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What is it like to go on an African safari and stay in a mobile tented camp, rather than a luxury safari lodge? Just as it was for Roosevelt, Hemingway and Baroness von Blixen, a tented safari is the most exhilarating and intimate way to view African wildlife.

Abercrombie & Kent mobile tented camp. Africa.
Abercrombie & Kent mobile tented camp. Africa.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Abercrombie & Kent (A&K) offers mobile tented Hemingway safaris to Kenya and Tanzania in East Africa. Several safari tour operators organize tented camps in other African destinations.

Tented safari safety

"His rotten-meat breath woke me up," said our safari guide, Gavin Ford. "The hyena stuck his nose into my mosquito net, but I pretended to sleep, so he eventually slunk away."

This was not the information we wanted to hear, prior to our first night in a tented safari camp.

"Don't worry," Gavin assured us, "I slept outdoors, but you'll sleep in tents. Animals see tents as barriers. Just make sure you zip up the door. An open tent invites curious creatures inside to look around."

Couple look at a map inside safari tent.
Couple look at a map inside safari tent.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Luxury camping

The fact that the A&K safari tents had teak beds, with top-quality Egyptian cotton sheets, did nothing to allay our anxiety. But we were happy to have an interior bush washroom, with a sink, shower and flushable ceramic toilet, so we didn't have to go outside to an outhouse.

After spraying ourselves with the Peaceful Sleep bug repellent, left on our bedside tables, next to a tin of Doom insecticide, we tried to sleep, but our eyes kept wandering to the tightly zipped screen door and net-covered windows.

Outside, the battery-powered lantern revealed only flying insects. The cacophony of snorts, snarls, squeals, squawks, grunts and unsettling cries made it difficult to fall asleep. Surely something, or someone, was being eaten out there.

"What's that loud noise?"

"Just Fred, snoring in the next tent."

"How can he sleep with that deafening chorus out there?"

We eventually fell asleep, only to be awakened before dawn by Sarah, who left a basin of warm water on our outside table. "Breakfast at 6," she said.

Dressing quickly, and relieved that we had survived our first night on safari unmolested, we walked outdoors, zipping the tent door behind us. Turning around, we tripped over a trail of elephant droppings, the size of bread loaves.

"Were these here yesterday?"



Gavin Ford reviews safari plans with group in mobile camp.
Gavin Ford reviews safari plans with group in mobile camp.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Safari breakfast

As we joined our safari tour group for a breakfast of cereal, fruit, eggs and toast in the dining tent we learned that no one had seen the elephants. Gavin noticed that a leopard had invaded our 4WD vehicle. "I saw the spoor (droppings)," he said.

"Did you hear the gunshots?" asked Samantha, a New Yorker. "That was the sound of elephants ripping bark off trees," replied Gavin.

Safari planning

After breakfast, Gavin spread maps on the table to show us where we were going on our safari tours that day. Outside the tent, camp employees were busy doing laundry and cooking the next meal.

Before we returned from our afternoon game drive, Gavin Ford radioed ahead for bush showers. The safari camp staff filled buckets with hot water, heated in metal drums, over a fire.

Ensuite bush washroom in safari tent.
Ensuite bush washroom in safari tent.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Unzipping the roofless ensuite washrooms attached to our tents, they poured the water into canvas bags equipped with showerheads, then raised them with ropes. We pulled a cord to release the hot water and shower under the star-filled sky.

Luxury African safari

Each day, we enjoyed afternoon tea outdoors, sitting in canvas director chairs in a circle. Waiters served tea, cakes and cookies, baked in the bush kitchen.

In the evening, safari staff set up a full bar, complete with ice cubes from the generator-cooled freezer. During one of our memorable sundowners, thundering hooves stopped all conversation as we sipped drinks around the campfire.

A herd of wildebeest raced by, raising clouds of dust. Seconds later, a lioness followed in full pursuit.

Pre-safari briefing at A&K tented camp.
Pre-safari briefing at A&K tented camp.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

We were amazed at the high-quality meals served to us outdoors on candlelit linen-covered tables, set with china and silverware. Uniformed waiters poured South African wines to accompany the delicious dinners.

During one dinner, a spine-tingling roar resonated from the darkness. Gavin was unperturbed. "A lion's roar carries for five miles (eight kilometers)," he said. But we wondered: Was he near or far?

Mobile tented safari

After two days, staff packed the tents, furniture, dishes, food and drinks into a truck to move the tented safari camp to our next destination. It takes five to six hours for staff to assemble or dismantle the safari camp, which includes one ton of equipment for each person. No wonder the staff to guest ratio is 2:1.

A chartered private plane brought us to Chief's Camp safari lodge for one night, while staff set up the tents. We could hardly wait for the next time we would camp in the mobile tents and experience the sights and sounds of an African safari.


Abercrombie and Kent (A&K): www.abercrombiekent.com

More African safari and wildlife information:

Botswana Walking Safari

Botswana Safari - Nxai Pan National Park

Namibia Travel - Flights, Hotels, Safaris and Tours

South Africa Cheetah Encounters and Conservation