Peaceable Kingdoms

By Joy Phelan-Pinto July 15, 2014

Pinto family on an airstrip

The phrase “The Peaceable Kingdom” best sums it up…

The dreamy Peaceable Kingdom paintings by Edward Hicks (1820-50s), with all of God’s creatures co-existing together on earth with a “serene and well-ordered heart,” is surely the closest allegory to what we’ve been experiencing on safari…. not only on Africa’s great plains, but also in Rwanda, the country next on our journey. Indeed, Rwanda is a magical, transformed land with a born-again citizenry of enlightened, beautiful people.

But I’m getting ahead of my story.

Our first Dispatch left us in the Maasai Mara at the highly unique stylish Richard Branson camp, Mahali Mzuri, which we greatly enjoyed. And, the game viewing? Every safari and season brings different joys, but the game viewing this past month has been exceptional: the Maasai Mara has positively teemed with multiples of every animal imaginable, inspiring the Peaceable Kingdom parallel.

It began with our bush plane’s landing: from above we enjoyed splendid aerial views of tidy lines of migrating herds, and as we approached the landing, we were amused to find scores of grazing wildebeest and zebras dotting the grassy airstrip, serenely browsing.

arial shot of a migrating herd

Our trusty Grand Caravan flew low to disperse the grazing animals, who placidly stepped aside only to wander back moments later. Eventually, our awaiting safari vehicles traversed the landing strip a few times to scatter the animals for once and all. Lovely! We felt like characters in an old fashioned adventure story before we even landed.

One morning we found ourselves in an exceptionally pretty location, drinking in an incomparable sight: clusters of seven unique animal species in front of our eyes (imagine!) with members of an eighth species only a slight head turn away.

Central Casting couldn’t have queued up a more amazing sight: a journey of a dozen giraffe gathered around an Acacia thorn tree, necks stretched skyward, delicately nibbling the tiny leaves from between the thorns; a dazzle of a dozen zebras standing at attention as if guarding the plains with wildebeests close behind, looking ready to migrate; a herd of Thompson’s gazelles, tails swishing back and forth like happy puppies, astride a herd of larger Grant’s Gazelles.

a baby elephant

And, in the background of this wonderful scene was an “obstinacy” (amusing “herd” term) of Cape Buffalo mowing down the coarse grass, while in the foreground, a family of sturdy little warthogs, tails comical in the air, trotting quickly past as if late for an engagement. Finally, just outside the eye’s direct sight was a large parade of elephants, young and old, heading towards a river for a drink.

Our days in the Mara were a fruitful combination of “work” and pleasure. I might as well admit that a Pinto day on safari is not typical: while most travellers venture into the bush in early morning when the air is cool and the big cats are on the move, we Pintos remain long after the big cats have sensibly gone into the shade for mid-day siestas. In addition to the big cats, you see, we’re also on the lookout for interesting local markets and fabulous original experiences to add to our guests’ programs.

A giraffe with four zebra

Luckily, our teenagers are good-natured adventurers, accustomed to their parents’ inclination to inspect every lodge or camp within range! They’ll usually find a nice table in the shade, pull out a pack of cards, and challenge their grandparents to a rousing game of gin rummy—a favorite Pinto safari pastime.

The Great Migration has come early to the Maasai Mara the rains being so unpredictable for the past decade or more — and we loved seeing the gathering of the herds. We’ll return to the Mara at the end of our safari to try to catch one of the dramatic river crossings. In the meantime, however, we culminated this visit with frolicking lion cubs at sunset, a leopard in a tree, cheetah on lookout mound, lots of cards, big meals, and a great deal of fun.

A lioness with her cubs

From the Maasai Mara, we returned to Nairobi for a few pleasant days of work, family and friends before heading to Rwanda for the experience of a lifetime… and here I’m referring to so much more than just the gorilla trekking.

We all know the tragic story of Rwanda’s 1994 genocide … but few of us know the incredible turnaround and achievements that have taken place in the last 20 years.

Legendary zookeeper Jack Hanna, director emeritus of the Columbus Zoo, was the first to tell Dennis and me some six years ago about the “new Rwanda,” but you really have to see it to believe it. Energetic, courageous and stunningly effective reconciliation practices have transformed the country into a remarkable success story that needs to be broadcast wide and far.

Pinto family pose with signs

Rwanda today is a vibrant and forward-looking country of united “Rwandee” citizens with no tribalism, zero tolerance for corruption, no crime, no shantytowns, a vibrant infrastructure, stellar telecommunications, and conservation policies that are leading the way in Africa. Rwanda’s capital of Kigali is a city on the move. It’s one of the safest (and cleanest) cities in the world, with free public Wi-Fi everywhere, including the city’s public buses.

Suffice it to say, Rwanda is even more incredible than we could have imagined — a peaceable kingdom indeed!

Hills of Rwanda

We look forward to telling you about Rwanda and more in the next installment of Bush Dispatches From The Pinto Family—along with a full account of our gorilla trekking.

P.S. For your viewing pleasure…more big cats!

Explore the amazing country of Rwanda!

Up Next: Greetings from Micato’s Africa!