Visiting Africa can be a family affair. It certainly is with Susan Thurston’s family. This mother of five boys just returned from her fourth trip to Africa, although this was her first time visiting Tanzania, and her first safari with Ujuzi African Travel. Susan traveled with her youngest son, which completes a series of trips she’s taken to Africa. First, with several friends, then taking the two eldest boys, the two middle, and now she has visited the continent with all of her boys.
The tradition began with her mother, Joan Robinson, who has been to Africa more than 10 times. “She is the one who coordinates all these trips we’ve taken,” said Susan. “We call her our ‘African Queen.’ She wants all 10 of her grandchildren to visit Africa. She’s taken 9 of them so far!”
There were four children on this safari, too: one was a senior in high school, one 13-year-old girl, and two 12-year-old boys, one of whom was Susan’s nephew.
Even with her experience with safaris, the Ujuzi safari stood out from her other trips. “I think it was the best trip I’ve taken to Africa,” said Susan. Her previous trips had been to Kenya, but she found Tanzania to be a very special place to visit. “Everything was just a little bit bigger. I love Kenya, but this trip was really fantastic.”
Ujuzi African Safari customers always give high praise for the forethought that goes into the pre-planning for an Ujuzi safari. However, as anyone traveling with children knows, even the best-laid plans may have to change according to the changing needs of children. This is where Ujuzi’s careful selection of guides and drivers came into play for Susan’s safari, making things happen when the itinerary had to be altered.
For example, all four of the kids on the trip felt ill one day. They were well enough to visit the Bushmen, but they stayed in the trucks and weren’t up for touring the local school. So Chris, the driver, found another school to visit later in the trip. “It was the Ujuzi Primary School,” said Susan, noting that the coincidental name made it seem serendipitous. “It was so fun to visit. The kids all sang to us and we brought them supplies. I can’t say enough about how great our driver was — Chris was so nice, so helpful. Every day something special happened because of him. He was super accommodating.”
Not to mention that guides are the best way to actually find animals in the wild, which are often hiding in plain sight. “There are hidden treasures everywhere,” Susan said. “These animals are so camouflaged. God made them perfect — you can drive right by and not know they’re there.”
In fact, one of Susan’s favorite memories occurred one morning when Chris had heard a rumor of a leopard sighting. On their game drive, they found a convoy of trucks and people with super-long telephoto lenses focusing on a rock outcropping in the distance.
“All I had was a little point-and-shoot, but I’m next to all these people with expensive cameras,” Susan laughed in remembrance. Chris pointed out the leopard in the rocks and she got the picture — just one leg, sticking out of the rocks.
Susan’s group saw a variety of wandering animals, including another leopard, and the rare, endangered black rhino. Although Susan’s favorite animal to photograph is an elephant. “I feel like they pose for you!” she said.
Another treasured event was a hot air balloon safari. “It was phenomenal,” Susan said. “We were just catching the beginning of the Great Migration, and we flew over the wildebeest. It felt like something you’d see on TV. Absolutely amazing.”
Visiting Africa with your children enhances their knowledge of the world, but also your knowledge of their interests and personalities. Susan said that she was amazed at how curious and creative the children on the trip were about poaching. “The questions they were coming up with! They all had ideas. Chris really got the kids thinking about poaching and preservation.”
Susan was even surprised by which animals the children enjoyed seeing the most. “You’d think they’d just want to see the lions and other big animals. My nephew was on the trip and he’s an animal lover; on this trip we learned he’s a bird lover as well!”
Among the reasons that Susan loves to travel to Africa is the way she and other visitors are treated by Africans. “People who haven’t been don’t realize that you feel like a VIP when you go over there. Westerners really fascinate Africans, and they want to learn from you. You walk away and you’ve learned about them, but they’ve learned about your culture, too. They love it and they’re very warm people.”
The same graciousness was extended to the children. “We’d walk into the lodge and they’d have Sprites all lined on the bar. They’d remember the kids’ names and make them feel so special. Africans are just such lovely people.”
As much as Susan raves about her children’s experiences in Africa, she emphasizes that it is a serious undertaking for any parent to consider. “They do have to be of a certain age, because that travel is really grueling. It takes two days to get there.”
Plus, the best times to travel aren’t always during a school break. Susan’s son missed school for this trip. “I approached it with the teachers as, ‘We are doing this. This is an opportunity I want him to have.’ All of the kids on the trip had work to do from their teachers. I do know that friends have had resistance from teachers, but everyone makes it work. We’ll do what we have to do because we want the kids to see this. After all, we weren’t going to Disney.”
Susan definitely wants to return to Africa, probably to Tanzania. “The Serengeti is so much bigger in Tanzania. We went to the Ol-duvai Gorge, and my brother and my dad were fascinated by that. We saw a replica of the fossilized footsteps and the camp where the Leakeys stayed.”
“Every time I go to Africa, I find I focus on something different. This time it was the landscape. These countries aren’t just dry savannah, you’d see a city, the mountains, and the coffee and tea plantations are very lush. You see a lot of different landscape in one trip.”
“I feel really lucky to get to go there,” Susan said. “I want to go again.”