Picture this: Twelve women from New York, Aspen and Palm Beach sleeping "under canvas" on the Serengeti, sharing two vehicles, one Ranger and roughly 30 meals. The set up could have been a movie, if only Isak Dinesen (a.k.a. Karen Blixen) had given birth to a dozen girls who grew up to master high-powered careers and navigate the urban jungle only to be dropped onto the East African plains to take bucket showers. Maybe the movie would have been called Out of Manhattan, or Survival of the Thinnest; after all, we're part of the Animal Kingdom too.
But that movie won't be made, not in the sensationalized way I just described.
This trip to Tanzania with &Beyond (formerly CC Africa) and its philanthropic partners, &Beyond Foundation and Africa Foundation, was unpretentious, uncomplicated, and surprisingly magical. There were no cat fights or territory quests. Yes, we all got along. Even better, we fell in love with the country that was the backdrop for all those meals in tents and under trees, we connected with the kids in the villages and schools, and we were in awe of the ubiquitous Impala, the mating zebra, the scavenging hyena, the haunting elephants, and the million or so prehistoric birds that were our alarm clock every morning. After all, we were in their yard. Traveling with &Beyond and its foundation partners was a different kind of adventure. By funding a new primary school in Ololosokwan Village (and supporting the "Maasai Mamas" and their crafts every stop we made), this group proved that you can travel and enhance your own life by enriching the lives of people you meet while you're there.
Of course it takes a unique person to bridge these worlds and pull off a trip like this, luxurious and enlightening, social yet humanizing. New York philanthropist Krista Krieger (she's on the board of Africa Foundation (USA) and &Beyond Foundation) is equally at ease with Manhattanites and Maasai, stepping from the streets of New York City to the wildebeest migration in Tanzania without so much as breaking a sweat. (I, on the other hand, was on the plane with my Futuro compression hose and Ambien cocktail, I snacked on Probiotics daily and joined my roommates in wearing Breathe Right strips, which I had asked them to do, nicely of course. Another note: I learned not to wear black, it attracts the carnivorous Tsetse flies.)
Krista organized the group and the excursion with &Beyond; stays were all at &Beyond properties including Klein's Camp concession, Under Canvas at the Grumeti River in the Serengeti National Park and the Ngorongoro Crater Lodge. The foundations partner with communities, empowering them by funding projects in education, healthcare and income-generating activities. They also look for ways to solve issues. For example, the foundations have built medical clinics (or dispensaries) and residences for the doctors, nurses and their families who had lived hours away. This provides medical care to people who would not otherwise have easy access to it and the doctor and nurse quarters enable the dispensary to be government-certified, meaning the government will supply medicine and staff salaries. (The clinic we visited services a community of about 10,000 Maasai--there was no medical care within 80 kms on a dirt road before it was built.) At the Ololosokwan Village they've funded a kitchen at the school, which was needed to have the World Food Programme supply food to the 750 children there. Usually travelers with &Beyond are so enthralled with their experience in Africa they end up supporting specific projects where they've seen the situation firsthand. Last year makeup maven Sue Devitt witnessed women carrying 5 liters of water on their heads to and from town. This year her company donated a gift of Hippo Rollers; large blue containers that can hold 90 liters of water--on the ground. I learned that if you really want to do something to help, it's about understanding what is needed, being committed in some ongoing way to make that happen in a sustainable way, and then returning to see how it all works.
So really the movie would have to be about the way the women embraced the part philanthropy/part pleasure journey; the generosity of the Tanzanians we met, and the way we gravitated toward adventure and experience at every turn of the Land Rover's wheel. (Watch the video above, Ten Days in Tanzania.) There were no Bergdorf Blondes on this trip. More like Tanzanian Trekkers. Did I mention two of the women stayed behind to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro?
Follow Martha McCully on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@MarthaMcCully