Birthday Safari

For your next birthday, how about treating yourself to an Ujuzi African Safari? That’s
what Linda Shaeffer did, celebrating her 70th birthday by joining a group from the Dickerson Park Zoo in Springfield, Missouri, as they traveled to Uganda and Tanzania.

“It was the most incredible trip I’ve ever experienced — way beyond my expectations,” Linda said. “I fell in love with Africa. I wish I’d gone years ago.” The highlight of Linda’s trip was the gorilla trek in Uganda, even though the hike is notorious for its steepness. Her group had been advised to hire porters to carry water and other belongings, but the porters were able to assist in other ways. Although Linda prefers active vacations that require a level of physical fitness, she welcomed the porters’ willingness to help on the steep climbs.

“One porter would reach back and pull me up and the other was behind me giving me a little push,” Linda laughed. “I was glad to have them helping me come down, too, because it’s so steep.”

It was all worth it to see the gorillas. “We paid for a two-day pass,” Linda said. The first
day, they found a group of 18 in the tree canopy. “The next day they were in a clearing and we got within 8 feet of them. We saw two silverbacks and several mamas with babies on their backs. It was amazing.”

Another treat was the boat ride in the Kazinga Channel. “It was great bird viewing. We
saw lots of hippos in the water and elephants, herds of elephants, whereas before we’d only seen one or two at a time. We got to watch two juveniles in the water, wrestling and falling down in the water. They played just like human kids; it was so fun to watch them.”

Linda lucked out with many animal sightings on her trip. “In Tanzania we saw three of the most elusive animals,” Linda said. The first was a leopard, perched in a tree, then a black rhino with her baby, and also a cheetah with her three cubs.

“It was thrilling. She knew we were there and she was wary, but she didn’t run off.” Instead, Linda’s group was able to observe the cheetah teaching her cubs to hunt. “She caught a rabbit; we watched that long, lean, gorgeous body running across the field. She brought it over to the cubs and let it go twice. Finally, she killed it and broke it apart for each of her cubs.”

Because her trip was timed during the Great Migration, Linda got to see some very special animal interactions, from wildebeest frisking in the rain to lions lounging in the sun. “An interesting fact we learned is that you always see the zebras and wildebeests together as they have a relationship that works for them,” said Linda. “The zebras warn of danger, and the wildebeest find water, so they have this great relationship and help one another.”

Although, as Linda said, her trip “barely scratched the surface of Africa,” it was also a well-rounded experience with cultural visits to three different tribal groups — the Hadzabe, the Batwa pygmies, even visiting the Maasai and watching their competitive jumping dance known as adumu.

Just like all who take an Ujuzi safari, Linda praised her guides. “Our guides were so much fun and very, very knowledgeable. It was so well organized, so well-coordinated, and so much fun.”

Linda also praised the group experience. “I’ve traveled quite a bit and know that your group can make or break your trip. Being with a group of six giggly women just made the trip. We laughed our way through Africa. At the end, we asked our guide if we were the best group he’d ever had, and he said we made the eight days together seem like four.”

Just like the people in her group, Linda was also impressed with the Africans she met. “The Ugandans especially are so soft spoken, so appreciative of our visiting there and wanted us to have a good time. They’re trying so hard to rebuild their country and a big part of that is tourism.”

Linda’s group also stopped at an orphanage of about 35 children who had lost their parents to AIDS or during the war. “Their living conditions were so spartan, but they’re doing a wonderful job just giving these children a place to live. We’re all going to gather things together and send them to them.”

Speaking about her experience overall, Linda said, “It’s a trip everybody should take. I would go back to Africa in a minute.”

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