EyeSwoon

One year ago today I set out on the most decadent, magical, wild and humbling adventure to date—a nature-infused family safari that happened to coincide with my 40th year on earth. What better way to celebrate this massive milestone than to be in the wild lands of Africa with the two people I love most? Experiencing something new and exciting together as a family, encountering the most primal and other-worldly wildlife, observing a landscape that is so foreign, yet so deeply connected! To say we fell in love, and in awe, with Africa would be a vast understatement…

I always knew I didn’t want an all out bash for my 40th. Part of me actually didn’t want anyone to know my age, but as that date approached I found that, on the contrary, I was proud of where I came from and all that I had accomplished in my 40 years. Particularly, I have pride in my little unit—my family is my gold, and it always has been. They are what came first in my personal journey and what ignited all that followed in my swoony world. Marriage at 24. A baby at 27. I nurtured my role as a mama and a wife for many years as I searched (and searched) to find what I was meant to offer the world. My career only came later in my 30’s after many years of creative ramblings. And even though I came to a place where I felt accomplished and was not ashamed of my age, I still did not want a big hoopla. What I yearned for most was an experience that would be forever rooted in my memory, with the people who gave me roots.

And so we planned a trip to Africa: The Masai Mara in Kenya, The Serengeti and The Ngorongoro Crater inTanzania, and finally, the small Mnemba island in Zanzibar—all through And Beyond Safaris. This holiday was one of the greatest luxuries a family could ever experience. I hold it so close to my heart that I kept the story exclusively for my family and I, until now. On the 1-year anniversary of this epic adventure, I share it with you!

The excitement we shared was indescribable as we flew over the Masai Mara prior to landing in our camp. That first glimpse of zebras and gazelles prancing, even when they were merely specks from high above, has us bursting with joy. Upon landing on a dirt field in what seemed like the middle of nowhere, wildlife was suddenly all around us. It was apparent that we would not have to seek out the wild, that it was everywhere and that we were merely visitors in their land. We were greeted with tea and cookies, joyful smiles, and song from the And Beyond staff; then we hopped into our jeep and our journey began.

We were the only family at our camp, which meant we were impeccably looked after. The fixed Bateleur camp combined classic British colonial comfort and African soul, a vision that felt inspired by ‘Out of Africa’.  We were immediately served lunch with panoramic views of wildlife as we ate. Immediately after lunch we set out on our first evening safari in a Game viewing reserve, with a ranger all to ourselves! In our open-air jeep we traversed rugged, unpaved terrain and within minutes took in unparalleled views of wildlife. Lions, and zebras, and giraffes—OH MY! Binoculars were not even necessary. Seeing these mystical animals up-close and personal was beyond words: awe and serenity and wonder washed over us and we were silent as took it all in.

For 12 days, we discovered new wonders—it was heaven, it was magical, it was surreal. The education was unparalleled. With each game drive, we learned more about how these creatures live so beautifully and symbiotically, experiencing their vibrant and complex ecosystems. We observed a leopard hiding out in the brush, waiting to hunt its prey. At the side of a riverbank, we heard the stampede of wildebeests and through the dust haze we saw one attempt to cross a river. As a crocodile took down a wildebeest, the leopard dashed out to attack a zebra—we were experiencing National Geographic in real life—hunt or be hunted. We saw birds land on gazelle to pick ticks off their bodies: as they feed themselves with the insects, they help remove the tick from the animal, and the birds often send warnings to inform the gazelle of approaching predators. We learned that male ostriches change color to attract females at certain times of the year. We took in the sheer size of a singular elephant as he meditatively walked through the sweeping land. After we took in the massive and mystical tusks our eyes drifted up to the vast landscape of the Massai Mara, and suddenly that elephant felt teeny tiny. If was a profound moment for us all, and Jivan audibly gasped when he understood how small we really are in the world.

Our last day in the Masai Mara was spent with the Masai tribe and warriors learning about their culture. Interacting with the Massai people was as an important and memorable part of our trip as our animal encounters. Seeing how they lived in their village homes made of mud, observing their proud beaming smiles as the shared their crafts, beaded handmade jewelry and walking sticks at the market. Jivan learned how to create fire using a stick and hay. A warrior gave Jivan spear throwing lessons. And at night, the Masai warriors performed an ancient fire ceremony and danced for me on my birthday, all as the sun set over the land.

There were times of opulence in the Ngorongoro Crater lodge, but there were times stripped down to nature at the mobile camp in the Serengeti: no running water or electricity, and meals that were all cooked on an open fire. We moved with the wildlife and camped in a mobile tent among the animals. We were not to leave our tents without an armed guard. The hyenas and zebras would sound throughout the night and literally brush up against our tent—the experience was both profoundly frightening and life affirming!

While we came to celebrate my 40th year, we discovered more than we could ever have imagined together. It was a holiday of a lifetime and one that has forever changed us—a family adventure that revitalized us all: our minds, our senses, our bodies and our souls. We laughed together, we gasped together, we sat beside one another so connected in absolute silence. We wandered these foreign lands and became explorers together, leaving with a passion for raw, primal beauty that we will always hold in our hearts.

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