A trip to Africa can be life changing, and it’s natural to want others to experience its wonders as well. That’s exactly how Petra Kilian-Gehring felt after visiting Tanzania with Ujuzi African Travel in the fall of 2011. “I loved the people and the landscape so much that I needed my son Nicholas to see this and experience it with me,” Petra said. So she contacted Anne Medeiros to plan another safari trip to Tanzania for herself, her husband Mark, and then-7-year-old son, Nicholas. But Nicholas wasn’t the only child to benefit from Petra’s second trip to Tanzania.
Petra organized donations from people she knew, including friends, family and clients who work out at her Madison, Wisc., cycling and multisport training studio Speed Cycling (www.speedmadison.com), which she brought with her upon her return to Tanzania and donated the items to local orphanages. People donated school supplies, baby blankets, children’s’ toys, crayons, reading material and fiction books, bubbles and clothing.
“We ended up packing everything in 4 huge duffle bags that were shipped with us. We went to all of the institutions first (in Arusha and Endala), then went on safari. We also made contacts with schools we’d like to support in the future,” said Petra. “We have already started making plans for 2013, including visiting the same primary school and orphanages.”
After starting off with humanitarian work, Petra, Mark and Nicholas went on safari. Nicholas was a real trooper, behaving well both in advance by cheerfully taking the recommended extra vaccinations, and in helping deliver the donations. “Going to the orphanages, tribes and schools, he was extremely helpful and patient,” Petra recalled.
But it was while on safari that he showed his traveling prowess. “He’s very high energy, but only a couple times I had to remind him that he cannot talk so loud. One time we were about one foot away from an elephant herd, another time we were very close to a pride of lions,” Petra said.
One of the highlights of the safari was a cheetah kill. As an elusive animal, no one is ever certain of seeing one on safari, but Petra’s family caught sight of one in Ngorongoro Crater. They had just noticed the cheetah when she started walking and they realized she was very pregnant. Within about 2 or 3 minutes, the cheetah had caught a young gazelle and killed it. “Just a regular event that happens all the time, but we were incredibly lucky to see it and catch it with the camera.”
For parents considering taking young children to Africa, it’s a place that makes a big impression. With our current culture of near-constant distraction and entertainment for children, Africa can hold its own. Petra recalled a particularly long drive, “We wanted to go to the Serengeti and it was a 2-hour drive there, a 4-hour drive around there, then a 2-hour drive back. He really, really enjoyed it despite the heat and immobility from just being inside the Land Rover. “ We didn’t have any special snacks, toys or anything. He was very fascinated by the landscape.”
Now that he’s home, Nicholas loves sharing stories about his African adventure. “He loves talking about the animals.” He even bonded with Hadzabe boys who live a world away. “He really liked Lake Eyasi and hanging out with the local boys and the chance to spend the day at their local school.”
The family chronicled their travels on their blog, http://gehrings.wordpress.com/ and also shared a beautiful slide presentation with the campus school Nicholas attends in Madison.
At the end of their vacation, Petra and her family topped off their trip with a beach safari in Zanzibar. “It was a really nice flow. Nick was at the beach all day, and we were just chilling out for three days, playing board games, reading, catching up on school homework, eating nice dinners and just enjoying not doing much,” said Petra.
Petra already knows when she’ll return to Africa with Ujuzi African Travel. She’s going to Kenya on a Pilates Safari in the fall, then Tanzania again a few months later in February 2013. “We’re definitely going to go back to Tanzania next year at same time. Maybe we’ll do some different parks, but then also visit our schools we’ve made contacts with. We are enchanted by this beautiful country!”