Besides horses, travel is my favorite pastime. The most interesting continent I’ve ever visited was Africa. I loved the wildlife. I was already a judge the first time I visited in 1970. On that trip I visited: Kenya, Zimbabwe, Uganda, South Africa and Egypt. Americans sort of quit going to Egypt when the Russians were in control. We had a guide who took us across the Nile River and said that tourists had a terrible time when the Russians were there. While we were visiting the Egyptians were having disputes with Israel. One day as we were entering the British Museum some people in our group spotted a bridge over the Nile River and began taking photographs of it. A policeman came up and said, “no pictures of the bridges,” as if tourists would take photos and then send them back to Israel. After we left Egypt, we flew to Nairobi and I recall being amazed at how big Sudan was. The flight took several hours, and my ears felt like they were going to explode. We went into the hotel and asked the clerk for a medical doctor. Thankfully they had one that made house calls, so the very British doctor came straight away and fixed my ear problem almost immediately. In Kenya we visited Leopards Lodge. It had raised platforms where leopards would come out to eat. Specifically, we stayed at Tree Tops (the location where Queen Elizabeth was when she found out that her father was dying and would soon become queen), a wonderful place brilliantly illuminated at night, and where the staff put salt on the river banks so the animals will come in to lick the salt and drink the water for guests viewing purposes. We arrived in the afternoon, and you have to walk a distance up to the lodge, with a guide in front and in back of you, all with rifles for protection. The rooms have little balconies where the animals will run to you, particularly baboons. The lodge tells you not to feed them, but most people don’t listen. I was sitting in a little chair one day and reached around for my purse and instantly a baboon was sitting there also, on the railing, so I put a piece of bread out for him. I’ve got my hand on my purse, and another hand on the railing, and all of a sudden I have this strange sensation of a second set of hands on my purse, and guess what, it was the baboon! Once my bread ran out the baboon left looking for another food source.
My family and I celebrated Christmas Eve at Leopards Lodge where they serve a wonderful plum pudding. The baboons were sitting on the walls and there were Germans there who had very expensive cameras. The lodge has people chasing the baboons away, yet they always return. A baboon even stole my mom’s plum pudding. You can’t believe how many baboons there are. One looked at me and snarled and the reaction of the other baboons was to chase him away because he had ruined it for all of them. They knew they couldn’t snarl at us because they would not be able to stay in that particular area of the lodge. We saw a lot of baboons inside the park as well. When you were in your car you would see them, and the mothers would have their babies on their back and would come up to your car and put the babies up to the windows for food. Those baboons weren’t as dumb as people made them out to be. In another lodge we stayed in, we arrived very early after having flown all night long. I laid down on the cot and there was a warthog under my bed. I learned later he was the park mascot. A man by the name of Gary Clarke was my guide on many trips I took to Africa in the years that followed. Everyone knew him well and each place we went was almost like a family reunion. One time we were in a park, and it was getting close to dark. We were planning to take the canoes down the Zambezi. I was a bit frightened because I couldn’t swim, and I knew there were loads of crocodiles. They told me it didn’t spook the animals if you were in a canoe. Gary said, “oh you just have to go,” so I did. The trip ended up being a once in a lifetime experience. At dusk we took the canoes out and were accompanied by the owner of the tour company and Gary pops up and has a bottle of Grey Poupon mustard, just like in the TV commercials, and we all laughed at seeing a bottle of American mustard in a canoe in Africa. The fiberglass canoe had a white stripe down the back, which looked like a combination of paint and glue. We asked the guide what happened, and he said a hippo had bit into the boat. I turned to him and asked what I should do if the canoe turns over and he said to run on top of the water to the beach! After this wonderful journey we returned to Nairobi. We landed at noon and had such an amazing experience we were desperate to leap into another adventure. Instead of going straight to the hotel we tried to book a flight to the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania. We weren’t sure if we would be able to find anyone willing to fly us there, but eventually we did and it was such a wonderful experience as well. Quite different than Leopards Lodge, but equally as fantastic.