Tanzania

December 5, 2013

Family Reunions – Five Ways to Make it Work

Together in Peru

Together in Peru

The holidays have always been a time for families to come together, and more than ever families are meeting up in a new location, to share new experiences as well as each others’ company.  Whether it’s holiday time, a hard earned graduation, a milestone anniversary or birthday or just an excuse to get away, a family reunion can be a legacy trip of a lifetime. So how do you ensure your time and financial investment don’t go to waste?

1) Plan ahead! If your family is flexible and has an excellent sense of humor, a regrettable last minute decision to ‘wing-it’ may give you material to laugh about for years to come.  But if you prefer to not spend your vacation troubleshooting and negotiating every day, you’ll take your time and start planning for next year. The perfect villa, the right hotels, the ideal guide – those things don’t wait for late planners.

2) Support, Support, Support . Leave yourself unfettered to nonstop planning. Whether your familiy is 6 people or 26, knowing someone else is managing tasty on-time meals, arranging safe and reliable transportation, and showing you the best things to do – this is the gift of freedom to enjoy every minute with your family without a care in the world.

3) Use local expertise on the ground. Don’t try to guess how long it takes to get somewhere or what activity will be best when, or how to find the special secrets of your destination. Make use of a local guide experienced in family, and committed to showing you the way while managing every detail in advance. An unexpected plus: a terrific guide makes everything more fun!

4) Make every day count. Instead of unscheduled days wandering aimlessly while bored kids glue themselves to their video games, try experiencing new things together.  One terrific group outing to start each day gives you a framework, and something to talk about forever. Your afternoons can be more restorative or more active, depending on each person’s desire – hang by the pool, playing board games – or head out shopping or hiking. Then everyone unites again over a wonderful dinner, to reflect on the day. Plenty of together time, plenty of flexibility!

5) Consider a thread of special meaning to weave throughout your vacation. For some it’s a community project, or starting a family journal together. It might mean creating a treasure hunt (we can do this!), or a quest to check off your list of flora and fauna. With the help of your reunion planners and guide these things can be simple for you to include, and inspiring for your family to do together.

During this 2013 holiday season start dreaming of what can blossom for you and your loved ones in 2014. Maybe it is hiking at Machu Picchu, zip lining in Costa Rica, or snorkeling in the Galapagos.Imagine the flora, fauna and music of Brazil, the souks and mountains in Morocco, or breathtaking wildlife in Tanzania… Whatever your dream, enjoy it with your family!



July 30, 2013

A Heartwarming Tale of Rescue on Safari!

The magic of an African safari is something no family can fully prepare for. Everyone’s experience is different, loaded with spontaneous cultural and wildlife encounters that couldn’t possibly have been written into an itinerary – that’s what makes a safari in Tanzania remarkable.

A prime example is the unplanned wildlife rescue mission undertaken by the Hartz family on their recent Tanzania Active Safari for Families with Teens. Jennifer, Eric, and their four teens were riding along in their safari vehicle, wildlife viewing in the Eastern Serengeti Ecosystem, in the private nature refuge that Thomson guests have exclusive privileges to visit. Suddenly, they spotted a Kori Bustard (a large, mostly ground-dwelling bird) hobbling along with something sticking out of its back.

They followed the bird in their rover, hoping to help in any way they could. Upon closer inspection, the Hartz family and their driver realized that the poor thing had been struck between the shoulder blades by a Maasai arrow. Hunting on this property is strictly prohibited, but somebody had attempted to make an illegal dinner out of this Kori Bustard. The family, along with their guide and driver, removed the arrow as carefully as possible, applied Neosporin to the wound, and patched it up to the best of their ability. Afterwards, they sat back and watched as the bird went on its way, concerned but gratified in the knowledge that they probably just saved its life.

That uplifting tale of chance and compassion is exactly the type of thing that makes a safari such a special family adventure. In addition to saving an unfortunate Kori Bustard, the Hartz family had plenty of other wonderful experiences… a bike ride into a village quarry near Gibb’s Farm where bricks are hand-made by local workers, and a rewarding encounter with friendly and enthusiastic Maasai children, to name a couple. But this unexpected act of kindness and teamwork is something that will surely stick out as a particularly fond travel memory!



May 28, 2013

How a Family Adventure Feels at 17

Hannah and Frank

We received this email  from 17 year old Hannah whose family lives in New Jersey. We know how our guides can impact adults and children alike, and we never tire of hearing about it. These are the life changing experiences we travel for!

“I’m writing to give you feedback on one of your Tanzania staff members, Frank Julius.

I went on a family safari in Tanzania over the December holidays (2012) with my mom, dad and 15-year-old brother, and Frank came along as a mentor. We met up with a family we hadn’t met before with two kids, ages eleven and eight.

As a 17-year-old and a 15-year-old, my brother and I weren’t in need of the same type of mentoring as the other kids were. Instead, Frank became a friend to us. He played soccer and goofed around with the younger ones, but Frank and I also had interesting intellectual conversations, discussed our lives and compared cultures. He has incredible people skills, is able to shift seamlessly between adults and children, and developed lasting relationships with each person on our trip, regardless of age. The two families went in separate trucks, and we always hoped Frank would end up in ours.

I was also incredibly impressed by Frank’s intellect. He is so well read, world-aware and ambitious. I was amazed to hear that he speaks six languages, and we enjoyed practicing Spanish together throughout the trip. As I observed with all the other Thomson staff members, he was very knowledgeable about the animals and wildlife. He went beyond just facts about the animals, permeating our observation with jokes and anecdotes.

Without Frank, this trip would have been a completely different experience for my family and I. We had amazing luck with sightings in all the parks, took incredible pictures and had wonderful stays at all of the camps, but what was most impactful to me were the people I met along the way. Everybody was lovely, but I developed an amazing friendship with Frank. We continue to keep each other updated through Facebook today, and I hope to keep in touch with him for the rest of my life. Anybody who gets to go on a Thomson Family Safari is in for an amazing experience, but a trip with Frank is guaranteed to be all the more unique and memorable.”



January 23, 2013

Around the Serengeti in 80 Minutes

Rising above the Serengeti

Following is part 4 of Ed Prutschi’s story of his familys’ Thomson Family Safari in July 2012. For more photos go here. You can follow Ed on Twitter @crimetraveller

It’s 4:30 a.m. when I hear a voice at the flap of my tent.

Jambo Edward!” It’s my guide sing-songing the traditional Swahili greeting. He’s wrapped tightly in a fleece sweater to ward off the cold, while clutching a kerosene lantern in his gloved hand to stave off the darkness. Today, we have planned the ultimate capstone to our Tanzanian safari — a sunrise balloon ride over the Serengeti.

I grab an extra cup of coffee and push steaming mugs of cocoa into my daughters’ hands before crawling into the back of our Land Rover. We bounce through the inky darkness at speed, pausing only when our driver slams on the brakes to avoid a baby hippopotamus. We inch our way cautiously past the massive mother following closely behind her calf and continue to our launch site.

After a short pre-flight briefing, I’m lying on my side stretched out awkwardly in a compartment of a giant wicker basket that has been tilted to lie horizontally. My nine-year-old daughter is beside me, giddy with a combination of excitement and lack of sleep. I can’t see them but somewhere underneath me, in a separate compartment, are my wife and seven-year-old. Tongues of super-heated gas belch massive noisy flames less than two metres from my head. The intense heat is a shocking contrast to the crisp cold of the Tanzanian pre-dawn. The blackness of the Serengeti plains is quickly giving way to dappled muted smears of purple and streaks of orange as we race against the rapidly approaching sunrise.

I clench my teeth and grip the side runners, anticipating a lurch as we tilt vertically to begin our ascent. Instead, I experience a gradual weightless feeling as we float into position and begin drifting upwards. The powerful heaters fire intermittently up into the belly of the balloon but I am struck by the intense silence that exists between the flaming blasts. Our pilot, Captain Frank Bellantoni of Serengeti Balloon Safaris, cracks a joke under his breath about Serengeti air traffic beating the daily grind along Highway 401. I stare at him slack-jawed and he chuckles. “I’m from Guelph, I could tell from your accents that you guys live close to home.” Two international flights, a bush plane, and countless kilometres along an off-road dirt path in a Land Rover and my balloon pilot turns out to hail from a town 30 minutes down the highway from my house. Small world indeed.

My reverie at this amazing coincidence is broken as I am suddenly blinded by the appearance of the sun. The difference is dramatic as I begin unzipping layers of fleece, my face already perspiring in the heat. We glide over a pool, soundlessly floating just 20 feet above the water. The grey blobs I initially thought were boulders crack open giant maws revealing enormous stained teeth. Hippos.

Captain Frank hits the jets and we begin to gain altitude. We skim past a tall acacia tree and stare down at a vulture’s nest. The mother bird glares at us with fixed black eyeballs. She ruffles her feathers but stays fixed to her perch. We are close enough to count the eggs huddled protectively under her belly. As we clear the tree and continue our ascent, the criss-cross of thousands of trails begins to unfold. We have arrived here just a week late for the grand spectacle of the Great Migration, where 1.5 million wildebeest and hundreds of thousands of zebras pound the ground into zig-zag patterns.

A pair of bat-eared foxes dart out of a burrow while a group of five dik-diks appear to defy gravity as they bounce over a thin stream. A lioness suddenly senses our proximity and I can see the muscled fur of her shoulders tense, her ears twitch and flatten, as she turns her head skyward to watch our strange contraption pass overhead. We climb higher and higher until we can clearly see the ribbon of emerald green marking the path of the Seronera River slashing its way through the brown and tan coloured plains.

Too soon Captain Frank announces that we are approaching our landing site. The balloon descends, the basket bouncing as it hits the ground before gripping the dirt and finally tipping smoothly over, leaving us lying on our backs staring up at the blue sky. Our safety latches are quickly unhitched and champagne flutes are pressed into our hands (fresh orange juice for the girls). We toast our successful flight before being driven just a few hundred feet where, in the shade of a giant acacia tree, we settle in for breakfast. Toast. Fruit. Eggs to order. All while a group of disinterested wildebeest, zebras and gazelles chew their own morning repast within sight of our tables.



November 1, 2012

Meeting the Maasai; Part 3 of a Family Safari

a blending of cultures

Following is part 3 of Ed Prutschi’s story of his familys’ Thomson Family Safari in July 2012. For more photos go to http://lawandstyle.ca/the-crime-traveller-in-africa-part-three/. You can follow Ed on Twitter @crimetraveller

He’s wearing an Obama toque.

The cracked, weathered face and hesitant gap-toothed smile don’t take me by surprise. I succeed in keeping my eyes from fixating on the dangling fleshy earlobes that hang like ropes of silly-putty from his elongated ears. But I can’t get past the swirl of black knit cotton emblazoned with the American President’s name that sits atop his shaved head like an inverted soft-serve ice cream cone.

I’ve travelled over 12,000 km from America’s shores but party politics knows no bounds. Or maybe he just wants to keep his head warm during the cold African nights.

***

Taking a break from the game drives that have become routine on our safari, our truck jostles and bumps across the barely passable dirt track until we arrive at a dense thicket of thorn bushes arranged in a circle. We are joined by a guest guide who loftily introduces himself to me as “Johnston, your Maasai ambassador.” Johnston is a living breathing example of the incredible contradictions apparent in the lives of this semi-nomadic pastoralist tribe. He is rail thin and clad in the distinctive red cloth and beaded adornments of the Maasai. Around his waist, a belt loop grips a wicked-looking machete while on his other hip is strapped an Android-powered smart phone. Leaning on his wooden staff, he switches easily between English, Swahili and Maasai. University educated in nearby Nairobi, Kenya, Johnston tells me he hopes to develop a career combining his ambassadorial skills with environmental and wildlife protection.

We bend our heads and follow Johnston under the low-hanging thorn branches that mark the entrance to the Maasi boma(village) we have come to visit. It’s immediately apparent that these Maasai do not lead an easy life. Their homes (known asmanyata) are built of thatched wood held together by a mixture of mud and cow dung that dries into a kind concrete after baking in the hot sun. Slabs of corrugated steel sit as makeshift repairs to an occasional leaky roof. We are invited into one of themanyatas. The blackness inside takes on a palpable physicality as we choke on the remnants of the hundreds of cooking fires that have been lit here over the years. Young children wander about the village caked in dust, barely clothed, and swarmed by flies. And yet, to say that the Maasai are “poor” is an over-simplification.

As I talk at greater length with our guides, I learn that some tribes have amassed substantial wealth. This is particularly true for those tribes on whose land the gemstone Tanzanite has been discovered. Wealth itself cannot be measured by Western standards when speaking of the Maasai. Although some talked of trying to save enough money to purchase a motorcycle or a phone, the true measure of prosperity in their community is the size of one’s cattle herd. Several days earlier, as we drove between the lush environment of the Ngorongoro Crater towards the vast flat plains of the Serengeti, we were stopped on the dirt road for many minutes as a group of Maasai shepherded a line of humped Brahmin cattle that snaked into the distance as far as the eye could see. One of our guides, a Maasai himself, whistled softly from the front seat of the truck and tipped his head in respectful acknowledgement as they filed past us. “That is a very rich man,” he said.

But standing here in the middle of this isolated village with no running water, electricity or medicine, it is apparent that the Maasai we are visiting today face tremendous challenges. Despite efforts by the Tanzanian government to push the Maasai into embracing modern assimilation, most members of the tribe are fiercely protective of their cultural traditions. While the government has succeeded in discouraging the hunting of lions that long formed a coming-of-age right for the Maasai, polygamy is the norm and ritual circumcision is still practiced around the age of thirteen. An awkwardly painful procedure for men, it is widely accepted as genital mutilation and torture when practiced on women, as the Maasai still do. I ask one of the men about the hardships of Maasai life, expecting complaints about food, schooling or healthcare. Instead he replies through my translator, “The biggest problem we have now are the leopards. They come each night and try to eat our cattle.” Um, right. Leopards.

Whereas Johnston seems casually at ease with us, the Maasai villagers keep a safe distance from our group at first, staring at us with bemused expressions that I can only imagine mimic closely the bewilderment our own faces reflect back at them. I train my camera on a group of young children. No one mugs for the camera, or even smiles. Johnston explains that while he leads groups like ours several times a month, each batch of tourists is taken to a different boma. This ensures that the fees paid by the groups are shared equally across the many different villages but also has the side-effect of creating a dramatic cultural experience for both sides. I ask Johnston when the last time a group like ours visited this boma. “Probably never,” he answers.

My daughter snaps a pic on her iTouch, stretching out her arm to show the children her shot. They step back reflexively. But then, slowly, necks crane forward to stare. Whispers and giggles begin to break out. The adults inch forward a bit leaning over their children to see what all the fuss is about. Ten minutes later I may as well be at a bar-mitzvah. The entire tribe is laughing and shouting loudly as they take turns posing for pictures. The adults start lining up kids in different combinations motioning for us to take more shots. I comment on the beauty of a man’s beaded earring and next thing I know, he’s clipped a pair to my lobes.

The following day, a group of the Maasai come to our tented camp and allow us to join them in traditional Maasai singing and dancing. One of the tribe’s elders is surrounded by the children in our group as she relates an ancient folk tale to the kids in her native tongue. Although Johnston is translating line-by-line, most of the meaning is relayed through her incredible intonation and wildly exaggerated body language.

In the afternoon, we visit a nearby women’s cooperative where the females of the tribe work with wire and beads to craft souvenirs. Shopping in the middle of the Serengeti was not what I expected when I departed for Tanzania, yet we happily leave behind some much-needed greenbacks and return to our camp laden with necklaces, bowls and decorations.

In the end, it is the many contradictions of the Maasai that make them most fascinating to me. A young warrior juggling his wooden spear in one hand and his cell phone in the other; an elder, her broad shoulders hunched under the weight of dozens of beaded necklaces, relating ancient Maasai myths to my daughters while sipping a bottle of Sprite to quench her thirst; and of course, my Presidential Maasai leaning on a crooked wooden cane in front of his manyata wearing an Obama hat atop his head.



October 30, 2012

A School in Tanzania: Part 2 of a Family Adventure

Children of Tanzania

Following is part two of Ed Prutschi’s story of his family’s adventures on our Thomson Family Safari last July. For more photos, go to http://lawandstyle.ca/the-crime-traveller-in-africa-part-two/ You can follow Ed on twitter @crimetraveller

We’re driving along a reasonably well-maintained two-lane highway outside of Karatu, Tanzania. The smooth rush of asphalt beneath the thick tires of our Land Rover feels like a soothing balm to my jarred fillings and aching back after four days of bouncing around the bush trails of Arusha and Tarangire. Our driver turns off the highway onto a rust-red dirt road and begins picking a path through the stones and discarded bricks. A large dog, clearly a recent victim of the highway — its skull split open like a cracked melon — oozes fresh blood into a ditch beside the road. I’m trying to block the wretched sight from my nine- and seven-year-old daughters when they are distracted by the piercing cry of Wazungu! Wazungu! A small band of children, led by a pantless child in a dusty blue sweater who looks no more than three, are running beside our truck crying out in Swahili “White people! White people!”

We are on our way to Ayalabe primary school — a visit that has been in the works for nearly nine months. With the assistance of our superb tour operator, Thomson Safaris we were connected through their charitable arm to two students at the school close in age to my daughters. My girls entered into a pen pal relationship. They would craft a short note in English which we would email to Thomson’s Boston office that was then forwarded to their office in Tanzania. In milliseconds, the message travelled the 12,000km between Boston and Arusha. The timeline expanded there considerably as the e-mails had to be translated into Swahili, printed out and delivered by staff on their next trip to Karatu. Then the student would write her own reply which would eventually be picked up again by Thomson, brought back to their Arusha office for translation and emailed to us. At times it felt akin to speaking through tin cans attached by an epically long string.

In all my months planning this trip, the focus was firmly set on maximizing unique wildlife encounters. The fact that Thomson would arrange a school visit registered as an interesting sideshow to my primary travel objectives. But now, nine months later, we were only a few hundred metres away from the school and my mind was filled with mixed emotions and apprehension. What does a 30-something English-speaking lawyer with a big screen TV in the basement, an Xbox, and a few too many pounds courtesy of three (or more) square meals a day say to a nine year old Swahili girl who just spent two hours walking over 10 kilometres on an empty stomach through grassy plains and along dusty roads just to get to school in the morning? What would my sweet over-privileged white girls have in common with their pen pals?

Our trucks pull into the school’s driveway and the scene is pandemonium. A sea of uniformed children clad in purple and blue come rushing out to greet us. They crash over the vehicles like waves breaking on the surf, jostling to get a view of the visitors through the dust-caked windows. The entire school, 475 students, has been given time off in anticipation of our arrival. I crack open the door of the truck, pushing it slowly to avoid shoving any of the children aside. This must be what Justin Bieber feels like. The school’s principal, a distinguished looking man who stands out from the mass of children in his lime green button down shirt, clamps a powerful grip on my hand and introduces himself.

The principal leads us on a tour of the grounds beaming with pride as he shows off the newest classrooms built with the assistance of our tour company’s charitable arm. With corrugated tin roofs and stone floors bursting with thin wooden pews for the 45 students crammed into the class, they are simple but functional. I immediately think of my daughters’ classrooms back home in Toronto, each equipped with state-of-the-art internet-enabled digital SmartBoards. The class I am standing in now doesn’t even have electricity. The box of simple school supplies we carried with us (pencils, highlighters, crayons, sharpeners, erasers) seems particularly meagre at this moment but is accepted as if I had handed over gold bullion.

The principal is addressing the class in Swahili. I am assuming he is introducing us as he points to each member of our small group in turn and I recognize the word “America.” When he gets to my family I hear “Canada” and then a long pause followed by blank stares from the assembled students. He says something in Swahili, the word “America” again, and then cups one hand on top of the other as he repeats “Canada.” I’m guessing the True North may not be on the Tanzanian primary school geography curriculum.

The class rises, hands on their hearts, to give a stirring rendition of the national anthem followed by a song in English exhorting the listener not to pollute the earth. Our girls are finally paired up with their pen pals. They stare at each other blankly for an awkward moment before the principal motions for them to shake hands for pictures. They look like tiny diplomats fresh from a treaty signing, clasping each other’s hands in a formal pose. The entire school then spills out onto the soccer pitch. A ball is tossed on the red earth and the principal produces a whistle. Suddenly, 475 pairs of legs are hunting for that single ball. I am at a loss to distinguish between the teams — if there even are any. It’s pandemonium of the best possible kind.

As the morning progresses, groups of kids break off. I spy my wife, the speech pathologist, surrounded by a throng of children who are teaching her how to count in Swahili. My daughters are leading long lines of school kids as they shuffle along the periphery of the soccer field. They’re each holding hands again with their pen pals but this time the stiff formality of the photo op has been replaced by a genuineness and warmth. My heart melts. I bring my camera up to my eye — as much to conceal the tears welling up there as to document the moment with a photograph — when I feel a hard tug at the back of my shirt.

“Pitcha? Pitcha!” The boy mimes the act of taking a picture and I turn towards him and snap away. I rotate the digital screen to face him and he smiles at his own image. In seconds I am mobbed. Dozens of children are shouting “Pitcha! Pitcha!” They paw at the camera until I finally relent and let one take a photo of me with his friends. Then my newly minted photographer goes into full paparazzi mode holding down the shutter and snapping dozens of photos of anyone he can find.

It occurs to me that — accounting for my camera, lens and external flash — I’ve just placed a piece of technology whose value might exceed the gross domestic product of the entire school into the hands of a 10 year old.

Too soon our guides are calling and we are ushered back to the waiting trucks. We roar off in a cloud of red dust and to the waves of hundreds of hands. As if to highlight the gulf that separates Western privilege from the difficult but rewarding life eked out in rural Tanzania, we drive only a few short kilometres up the very same road as the school before arriving at our opulent lodging for the night — the truly decadent and amazing Gibbs Farm. Sitting on our giant four-poster bed, the gauzy mosquito netting pulled aside and a roaring fire crackling in our bedroom, I reflect with my kids on their visit to Ayalabe. My seven year old is humming a Swahili tune she had learned while my nine year old updates her wildlife checklist in her safari journal. In three hours at a school half way around the world, my girls have gained knowledge they could never have obtained in a lifetime back home.



September 11, 2012

Tanzania: Hippos, Lions & Elephants, Oh My!

The hippo pool!

The following is a reprint of Edward Prutschi’s story about his Thomson Family Safari July, 2012. Ed is a criminal defense lawyer in Toronto, and wrote this article for Precedent Magazine. Be sure to check back for part 2!

****

It’s 4:46 a.m. on the Serengeti plains in Tanzania, Africa. I’m lying on my back staring at the roof of my tent. The unusual-for-August torrential lightning storm that swept across the savannah earlier in the evening has almost entirely subsided when I hear the piercing cry of a wounded animal just metres from my tent’s entry flap. I stare through the screened canvass window into utter blackness. The kerosene lanterns of our camp and the small bonfire have both long since burned out.

I feel a sharp pain stinging my left forearm as a human hand extends in a vice grip. Apparently my wife heard it, too.

We now stare together, unblinking and unmoving out the window. We can hear a distinct chuffing sound. It reminds me of the tiny sneezes my cat back home in Toronto used to make as he licked at his food bowl. Typical feline sounds. Except these aren’t tiny.

I can make out the cast-iron bell on the small wooden night table beside me in our tent. “Ring if you need anything,” our camp guide had said before we tucked in for the night. What if I need a pride of lions relocated from the stoop of my tent? Do lions react well to ringing bells? I wish I had asked these questions six hours ago.

The chuffing is getting closer. We can make out the sound of grass bending and snapping. Something is purring loudly. I think my arm is bleeding now. The sounds continue for the longest 12 minutes of my life.

In the morning, we emerge from our tent to a glorious African sunrise. Next door, I poke my head into the tent of my nine- and seven-year-old daughters. The decision to allow them to bunk together in their own neighbouring tents in the middle of the bush for the past week now seems a bit ill-considered. Yet, they’re sound asleep. As I poke and prod them to get ready for today’s game drive, they claim to have heard nothing last night. No buckets of rain. No lions. “Can we have hot chocolate for breakfast?” Suddenly my concern seems misplaced.

I shuffle over to the dining tent, noticing for the first time that these safari camps lack any sort of fencing. I accept a cup of steaming Tanzanian coffee from our guide, Charles, and can hear eggs frying on the propane grill out back. The memory of three hours ago feels cloudy and fuzzy in my mind. Did we really hear what I thought we heard? Must just be a silly tourist dream. Maybe I have malaria, I muse when my reverie is interrupted. “Did you hear the lions hunting that zebra?” Charles is gulping his own coffee with a big grin on his face. “Pretty amazing. They were so close! Would you like more coffee?”

On a Tanzanian safari, even when you can’t see anything at all, the sights are absolutely awe-inspiring.

And what we saw was absolutely incredible. In the days before my nocturnal brush with nature, we watched in rapt amazement as a lioness zig-zagged madly at high speed in a failed chase with a wildebeest who had strayed a few feet too far from his herd. My girls’ eyes popped out of their heads when we came across a massive male lion sitting regally in front of a fresh buffalo carcass. The buffalo’s face had been eviscerated and its entrails were spilled out over the golden grass as the lion tore strips of flesh from its belly. Further down the road our luck with lions continued as we stopped within three metres of a honeymooning pair. The male mounted his lioness and the two took turns roaring at each other, completely ignoring the sounds of human jaws clanging off the metal floor of our safari trucks.

We stopped at a fetid pool overflowing with gargantuan hippopotami stacked on top of each other like a giant fleshy Jenga tower. The hippos slapped the water loudly with their powerful stubby tails giving off regular guffaws sounding eerily like Jabba the Hutt laughing to the entertaining contortions of slave Leia. Every so often an errant hoof accidentally pressed into the face of some hippo lower down on the tower and all hell broke loose as the pool erupted into a seething cauldron of hippo madness. Giant mouths flexed open as if on hinges to reveal stained yellow teeth the size of steak knives.

One day the kids committed to counting the number of elephants we could spot. They gave up at 176. We hadn’t yet stopped for lunch.

He came for the wildlife but fell in love with the people. Stay tuned for part two in this ongoing series as The Crime Traveller introduces you to the children of Tanzania and the Maasai tribe. Follow Ed’s criminal law commentary (@prutschi) and The Crime Traveller’s adventures (@crimetraveller) on Twitter, read his Crime Traveller blog, or emailed@thecrimetraveller.com.



August 24, 2012

What Travelers Say to Those who Listen….

Lions sharing stories

Word of mouth is the original Social Media, and we love it; it remains our finest source of new travelers. We’ve been talked about on planes, on cruises, at camp. I’ve heard about referrals shared at high school reunions and around the water cooler at work, at a knitting class and a book club meeting.

Today I received a little story from a family in the midst of booking their family safari with Thomson. This is what Laura from Chicago told me:

” A friend of mine just came back from a safari in Tanzania. She took the one organized by (a well known competitor). I told her that I was taking one too, with the kids, but I didn’t mention Thomson. She said that at the airport she had met a woman who just raved about her experience with Thomson, talking about how nice the accommodations were, and how wonderful the guides were. This friend recommended Thomson to me, saying that she thought it would be better than the one she went on! It sounds like you’re doing a great job there, and we can’t wait to go!”

Thanks Laura, we look forward to sending your family off on an unforgettable trip of a lifetime. Don’t forget to talk us up at the airport!



July 26, 2012

A Safari Cabbage Soup Recipe

Cooking Adventures on Safari

Catch the video here! (And bear with our technical difficulties)

Some of our families just returned from a awe-inspiring, heart-stopping, life-altering safari this week (they’d be glad to chat with you if you want more information!) I always love the stories and the photos, but what came back with this group really got me excited. Read on to see what they were up to at Gibb’s Farm (told by 13 year old Maxwell in an email to his friends and family):

Hi Everyone,

As you all know, I was in Tanzania on a Safari. One of the lodges we stayed at was called Gibb’s Farm. Gibbs Farm is in the mountains of Tanzania. It is a fantastic place to stay with a farm, coffee plantation, livestock and much more. On my trip Sofia and I met some really nice kids around our age. Their names are Rada, Allison, and Isabella. We couldn’t believe our eyes when we saw the vegetable garden. We were running around the huge vegetable part of the farm wondering what to do. Then we came up with an idea to make cabbage soup. All of us got supplies from the nice Scottish chef and we went around the farm picking veagetables such as carrots, turnips, corn, cucumber and etc.. They let us cook the soup at the staff kitchen. We renamed the farm in our own minds and called it IRASM’S FARM & CO. Me and the rest of the kids could pretty much conclude that this was probably the best part of the trip. Here is the recipe. We hope you enjoy!

IRASM’S CABBAGE SOUP: ( pronounced IRSAM’s) THIS SERVES ABOUT THIRTEEN PEOPLE

- One large green cabbage sliced into thin shreds

-Six big red potatoes chopped in small bits

-Seven large carrots cut in thin circles

-Two white onions diced

-A handful of chives , cut it with a scissor

-A few strands of anise leaves only, do not add the bulb

-Six cobs of corn, slice off the kernels and don’t keep the cob

-Two or three cucumbers sliced in thin circles

- Three turnips chopped thinly

-Three small pieces of garlic

-salt and pepper to taste [pepper it generously]

-1/8 a cup of olive oil

-One large pot

-Fill pot half with water and the other half with chicken broth

—Put all the vegetables washed, chopped, sliced, and diced in a bowl together. Fill a large pot half with chicken broth and the other half with water. Put all the vegetables in the pot and cook on a high flame until all the vegetable are cooked thoroughly. Every five minutes poke a fork through the vegetables to see how they’re cooking. If it cooks too fast, lower the flame down to a medium heat level. This whole cooking process of the soup will take about 40 to 45 min. We hope you enjoy your soup. Make it on a chilly day when it will warm you up and taste at its best! Thank You!

Sincerely,

Maxwell, Sofia, Rada, Alison, & Isabella :)



May 23, 2012

Top Five Spots for Teens and Older

The 'kids' bonding in Tanzania

Want to know what’s hot for you and your teenagers and graduates? Here are some great ideas for you to consider while trying to keep everyone happy.

1) Panama. Now, we don’t CALL this a teen trip, but really older kids are perfect for this adventure. With excitement like zip lines and white water rafting it has adrenaline pumping action. And with the engineering marvel of the canal, and the cultural attraction of the Embera tribe there is plenty of sophistication for your kids, and you too! Our guides will engage your family, and you’ll go home with memories you never dreamt of.

2) Costa Rica. This stands by as our most popular family adventure, and the benefit of having older, more tolerant kids is your ability to head to the remote region of Corcovado National Park. It’s far away, out there, and oh so worth it to get to. Surfing, hiking, snorkeling

3) Tanzania. A safari is a sedentary adventure by nature but our Active Safari takes every opportunity for you to stretch your legs and challenge your pre-conceptions. Bike at Gibbs Farm, enjoy walks and village visits at our exclusive private nature refuge, and hike partway up Mount Meru to overnight in a hut before hiking back down the next day. Interspersed with world class wildlife viewing, this adventure will stay with you forever. (And if this isn’t enough you could always think about a trek up Mount Kilimanjaro…….)

4) Peru. You don’t need to fight the crowds on the famed Inca Trail hike into Machu Picchu in order to appreciate all of the wonders Peru has to offer. In fact, we beseech you to NOT join that rat race. Come try some undiscovered trails, and enjoy world class hiking and gorgeous landscapes on trails where you may not see any other people, short of local farmers and their llamas. A Peru Trek can be the way to reassess your life while your older children begin to define their own lives. Prefer the comforts of a hotel? It’s easy to avoid the camping and still enjoy daily explorations. Let the energetic, able bodied kids do the hiking, and you can simply sit and contemplate the beautiful landscape. Want top of the line? Try our Smithsonian Peru Adventure, including Lake Titicaca.

5) Galapagos! Whether you opt for a stint on a luxury catamaran or a unique opportunity to sleep in the islands themselves, the snorkeling, biking, and kayaking in the Galapagos is fabulous. Never just a beach vacation, this is a sophisticated exploration to challenge your mind. Did you know there is wildlife here you just won’t find anywhere else in the world? Come visit these volcanic islands for the chance to think differently.

6) You know me, it’s hard to stop myself. Last summer I went with my kids (18, 22, 25) to Thailand and we had the best time ever. Culture, cities, villages, hiking, zip lines, rafting, elephants, Buddhism, food, massage, wow. A fabulously exotic place that is so warm and welcoming, you might never want to leave.