What I told you yesterday was not exactly the truth. Our decision to go to Uganda in 1988 wasn’t as impulsive as I made it sound. Not only did it take a year to get through the Rockefeller Foundation-Makerere University recruitment process, but our choice was colored by an earlier journey, admittedly whimsical, that we made to the Dark Continent in 1985. Tired of the endless snow and ice that winter, my husband and I decided to put the money we’d borrowed for a well on a three-week safari to Kenya. In those days, banks weren’t so careful about checking the outcomes of their loans, and we were sure we’d have enough money by the time the ground thawed the following spring at our house in the mountains. We got away with it, and if anybody’s still asking, installed the well when we came back from Uganda in 1990.
It was the right time to go, before Out of Africa (OOA) cast the glaring headlights of Hollywood on Africa’s supreme beauty, before Meryl Streep and Robert Redford’s romantic extravaganza made every tourist on earth want to see the wild animals in Africa while they fell hopelessly in love with their soul mates. Safaris were a little less expensive than they are now, but no less gloriously well-appointed and thrilling. Maybe even better. There were a lot more animals back then and a lot fewer people clicking cameras from a surround of safari vehicles at every stop. No cell phones, Instagram, or internet. Safari camps were remote, isolated, sumptuous. We were hosted by UTC, United Touring Company, known for their zebra-striped vans and excellent tours, although I can’t recommend them because they went out of business some time ago.
On our two-week safari, we saw every game reserve worth visiting in Kenya (Hell’s Gate-Naivasha, Nakuru, Baringo, Samburu, Masai Mara, Amboseli, Tsavo), traveled to the coast on the legendary Lunatic Express with its elegant dining car steaming across the animal-filled plain, and spent our last week at Watamu and Mombasa. Sadly, the old train was replaced in 2017 for safety reasons, but nothing can replace our memories of sundowners and the sun setting on the legendary landscape.
The Moral to This Story? Never let your need for water stand in the way of the Vacation that Will Change Your Life. And never be too practical – it could stand in the way of realizing your true potential! It’s no longer possible to take the Lunatic Express. If we hadn’t fallen in love with Africa as tourists in Kenya, it would never have been possible to go to Uganda three years later. Without the rose-colored glasses Kenya provided, Uganda would now be nothing but a dream.