They say Africa changes you forever. I had no idea who they were, nor did I know just how dead on they were, that is, until I experienced it for myself. After years of listening to my parents’ stories of their incredible visits to Kenya, and seeing movies like “Out of Africa”, “The Ghost and The Darkness”, and “I Dreamed of Africa”, there was no question as to where I wanted to spend my honeymoon after my husband, Scott and I got married. Thankfully, Scott is always game for whatever adventure I happen to dream up.
The moment our tiny plane touched down in central Kenya’s Laikipia Plateau, I knew our experience would exceed every single one of my lofty expectations. After landing at the airstrip, which was no more than a dirt road, we were greeted by the warmest smile I’ve ever seen belonging to our Samburu guide, Solomon. The transfer to Loisaba Lodge was more akin to an actual game drive, first passing a herd of elephants and later veering off the road to get a better view of a pair of mating lions! Being my first time on safari and the closest I’d ever been to a massive feline (who I was convinced saw me as a welcome meal!), I began to question Solomon’s sanity as he continued to inch closer and closer to the mating couple. He assured me that the last thing on that lion’s mind was jumping into our open vehicle, but my heart beat uncontrollably nonetheless! I thought to myself, “If every day is this good, I’m never leaving.” Every day was better than the last.
One of my fondest memories of the Laikipia Plateau was spending a night in Loisaba’s starbed, plopped miles away from the main lodge in the heart of the wilderness overlooking a watering hole. A short staircase is the only “barrier” separating you from the African wildlife. There’s nothing quite like spending a night under the stars in a plush bed heated with warm water bottles, while listening to the howls of a hyena and the rustle of mysterious nocturnal creatures scurrying just below. I slept about an hour that night… the stream of shooting stars and thrill of not knowing what sounds I would hear next made sleep such an afterthought!
Next stop, the famed Masai Mara, where the great migration welcomed us in full swing. Animal lovers beware: this is the real deal and not for the faint of heart. I actually had to take a personal moment after witnessing a young wildebeest make its way across the croc-filled Mara River unscathed; that is, until a female lion seized the opportunity for a mid-morning snack. Such is life (and death) in the wilds of the East African bush. All aspects of being in the bush – sights, sounds, smells even – conjure an authentic sense of adventure that I’d imagine can only be appreciated by those who have had the honor of being a part of that world, even for just a few days.
Not only is the wildlife so captivating, but the scenic beauty of the African landscapes had us in awe! Very early one morning, we set out for Little Governor’s Camp, the site from which we were to launch high above the treetops in a hot air balloon. A sense of calm fell over me as we floated over the Mara plains bathed in the red, yellow and orange hue of a brilliant African sunrise. It dawned on me that I couldn’t remember the last time I felt so serene, so unrushed, so at peace.
One of Africa’s many charms is its ability to slow things down. As a New Yorker, it seems that we’re constantly being pressured to adopt new ways of doing things quicker, more efficiently. GO GO GO! Africa is a welcome respite from this way of thinking. It almost feels as though time stands still there. And at that moment I finally understood what they meant. Among other things, Africa gives you the wherewithal to open your eyes, slow down and take it all in, from navigating the picturesque surroundings on seriously bumpy “roads,” to getting to know the people you meet along the way. It seems to put everything in perspective and serves as a reminder of what is important. Though my sudden revelation is a total cliché, I remember feeling like I’d just unearthed some sort of secret formula.
On our flight back to the States, I realized that I had to find a way to turn my passion for travel into a career. I wanted to give others the opportunity to experience the world in unimaginable ways, to make their dreams a reality. By the time we landed in New York, my anxiety about leaving my years in fashion behind to start anew became so very real, but that calm fell on me once again when I imagined a life of immersing myself in a world of exploration and discovery, and giving that joy to others. So I took the plunge. The rest, as they say, is history.