A Once in a Lifetime Experience

One of our travelers from last year was asked her impressions by a woman considering joining our next trip.  Her response was so enthusiastic that I felt compelled to share it more widely:

I have so many good things to say about the Open Heart Safari with Tom – I’m not quite sure where to start!
I went with my dad, who is 72 (I’m 37). We did a lot of research ahead of time & were about to book a trip to Tanzania & Kenya & then a friend of mine told me about Tom’s trip. My dad & I were also wanting to do a little volunteer work in Africa, and we are both into meditation & I’m into yoga so we were trying to fit that in somehow too – and then it was perfect that Tom’s trip combined all of that! I worked at Harvard in global health & so had lots of friends & colleagues who had been on safari in Tanzania, and while they really enjoyed it, I heard a lot of stories about how they would be out driving & then see a huge group of jeeps all gathered around something & their jeep would zoom over & all the jeep drivers would be trying to cut in front of the other drivers so the people could get good photos. So going to Zambia really appealed to us, since you still get to see all the magnificent animals but without the big crowds. 
Zambia is referred to as the “Real Africa” and I can see why. It’s a lovely country, and very safe. I really liked the chance to meet with local people. The itinerary was a great mix of spending time with wildlife in beautiful national parks, and then spending time with local people in various settings. We got to stay overnight in a local village which was really incredible. A local guide took us around the village & we got to play with kids & see their school & meet a traditional medicine woman/healer, and eat a typical meal & sleep in a sweet little hut. Speaking of eating & sleeping – aside from one or 2 especially “authentic” meals (eating with your hands!), the rest of our meals were at the lodges where we stayed, and the food was incredible. I’m a vegetarian & my dad’s a meat eater & we both were really happy with all the food choices. I think I even gained a few pounds (which seems hard to believe in Africa!). The food & the lodging were both over & above what I expected. The place we stayed the longest was called Flat Dog’s & it was wonderful. Big comfortable beds with nice linens, hot showers, laundry, very clean & safe, really customer-service oriented staff, a swimming pool, etc. We also stayed at a lodge that was WAY out in the boonies & was such a unique experience. My dad & I had our own little house/bungalow (which they call “chalets” there), with a bathroom that was mostly open-air. Clean & nicely decorated, but really felt like we were out in the wilderness. One morning we woke up & there was elephant dung near our front porch 🙂 At that place we had 3-course meals, which was quite a surprise given how remote it was.
One of the biggest highlights of the trip was the relationships we developed with Tom & Laura & the other participant, David. From the first evening when we sat down to meet & chat, Tom really opened up & shared a lot & it opened the way for the rest of us to be really honest & upfront & really share a lot. And from there, the daily contemplative practices & sharing & yoga & drawing all really helped connect us. It’s such a crazy experience to see a wild leopard OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAjust a few feet from your jeep – it was so magnificent & moving, I almost cried. And spending a day in a slum in the capitol & seeing the way they lived & really feeling like we made a contribution & connecting with local people there – that was also very moving. It’s hard to know what to do with feelings like that – it’s so much more intense than my daily life here. So having a close group that I could process that stuff with & talk it over & share how we each experienced things & how we were feeling made a HUGE difference in my time there. I felt like I had a good amount of one on one time with my dad, and also appreciated the group dynamic. We are all still in contact & have even visited each other from across the country since the trip. 
That was actually one of the reasons we chose Tom’s trip over the other group in Tanzania. We thought the people that would be attracted to his trip (who would want to volunteer & be into the contemplative practices) would be more likely to be our kind of people. And it definitely worked out that way.
Tom (and Laura) did a wonderful job leading the group. Tom is incredibly knowledgable about that part of the world. He knew so much about the animals we were seeing & fielded all our questions (and the guides in the national parks were exceptional too). In general he’s a really smart guy, very interesting, a good storyteller. He’s a very honest person & makes himself vulnerable in a way that’s quite endearing. He isn’t afraid to tell you when he doesn’t know something, which I appreciated. It was a good blend of his leading the way, and also asking us if we had preferences for certain things. Laura is a great complement to Tom. I really enjoyed getting to know her, and the two of them make a great team.
Oh & Victoria Falls was great! My dad was especially excitedOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA about that part & he wasn’t disappointed. It was quite a sight! And we got to spend a whole day there & took a really cool trip to a little island right at the edge of the falls where we got to go right up close, and had a very high-end breakfast overlooking the falls. Very nice.
Sorry if this email has too much information… but if there’s anything else you’re still wondering about please feel free to ask, or you can give me a call ….
I hope it works for you to go! It really is a once in a lifetime experience, and I really think going with Tom is the best way to do it.