We here at Penwell like to think of our team as an extended family—guides, planners, us, you. But the “I” in the team, the great woman standing behind every great plan—that’s Kathy Harvey, African Safari planner and Penwell African Safaris founder.
Animal rights advocate and lifelong vegetarian, pious worshipper of classic rock, MICA graduate and founder of an amply awarded ad agency, Kathy’s the one making the calls. She’s also flying back and forth to Africa every chance she gets, weaving all the pieces of the safari landscape together for Penwell.
She’s the well-seasoned world traveler penning each unique trip.
Which begs the question: how’d this all come about?
Kathy planned her first trip to Africa back in 1985, just after Out of Africa hit the theatres. She wasn’t exactly an international globetrotter back then. A native of Towson, Maryland, she’d only traveled to Greece and Italy. Africa was a bit of a jump—but you’ve seen the movie, right? Those sweeping aerial shots over Kenya, the streaming ribbon of galloping wildebeest, the powerfully intimidating lions…
The idea was planted, and Kathy’s never been one to leave an idea alone. Off she goes.
Now, safari tourism had been around for quite some time at this point, but in terms of infrastructure, it was still quite nascent. The road connecting Nairobi, Kenya to Arusha, Tanzania, for instance—now a paved highway—was just a worn dirt path across the open savannah back then. Most safari-goers of that age were of a more adventurous breed.
As she tells it, her first thoughts upon arriving were “Holy shit.”
Everything was suddenly so plain and real and pure and raw… and it was incredible.
She made friends with just about everyone she met, saw amazing sights, and went back home with her life forever changed.
So she went back. And again. And again and again, hurrying back to see old friends and making new ones, seeing new places, trying new things. Going with a different group tour, running with this or that outfitter, heading out for fly-camping in the bush, flying off to remote sites, or landroving for hours across the plains to the next outpost. By 1993, she was there at least twice a year. Seeing firsthand the developing industry, the wide gamut of experience someone could have on safari, and the great variance in the quality of travel.
She met people from every part of an operation—guides, chefs, owners, clerks, chiefs, warriors—and kept asking questions about safari and the whole experience. How can I best see each of the animals? Who knows this area the best? Where would YOU go to spend a week in the bush? How can I do this? Why can’t I do that? The passion behind each of these questions fueled her momentum to ultimately become a luxury African safari travel planner to help others experience a private safari experience.
Along the way, she racked up some pretty great stories. There was that time she found herself in the middle of a midnight-black lake without a flashlight and had to row back to camp by the periodic flash of lightning. (She’s still here!)
She filled out pages of government paperwork because one of her Maasai friends wanted her to stay in his village for a while. (just one night: 15 pages.)
She would proudly order red wine in the bars using workable Kiswahili, before being told many years later that she’d been demanding “a big red one!” the whole time. (It worked, didn’t it?)
Before long, Kathy was the go-to for advice to friends curious about Africa. And then to their friends. Why didn’t they get to see any rhinos on the group trip they took last year? What’s the best place to see giraffes in July? Are these trip packages worth it, or should I hire a specialist?
Answer enough of these questions and soon you’re just handing out detailed suggestions—calling your friends overseas to see what they’ve got available, and making arrangements and introductions from one friend to another. After a while, it became obvious that Kathy was more than just a casual traveler to Africa – she was becoming an African Safari travel planner.
It’s hard to say who really suggested it first, but eventually friends and family on both sides of the ocean were pushing her to make it official.
And here we are!
If you’re looking to get started with planning a privately customized African Safari experience, then let’s start a dialogue on how Penwell African Safaris can help these plans turn into memories.