation. That doesn’t mean that I’ve become a vegetarian or decided to work for PETA. But, it does mean that I will have a more open mind towards conservation efforts and the protection of endangered wildlife.

So, don’t take my word for it…go on safari and see for yourself!

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