Snells Beach couple Colin and Trish Coupe might be retired but they have lost none of their taste for adventure.
For their last winter getaway, they decided on an East African camping safari booked through Mangawhai-based tour operator, The African Touch.
Trish, a novice camper herself, did have a few qualms about spending 18 nights under canvas in a continent notorious for snakes and scorpions, but found precious little to worry about.
Even wandering hippos in campgrounds left the couple unfazed.
They were, however, careful about mosquitos and made sure to carry plenty of DEET and keep their arms and legs covered up early in the morning and during the evening.
With that precaution taken care of, the couple were free to enjoy a tour that included a boat trip to the source of the Nile, a balloon ride over the famed Maasai Mara National Park, and seeing other colourful sites via quad bike, raft or a covered truck with the sides rolled up.
The couple saw close-up most of the big game Africa has to offer, including a hunt by cheetahs through long grass to capture a gazelle.
But Colin and Trish were even more impressed with the friendliness of the people and the exuberance of the children.
Trish says during visits to village schools and orphanages, the children’s enthusiasm knew no bounds.
“When all these beautiful little children saw us white people they were so excited, and they just came running and put their arms around us and cuddled us. It was just lovely, it brought tears to your eyes,” she says.
Colin says conditions in the schools were primitive with battered school desks and old computers that belonged in a museum.
“They did not get all prettied up because tourists were visiting. We saw the real Africa,” he says.
But the poor conditions never seemed to stop the children laughing, smiling and singing.
Getting close to the people was a key desire of the couple before they departed, and they felt foregoing some creature comforts to achieve it was well worth it.
For example, they much preferred travelling in an exposed truck where they could interact with friendly locals rather than being cocooned in an air-conditioned bus.
It also meant they weren’t trying to take photographs through dirty windows.
The couple have travelled through much of Europe and visited Alaska but consider Africa their best trip ever. It also convinced them they never want to do a cruise.
“Cruising is too confined, and it’s all about the food. Whereas we want to be about the people and the culture,” Colin says.