Travel Trails By Martin B. Deutsch



January, 1966 -- The symptoms of the dynamic forces at work in Africa are endless. New countries emerge, governments change, the United Nations accepts another member from the Dark Continent. The changes, especially on the political, economic and social fronts, are far-reaching and far from over.

But despite all the activity, there are things which do not change. One is the traditional desire among the North Americans with adventure in their blood to make at least one trip to Africa, whether armed with guns and/or cameras. The lure of the jungles, the game parks, the great rivers and waterfalls, the vast desserts, plans and mountain plateaus and the rugged mountain ranges all remain a real and powerful force. The splendor and variety of Africa's magnetic natural beauty continues to exercise magic, even as revolutionary changes sweep the continent.

There is one unfortunate development that the traveler with Africa on his mind should keep in view. The enormous herds of wild beasts, from antelopes to elephants, to zebras, once as commonplace as the buffalos of North America in the nineteenth century, have been decimated, in many cases to the point of visual extinction. Thus, the most significant of all tourist attractions—wild animals in their natural habitat—has been curtailed. Except for certain game parks and other specified national preserves, such as the magnificent, Serengeti Plains in East Africa, the wild life has succumbed to the hunter, the poacher and commercial interests. Despite the determined efforts of many African governments to safeguard existing species, the ivory hunters and hide hunters continue to menace the existence of the continent's most exciting commodity. And while there's reason for optimum over the future of the game parks, I wouldn't wait forever to make that trip to Africa.

We should qualify an important point here. Unless you have unlimited time and even more money at your disposal, it's quite an undertaking to cover Africa, in a single, or ever several tours. You've got East and West Africa, the Congo, South Africa, and Ethiopia, Egypt and the Sahara in the north, as well as the Arab states on the Mediterranean, to mention a few of the major areas and countries. Just to appreciate the highlights of three East African nations—Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania—would require a minimum of two weeks.

In the same sense that it would be impractical for you to cover Africa on a one-time shot, it is impossible for us at "Travel Trails" to report on all of the continent's worldwide attractions. The answer to your problem–and to ours–lies in an escorted tour, or "safari." A number of airlines that fly between the United States and Africa, in co-operation with tour operators, have developed a good selection of itineraries that explore one or more of Africa's prime tourist sectors. These are usually reasonable in price, and with all the trivia and waste trimmed away to give you a memorable and meaningful introduction. These tours feature not only the game parks, but also the bustling, sunbathed cities, fascinating tribal communities and historic lakes, waterfalls and rivers.

Before we summarize four or five typical tours, with costs and other information, we'd like to dispense some incidental data. While most tours currently on the market are prompted as "safaris," they have very little to do with the big-game-hunting expeditions immortalized in film and fiction. And rightly so, "Safari" means a journey–any journey–and unless otherwise specified, you'll be doing most of your hunting with color film. Health problems are minimal in most parts of Africa today, but you will need protection against smallpox and yellow fever, and you might discuss precautions against malaria with your doctor. U.S. citizens require visas for Kenya, Uganda, the Republic of South Africa, Chad, Cameron, Nigeria, Dahomey, the Ivory Coast, Senegal and the United Arab Republic. In Ethiopia, you obtain the visa on landing at Addis Ababa airport. Requirements change frequently, so rely on your travel agent for up-to-date advice.

You can safely travel light in Africa, since the weather is almost always on the warm side, and the social climate is generally informal. Ladies are advised to carry cotton and linen dresses, slacks for safaris, and sweaters and wraps for the evenings. While it's not customary to dress at night, the women will enjoy a change for dinner. They should be cautioned to avoid shorts, slacks and even bareback dresses in the towns and cities. Light-weight clothes are recommended for the men, along with at least one warm sports jacket and sweater. Bermuda shorts are okay for sightseeing and on safari, but we recommend full-length khakis. The best colors for both men and women are khaki, beige, olive and brown. Include as well some crushproof headwear to keep the sun at bay, an ample supply of sun glasses, soft-soled and comfortable shoes for walking, and flashlights. Bring along a good supply of film, and it might also be wise to invest in a telephoto lens for best results with wild game.

One of the best-known African tours is offered in BOAC and Lindblad Travel, new York. Some comments in the introduction of the "Wing Safari" brochure (available from your travel agent) should give you an idea of the beauty and excitement of East Africa. "Flying across the Serengeti (Plain) recently, en route from Lake Manyara to Seronera, we were fortunate enough to observe the April migration: a herd of 200,000 zebra, 100,000 wildebeeste, thousands of impala, gazelle, etc–truly the most spectacular sight we have seen at any time, anywhere." On these twenty-two-day tours, usually offered once or twice a month, a party of up to three can make special arrangements for guns, ammunition, licenses and the services of a professional hunter for $90 a day.

Also, at $45 above the basic tour price ($1,045 for land arrangements and about $950 for round-trip air fare from New York), you can fish for trout in Kenya, including license, lunch and equipment. (Rainbow trout of up to six pounds have been caught here.) Also on this tour: golf, tennis, heated swimming pool, riding and bowling. More important, you can get a look at primitive tribal life, including the renowned dances of the Turkana, the El Molo and the Samburu. At Lake Rudolf, you fish for hundred-pound Nile perch, and for sailfish and marlin at the Mnarani Club at Kilifi. The "Wing Safaris" also carry you to the game reserves of Maralal in the Northern Frontier District, Samburu Game Reserve, Tsavo National Park, Amboseli Park Reserve, Lake Manyara National Park, Masai-Mara Game Preserve and Mount Kenya Royal National Park.

On a recent tour, members saw–in one evening–eight-nine elephants, eighteen rhinos, more than 200 buffalos, wart hogs, water bucks and impalas, among others. BOAC and Lars-Eric Lindblad also advise that you wait to purchase your safari attire until you arrive in Nairobi, capital of Kenya. What you will need includes khaki pants and bush jacket ($30), wide-brimmed had ($1.40) and safari boots ($10 to $11). Also recommended: suntan lotion, insect spray and binoculars.

Alitalia Airlines, with Orbitair International of New York, provides four basic African tours, along with three optional extensions. There's the "Best of East Africa," for twenty-two days, as low as $697 for four people for land costs; the nineteen-day "East Africa Photo Safari," for as little as $472 pet member in a party of four; the twenty-day "West Africa Safari." Then there are ten-day extensions to Rhodesia, eleven days to South Africa, and eight days to Ethiopia and Egypt.

To give you a quick idea of a typical program, let's follow one of these tours, as well as an extension. The "East-West Safari" leaves New York, spends an afternoon and the following morning touring in Rome, then goes on to Nairobi, a cosmopolitan city with modern architecture, fine hotels and restaurants. Only ten minutes away is the destination for your first full day in Africa –Nairobi National Park. From your car (as in all other game parks), you'll watch giraffe, ostrich, zebra, wildebeeste and possibly a pride of lions.

Next day, you will visit Kenya's Amboseli Masai Reserve, often described as "typical Hemingway country," at the foot of Mt. Kilimanjaro, with its eternal cap of snow. You'll see Masai tribesmen with pierced earlobes and spears, as well as a wide variety of game, including elephant and rhino, After two days in this area, the tour returns to Nairobi before moving on to the Aberdare Mountains and the Treetops Hotel, one of the world's most intriguing locations for observing game. It is situated at treetop level, and you sit on the terraces and watch the parade of baboons, elephants, rhinos, buffaloes and antelopes.

Once again, back to Nairobi for several days, then a flight to Ethiopia and Addis Ababa, one of Africa's oldest cities, as well as one of the highest, at 8,000 feet. A day sightseeing will reveal an unusual mixture of twentieth-century architecture with that thatched huts of biblical times. There are the ancient "New market," the imperial lions, the Palace of Emperor Menelik II, several interesting churches and Mount Entoto.

After several days, you fly across the continent to Lagos, capital of Nigeria, which is built on an island in a large lagoon. You'll enjoy picturesque open-air markets, the Nigerian Museum, the ancient wood carvings in the Idubor Gallery and the beaches which line the island city's shores. There's also a one-day excursion to Ibadan to visit the Modern University and the West African Institute. Following several days at leisure in Lagos, you'll return to New York.

The eighteen-day South Africa extension, which you pick up in Nairobi, starts off with Johannesburg, a handsome industrial metropolis in the heart of gold- and diamond-mining country. On a Sunday morning here, you will look on as miners compete in African dancing and music.

A flight takes you on to Capetown, at the very tip of the continent. Strikingly situated, Capetown lies on the Atlantic amidst such scenic monuments as Table Mountain, Devil's Head and Lion's Rump. A day's drive brings you to Cape of Good Hope. After several days of sight-seeing throughout South Africa, the program winds in the Durban on the Indian Ocean, a pulsating port and playground, renowned for its Indian and African bazaars. This city is also the starting point for tours to Kruger Park, Hluhluwe and Umfolozi game reserves. This eleven day special program is as low as $313 per tourist in a party of four, not including the air transportation.

Sabena Belgian World Airlines, with Cook's Tours, offers an attractive twenty-two-day "Cape to Cairo" safari, priced at $809.30 for tour arrangements, plus $1,895 for round-trip air fare. You fly from New York to Brussels on a Tuesday, spend a day in the Belgian city, then board your jet for Johannesburg, where you'll tour the city and the Rand Mines. Durban and a drive through the attractive province of Natal are followed by Capetown, the Cape of Good Hope and Johannesburg. Then you fly to Salisbury, modern capital of Rhodesia, where you stay overnight before jetting on to Livingstone in Zambia. A car will take you across the Zambezi River to fabulous Victoria Falls, where the sound of the cascading waters, can be heard for miles. You'll see the Falls from various views: the Rain Forest, Devil's Cataract and Rainbow Bridge. On Saturday, the group cruises on the Zambezi to Palm Island to see the crocodiles and hippos. Next day, you jet to Nairobi.

After a tour of Kenya's capital, you'll motor into the highlands to Nyeri, then on to the Treetops Hotel, and into the Mr. Kilimanjaro district and Amboseli National Reserve. On the second Saturday, you fly to Cairo for a series of local tours, which include the Museum of Antiquities and its fabled relics from the Tomb of Tutankhamen, and by camel or donkey cart to the Pyramids and Sphinx. After some final shopping in Cairo's bazaars, you board a jet for New York.

Although not as popular as East Africa, the fledging countries of the West Coast are making rapid strides to attract visitors. Pan American World Airways, which offers several African itineraries with American Express, is enthusiastic about the resort-hopping possibilities in this area. The carrier recently had this to day: "Tourists who seek adventure in Africa without a jungle safari are discovering the up-and-coming resorts on the West Coast, the hump of this vast continent jutting out into the Atlantic above the Equator. A whole art of sandy beaches, and tribal villages sweeps down from the port of Dakar along the sea to Accra, now the capital of Ghana on the old Gold Coast. Dusty, tropical outposts a few decades ago, the key cities along these shore are now handsome capitals near busy harbors and jet runways."

Pan Am jets fly into this are from New York in less than fourteen hours round-trip, at $556.50 for a twenty-one-day excursion fare, including stopovers in Accra, Dakar in Senegal and Monrovia in Liberia. These emerging West African nations still retain traces of their colonial past: the French in Senegal, the British in Ghana and the Americans in Liberia, which was founded in the 1820's as a homeland for slaves freed in the United States. The capital was named after President James Monroe, who played a large role in the program.

While modern schools, hospitals, office buildings and new department stores set the tone for these new West African capitals, visitors will enjoy the street stalls of the market places. At Makola Market in Accra, the tables carry everything from mahogany and handcarved ivory to jewelry and patent medicines. And just a short drive from these gleaming white cities the tribal Africa, with few, if any, signs of the twentieth century. Take a day's drive from Dakar to the Niokolo-Koba National Park, a reserve on the Gambia River, which holds lions, elephants, buffaloes, leopards and baboons, as well as tribal communities.

A short excursion from Accra will bring you to the Botanical Gardens at Aburi, 1,400 feet above sea level, with a brilliant variety of tropical plant life. Past the gardens are the Boti Waterfalls, dazzlingly situated in a lush green jungle setting. You'll also enjoy a visit to one of Ghana's cocoa plantations in the interior.

In Monrovia, arrangements are available for those who want to hunt for such specimen as dwarf buffalo and elephant. Or you can go to the native villages in the area to see tribal dances and handicrafts.

Deep-sea fishing is renowned along the coast, which holds tuna, bonito, and many other species. Charter boats and equipment are plentiful and moderately priced. Best time of the year for climate is in the winter, from November through April. Temperatures peak at eighty degrees under clear blue skies.

Pan American Airways also has some information for those who want to pay a visit to a remote outpost, long associated with the inaccessible, if not exotic. Timbuktu is in Mali on the edge of the Sahara, and you can drive there via a paved highway from nearby Goundam, which has an airstrip. You fly to Goundam from Mali's capital city of Bamako, which is linked by air to Dakar. And carriers such as Pan Am fly to Dakar from New York.

Now that you know how to get to Timbuktu, is it really worth it? We'll leave that to you. No longer the cultural center it was in the days of the old Mali Empire, Timbuktu is still the terminal for camel caravans from the north. The fourteenth-century mosques in this town of 10,000 still draw pilgrims and the schools continue to teach Koran. And on the edge of the Niger River, traders in their boats sell produce to nomads, who pay with hides and salt.

Pan Am also reports that the dusty streets are filled with swarthy Arabs, turbaned Moors, Songhai and Bella Negroes, veiled and blue-tinted Tauregs. Visitors will marvel, too, at the Houses of the Explorers, vivid reminders that Europeans pf the last century looked upon Timbuktu as an El Dorado, rich with ivory, gold and slaves.

The whole thing sounds fascinating to us here at "Travel Trails," and we've marked Timbuktu down as a must for our next trip to Africa. As a matter of fact, we're pretty much sold on Africa. We hope to run into you on a camera safari–soon!

This column originally appeared in Argosy magazine.

Copyright © 1962-2008 by Martin B. Deutsch. All rights reserved.