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Queens Chronicle

A match made in the Serengeti

Rockaway native finds love and a career halfway across the world

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Posted: Thursday, April 11, 2013 10:30 am | Updated: 5:07 pm, Thu Apr 18, 2013.

If you’ve never met them, you’d think the story of Phil and Rachel West is the plot of a romantic movie fused with spectacular imagery of the exotic nature we’ve come to associate with Africa.

Rachel, a native of Neponsit, was raised just a few hundred yards from the ocean in a different climate where the closest giraffe or gorilla is either at the Bronx Zoo or the local bazaar in plush form. Not in her wildest dreams did she think she’d find a fulfilling career — and the man of her dreams — on another continent, 10,000 miles from home.

It all began a few years ago, when Rachel was invited to fill an open slot on a safari trip her mother, Rockaway realtor Robin Shapiro, was taking.

That was the last time she would call Rockaway home.

While in Kenya, she met Phil West, a guide on the safari she was on and a native of the East African country. To call Phil “an outdoorsman” may be an understatement. He has spent most of his adult life working in the raw nature of Africa. On his left upper arm, he sports large scars — the result of an encounter with a Nile crocodile, which is not something human beings typically live to tell about. In Phil, Rachel found her soul mate.

“He asked me to stay, so I stayed,” she explained.

The two married two months ago in Kenya and have traveled the world together. Rachel pointed out the Amazon as one of her favorite places. While there, she and her husband visited remote villages.

“The people there are just so beautiful and joyful,” Rachel explained.

They now run a very prestigious high end safari company called Royal African Safaris and some of their clients have been notable people, though the couple will not disclose the names of those who go on safari with them.

Rachel and Phil live among nature. They are building a home on the outskirts of the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, adjacent to a national park. Giraffes, rhinos and other varieties of Africa’s fauna regularly stroll by their home.

The couple is back in Rockaway until the summer, helping Rachel’s mother with her real estate business, visiting prospective clients and planning for their next safari trip. They are also helping Rachel’s family recover from Hurricane Sandy, which devastated her native community. They were in Mozambique on an excursion when the storm hit. They were unaware of how serious the storm was until they got back to Kenya a few days later.

“I was definitely worried,” she said.

She tried desperately to reach her parents and siblings and said she was relieved to find out everyone made it through the storm OK.

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