Welcome to the world of Big Five Tours & Expeditions. As we celebrate our 40th year as a leading tour operator, we wanted to share some of the many stories and memories from the people who are the lifeblood of the company. After all, we would not have thrived over the years without these talented individuals.
We hope you enjoy getting a personal glimpse of our Big Five family.
Thank you to all our supporters and guests who have trusted us over the years to deliver distinctive, life-enhancing journeys.
Please return often as we add new stories from our team. You will also find these and other stories as well as articles and travel ideas in our Travel Blog. http://www.bigfive.com/travel-blog/
Founder & CEO
Hour#42,120: In July 1982, Mahen, his wife Usha and their five-year-old son, Ashish, set out from Nairobi on a four-hour drive through the country over rough, bumpy roads to Lake Baringo in northern Kenya in the Rift Valley. They carried with them bottles of champagne carefully wrapped to protect them from breaking. These were to be presented to Mrs. Sigrist and her son Ernest. Mrs. Sigrist came to Kenya every July from 1976 to 1984 to celebrate her birthday with the people and animals of Africa.
And, this year, 1982, was even more special — Mrs. Sigrist was there to celebrate her 80th birthday!
“We always called her Mama Sigrist,” Mahen recalls. ”I did not want to miss such a special event for our friend and loyal guest. I never forgot the look on her face as she stepped onto the verandah of the lounge and spotted me and my family. She started to cry. It was very moving to me.”
“I have met such wonderful people like Mama Sigrist during my life that I feel so blessed that I have been able to follow my dream.
Hour#35,100: Originally from Sudan, she has worked hand and glove with her husband, Mahen, from the beginning of their fledging company. She is the heart of Big Five, yet continues to work quietly and tirelessly in the background. Her enthusiasm today harks back to her first safari into Tanzania during the annual migration of thousands upon thousands of wildebeest and zebra.
On the vast Serengeti, at one point there were so many animals crowded around and next to their vehicle they had to stop moving. Surrounded by so many wildebeest, zebra, antelope, and, never far off, lion and cheetah, she was mesmerized.
“I watched as all these animals moved past me. It was such an amazing moment for me,” Usha recalled. It was in that moment that she realized how important it was to share this experience with the world.
You may never meet Usha in person, as she steadfastly shuns the spotlight, but you will see her touch in every aspect of Big Five, including in the founding of the company’s nonprofit arm, the Spirit of Big Five Foundation in 2007.
Senior Destination Specialist
Hour #29,760: I just returned from South Africa, where I stayed at Tswalu Kalahari, a private reserve. The highlight of my stay was an encounter with a rare pangolin!
These solitary mammals are relatives of anteaters, armadillos, and sloths. They are nocturnal and highly secretive, so much so that scientists have difficulty studying them in the wild and many professional guides have never seen one.
So imagine my surprise to come across one in broad daylight. I was still there when a research team arrived to document the encounter, tag and register the animal before releasing it back into the wild.
Africa is so compelling… you just never know what lies around the next bend.
I took my first trip to Kenya a few months after I came to work with Big Five in 1998. I had been in the travel industry for a number of years dealing with Europe, North America and some Middle Eastern countries, but I was unprepared for Africa. From that start, I was hooked – bitten by the “Africa bug.”
Year after year, I return to learn and to see more of what this remarkable continent has to offer. Everyone needs to experience Africa at least once!
27,040 Hours of Enriching Lives with distinctive journeys
Hour #18720: I cried. I couldn’t help it. The deep-throated sound of the rushing waters of the great Victoria Falls rose up to meet me as I soared above the world’s largest sheet of falling water, on a micro light, a kind of motorized hang glider. I rode behind the pilot as if we were on a scooter. From that aerial vantage point, I watched a trio of elephants making their way across the legendary Zambezi River and its islands just above the falls, and saw giraffe and buffalo grazing along the riverbank. As we rose higher, the giant chasm of Batoka Gorge, the wide Zambezi River and the lush green Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park surrounding it all came into focus like a magnificent landscape oil painting.
I had visited the falls more than three decades earlier… no hotels, no souvenir shops and certainly no micro lights… only the sound of the water and the chattering of bold monkeys dashing about looking to snatch a snack.
Yes, that was certainly a quieter time, but I can’t honestly say it was better than my last visit there with Big Five. Today, there are stunning hotels around the falls, a menu of adventure activities and loads of visitors. But there is also less hunger, less poverty. There are schools, employment and medical clinics for the local residents.
The world of tourism today is massively different than when I went camping throughout Africa those many years ago. We have difficlut choices to make today that weren’t even on the radar back then. Sustainability was not a topic understood or even discussed by most travelers. Today, travelers I meet want to do more than just see a place. They really want understand and to make a positive difference in the places they explore.
I am naïve enough still to believe in the power of travel to change the world for the better… It has certainly changed me. After my flight, two companions and I were returning to the hotel when our driver suddenly stopped the car in the middle of the road. We could see nothing going on so we asked why he had stopped.
“Wait,” he said quietly.
Moments later, a large female elephant emerged from the bush into the road just yards away. She stood there surveying the road and us. The driver explained that the herd sends out a scout to insure that it is safe to cross the road.
The elephant gave some signal I neither heard nor saw, and gently a group of elephants, large and small, came into view, crossed the road and disappeared back into the jungle. It all happened in a few minutes, but that encounter, however brief, will stay with me always. That is the magic and the reward of Africa.