“Africa changes you…”
You’ll hear it over and over. After my recent trip to Kenya, I’ll be the first to add the phrase to my discussions when I’m talking about any future bucket list. Put Africa on your list, pack up and go! I’m in the travel business and I even had my doubts. There’s vaccinations, the distance, my family asking if it was safe, etc. However, you step off the plane to elephants staring at you. Then the village folk in the most beautiful flowing outfits greet you. Finally, you experience your first sunset with a Baobab tree in the distance and all the worry washes away. The effort will seem insignificant compared to what awaits.
Plane | Photo Credit: Cory Payton
Stepping Off the Plane
My plane landed along a dirt runway in the middle of Kenya bordering the Samburu region and national park. My first safari experience was spent at Sasaab Lodge. This accommodation was amazing. There was nothing but open air, a small plunge pool to cool off after a day of exploring, and an ice chest with plenty of beverages. These beautiful villas had no electricity so it was just you and nature – with a view of the river where elephants would drop by at sunset for their evening drink just as you were pouring yours. It was a toast to Kenya.
Exterior | Photo Credit: Sasaab Camp
Elephants | Photo Credit: Cory Payton
When you think Africa, you imagine sweeping vistas with a lion perched on a rock overlooking his lands or maybe you picture elephants and giraffes in the distance. We had all of these experiences and it gave me chills as I turned each corner in the safari vehicle. Although the wildlife is stunning, what really affects you are the unexpected, special moments that happen while traveling through this beautiful country. It feels as though you’ve been given a gift, an experience to cherish. You develop a newfound appreciation for the simplicity that life can have and the wonder of nature.
Giraffes | Photo Credit: Cory Payton
One of my favorite moments was visiting a local village near the lodge. A close friend suggested I take one of the retro-Polaroid cameras. The ones where you press the shutter and a little whirring sound happens before spitting out a photo beginning to develop. After giving it a few shakes, you have your picture! Imagine humbly sharing the technology with locals in a third world village. It was amazing.
Photo of Locals | Photo Credit: Cory Payton
I wanted to share this with the beautiful, happy people of this small village. After gathering them around for a group picture, I handed them the actual photo so they could keep it. Tears welled up in their eyes as they saw themselves in full color for the first time. Another photo was taken of a mother holding her small child and the reaction was so beautiful. This is where I knew the saying was true, “Africa changes you.”
Locals Witnessing a Photo | Photo Credit: Cory Payton
Mother and Son | Photo Credit: Cory Payton
Visit to a Local School
We visited a local school next. It was a bit out of the way because they don’t like too many travelers passing through, but we didn’t mind the journey. We visited a local third grade class and their principal had them ask us questions. It’s not every day strangers come to visit.
Third Grade Class | Photo Credit: Cory Payton
Their questions ranged from our favorite soccer players and different foods to what children like to do in our country. Then, one little girl raised her hand and quietly asked, “Can we sing for you?” Sure enough, the entire class started belting out the African version of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” in unison! It was a humbling experience and one I still fondly carry with me.
This was just a taste of my time in Africa. We then ventured to the Maasai Mara region where you’ll find indigenous tribes and plenty of animals. But that story is for another time. The people and places are magical. The wildlife is magnificent and everywhere! From the majestic elephants pushing through huge bushes to the cats that are either laying around or on the prowl for their next dinner. So, I must repeat, “Africa truly does change you.”
Leopard | Photo Credit: Cory Payton
Sunset | Photo Credit: Kenya Tourism Board
I grew up on a farm in the Central Valley of California which is fondly known as the raisin capital of the world, yes my dad harvested for Sun Maid. Finishing college I spent leisure time working at a ski resort and soon leading tours with Contiki Holidays where the travel bug really hit. Moving into sales of my favorite regions like Australia, New Zealand and Africa, Swain Destinations was a perfect fit and I’ve enjoyed being a part of this family owned company for 12 years. As I always say, ‘the journey is the reward’.