A reticulated and a Masai giraffe bond over a branch
We spent the night at Safari West, a few hours away, for Soren’s big birthday present. According to their website, “Guests may explore the Sonoma Serengeti on an African wildlife safari alongside romping herds of exotic wildlife or relax in a luxury safari tent under the gaze of a graceful giraffe. Our goal is to actively promote conservation and environmental education concepts to our guests, whether they are with us for an hour or a week.”
Our luxurious family tent
There was no school on Friday, so we went up on Thursday night and stayed in a family tent, which is furnished with a king-sized bed and large bunk beds. It had a roomy bathroom, and thick canvas walls. It had a solid wood floor as well as a nice deck and table outside. There was a cooler with ice provided for us on the deck, and a heater inside for the chilly nights. It has been unseasonably cold lately, and we were sent instructions about bringing warm pajamas, slippers, and possibly hats for the night.
Claire took this picture of the inside of the tent–much better than any I took
The beds also came furnished with electric blankets, and the kids were super excited about that. There was a lot of discussion about when to turn them on and how soon and how high. We ended up having a great night’s sleep, because the tent got really dark with the canvas flaps closed and the heater providing a soothing white noise. It was almost too warm, and I walked around and turned the electric blankets down low and pulled the covers off of the kids and turned the heater down. However, when we went into the screened bathroom, it was chilly and reminded me how cold it could actually be.
Small lake in front of our tent
Well, everyone almost had a good night’s sleep. All of the kids kept getting confused at various parts of the night. Soren woke up a bunch at the beginning, thinking he was somewhere else and getting upset. I had to stay with him for a while because he was yelling and thrashing around. Ronin woke up a couple of times, disoriented, and climbed down the side of the bunk bed that didn’t have a ladder and wanted water or something else, but couldn’t find it in the dark and got really upset about it. Later on, Claire had some bad dreams. Still, the sounds of the birds and wild animals that Safari West had warned about were pleasant and distant, and I would call them mild instead of wild animal noises.
An open air dinner at Safari West
We spent the afternoon and evening after our arrival wandering around and marveling at the animals. There is a lot of ground to cover just outside of the gated areas, and we walked around the lake, watched the flamingos eating, saw a lemur pouncing on a toad in the tall grass, and observed so many other beautiful and interesting creatures.
We had made dinner reservations, and although they offered a tasty and wide variety of food, it seemed like several of our children were only content with multiple pieces of bread with butter. Even the macaroni and cheese was “weird.” Justin and I thought it was delicious, and Ronin went back for several helpings.
Taking time to stop and check out the flora as well as the fauna
It really was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I don’t know if we are unusual to know so many people who have traveled in Africa, but it doesn’t seem like an everyday experience to go on safari, or to be surrounded by so many exotic animals. Even when I was in Indonesia or Thailand or Fiji, where I got to see fantastic birds and animals sometimes lounging around at hotels or in back yards, they weren’t all together unless I went to a sanctuary. The insects in those countries were pretty much all over the place, but they usually are. I guess that our children think that traveling to Africa is something most people do, though, since they know a lot of people who have done it.
Soren, trekking along the road, finding feathers
Despite the fact it wasn’t a real trip to Africa, or any other continent or country, they (and we) were all very happy. Justin must have coached them, because they all kept telling me thank you for coming up with this great idea, and thank you for taking us here, during the whole trip.
You must be THIS tall to ride on the top of the jeep (Soren made it!)
It seemed like our afternoon and evening lasted a long and pleasant time, with lots of walks around and stops back at our tent and walks around again, even with going to bed remarkably early. Maybe it’s just because we had so many unique experiences.
Ronin running down the road to meet up with everyone near the gazelles
The next morning we woke up and walked over to the cafe for breakfast and coffee and milk for the kids. We had a couple of hours before check-out time, and my mom was going to meet us for our jeep tour. It was hard to believe that we could have a three-hour tour of the area, but that’s what the flyer said. The kids were absolutely manic with excitement during breakfast, and we were just thankful that we beat the rush and only a few other people were there, because Soren ran over and knocked a six-foot-tall zebra figurine over before we could stop him, and the twins were enthralled with the idea of a serve-yourself breakfast with multiple offerings (not like I don’t do that at home) and tried to grab something of everything before we even got a table or plates.
Flamingos in the changing light
I was wrong to think we would not have a three-hour jeep tour. It probably did end up being a little less than three hours, because there was additional guided tour at the end around the grounds with the animals that we’d already seen quite a bit during our stay. We’d been listening to some of the other tours during the previous day and even seen the kookaburra being fed little mice and bits of ground meat, all nicely arranged on a platter. Our guide was terrific. She laid down the essential ground rules and safety rules right at the beginning, was very informative and knowledgeable about all of the different animals in addition to the old jeep she was driving, and could handle interruptions from kids without being rude but without letting them take over. She had a lot of finesse. This was a tour that was dependent on which animals were out and when, and what her groups were like. We lucked out.
Rhinos were romping
First of all, our guide asked how many people wanted to ride on the top level, and which ones wanted to ride first. Almost all of the kids raised their hands. Our three kids rode up there on the first leg of the trip, along with another girl. The jeeps were open on all sides and easily sat 15 people. Mom and Justin and I sat in the back row while the kids were on top for the first part of the trip. The animals were kept in large enclosed areas that we accessed through gates, and we sometimes drove for times outside of the enclosures. The guide reminded us that if we needed bathroom breaks we should ask a bit ahead of time, especially in enclosures, because it could sometimes take up to 15 minutes to drive out past a gate. Bathroom breaks inside enclosures with wild animals were not allowed, and facilities were trees and bushes. That had been a question on my mind ever since I learned about this place, because I wasn’t sure if Soren could go for a three-hour jeep tour without a pee stop. He only needed to stop once, and that was definitely a sign of his new-found maturity.
Mom got to hold an ostrich egg
We were impressed with the care they were taking with the animals. It did seem to be an area dedicated to education, conservation and preservation of wild animals.
Ronin taking pictures of the zebras from the jeep
The kids employed their new cameras quite frequently. I think Ronin was taking videos almost constantly during the entire tour. I have hours of jeep and animals and facts from the guide from his camera. Claire does great short video clips with narration, but has been running around with it and making enough jerking movements when she’s on the go that they are difficult to watch. I’ve been asking her to slow down a little bit. Soren only took a few pictures and videos on the trip. I need to get some editing done on these and put them all together to make a great kid movie.
Herd of Cape buffalo, lazing in the sun
I didn’t get to the best, most spectacular part of our tour though. We were (possibly) the first to see a newborn zebra, fresh out of its mother, on wobbly little legs. Soren asked, “What is that red thing hanging out of the mom?” and our guide said, “That’s the umbilical cord.”
Baby zebra, looking alert
It was hard to believe that we could be so fortunate. We’d been warned ahead of time that it could be hard to see any of the zebras. We saw the whole herd, plus the newest addition. It was incredible.
Claire’s picture of a lemur
It was an incredible trip. We have only been back a week and I can’t count the number of times I have been asked if we can go back again SOON. Still, I would recommend it, wholeheartedly, and would also suggest that Spring is a great time to visit, when it’s not too hot, not too cold, and it’s likely that babies are being born.