Africa at the turn of the 20th century was a bit like our Wild West and offered quite the adventure for the Danish Baroness Karen Christenze von Blixen-Finecke (aka Isak Dinesen). She arrived in Kenya in 1913 to start a coffee plantation with her soon-to-be husband, Baron Bror Blixen-Finecke.
She later wrote about her life in Kenya in her famous book Out of Africa, which was published in 1934. The world she depicts is one of freedom from the confines of her homeland, where there was a wildness in the landscape and the animals but also, to a degree, in the people who came to this land, especially the European aristocrats. Yes, it was quite a different world when Chauvinism was often the norm.
Blixen settled near the Ngong Hills north of Nairobi,. And set about making a life. Immigrants came to raise cattle or grow coffee plants, with dreams of plantations, prosperity and plenty. But it was not an easy life for most, including Blixen. Help was often hard to find and conditions were harsh.
But there was another side, a more romantic picture of lavish garden parties, formal teas and spectacularly elegant dances. Big game hunting expeditions set out regularly from Nairobi to hunt the “Big Five” game (lion, African elephant, Cape buffalo, leopard and rhinoceros) along with many other species including kudu, antelope, and hartebeest. The affluent visitor of that era would contract a safari outfitter to organize a custom-planned safari complete with White Hunter, menservants, gunbearers, porters, provisions, guns, tents and, later, cars and trucks. There were no limits on how many elephants, lions or other animals could be taken.
Some of these safaris were stuff of legends with massive tents sprawling across an acre, and supplied with generators, electric lights and vehicles that included zinc-lined trucks for the cold storage of food and beverages. At mealtime, there was no scrimping with a different vintage wine for each course. Extravagant menus were supplemented with imported delicacies from the likes of London’s Fortnum and Mason. When two such safaris met, the chefs would often compete to stage the most lavish banquet in the bush.
A century has passed since Blixen arrived in Kenya. And yesterday’s safaris have adapted to suit today’s travelers, chief among them – time. Few people can devote months exploring the African bush; and they would be ill-at-ease with such concepts as White Hunter and menservant.
While there are still some who hunt, they are decidedly the minority. Conservancies have replaced many former hunting preserves. Most of us just want to spend some time in the company of elephants, catch the eye of a Silverback Mountain Gorilla, or participate in an authentic encounter with Maasai village elders. We long for experiences that are both exciting and have the power to change our perspective. But they must also be sustainable – like the doctor’s creed … and with harm to none. That includes lands, animals, communities and cultures.
Yes, this is a different century and while we all still have work to do, we can present you with a safari that will be legendary. Consider the President’s Pick A Grand Safari in Africa that takes in Botswana, South Africa, Kenya and Tanzania.