• GriffonDorable

Experience the Magic of Africa with Holly Firfer

Updated: Nov 5, 2019

I’ve had the pleasure of meeting a lot of interesting people during my time in Atlanta, but there is one individual that stands out amongst the rest. We met through philanthropy and oftentimes run into each other at fundraising events. She is a joy to be around, will leave you with tears streaming down your face from laughing so hard and is the kind of person that always says “yes”. Yes to helping others, yes to living life to the fullest, yes to adventure.

Her adventures as a CNN Correspondent and travel-junkie have taken her all over the world and far away from Atlanta’s charity scene. Her passion for travel in conjunction with her love for animals made her travels to Africa even more meaningful. Join me as I find out why her friends in Kenya call her “Sister with the Big Heart”.

(Warning: content may not be suitable for all audiences)

"In Africa, I realized how small I was. And I really connected to the nickname the gave me “Sister with Big Heart"."

I love keeping up with all of your adventures, but what really caught my eye was your trip to Africa. What brought you there?

The first trip was a work trip for a luxury travel series...#DreamJob! I work with an amazing bunch of creative people that are like family to me.

And you’ve now been to Africa twice, but tell me about the first trip.

We visited Nairobi where my job was to find a world class cuisine. We ate the most amazing East Africa cuisine and learned about new spices, etc. I was lucky enough to have done a food show for seven years so I’ve seen a lot of masters create something amazing...and this was indeed amazing.

You visited a resort that I think I’ve heard of, where the giraffes stick their heads inside?

Yes! Giraffe Manor is just magical. You wake up (at 4:30 a.m.!) and see these creatures coming at you and it is amazing! They’re gentle giants but their legs are four feet above your head. The warthogs also come by to get the leftovers. Giraffe Manor is all about conservation place so we learned about animal preservation too.

We flew to the magnificent Mara Plains to visit Olare Orok Conservancy. It is widely known as a template for the Mara community wildlife conservancies and a blue-print for the sustainability of the greater Maasai Mara eco-system. We stayed at one of their campsites and saw the BIG 5 (lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant, buffalo) We met the tribes who took us out to see how they live, learn about migration and how humans impede migration through fence building, making it harder to keep the animals safe.

You’re such an animal love and advocate. I’m imagining that this trip enhanced that for you.

I thought, why did I miss Zoology as a career?

And you were given a really meaningful nickname in Nairobi, right?

One day, we saw some Jeeps sitting around and there was a cheetah on the ground. A woman walked over and said that he was fine but I was still curious as to what was happening. Apparently, they had been watching three young male cheetahs for about nine months. The uncle of these three cheetah would normally come with them but, two days before we got there, he disappeared, so they assumed the worst. They ended up tracking him to dart him so they could put a GPS collar on him to see where he was going. Specifically, they wanted to see if someone built a fence that was causing him to get stuck.

Oh wow, so building a fence can directly impact the life of a wild animal. That’s fascinating.

Fascinating is what was about to happen. The woman invited us over to see him up close, alongside the veterinarians, while he was tranquilized. They can only keep them like that for less than five minutes or they can seize. They had a towel on his head and ice packs on him to keep him cool and calm.

They were explaining the delicate process to me while letting me pet him. As I leaned down to touch him, I felt his fur, the warmth of his body, his breath. It was an overwhelming, emotional moment and I could feel the tears streaming down my cheeks. In those precious few moments, I connected with him in the most powerful way. I stood up, turned around and all of these huge men were lined up to give me a big hug as I was sobbing. One of them said, “Ah, Sister with the Big Heart.” From that point forward, everyone called me that.

Well, now I have tears streaming down my face!

I know, right?! After he regained consciousness, they tracked him and, by the next morning, he had travelled 32 miles. The next day, I saw a cheetah drag an impala into the bush and there was just this huge understanding the circle of life.

For your second trip, you chose to do things a bit differently, right?

My second visit was to a reserve verses a conservation. The reserve is much smaller so you see more people in your Jeep each day, eat dinner together, and really just get to know each other over shared experiences. We saw the BIG 5 again and stayed intents where zebras and monkeys were running all around.

Going on a safari sounds akin to going snow skiing in that you probably needed to purchase certain clothing, gear, etc.

The best thing to do is blend in so anything camo or khaki is great. Comfortable hiking shoes are great and I bought a vest with lots of pockets so I could keep everything on hand. As far as gear, bring a good pair of binoculars so you can see every hair on the animals’ body. I also used the Marco Polo app to share videos with friends/family.

I’ve loved hearing all about your trips. Any final thoughts?

Keep in mind that your guides all grew up in Africa so they know the indigenous species, sounds, etc. In other words, they’ll help you see everything you want to see and keep you safe. Put the phone away and be in the moment. You don’t need to photograph everything, just be selective and take it all in with your eyes. In Africa, I realized how small I was, and I really connected to the nickname the gave me. I get why people go over and over!

Want to hear more from Holly on her experience in Africa?

Check out Experience the Magic of Kenya!

Dearest Holly,

Thank you for being the kind of friend that always says “yes”, for loving and sharing your adventures with me and my readers and, most especially, for being the Sister with the Big Heart! I've loved getting to know you over the years and, if you do end up spending time in retirement in Africa, you can expect me as a visitor! I'll be the Sister with the Big Suitcase!

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