On return from our three month 2004/05 African trip, we inundate friends with stories and photos. The ones who travel as much as we do, Donna & Ron, decide they want to go. Jeanne & Don join the trip. They’ll be taking their two teenage boys, Kyle & Tommy.
Wanting to go along, we immediately think about Quintan and Mackenzie, our 15 & 12 year old nephew and niece. Admittedly, it is a bad-weather Sunday afternoon, we are sitting in the window seat of our E14th duplex, drinking wine; all factors influencing our thinking.
We call Curtis & Wendy, their parents. They ask the kids, who say yes. Niece Erin expresses interest and signs on.
We plan an itinerary that is the best of our previous 04/05 trip, condensing it into a month. We book flights and the hotels we liked on the previous trip and find a safari company operating out of Arusha.The kids will miss some school in December and January and will be away for Christmas.
At the Calgary airport we meet Donna, Ron & Kyle and fly Calgary to Frankfurt to Cairo, where we start the adventure. The kids do well with the time change, jet-lag, and cumin laced food. We arrive late afternoon and don’t do much the first evening. The next day we are out early on an all day tour, with a sweet young Egyptian woman guide named Amy. It starts at the Cairo museum, then to Giza, where we have lunch, see the pyramids, ride some camels, and do some shopping. The next day we walk around old Cairo. The kids are all upbeat and cooperative.
We head out to the Cairo airport at 10 PM for a midnight flight to Nairobi, Kenya. We no sooner get in the door of the airport than we notice the outgoing flight roster has us leaving at 10:30. We have 10 minutes to clear security, get our boarding passes, check our luggage and board the flight. Why weren’t we notified? Why didn’t we check? GEEEEZZZZZ!!
Everyone from the metal detector operator to the security bag checker to the woman issuing boarding passes reassures us that the plane will not leave without us. Sure enough, it doesn’t. In fact, we sit on the runway for a long time while other late-comers stumble aboard. Like its no big deal.
It is just barely dawn when we land in Nairobi, breakfast time when we get to the hotel, but we are all tired and agree to a nap and late breakfast at 1000. Mackenzie has other ideas. She wants to swim. Erin, her roommate, tries to ignore her and nod off. Not easy apparently.
After breakfast one group – kids and a couple adults – heads off to the mall to do some shopping. I stay behind poolside. At some point in the next few days Mack and Erin will get bad sunburns.
We have a meal at the Italian trattoria in the centre of town. Some take a taxi back to the hotel. A few of us walk, bravely disregarding the fact that it is after sunset in “Nairobbery”.
A day trip to an elephant and giraffe sanctuary is our first experience with animals and we have fun watching the baby elephants roll in the mud. Getting close to the giraffe means risking a kiss from their rough tongues. Lunch is at Carnivore, where a variety of wild meat is grilled and served with potent vodka cocktails. A highlight for me is a stop at Karen Von Blixen’s – of “Out of Africa” movie fame – farm in the Ngong hills.
Thinking it important for the kids to experience an African border crossing, we decide to bus it to Arusha, Tanzania. It’s a 5 hour trip through the countryside. The ladies selling jewellery at the border are taken with Mackenzie’s and Erin’s blondness. It’s hilarious watching them crowd around the girls.
At the Outpost guesthouse in Arusha we meet the rest of our group: Jeanne, Don & Tommy. The kids noisily take over the pool, while the adults head for the bar.
The next day we walk into Arusha town, finding a bustling market. A couple of local fellows offer to take us out of town to the Masai market. Most of the group decline, thinking it might be risky. Donna, Craig & I throw caution to the wind, as we usually do, and go for it, hopping on a bus with our new guides.
The Masai market is fascinating, especially when it starts to rain. The street turns into a river. Building overhangs shelter hundreds while rain cascades off the roofs. We return to the Outpost with outsized stories of an adventure we think the rest of the group are all crazy to have missed.
Nature’s Beauty, our safari company, sends two jeeps and a van for us early the in the morning of our safari departure day. There are three driver/guides and two cooks. Saidi, George Foreman, Moses, the guides, are smart, knowledgeable, funny, friendly, helpful, and we quickly bond with these guys.
Lake Manyara is just as gorgeous as we remember it, although no tree lions this time. The lake is fuller, bigger. We see elephant and zebra, wildebeest, giraffe, buffalo and monkeys and baboons. The first elephant encounter is sudden and a bit harrowing. Three large pachyderms walk in front of our front jeep with no warning. We are suddenly a few feet away from them, potentially too close for their comfort. But they ignore us in favour of eating. We watch and snap away on our cameras, enthralled.
One night there is a lion outside our tents growling low, walking about. We think it is Don snoring. And maybe its both?!
The Ngorongoro crater is also just as gorgeous as our memories recall. Just as lush, just as green, just as full of animals. A rare sighting of a rhinoceros family – male, female and baby – is a treat.
We tent for the first three nights and splurge for Christmas eve and day at Serena Lodges. After a long day’s drive and a crater game drive, as we troop in the front door of the lodge, we are greeted by servers with hot towels and fresh juice. Ahhh!!!
Our rooms are huge and luxurious. Christmas Eve dinner in the festively decorated dining hall is decadent. We are in high spirits.
Until the next morning when we learn we have to check out. A mistake has been made in the booking and we must return down the road, back toward Arusha, to a different Serena lodge. Away we go. It too is a gorgeous space and the infinity pool overlooking the crater is the best way to spend a Christmas day afternoon we can think of, after a game drive that has us seeing lions.
From Ngorongoro we head to the Serengeti plain. A stop at a Masai village is eye-opening for the kids. The lack of amenities characterizing Masai life is such a contrast to the privilege they are accustomed to at home. Erin, a teacher, is shocked by the condition of the school.
The next day we have an amazing elephant encounter, including juveniles and a baby. We see cheeta. Hot air balloons dot the sky.
The last two days take us toward a river where wildebeest are migrating by the thousands. Zebra follow close by, as they typically travel together. One sees and hears well, the other smells well. They are symbiotic in the never-ending quest to avoid the cats. The lion, leopard and cheeta relentlessly hunt. The dogs are scavengers, eating what the cats leave behind. The hyena takes the skeleton once the vultures have picked it clean. We talk to the kids about survival of the fittest, the law of the wild.
Back in Arusha, we shower, swim and do laundry. Early the next morning we fly from the airport at Mt Kilimanjaro to Stone Town on Zanzibar for a final week.
Stone Town is, like so many places and sights have been, a revelation seen through teen and young adult eyes. They notice much that we don’t. Interesting meal time discussions arise.
From Stone Town we take a private mini-bus to the Sunrise Resort, on the east coast, with its Indian Ocean beaches and warm water. We walk the beach, rent bikes, lounge by the pool, walk to beachside cafes. splurge on a day rate for the Breezes hotel and spa, just north of us.
The trip back to Vancouver is long and arduous. Stone Town to Dar Es Salaam, to Nairobi, to Khartoum, to Frankfurt to Montreal to Vancouver. We almost miss our Montreal connection and are given last minute seats, two at a time. Craig is the last one to board. We all cheer when he shows up and the door is closed behind him.
Back in Vancouver, at home, I overhear Mackenzie talking to her mom in our powder room, saying “mommy, as long as it has a seat and it flushes, I will never complain about a toilet again.”
She’s learned how fortunate her life is compared to those where we’ve just been. One of many lessons she, Quintan and Erin have taken away.
Will any of the three of them travel again? Who knows? We hope so. We know we will!!!