This Is How A Modern Maasai Goes On Safari

Some of you may know I have a moniker of the Modern Maasai. This obviously is a nod to my nomadic ways. Likewise, like a capable Maasai man, I believe I am worthy of having several wives. 😉

But the nickname and the mini doc about me that goes by the same name are both products of my appetite for going on safari — something I now do quite often. My safari resume spans multiple continents, but for this article, we’re going to stick to the foremost continent for animal lovers, Africa.

 

Why do I like to safari so much, you might ask. You may be aware of my love for marine life. I harbor similar feelings for land animals. Plus, there is another parallel I like to draw. I’m sure you’re aware that I’m in the process of traveling to every country in the world. And I base my business off the concept of flag theory. So I obviously enjoy counting flags — not in the Naughty Nomad sense, though that could be fun as well. 😉 

Similarly to counting flags, I count rare wild animals. Seeing a lion out in the wild is something that generates sheer excitement in me. A leopard even more so. These are a couple of animals I’ve struggled to find out in the wild over various safaris I have embarked upon. And they are crucial components of the Big 5 in Africa. Will I spot every member of the Big 5 over the course of this safari hopping journey? Let’s find out…

Starting in South Africa

We’ll kick off this tour of African wildlife with a recap of my experiences in South Africa and neighboring Swaziland. You may recall that in between cage diving with sharks near the southern tip of the African continent and driving for our lives in Johannesburg, my travel partner Sergio and I ventured into the wild in Addo Elephant and Kruger national parks.

Addo Elephant National Park is basically located at the end of the Garden Route. Remember when we crossed those coastal train tracks by foot in the high mugging area where a gang of Nigerians was known to rob tourists? That may trigger your memory of the Garden Route.

Rather than going on an organized tour, as is typical among people going on safari, Sergio and I simply drove our car into Addo Elephant park. We stayed overnight and sought out the animals by ourselves. 

Inside the park we saw heaps of hyenas. Well… no. Obviously we saw lots of elephants. One elephant came very close to our car. As I explained in my South Africa post, the elephant nearly attacked us, but we were too fast for it. 

Addo elephants

Addo Elephant is not a big park and it does not have a lot of big game. We didn’t see any lions, leopards or rhinos. Still it was a nice experience. 

Later in our South African journey, following a brief detour into Lesotho, the mountain kingdom that’s an enclave surrounded by South Africa, we visited Kruger National Park. 

In Kruger, I did see a hyena, a rare one for that matter. We also some wild dogs, which are rare in Africa. The dogs were walking right next to the road. Unfortunately, we didn’t spot any lions or leopards, but we did see plenty of elephants, giraffes and typical game. The first giraffe I spotted was my first wild giraffe.

That rare hyena

The logistics in Kruger were such that, again, we were driving our own car. It was a three-day road trip within the park. We slept in huts and had to comply with a strict curfew. 

In Kruger we always had to be back in our huts before sunset, otherwise we would face heavy fines. Kruger National Park can actually get dangerous. Just two months ago, a man believed to be a rhino poacher was killed by elephants and then eaten by lions. The elephant trampled the man, and after the lions were done with him, all that was apparently left was a skull and a pair of trousers. 

On the way out of Kruger, I spotted a buffalo. Could this have been one of the Big Five?

What actually are the Big Five?

They are the lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and buffalo. So yes, 2 down and 3 to go.

Quick stop in Swaziland

Swaziland

Do you remember anything from my trip to Swaziland, the little kingdom next to South Africa? Sergio and I met a couple of girls in the club and then, despite their annoying mannerisms, took them on a small safari at the Milwane Wildlife Sanctuary. We saw monkeys, wild dogs, zebras and a giraffe. So I was still at 2 of 5.

A big breakthrough in Tanzania

With the South Africa + Swaziland experience in the back burner, last July I ventured to Tanzania, a renowned destination for safaris. It was in Tanzania where for the first time I went on safari, or rather safaris, in style. I had 10 days, a private driver and documentary filmmaker by my side. And we were visiting three national parks, including the world famous Serengeti.

Jannis and I on the lookout

Jannis, the Modern Maasai filmmaker, and I, the Modern Maasai, kicked off our safari hopping adventure in Tarangire National Park. Located by the Tanzanian city of Arusha in the north of the country, Tarangire is not as famous as some of the nearby national parks, but it was an interesting place where we saw a lot of animals. 

Safari evenings 😊

In Tarangire, we stayed in a nice lodge with a pool, a good place to start filming the documentary. As we ventured out into the wild we saw elephants giraffes, cheetahs, zebras, wildebeest, baboons and the Marabou stork.

(Two) cheetahs

Baboons

What’s the Marabou stork? It’s this stork that is native to Sub-Saharan Africa.

Marabou stork

I also spotted a jackal.

The jackal

A breakthrough occurred during our time at this Tanzanian national park. We saw some lions. Finally, I had seen big cats out in the wild. But I’ll hold off on showing you lion photos until the next stop. For now, have a look at these zebras and their wildebeest friend.

Bye Tarangire

If you’re keeping score, I have now seen 3 of the 5.

After exiting Tarangire, we entered the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, a park with a famous crater with the same name. Rather than starting an Ngorongoro safari, we drove through the park on the way to the crown jewel of Tanzanian wildlife reserves, Serengeti National Park.

Just passing but we’ll return

The Serengeti safari was a transformative experience for me. We saw plenty of wildlife, including a rhino — from a far distance — and a very elusive leopard, also far away. The leopard was lounging up in a tree. Unfortunately, there was a river separating me from the cat, and I could not get closer. Here is the leopard in the tree…

Number 5! Can you see it in the tree?

Success! I completed the Big 5.

Speaking of which, for your viewing pleasure, here is another lazy, large cat. It was the first lion we saw in Serengeti. 

Lazy lion

Also, here is a buffalo that, too, is getting some shade.

During our time on the Serengeti plains, we saw lots of lions up close and some buffalos, too. We saw elephants, hyenas, hippos, mongooses — basically everything you could imagine. 

Mongooses for you

Some of the most impressive sights were those of the great wildebeest migration, something for which the Serengeti is famous. Jannis got great shots of thousands of wildebeest migrating north across the plains. Much of the wildlife in the documentary was filmed in Serengeti National Park. 

The great wildebeest migration

We also enjoyed stunning sunsets. It’s hard to describe how beautiful they were. And on one day at sunset, elephants were out. Can you make out the elephant in this photo?

Front and center

To top things off, we even had internet and full amenities in the Serengeti. This was very helpful for production work, though it didn’t shift our focus away from the animals and nature.

There is nothing quite like the Serengeti plains.

But the Ngorongoro Crater isn’t too shabby…

For the final part of our Tanzanian safari, we returned to Ngorongoro. We spent two nights in the crater, sleeping in a luxury tent in the middle of a savanna.

Luxury out in the wild

Animals were all around us. In the morning, lions would be walking next to our tent. We got to see them super close. One lion looked like he wanted to cuddle. I didn’t try, though.

Would you cuddle?

A family

At night, guys with crossbows, if not guns, would escort us to our tent. That looked something like this:

The escort 😉

On the way out of the crater, we spotted the extremely rare black rhinoceros. It was walking far off in the distance. Still I managed to snap a photo of this rare rhino.

So big yet so small

My two favorite moments in Tanzania

If I had to pick two favorite experiences out of the 10 days of safari hopping in Tanzania, they would be:

1) The time the monkeys ate my lunch… Do I really have to explain this one? Just look at the thumbnail of the first version of the film or cue either version of the mini doc up to 13:20. You can’t see my whole facial expression, but you can clearly tell I’m cracking up. 

Lunch theft

2) This one had to do with a UFO that we were operating and that may or may not be allowed in whichever park we were in. The big concern was that our flying object could be mistaken by local villagers as some form of witchcraft. We didn’t want that, as it could cause uproar. So our guide who was very understanding drove us to very isolated areas of the parks.  

On the last day of our trip, some park rangers were coming. Jannis hid behind our vehicle, so no one could see whether or not he had anything to do with the UFO. I stood in front of Jannis, further blocking him from the line of sight.

UFO sighting in Tanzania

The rangers came closer and closer and eventually approached our little group. They spoke with our driver for a bit, then drove off. Shortly later, the UFO disappeared from the sky and we were off. It was all worth it. 😊

A little water doesn’t stop a safari

On the other side of towering Mt. Kilimanjaro, as well as the Tanzanian-Kenyan border, lies Amboseli National Park. You should already know I visited Amboseli because it came up in my Somalia post — how can you not read a first-hand account of travel in Mogadishu, Somalia.

You may remember me mentioning the park is basically located right underneath Kilimanjaro, but unfortunately, it was cloudy and I didn’t get very good views of the mountain. Visiting during wet season didn’t help with visibility. 

Cloudy Kilimanjaro

A private driver drove me four hours to and from Amboseli. I was based in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, from which I couldn’t stray too far because I needed to get to Somalia. 

Hyenas up close

Amboseli is prettifying much a desert. However, at the time of year I went, mid-spring, it is wet and has lots of ponds. That turned out all right because these amazing hyenas congregated at one pond. There were probably 20 hyenas in the pond scavenging antelope. I saw the hyenas running around the water, eagerly carrying bones and flesh.

Hungry hyena

I also saw some of the usual animals, including elephants and giraffes. Likewise, the birds were out in masses in Amboseli because the park was so green. I saw some large ones, including ostriches and again the Maribou stork.

Ostriches

Despite not getting the views of Kilimanjaro that I had hoped for, I found Amboseli to be beautiful. And since it was wet season, there were barely any people, and I felt like I had the whole park to myself.

Jetsetting to Zambia

When I was planning my recent Africa trip — Kenya, Somalia and lots more impressive destinations you have yet to hear about — I was searching for a safari destination that offers good animal viewing, yet is not visited by so many people. I already wanted to go to Zambia, so I checked what the country had to offer in the way of safaris. I saw there was South Luangwa National Park, which was not too far from Malawi. Perfect. I had already planned an island hopping excursion on Lake Malawi.

When I completed my Lake Malawi adventure, my guides transported me to Malawi’s capital, Lilongwe. From there, I flew to Luangwa National Park. 

Flying private

This one-hour flight was special. Like in Vanuatu when I flew to an erupting volcano, I again had a private flight with my own personal pilot. I was the only guest on the plane. But unlike Vanuatu, this was not a domestic flight. For the first time, I was flying internationally in a private plane. 

The airline that operates this Malawi-Zambia flight is called Ulendo Airlink. They had me positioned with the pilot in the cockpit. As I like to do, I live-streamed the takeoff. Have a watch. Does it almost feel like you are in the cockpit?

 

My Zambian safari experience began at Chikunto Safaris Lodge. This was another exercise in exclusivity. I spent four nights at the Chikunto Lodge, during which I was the only guest there. A couple reasons factored into this. It was early May, and South Luangwa is very quiet at that time of year. Also, Chikunto is a new lodge. 

But Chikunto Lodge is very nice. It had amazing facilities, including a pool. I stayed in a bungalow that was out in the wild, about a three-minute walk from the main building. The lodge is quite expensive, but I didn’t pay that much because it was low season. I also got to speak on the phone with the owner, who happens to be German. 

The Chikunto Lodge pool

The South Luangwa routine

South Luangwa is well known for its walking safaris. In fact, just this week, National Geographic published a feature on going by foot in South Luangwa. 

A walking safari was arranged, and a park ranger arrived to accompany me. The ranger must come armed. This one brought a gun. But he gaffed. The gun was unloaded, and he didn’t have any spare ammo. There went my walking safari. Apparently, it is too dangerous, even for a group with a guide and ranger, to walk around the park with an unloaded gun.

Nonetheless, much of my time in this Zambian park was spent out in the wild watching animals. I would go on two game drives a day, which would take up a lot of my time in South Luangwa. Wake-up was at 5:30 in the morning in preparation for a 6-10:30 am game drive. In the middle of the day when the animals are not so active I would work or sleep. Then there would be a second game drive from 3:30 to 7:30 pm.

Night action – can you tell what these animals are?

This game drive included dusk and an hour or two in the dark. South Luangwa is one of the select parks where night safaris are allowed. The night rides were always a lot of fun. We would use large lights in order to spot the animals in the dark, and it worked.

Upon returning to the lodge, I would have a nice dinner. The food was excellent, and the wine was great as well. The dishes were local specialties, while the wine came from South Africa. 

The champagne was also tasty.

Then I would return to my bungalow, being led by a night guide. The bungalow was surrounded by wildlife. From inside, I could see hippos, which are quite dangerous, as well as impalas and giraffes. No lions popped up on my terrace. 

My guide told me that one night a leopard was running around the lodge, and it came quite close to my bungalow. Unfortunately he didn’t wake me up. The following two nights I asked him to wake me up if he saw a leopard, but he didn’t see one.

The hunt for the leopard

It was in the middle of the safari that I found out I had missed the leopard scurrying around the outside of my bungalow. I was already having a great time in South Luangwa, but I was determined to find this leopard. But let’s put the hunt on hold and get caught up on my Zambian game drives.

On the first morning, we got in the Jeep and within one hour, we already had action. There were some warthogs — basically wild pig knockoffs — going to drink in a lake. A crocodile came up and almost caught one of the warthogs as they ran away. This kind of action tickles my fancy. One of the things I often ponder while on safari is, what is it like to live life with a sizable risk of getting eaten? In this case, the crocodile attempting to prey on a warthog — which is not a small animal, by the way — served as a gentle reminder to look first before drinking in the lake so as to avoid getting eaten.

South Luangwa is flat but quite beautiful. The park contains open grassland, one large area with trees, a lot of ponds and the mighty Luangwa River, which I call “Hippo Highway.” This stretch of river has the highest concentration of hippos in all of Africa.

Hippo Highway

Since the river was full of hippos, I took a moment to share with my guide a story from a South American country I frequent, Colombia. My guide wasn’t aware that notorious Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar imported four hippos from Africa. The hippos multiplied and eventually got loose. Now several dozen hippos have taken over a stretch of Colombian countryside, creating dangerous scenarios in which kids can be bathing with the large animals.

Hippo Highway poses similar risk, though not so much because of the hippos as the crocodiles. The crocodiles in the Luangwa River were not that large, but still, I didn’t want to go in the water with them. I take to heart the lesson about not getting eaten.

Sun setting over the Luangwa River

What’s the river like? The water levels fluctuate rapidly in South Luangwa. They were receding while I was there, but just two months prior, parts of the park were nearly flooded. By mid-summer, the park is almost completely dry.

But I was mostly in Luangwa for the land animals — the Big 5 — and of course I had particular interest in getting a good look at a leopard or two. 

As it turns out, spotting all five is not an option in South Luangwa. There are no more living rhinos. They were poached out of existence.

The Thornicroft giraffe

Still there are plenty of large animals. In particular, there is the Thornicroft giraffe, a special type of giraffe that is only found in the South Luangwa Valley. The Thornicroft is a rare giraffe subspecies. Only about 550 of them exist.

Head-on

We also saw large elephants, one of which I got a full frontal of, and buffalos and lions. I got some great shots of lions, as well. 

Once again

And again

But what was more satisfying than photographing lions was watching them hunt. At one point we saw a big paw grasping at buffalo meat amid a feast. On the last day we saw a big male who was on the hunt but was not as successful. 

For that matter, I did get a shot of some big cats feasting. When it comes to carnivores, it takes one to appreciate one. 

Carnivores

Okay, enough about every animal other than the leopard. It was the last night. Actually the final minutes of the final night drive. We were on our way back to the lodge. 

Then it happened. A female leopard appeared. She was just there walking. For five minutes I had the opportunity to trace her steps or basically walk side by side. She was quite shy, though. She wanted to hide. Eventually she did, and it was over. 

The cat of my dreams

But my dream was realized. At last I had seen the elusive and elegant cat up close and personal. She was the cat of my dreams. My quest was complete. I had fulfilled my mission in Zambia and on the African continent. This was even more fulfilling than honeymooning with my laptop in Bora Bora.

Yet I wasn’t done. Good things come in pairs. The next day I did a morning game drive before heading to the airport. I saw another leopard. This one was much harder to spot. It was sitting lazily in a tree off in the distance.

Best safari yet

South Luangwa made for my most fulfilling safari yet. On the way out I got some more confirmation that the park is an amazing place. I bumped into a German or Swiss couple who said they had come to South Luangwa for several weeks every year for the last decade. I was lucky to experience this amazing place that so many safari goers skip over.

A stop-over Victoria Falls

Not a bad view

My South Luangwa stay and my final safari (thus far in my perpetual traveler career) were separated by a short visit to the world’s largest waterfall. Victoria Falls is located on the Zambezi River along the Zambia-Zimbabwe border. Yes, that’s a lot of Zs, As and Bs. Since I was heading from Zambia to Zimbabwe, of course I visited the falls and picked up both flags while doing so.

The Zambia side

I accomplished this by air and by boat, though I didn’t take the plunge like Chief Kai did in Guyana. Actually, some crocodiles and hippos do take the Victoria Falls plunge. I didn’t witness it happening, though.

The day started with an ultralight flight over the falls. As you can see, an ultralight flight is just that — ultra light.

The ultralight

And you can see the views from this ultralight flight were spectacular. 

Zimbabwe side

In the evening I embarked on a Zambezi River cruise. Per usual in Africa, I caught a rather nice sunset. And I washed down the day’s spectacular views with a glass of red wine — a necessity.

Now the Victoria Falls stop is complete.

Crossing the Zambezi 

This region of the world is very interesting. Not only does it have the world’s largest waterfall, but it has the world’s only quadripoint. That means four countries converge at a single point. Elsewhere you can find three countries meeting, but this is the only place where four converge. The four countries are Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia. Where do these four countries converge? Right in the middle of the Zambezi River. Some people argue this isn’t really a quadripoint — due in part to how the river flows — and that one or two of the countries don’t converge at this spot in the Zambezi. Still it’s unique. 

Sun setting over the Zambezi

I took the ferry from Zambia to Botswana. That’s the main crossing option at the moment, though a large bridge was under construction while I was there. Upon entering Botswana, it immediately became clear the country is much more developed than its neighbors. Thanks to free markets, Botswana is prospering much more than neighboring countries. 

Wealthy Botswana

Another distinction between Botswana and its neighbors is the relaxed visa policy. Botswana is one of the few countries in the region that westerners can enter without a visa. Across Africa it’s a bit rare to show up at the border of country, get a stamp and waltz right in. That’s how it works, though, with Botswana.

Wading through Botswana

Elephant crossing

I didn’t just enter Botswana for the stamp and flag. I was there for a river cruise with a little more spice to it than the one by the falls. 

Just as South Luangwa is famous for walking safaris, Botswana’s Chobe National Park is famous for boat safaris. But whereas the walking safari never materialized, this time I would be able to go on a specialty safari. 

Safari on a boat

Before we embark on this last leg of my African safari hopping adventure, let’s get our bearings straight. Chobe National Park is located in the north of Botswana with the Chobe River forming the park’s northern boundary. The Chobe River is a tributary of the Zambezi. Of course everything connects to the Zambezi River. 

There is a primary reason why Chobe is known for riverboat safaris… elephants. During the dry season, which kicked off around the time I visited, the river draws a high concentration of elephants. 

We boarded our boat and slowly cruised along the river. Sure enough, we ran into some friends crossing the river by foot. The proper term is actually wading. The elephants were wading through the Chobe River. We also saw elephants wading in mud beside the river. Some of these were tiny elephants, which was very neat to see.

Mini-Me

Hippos were also wading in the area. None of them ever belonged to Pablo.

Following the boat ride we did a game drive. I discovered a new spider species with four legs. Oh wait, that was a giraffe:

I think it was posing.

This was a pretty basic game drive. There were giraffes, no lions, but lots of elephants. I’ve come to realize that over the course of my various African safaris I have lucked out with elephants. I have never had to endure an elephant shortage. For the most part it’s been that way with giraffes as well.

What’s next?

Chobe didn’t end with a bang the way South Luangwa did. But all’s well that ends well enough. I saw what I wanted to see on this African safari hopping excursion. I assure you I got my money’s worth.

Where will my next safari be? Can you guess? Alternatively, can you guess the theme of my next documentary? Could it be Christoph catches the cat? Or would you be more inclined to watch “My first 50 billion?” 👇

First doing it the easy way. Then for real…