Friday, June 11, 2010

Hemingway On Safari

In one way or another, we have all had contact with the work or read about the life of the famous American writer Ernest Hemingway. We certainly don’t associate Hemingway with hunting expeditions or wilderness. Those who know a bit about the man have read of swashbuckling tales of drinking, bull fighting and hard living. We knew him as an avid sportsman who even penned one of his great books, The Sun Also Rises, around the annual running of the bulls in Spain. However, what the average person might not know is that Hemingway travelled to Africa to hunt twice in his lifetime and wrote several short stories and novels about the experience. Hemingway is even credited with bring the Swahili word “safari” to the English language. Although he was not considered one of the greatest hunters, his love of the experience propelled him to an understanding of the Kenyan people, a feat that was unheard of for his time.

His first visit to the continent was in 1933 with his second wife, Pauline. Together they visited both Kenya and Tanzania. During this time, and even before he went on his first African hunt, Hemingway became sick with dysentery. For several weeks, he was laid up in a hospital in Nairobi, where he met other adventure-seeking men from America and Europe. After mending and continuing with the safari, Hemingway returned home to write The Green Hills of Africa. The book’s poor sales depressed him, but the two shorter works he penned on the trip, The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber and The Snows of Kilimanjaro, are considered classics about African hunters.

In 1954, the great writer set out on another African safari with his fourth wife, Mary. By this time, Hemingway was drinking far too much, but his love of the safari called him to travel once again. It was a dangerous time, as Kenya’s Mau Mau was rebelling against British colonists. Still, it was not the violent rebellion that almost cost the Hemingways their lives. The Hemingways were involved in two serious plane crashes that almost killed them and the injuries Hemingway suffered plagued him for the rest of his life. He wrote about this second safari and his relationship with a young African girl in True at First Light, a book that is written as fiction but generally considered autobiographical.

Many modern companies have sought to emulate the Hemingway safaris. Various packages are available for African and especially Kenyan tours, mostly for the enjoyment of taking pictures or observing the wildlife. Many of these modern tours involve high quality lodges rather than the camping experience of Pappa’s day. While expensive, many of these modern safaris boast fine lodges and private guides to take tourists through the Dark Continent. Most of these new wildlife safaris have private itineraries that can be changed at a moment’s notice and private trial cars and guides. While they’re still connected to the beauty of the African landscape, they offer controlled environments that often tours through preserves and national parks. Some of the more famous of these tours bring back memories of Hemingway’s more famous works, but most are not cheap. One company offers a 14-day experience called the Kilimanjaro tour that costs over three thousand dollars. Others offer excursions to places like Uganda to view gorillas.


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