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This Zimbabwe-born travel advisor made a successful return to Africa — and figured out how anyone can safely follow her lead.

By Deborah Calmeyer
December 23, 2020
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A young male lion sits in a bush at the Ol Kinyei conservancy in Maasai Mara, in the Narok county in Kenya, on June 23, 2020.
A young male lion sits in a bush at the Ol Kinyei conservancy in Masai Mara, in the Narok county in Kenya, on June 23, 2020.
| Credit: TONY KARUMBA/AFP via Getty Images

I’d never been away from Africa for as long as I had over these past 10 tedious months. So, as I watched the blood-orange sunrise from my plane window as we descended into Nairobi recently, I couldn’t hold back the tears. The emotional exhaustion of this year all seemed to release with my arrival home in Africa, this big-sky country, which never fails to grip my soul. I felt a newfound humility — and the thrill of simply being alive.

As I write this, from my desk in the farmhouse at Segera Retreat in Kenya, a herd of zebra graze, swishing their tails in unison to keep the flies away. A lone giraffe at the outer edges of the garden has been keeping me company for the last hour while I plough through my to do list, waiting for New York to wake up. Of course, I’m well aware of the immense privilege of my situation both physically and spiritually.

Cultural performers from the Maasai tribe wear cloth masks as they gather outside their manyatta (village) in Talek
Cultural performers from the Masai tribe gather outside their manyatta (village) in Talek in the Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya.
| Credit: TONY KARUMBA/AFP via Getty Images

I’m here on the mandate of clients who not only understand the power of their decision to travel, but who recognize that to travel now affords them a freedom they’ve hitherto never had the opportunity to experience. Namely, exclusive access to some of the most sought-after game viewing experiences on the planet minus the crowds; personal space and privacy; a connectedness to nature; and the sense of accomplishment that comes with knowing you are directly impacting critical conservation and community initiatives.

When the borders opened in various African countries, many of my clients reached out, keen to travel to wide-open spaces; Kenya was an ideal choice, given my intimate relationships with a handful of properties here. Many of the owners are close friends, and I felt we could comfortably rely on their safety protocols. I’ve had numerous families book stays of a month and even six weeks.

Giraffes of the 'Masai' sub species forage in a grove alongside Common Zebra at the Ol Kinyei conservancy in Maasai Mara, in Narok county in Kenya, on June 23, 2020.
Giraffes and common zebra at the Ol Kinyei conservancy in the Masai Mara.
| Credit: TONY KARUMBA/AFP via Getty Images

Some families bring their children, opting for a new type of home-schooling: lessons with a tutor, supplemented by playing soccer with the local children, going on nature walks, tracking animals, collecting honey as part of the reserve’s beekeeping program, learning about anti-poaching efforts with the canine unit, fishing, gardening, picking veggies, and learning Swahili.

It took some bravery to make this trip, but I found it far less frightening than I expected. Of course, I knew I’d be overjoyed to be back in Africa, my home, my love. What I didn’t anticipate was seeing the importance of our guests’ presence to the 240 staff that are now back at work. To have restored their hope, to see just how much being back at work means for them, to witness first-hand how many lives depend on travel: These moments have me recommitting my energy to encouraging more travel to Africa right now. There cannot be anything more responsible and rewarding than feeding your soul and uplifting your spirit while supporting thousands of human and animal lives that depend on it.

I salute these couples and families who have been our first returners, to help kickstart a tourism rebound in Africa. I also salute Segera and its people for the incredible job they’ve done in making this a safe and secure place to visit.

So I invite you on a slow safari, for the priceless education of the schooling in the wild and the pure magnificence of letting go of months of tension. You’ll find everything you imagine: the vastness of landscapes, amazing people, animals, and plants. But to go right now is perhaps less about the new discoveries and more about the space to rediscover oneself.

A-List travel advisor Deborah Calmeyer is the founder and CEO of ROAR Africa. She specializes in East and Southern Africa trips, as well as family and multigenerational travel.