NAIROBI, Kenya — "Giraffe!" called out Sammy, our Kenyan safari guide.
My family, ages 5 to 75, went into a frenzy. Arms and legs flailed about the minibus in a mad scramble for photographs, and curses rang out as each person accused another of blocking his shot or ruining his camera.
"Did you ever think that Nanny might want to take a picture too?" my sister Marilyn screamed at her teen-age daughter, Pam, who stepped on her grandmother's lap while trying to get a shot from the open pop-top.
"Thanks for breaking my camera, George," yelled brother-in-law Marty as he extricated his dented telephoto lens from the two-way sliding window he shared with my father.
Fifteen-year-old Dana's elbow knocked my head in a struggle for possession of the camera equipment she owned jointly with her sister Pam. And my son Evan, the youngest family member, sat in the back seat wailing, "I can't see anything. I can't see anything at all!"
The lone giraffe was the first of thousands of animals we would see on our two-week tour of Kenya's game reserves. It appeared shortly after we left the capital city of Nairobi, and the resulting mayhem confirmed my apprehensions about traveling sanely with our entire family--grandparents, middle-aged children and spouses, preschool and teen-age grandchildren.
The Mellowing Factor
Despite the rocky beginning, we eight diverse personalities eventually mellowed into a congenial group of travel companions (with occasional lapses), and the giraffe fiasco became one of the many memories we would hold in common.
The Trip, as we called it before, during and after, was my mother's doing. Like many older Americans, Mom's greatest pleasures are traveling abroad and being with her family, and her dream was to combine the two in a once-in-a-lifetime family outing. She decided to stake her savings to make her dream a reality and to give her offspring "something you will all remember me by."
Planning the trip began a year prior to departure. Mom consulted the other family members about what country to visit and how to travel, but the responses were too varied for a consensus.
"Let's go to China." " I've always wanted to take a French barge tour." "Frank (my husband) won't fly, how about a cruise?" "Can't we see Disneyland?"
She finally made a unilateral decision and chose a Kenyan safari tour. Her reasons:
--Family members probably would never get to Africa on their own and the exotic locale would be truly memorable.
--Watching and photographing wild animals would appeal to both children and adults.
--Traveling by minibus and staying in game lodges would keep everyone together and would not entail a lot of walking for the elderly and the very young.
--An organized tour, as opposed to independent travel, would eliminate family squabbles about what time to rise, where to go next and how long to stay in each place.
Mom was right. We were all fascinated seeing Africa's wild game and rare birds, Kikuyu natives dressed in colorful cottons and lanky Masai decked out in beads from head to foot. We were also impressed by the landscape, which varied from endless red-clay savannas to rolling green hills, forested mountains and the snow-capped peaks of Kilimanjaro and Mt. Kenya. It was all so very different from our respective homes in New Jersey and Maine.
United in Spirit
And as Mom predicted, the family became as united in spirit by a sense of adventure as we were united physically by the confines of our safari bus and the seclusion of the game lodges. Each of us subdued personal preferences and willingly accepted the edicts of Sammy, our soft-spoken but firm guide--even when he mandated rising at 6 a.m.
With Sammy setting an up-and-at-'em pace, we covered 3,000 miles (mostly on rough dirt roads) including daily "game drives" in the early morning and late afternoon when the animals are most active. The tour was not too tiring, however, because it involved little walking and the middle of each day could be devoted to leisurely lunches followed by swimming, sunbathing or naps.
I had feared that safari life might be repetitious and would therefore become boring, but something special happened every day. We watched lion cubs play rough-and-tumble at Amboseli, saw crocodiles feeding in Samburu and rode horses through the hills near the Mount Kenya Safari Club. We were also privileged to see very rare animals such as the reticulated giraffe and the pin-striped Grevy zebra.
The family also discovered its own entertainment: Evan's yelp of surprise when a monkey stole an egg off the breakfast table; Dana's midnight plea at Salt Lick Lodge, "May I use your bathroom, there's a big beetle in ours?" and Dad's consistent misidentification of all hoofed animals as impalas and all dead trees as giraffes.