Waiting out a storm on Lake Baringo (Rift Valley)
You see it coming, the weather that -- inexplicably and without any real warning -- besieges gorgeous Lake Baringo. Surrounded by cliff-edged escarpments, tea-colored Baringo is usually a peaceful oasis supporting canoe-riding fishermen and serene island communities. But the lake is subject to tremendous climactic mood swings, and when the winds suddenly kick up, the scene can be exciting and spectacular -- particularly when seen from the inside. Although usually short-lived, the storms that blow in are pure, epic theater -- brilliant tempests that bring welcome relief from the sweltering heat. Best place to witness the drama? From your water's-edge bedroom at the intimate Samatian Island "resort," or from the porch of your wooden lakeside cottage at Roberts' Camp, where you'll sometimes catch glimpses of crocodiles poking their snouts above the choppy waters.
Hot-air ballooning over the Masai Mara (Masai Mara, Kenya)
The most memorable way of seeing the Masai Mara -- Kenya's most popular wildlife preserve -- is from a hot-air balloon that launches at dawn and flies just above Earth's surface, from where terrestrial animals and splendid topography combine to create a marvelous bird's-eye drama. Gather for the predawn ritual of watching the balloon being inflated, and you'll be swept off your feet -- spoilt with compelling vistas as you float above the plains and forests, following the contours of the Mara River enjoying a compelling perspective on an enchanting animal kingdom. Book well in advance if you want to fly during the Great Migration, when your view of tens of thousands of wildebeest and zebra will be without comparison.
Flying the Waco (Laikipia Plateau)
Here you have the rare opportunity of reliving the romance and thrill-ride fun of flying in an open-cockpit Waco. Piloted by Will Craig, owner of the superb Lewa Wilderness safari lodge, the bright yellow Waco is a replica 1930s biplane. During your exhilarating flight, you'll feel the wind on your face as you check out the ant-size animals down below and get the ultimate, definitive feel for the lay of the land. Because there's just the one biplane and only Will is able to pilot it, it's worth booking your flight before leaving for Kenya -- and prepare to encounter the African wilderness in a truly unforgettable way.
Setting sail with a taarab orchestra (Zanzibar, Tanzania)
Listening to a live performance of taraab (roughly translated as "to be moved by music") -- preferably on the sea-facing terrace of the Serena Inn -- is wonderful. Like so much of the island's architecture and cuisine, this Zanzibari music form is a blend of styles from Africa, India, and the Middle East, and dates to the 19th century during the sybaritic rule of Sultan Barghash. The Ikhwani Safaa Musical Club, which his court musician established, remains one of the leading Zanzibari taarab orchestras, with 35 active members playing a variety of instruments.
Taxying up to Mafia's "airport" (Mafia Island, Tanzania)
Having run the sandy palm-lined strip that passes for a runway, the Cessna's pilot taxis up to a whitewashed shed, juddering to a halt near a neatly placed row of white plastic chairs behind a hand-painted sign that reads DEPARTURE LOUNGE. Mafia airport is the most charming we have yet arrived at (or, sadly, departed from). Step inside the whitewashed shack to have your luggage weighed on an old stainless steel scale; it's as if you've traveled back 50 years, to a time when air travel was exotic and thrilling, and it was actually possible to find yourself marooned on a tropical island.
Driving the road to Ol Donyo L'Engai (Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Tanzania)
If you like getting off the beaten track and revere stark and desolate landscapes, a trip to Lake Natron, which takes you past the last active volcano in the Rift Valley, is a must. Aside from the volcano's spiritual significance (rumblings emitted by the mountain are believed by the Maasai to be the voice of their female deity), Ol Donyo L'Engai is one of the most arresting sights in East Africa. Entirely barren, its single-cone peak dusted in white ash, the triangulated shape rises from flat plains that are blackened and strewn with volcanic rock; hot and hostile, it is as humbling as any of Earth's great natural wonders, a truly surreal and post-apocalyptic vision that will have you stopping your vehicle every few minutes to try, yet again, to capture it all on film.
Walking with camels (Laikipia, Kenya)
You'll need time and stamina to explore the arid expanses of the sweltering northern wildernesses. Traveling on foot in desertlike conditions under blazing sun and intense heat can be physically and mentally challenging. Camels will accompany you to carry your gear -- tents, food, and other supplies -- but you'll enjoy an intimate encounter with the bush that's without parallel. Typically you'll be guided by local tribespeople -- keen trackers and experts at surviving some of the harshest conditions known to humankind -- who'll share intimate secrets of the terrain and show you wild creatures not only in their natural habitat, but light-years away from the nearest vehicle or sign of Western civilization. At night you'll sleep under canvas or beneath the stars in a temporary campsite, and you'll feel as if you are one of Africa's original explorers.
Gazing into the Ngorongoro Crater (Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Tanzania)
Like Victoria Falls or the Taj Mahal, the world's largest unbroken volcanic caldera is one of those wonders that does not disappoint. Created some 2 million to 3 million years ago, the crater walls drop a sheer 610m (2,001 ft.) -- a circular embrace enclosing a 260-sq.-km (101-sq.-mile) valley, in which even a 6-ton elephant appears no larger than an ant. Standing on the lip and gazing into this vast natural arena, the opposite walls of which rise almost 20km (12 miles) away, one is struck not only by the sheer size and symmetry, but by the visible ecosystems: From the dark montane forests that clad the southern crater walls, to the open yellow grassland and acacia thickets, intersected by veins of freshwater streams and the tell-tale white crust of its very own salt lake, Ngorongoro's great caldera falls into the archetypal realm of an isolated "Lost World."
Boating the Rufiji (Southern Tanzania)
The Rufiji is Tanzania's largest river and the lifeblood of the vast Selous Game Reserve, its wide, sluggish waters feeding a labyrinth of small lakes and reed-lined channels. Boat trips along this riverine wilderness provide a thrilling variation on the conventional game drive -- the indignant harrumphing of hippos, outsized crocodiles basking gape-hawed on the sandbanks, buffalo and giraffes filing down to the riverbank to drink, and elephants cavorting playfully in the shallows. The birdlife is fantastic, too: Storks and skimmer wade close to shore, colorful bee-eaters and kingfishers nest seasonally along the mud banks, and pairs of African fish eagles deliver their piercing trademark call from high in the palms.
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