I wonder how close they are, those noisy cats shattering the still of the African night. Their voices are strong, strong enough to be heard from several kilometers away, and since these cats are the big carnivorous kind, it's OK if they're a ways off. You may think there's nothing quite as thrilling as seeing them up close in the bright of day, but just wait until you hear them singing their unique lullaby!

Guttural hyena grunts puncture the quiet, along with the whistles, beeps, clicks and shrieks of creatures great and small. But even a casual listen leaves no doubt as to who's in charge of this nightly party – the king of all beasts – the majestic lion. As you fall asleep to their mighty roars, you can't help but wonder what the big cats are having for dinner.

An African safari is perhaps the most special of journeys that a traveler can ever take. The trip is sure to leave the participant with a bag full of stories to tell and a head full of life-lasting memories.

It's important to be relaxed in Africa; things understandably work differently there than they do in the hustle-bustle of the U.S. That's why it's imperative that you travel with folks you can rely on, like the Africa Adventure Consultants.

This company is owned by people who lived in Africa for a long time, so they not only know the ins and outs of daily life, they want to show you the land they love so much in a way that allows you to grow to love it too. They operate in many different countries, but one of their most popular destinations is Kenya and the Maasai Mara Game Reserve area that's teeming with wildlife.

A typical day on safari will consist of several game drives; one in the early morning, one after lunch and a “sundowner.” Different animals come out at different times of day, and your guide will know what time of day provides the best viewing for each particular animal.

In the Maasai Mara area you'll see plenty of giraffes, zebras and ostriches. Cheetah, warthog, jackal and baboon abound as well, but the cameras love Africa's “Big 5:” leopard, elephant, buffalo, rhino and our noisy friend, the lion.

Spend a few days on game drives, and chances are you will spot all of these; you'll get so close to some that it seems unreal. The guides can answer almost any question you have, and before long you'll know your wildebeest from your hartebeest.

The “sundowner” drives are a favorite. These adventures start an hour or so before sundown and pause for a break as the sun sets. This is a good time to tick-off the list of animals you've seen that day as you get out of the Range Rover and enjoy a Tusker beer or a glass of wine as the sun goes down.

When darkness falls, it's time to hook up the spotlight and hop back in the vehicle for a slow ride back to camp, maybe spotting critters like the elusive bush baby.

Between drives you'll get to rest back at camp, where you'll have a comfy bunking area to nap in and a hot meal waiting for you. Breakfast and lunch are usually basic, but most camps like to show off at dinner and provide a meal that borders on gourmet. One thing's for sure, you won't go hungry on safari!

With the Maasai Mara Game Reserve being so popular, it sometimes gets crowded with sightseeing vans. Africa Adventure Consultants is well aware of this and tends to book their safaris at camps that are off the beaten path so that the traveler can have a more authentic experience.

You'll visit the park every day, but you'll most likely stay at a camp on private property adjacent to the reserve. This allows you to do things you can't do if you stay in the park, like game walks. A game walk with a guide and an armed escort allows you to get a totally different feel for the land as you come across many small animals and get to view their homes.

As thrilling as the animal encounters are, spend a week or so on safari and you're bound to run into people of equal interest. One such personality is Meggan Craft, an American who splits her time between working on her PhD at the University of Minnesota and doing fieldwork with the Lion Research Organization in the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. Craft laughs when asked to describe a typical day on the job in East Africa.

“A typical day at work while studying carnivores in Africa? There is never a typical day! No matter how hard you try, something unexpected always pops up. My car frequently breaks down, rivers flood preventing travel to certain areas and baboons break into my house and destroy my month's ration of food.

“My dream typical day, however, would be to wake up before sunrise, jump into the Land Rover and have it start, and then spend the whole day tracking collared carnivores across the Serengeti plains to study their movement patterns, behavior and demography.”

Craft first came to Africa as an intern for a School for Field Studies program in Kenya that led to a six-year stay. She started an adventure tourism company and headed up field operations for Dr. Craig Packer's Serengeti Lion Project ( www.lionresearch.org ) .

Craft plans to keep working in the East African ecosystem for an indefinite period of time. She says, “I adore the freedom and responsibility I have studying carnivores. I thrive working outdoors under an expansive sky in the most wonderful place on earth.”

She also has a little advice for those who might want to follow in her footsteps: “If you have a ‘type A' personality when you arrive in Africa, tone it down to a ‘type B.' There is a different timeline in Africa – you can still be very productive, but take one step at a time.”

And of course, watch out for those hungry baboons!

A Kenyan safari typically begins and ends in Nairobi. African Adventure Consultants can add a day or so for you to explore the city. The company offers similar excursions in Botswana, Malawi, Namibia, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda. For more information, call (866) 778-1089 or visit www.adventuresinafrica.com .