At first glance, Alan Feldstein doesn’t look much like a world-class adventurer. But like Indiana Jones appearing all bookish in his classroom, looks can be deceiving, and Feldstein is always itching to leave the comforts of his Studio City home and head back to Africa as soon as he can.
Feldstein owns and operates Infinite Safari Adventures, (formerly Infinite Kayak Adventures) which takes people on tours in Tanzania and shows them rare wildlife up close and personal.
“When I’m out there, and looking around at these magnificent views, I just think to myself, ‘You’re actually doing it! You’re actually here,’ ” Feldstein said.
It wasn’t long ago that Feldstein was told he may never walk normally again. A rock climber, he fell 40 feet during a climb and shattered his ankle.
“I was definitely told I would never climb again,” Feldstein said. “And maybe I was thankful for them telling me that, because eight months to the day of the accident, I was back climbing again.”
After four surgeries on his ankle, though, his enthusiasm faded and he turned to kayaking instead. A trip in 2000 to Tanzania, which led to a fortunate meeting with his Tanzanian-based business partner Steve Chumbley and his wife, Teena, during a chimp trek, sparked the idea of getting close to the creatures of Africa, by water.
Most people safari by jeep or truck, and some people even rent hot-air balloons or planes, but Feldstein and Chumbley offer a quiet, less obtrusive way of exploring the wild—by kayak. It doesn’t require motors or gasoline, and it doesn’t necessarily require too much upper-body strength, as one may assume. Moreover, kayaking provides a way Feldstein can go on safaris despite his ankle injury.
“He’s a guy who can do anything when he sets his mind to it,” said Feldstein’s wife, Diane Haithman, an author and journalist who has traveled on safari, but does not kayak. “They have made this experience rather comfortable for people like me who would never think they’d enjoy doing something like this.”
The couple's home in the Studio City hills has mementos of their visits to Africa, and some spectacular photographs of animals and sunsets.
Even with simple point-and-shoot digital cameras, people have come back with incredible shots of zebras, elephants, lions, giraffes, hippos, herons, egrets and more. Mosquitoes are around during the rainy season, but otherwise bugs aren’t much of a bother, Feldstein said, adding that in 10 years he has only seen one snake, on his last excursion.
Feldstein became a certified kayak instructor who teaches at UCLA and was one of the first people (with Chumbley) to kayak off the coast of Tanzania. He also has kayaked in British Columbia, Baja, Mexico, Vietnam, Turkey and Lake Tanganyika, among other places. He is a member of the Adventurers' Club of Los Angeles and is the chairman of the Southern California Chapter of the Explorers Club.
“This is not just a trip for empty-nesters looking for something to do. The whole family can do it,” said Feldstein, who has had kids as young as 7 and 10 on trips.
It's as close to an Ernest Hemingway existence as anyone can have today, with amenities. Local coffee is delivered in the morning and safari-goers sleep in comfortable live-in tents with real beds, showers and toilets. Before heading out into the wilderness, clients may stay at a farmhouse called Rivertrees in the middle of a coffee plantation, and in a 10-tent permanent luxury camp in Tarangire National Park. Along the way, visitors can see how tribal people live, and talk to the local tribesmen.
Tanzania is one of the most stable of all the countries in Africa, without the tribal strife. It has been independent since 1964, and its population includes a mix of conservative Muslims, Catholics and members of other religions who work and live together.
The cost of a two-week trip, including food, lodging and travel, is $5,850; air travel to Tanzania, by way of Amsterdam, is a 22-hour trip that can cost $1,500 to $1,800. Groups can include up to a dozen people.
“We have taken a lot of people who thought they couldn’t do it and now want to go again,” Feldstein said. “This certainly takes people outside of their comfort zone, but the experience is well worth it.”
See photos from past trips at: http://www.infinitekayakadventures.com/kayak-gallery and http://www.infinitekayakadventures.com/wildlife-gallery, and see photos and video in the gallery above.