5 Reasons Africa Just Might Be in Your FutureBy Mark J. Stoddard and Elizabeth Stoddard · October 25, 2022
When many of our world traveling friends in the 1990s asked us to organize a safari to the animals and lands of Africa, my wife, Elizabeth, wasn’t so sure. In fact, she either said “no way” or just “never.” But wait…let me have her tell you in her own words how Africa worked on her:
“After traveling in the Holy Land, the next tour on our list was Africa and I must admit I wasn’t excited. I loved the thrill of walking where Christ had walked and standing in the tomb where his body had been laid and was reclaimed. That land is holy, and I felt it. I had no desire to see Africa. But our customers did, and our eleven-year-old daughter was excited to see the animals up close and in person, so I dutifully packed my bag and went along with rather low expectations.
“We arrived in the dark of night and were taken to our first night’s abode which was welcome after a long journey, but when the first rays of sunlight burst through our windows the next morning, Betsy couldn’t be restrained from bouncing out of bed and to her delight and ours, we had visitors! Right outside our cottage there were giraffes! Dozens of delightfully long-necked, elegant creatures wandering around the compound that held the round thatched roofed white cottages each couple was staying in. And so, the magic began.
“I had no idea it would be so thrilling to be there in the wild, in nature. And what amazed me as the next week and a half unfolded was the sacred nature of that experience. After having just traveled in the Holy Land I felt that I had been transported back to the garden of Eden to experience what Adam and Eve might have felt when they were introduced to the natural beauties of this earth and the innocence and wonders of the animal kingdom. Of course, having our eleven-year-old daughter along with us amplified these emotions as we experienced her joy as well in discovering the beauties of this amazing continent.
“We soon found that traveling in our private van was an opportunity to see our own private view of this land and although we saw other vans from time to time, we were all on our own course and had no feeling of being “herded” from place to place. Yet, when something exciting was taking place, our driver was soon on the phone with his friends and a half dozen vans would gather to watch a lion enjoying a meal or a calf being born.
“Yet it was often just our small group of six who spotted the leopard up in the limbs of the tree – barely visible. And when we stopped for another view, a mother cheetah brought her babies to enjoy the shade of our cruiser. We stayed put for some time to provide that shelter and to simply be in awe of the amazing sight of maternal dedication.
“Of course, there was that moment when we spotted two young lion cubs – equivalent to teenagers – nuzzling each other on a river bank a few yards from where we were parked. Betsy had my camera and I held on to her while she hung out the window to snap the photo that we treasure to this day. Her father had a minor heart attack when he realized how near she had been to take that picture – no telephoto lens!
“One of our favorite stops was with the Maasai tribe who welcomed us to their camp. They were especially taken with our blond Betsy and of course loved having their picture taken with her.
“The chief loved showing off his hut that had the luxury of shelves. Oh, how we were humbled to realize how very spoiled we were and how little the material things mean in the eternal scheme of things.
“And of course, there was our day in the Ngorongoro Crater with the Hippos, Rhinos, Elephants and so many animals including the birthing of a wildebeest that was a real thrill. Again, the Garden of Eden. And as we drove back up the side of the crater the monkeys were swinging through the treetops and the baboons were running through the trees and Betsy and I were standing in our van with the top up, singing at the top of our voices, “I know Heavenly Father Loves Me!”
It was one of those memories that is burned in my mind forever. A treasured memory and now that Betsy is a mother herself with four children of her own, I watch as she teaches them the things of God and I know that the experiences of travel enriched her understanding of God and deepened her love of life and Africa was one of our favorite trips.
Got to love the way my wife expresses herself and, as it turns out, my mother isn’t half bad at words either. A few days ago, a good fellow called me and wanted more details on our upcoming Grand Africa Safari. My mother, Helen Joe, who turns 100 October 31, overheard the conversation and asked if she could have my phone so she could give her view of the safari she took with us. “You don’t want to miss this trip – it’s the best you can take. My husband was in the Air Force, so I went with him all over the world. He and I loved this safari more than any other trip.”
One ought not to argue with a 100-year-old woman, especially my spry mother.
So…here are the 5 keys to selecting the perfect Grand African Safari, no matter who you go with:
1. Remember the old real estate success maxim: Location, Location, Location. While Africa hosts lands for wonderful safaris — Kenya’s Maasai Mara, South Africa’s Kruger Park, Botswana, Zambia’s rivers and Victoria Falls, only Tanzania has a wildly diverse topography AND millions of animals in the migrating herds that you’ll see. The others great safari lands tend to have one topography while in Tanzania you’ll see:A. The highest snow-covered peaks of Mt. Kilimanjaro. Our game lodge, made famous by John Wayne in Hatari, is nestled by the Momella Lakes at the foot of Mt. Meru.
B. Ngorongoro Crater has an extinct caldera 21 miles across. It hosts a whole different ecological zone. Ngurdoto Crater is also near Mt. Meru.
C. The Rift Valley that began in northern Israel and the depression of the Dead Sea, ends near Lake Manyara, filled with flamingos and other birds. Our safari vans take the switchbacks up out of the Rift toward Ngorongoro.
D. Rocky, sandy, cliffs and strange geologic formations of the Olduvai Gorge were perfect places for archaeologist Dr. Leaky to find ancient “man” digs.
E. The massive Serengeti is comparable to Kruger Park and Maasai Mara and host the famous rivers and also kopje or huge granite boulder outcroppings where black maned lions love to sun themselves while their lionesses do all the work to hunt for stragglers from the massive herds.
2. Make sure there are animals and birds everywhere. Going on a game drive can begin with looking out your window in your luxury lodge and there might be a herd of elephants strolling by, or hippos eating the front lawn, or waking up at the Hatari Lodge to the quiet strolling of a herd of giraffes slowly walking through the grounds. While driving to the Tarangire Jungle Lodge we rounded the bend and standing in the middle of the road was a massive bull-elephant. Our guide had to quickly muzzle one guest standing looking out who shouted, “Elephant.” He told us all to be very quiet around elephants – “they are nearly blind, but their hearing is acute…and they charge at noises.”
Off in the near distance, another elephant was scratching on a Baobab tree. We soon saw others grabbing large tuffs of green grass – they eat about 300 pounds of grass a day. Just ahead a troop of baboons sauntered along the road, totally ignoring us. How fun is this!
The guide said, “this tells you the large herd is nearby.” And then we started to see wildebeests, antelope, topi and zebras. We’d found the herd. But were there one million plus animals?
I had our guide drive into the herd at about 20 kilometers per hour. It is not an exaggeration to say that 4 to 6 animals were grazing per 100 square feet. But they parted as our Safari Cruiser came. After nearly 20 minutes, I asked the driver to stop. Our Safari Cruisers all have pop-tops so we all stood up and could see NOTHING except animals as far as the eye could see in all 360 degrees. A sight I’ll never forget. I lose my breath just thinking about it 30 years later. Over the years, our guests have had exactly the same experience. Millions of animals and so many stories of what happened when the guests found the herds.
As mentioned, each evening after dinner, we have local entertainment. One evening the lodge surprised us with locals who were experts on native drums. At least twice we’ll have Scot and Maurine Proctor add to this great evening with one of their firesides. They will also direct the spiritual tone of the trip with devotionals, songs and prayers that are given by volunteers from the group. Downloads of the day’s experience help us all draw closer together. They have spent more that 30 years leading tours and they are experts at creating a cohesive, family-like group during the time we have together. Many become life-long friends.
The guests were all given quick lessons and a “drum-off” soon began. It all came down to their drummer and, you’d never guess, me. He would drum a set and challenge me to follow. I’d follow and drum a set that he had to follow. Everyone had a great time as the drummers mingled with the guests. Another time the local Maasai showed us their dance customs and got us all involved. So great meeting these skilled and charming people.
Another day we stopped at a tribal schoolhouse. The children were thrilled to meet us but not as thrilled as we were. They shared stories and we gave gifts.
On Sunday, we’ll be attending the Arusha branch of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We’ll be trying to arrange a get together after church so we can meet these Saints and share addresses and stories.
As Elizabeth said after each safari, and as my mother told a prospective guest, the Grand Africa Safari is unforgettable because of the people we see first and foremost, but also because of the personal attention our guides give, the great accommodations, the diverse and amazing topography and last but not least, the millions of animals in their natural habitat. What a Divine world we’ve been given to understand, provide thoughtful stewardship to, and to love and enjoy.
A Grand Africa Safari brings all these elements together and heading to Tanzania after the short rains means green grass and great temperatures that sure beat the snow of the mountain west.