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November 11, 2014, Tanzania

Safari for all ages

Going on a 14-day wildlife trip in Tanzania with his parents and young nephew keeps Alvin Yapp on his toes.

Alvin Yapp

IT BEGAN with my dad promising to take Ryan, my six-year-old nephew, for a safari holiday three years ago.

Feeling gung-ho, I agreed to be the holiday planner for our inaugural three-generation family vacation, which would include my parents, but not Ryan’s parents — my sister and brother-in-law.

Needless to say, my parents were elated about having a holiday with their grandson with the assurance that there would be a Guy Friday to handle any emergencies — should the boy miss home and ask for mummy, which did happen, by the way.

Choosing Tanzania for a safari vacation was an easy decision — I found the most number of travel guidebooks on the destination at the National Library.

July was also a good time as it was the dry season and the weather averaged mid-20 deg C. That would be tolerable for my 72-year-old mum and 67-year-old dad.

Seeing animals in the wild would no doubt be the highlight of any safari vacation.

But to plan for a three-generation Singaporean family on 14-day safari? I had my work cut out for me.

I had to assure mum there wouldn’t be much walking and assure dad there would be enough spicy food.

Downloading additional iPhone games was a good insurance to ensure my nephew’s entertainment in the event of a vehicle breakdown, which also did happen.

Most challenging of all was to manage the family’s expectations that a safari was no Mandai Zoo. Yes, waiting to spot wildlife is a travel activity by itself.

Rolling grassy hills

When we arrived, Tanzania lived up to its promise as the land of safaris.

From the rolling grassy hills of Arusha National Park — barely 50km from Kilimanjaro International Airport to the famous Serengeti National Park, where thousands of wildebeest stampede across the Serengeti plains to Kenya annually — each safari park dotted along Tanzania’s northern circuit had its own bragging rights.

Our trip was to take us from Kilimanjaro through Arusha town, Tarangire National Park, Lake Natron, Serengeti National Park, Ngorongoro Crater, Karatu and back to Arusha town.

Jonas was our driver-cum-wildlife-guide.

Maasai markets

During the course of the journey, we stumbled on three different market days, a great way to immerse in Maasai culture.

One was along the rural road to Lake Natron, another as we left Lake Natron, and the last one at Mto Wa Mbu, a village located on the road from Ngorongoro back to Arusha.

The Maasai culture is associated with colourful costumes and traditional flirtatious dances, where the men chant and jump while the women reply with neck movements and singing.

Like spotting a lioness killing a wildebeest, which we witnessed once at Tarangire National Park, the village market had the flurry of villagers scrambling for the best produce and vendors aiming to make a big killing with the occasional tourist.

Both were just as stimulating.

But it wasn’t easy to get Jonas to stop at the market.

Perhaps, he felt that stepping into a local market was like getting out of a jeep in a safari park — you never know when an opportunity may benefit the patient predator.

He cautioned us against shopping and taking photographs in the markets.

We did both with no incident.

There was one thing Jonas should have warned us about, though, which he didn’t.

To the Maasai, seeing an Asian family, with cute child in tow, must have been as delightful as seeing a family of zebras grazing the field.

Just as we were tempted to feed the animals, I understood how the villagers couldn’t resist stroking Ryan’s black hair, much to his annoyance.

These were ideal moments to educate my nephew on the joys of travelling and experiencing the world’s different cultures.

Visiting an orphanage

The huge sign, Falco Baby Orphanage, stared at me as Jonas was filling up on petrol in Karatu, a village after we left Ngogogoro Crater on Day 11 of our trip.

After a family consensus, Jonas agreed to ditch our pre-planned itinerary of souvenir hunting in search of the orphanage.

Opened in 2012, it is the second orphanage in Tanzania started by Jerry and Tammy Backus, an American Christian missionary couple who had lived in Tanzania since 2009.

As the gates opened, we were warmly greeted by beautiful smiles and hugs from 10 kids aged two to five years.

Even though it was never discussed later, I am sure each of us, including Ryan, must have made a quiet comparison of the simplicity we saw at the orphanage and the creature comforts we had back home.

Cycling and bonding

Though our aim in Tanzania was a safari holiday, I knew I had to include non-animal activities to avoid fauna fatigue.

A wonderful family bonding activity was village cycling in Mto Wa Mbu.

Mum, who had not cycled confidently in the past 30 years, gamely joined us we cycled through sandy paths of what looked like a kampung in yesteryear Singapore.

Her lack of cycling experience showed as she steered into villagers’ backyards a couple of times, much to the amusement of the residents.

She would shriek, “Jambo! Jambo!” (Swahili for “hello”) during each involuntary detour because, in her state of panic, that was how she remembered the name of the guide who accompanied us on the cycling expedition.

Unfortunately, the cycling trip ended 15 minutes later when Ryan caught his left foot in the spokes of the wheel. He had a twisted bleeding ankle and wailed: “I want to go home to mummy, NOW.”

Managing the child was a breeze compared to managing the Peranakan grandparents.

“Okay, sayang, we will fly home tonight,” promised his grandma.

Meanwhile, dad seemed confident that his former Singapore Airlines station manager-son would be able to conjure up a story that would enlighten another carrier — Qatar Airways — to check-in a family of four back to Singapore three days ahead of schedule.

Thankfully, I didn’t need to tap on my work experience because after a bumpy 30-minute ride, we located Dr Frank, an American doctor at Fame Clinic, whom an American volunteer at Falco Baby Orphange had happened to mention.

Dr Frank made the entire visit appear like an American sitcom when he introduced himself as boogeyman instead of medical doctor.

It was yet another bonding episode for the family.

GUIDE LINES

We flew from Singapore to Kilimanjaro on Qatar Airways, with a transit at Doha.

US dollars are widely accepted. S$1 = TZS1,334 (Tanzanian shillings).

English is widely used.

- All safari lodges and camps include a set dinner menu and a packed lunch together in the accommodation cost. - The packed lunch leaves you free to spend the full day out in the safari. But it is mostly standard fare — a chicken sandwich, a fruit and a drink.

Accommodation ranges from lodges to camps in the safari parks to guesthouses outside the park. We stayed in seven different types throughout our trip, ranging from luxurious lodges and tented camps to budget-friendly service apartments.

The only way to go on a safari is to hire a car. A driver-cum-guide saves precious hours in spotting wildlife in the game parks. - Most drivers are knowledgeable about wildlife. We paid about $3,600 for the 13 days of driver-guide, landcruiser rental and petrol. Parking is free in Tanzania.

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