Contiki East Africa Safari: On the Road Again
Hello from somewhere over Europe!
It has been quite a while since I’ve updated my blog because, you know, COVID, but I am finally wheels up once again crossing the Atlantic Ocean. I am so excited to be taking to the big blue skies on my way to my next adventure, an East African Safari to Kenya & Tanzania with my favorite tour operator, Contiki! This trip is something I’ve always wanted to do and, when it looked like things may start opening back up, I jumped at the opportunity to book it. I was initially booked on one at the end of June, but that was canceled and I scheduled myself for the trip starting August 1. Coincidentally, that means that I will have my 31st birthday over the course of the trip which is great because I wasn’t able to have a huge 30th birthday.
Before I get too far into what I’ll be doing, I want to assure you that I am taking proper COVID precautions to travel safely and Contiki has put a lot of their own precautions in place including mandating either a vaccine for travelers or tests within 72 hours of the start of the actual tour (Kenya required a COVID test within 96 hours of arrival). Most importantly, I am fortunate enough to be fully vaccinated and have been for a few months. I understand that is not as effective against the delta variant as the original strains, but those that are vaccinated have a significantly less severe case of COVID if they get it. I took all possible precautions over the course of the lockdowns and restrictions in the USA – initially not leaving my apartment building in New York City for over two months, then moving to an area less affected by COVID in Pennsylvania, wearing masks everywhere I went, keeping my social bubble small with friends that took the same precautions as me, and getting vaccinated as soon as possible. I developed the mindset that I would do everything I could possibly do to stay safe, but once something was available to help me combat the risks of the virus I would immediately take advantage of it and return to my life under “new normal” conditions. For me, that was the vaccine. It was time to start to live my life again.
I must say that my experiences flying over the past few months (I flew to Key West, Florida and did a road trip with friends up to Charleston, South Carolina and flew to Pittsburgh for a wedding) have been uneventful and everyone I was sitting around followed the mask guidance without being prompted by the flight attendants, something that definitely made me feel more comfortable than I had thought I would be.
Ok – enough about COVID. Time to talk about this trip! I will be spending just under two weeks on a safari through East Africa (Kenya and Tanzania) with Contiki, visiting a variety of national parks searching for wildlife in addition to a few other excursions including one to a local village and one to an elephant orphanage. I am flying into Nairobi a day early, so I have arranged for a tour of a local tea farm where I will learn about how they make some of the tea that Kenya is famous for exporting and tasting some tea as well. I had tried to do a coffee tour, but all the coffee farms and factories are closed on Sundays. I’m not a huge fan of tea, but this is something that sounds unique and is a staple of Kenya just outside of Nairobi. Most of the other day tours involved visits to local safari parks which I will be doing with Contiki over the subsequent two weeks. After my tour concludes, I will fly to Zanzibar for two days – one day I’ll spend checking out the beaches and surrounding areas and the second day I will stay in Stone Town, which is famous for its spices. I decided to bite the bullet for this once in a lifetime trip and buy a “real camera” instead of the subpar one that is embedded within my smart phone, but doesn’t have much zoom.
I was beyond excited to get started on this trip, so I arrived at the airport a bit earlier than usual to take advantage of the American Express Centurion Lounge that just opened at JFK. It was definitely a lounge to rival some of the Cathay Pacific lounges in Hong Kong in that it had fantastic food, a mini Equinox outpost with yoga rooms, compression boots, a relaxation chair that vibrates and a small workout / stretching area. My favorite part of the lounge was the “1850” speakeasy that is a part of the club – you walked through a metal door and it was like you were walking into an intimate speakeasy with the narrow bar and dim lighting that people associate with the atmosphere of a speakeasy.
After a brief stop at the Delta Sky Club (just to see what that is like for the future), I boarded my plane where I was fortunate enough to be upgraded to Comfort+ with very cushy seats for my flight to Amsterdam. I even managed to get a few hours sleep on the way over, something that is always a bit of a struggle for me on planes. The six hour flight absolutely flew by (pun not intended) and we landed in Amsterdam before I knew it. I had thought I would need to go through security to grab my bag and recheck in, but they transferred my bag automatically to my next flight (something that rarely happens to me)!
I was able to visit the KLM Lounge for a few hours before my next flight which was also a treat, definitely not as nice as the Amex Centurion Lounge but still quite nice and exceeded my experience in the Delta Sky Club at JFK. This lounge had a hot food buffet with people serving the food to you (COVID friendly), a coffee bar & an actual bar. It had showers which is something I will need to remember for my return flight (I’ll need to pack a change of clothes in my carry on).
In the past I’ve only had access to Priority Pass lounges, but my Delta Credit Card and attempt to only fly Delta has now given me Delta Gold Medallion Status (I cross the threshold for Platinum during the flight I am currently on), which gives me access to Delta’s partner lounges on international flights. I could definitely get used to this enhanced level of service!
Well, that’s all I have for now, but I look forward to another fantastic trip and experiencing a completely different part of Africa than I experienced a few years ago when I visited Egypt.
Contiki’s motto is #NoRegrets and this will definitely be a trip that lives up to that motto!