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Animal Plan-It

Jeanne Cooper | February 4, 2019 | Story Travel National

In a region where the hunt for unicorns involves keeping ahead of the pack, the adrenaline rush of an African safari may seem like a busman’s holiday. But Silicon Valley’s high-powered professionals apply the same drive—and networking—that they use in establishing billion-dollar companies to create unique safari experiences.

When Lifescan executive Kirsten Kempe and her husband, Bob Carlin, a longtime Oracle manager, decided to travel in 2018 with two fellow elite triathletes and their spouses, they turned to custom safari specialist Next Adventure. The Berkeley company hosts gatherings in clients’ homes and offices by which travelers glean the latest information on conservation issues, along with practical safari advice.

Next Adventure Managing Director Kili McGowan helped organize an evening at Kempe’s Mountain View home “that was almost like a dinner party, where we got together to talk about what they wanted to do,” she says. The result: a three-week trip that included South Africa’s Cape Town and Johannesburg, and 13 days on safari in luxury camps in Zimbabwe, Zambia and Botswana.

Kempe’s group appreciated the attentive service, including daily afternoon tea and Sundowner cocktails, as well as the elegant accommodations at camps such as Wilderness Safaris’ Linkwasha in Hwange National Park (from $1,145 per person per night). But the high density of wildlife—including lions, elephants, zebras, Cape buffalo, baboons and wildebeest, among others—and low density of humans proved the most memorable antidote to Silicon Valley stress. “I looked forward to sunset and night, just to listen to the animals communicating,” Kempe recalls. “The best was the two nights sleeping in tents in the bush in Zimbabwe with the lions roaring nearby.”

Kempe also hosted a post-safari dinner to share their adventures—and impressive wildlife pictures by Carlin, an award-winning photographer—with friends. “People were amazed with all the countries we were able to visit and the variety of activities: game drives day and night, walking, camping in the bush and canoeing,” she notes.

Like Kempe and Carlin, Next Adventures’ typical Silicon Valley clients are “a midcareer power couple who are ‘work hard, play hard,’ and they want a focused, intensive trip,” McGowan says. “They don’t have a lot of time to research and plan a trip, so they really value consulting with an expert who has vetted these recommendations.”

Silicon Valley travelers also appreciate skipping the “big-name places” in Kenya and South Africa for “off-the-beaten-track” destinations such as Zimbabwe and Zambia, McGowan adds. That includes new or newly renovated luxury camps such as Wilderness Safaris’ Chikwenya in Zimbabwe’s Mana Pools National Park, in earshot of grunting hippos and trumpeting elephants (from $1,288 per person, per night), and Time+Tide’s King Lewanika Lodge, the only lodging in Zambia’s Liuwa Plain National Park, home to cheetahs and witness to tens of thousands of migrating wildebeest. Opened in 2017, the spectacular camp now offers sleepouts under the stars (from $1,200 per person, per night).

Stanford scientists, as well as prospective travelers, came to Next Adventure’s “safari social” in October at the Techcode offices in Mountain View for a presentation by David Kimiti, the director of research at Kenya’s Lewa Wildlife Conservancy. Kimiti’s research focuses on ecology and wildlife issues, “but he also interacts with guests who come to the conservancy, so he gives a lot of information on what’s going on there and what you can see in terms of wildlife,” McGowan says.

Another recent Next Adventure gathering took place at a private mansion in San Francisco and focused on the Great Walk, a 100-mile journey across Kenya’s Tsavo National Park. Such events also allow experienced safari clients to share advice with first-timers, McGowan notes.

As with proprietary technology, though, some Silicon Valley safarigoers prefer nondisclosure. “I don’t want to tell too many people about our experience,” says Margaret Fujii, a Silicon Valley Bank officer who traveled with husband Doug, a management consultant, as part of Kempe’s group. Thanks to McGowan’s “spot-on” recommendations, she explains, “at each camp, we experienced a ‘wow’ moment. ... My hope is that things don’t change with an overwhelming number of visitors, and they continue to stay beautiful, and the animals continue to stay free.”

Originally published in the January/February issue of Silicon Valley

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