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Just Back From the Four Seasons Serengeti, Tanzania

On our first full day in Tanzania, my two sons and I sat out on the terrace of our room at the Four Seasons Serengeti watching game ambling across the vast open plains. The long grasses, baked crisp by the sun, rustled in the breeze with a hollow rattle. Topi, gazelles, impalas and zebras strolled in single file past olive-green acacias towards a small watering hole about 40 feet from where we sat. Occasionally a foal would startle and everyone would break into a canter. Warthogs swatted their tails, waiting for their turn, while zebras knelt on their forelegs to drink. As I scanned the distance, I spotted a long, jagged dark grey line heading towards us. Elephants! My sons and I sped to the resort pool area, which overlooks a larger watering hole. Led by a sturdy bull, a herd of 32 elephants emerged from around the rocks, not 10 feet from us. We watched transfixed as they drank and waded in the cool water, the babies fully submerging for a swim, others slapping mud on their sides with their trunks. Two juveniles got into a shoving match, to the delight of my boys. There was a little baby just a few weeks old who wanted to roll around and splash in the water. His balance was wobbly, so his mother kept a guiding trunk on him to help him stay upright.

One of the great gifts of family travel is the chance to show up as a magician for your children. There is a window when their worlds are still narrow and cloistered and you get to be the one who, with a yank and a flourish of the white handkerchief, reveals something awe-inspiring by showing them parts of the planet so different from their own. Best of all is one-on-one time (or one-on-two in my case) because it adds an extra layer of attention and intimacy. I vividly remember my own parents, who have now passed on, introducing me, for the first time, to places and experiences that were important to them and how I felt so clearly the emotion they wanted to share. For my mother, it was riding horses through the desert landscape of the American southwest, a place she loved profoundly. For my father, it was exploring the Everglades in the early morning to watch the wading birds feeding. He taught me all their names and how to tell them apart (“look for the `golden slippers’ of the Snowy Egret”). Our shared gaze was one of wonder. While the destinations were starkly different, their message was the same: Here is how to be still and present. Here is how to look at the world with reverence and appreciation. Here is how to feel a part of nature and be humbled by your place in it. And now, decades later, I was trying to pass on the same message to my boys through a safari in the Serengeti.

Related: Indagare Safari Matchmaker

I had been to Tanzania before with my husband. We had done a long, multi-stop safari and slept in tents. At 11, my youngest son wasn’t quite ready for that kind of immersive experience, but he and his older brother (16) were still passionately interested in seeing wild game, so in July we decided to do a quick, last-minute, four-night mother-son trip in August before they went back to school. Although safaris aren’t typically an impulse getaway, the Four Seasons Serengeti is set up to be a really easy experience for parents, is big enough that you can sometimes find space last-minute (a rarity in the safari world), and offers enough variety that we didn’t feel the need to add extra stops. Yes, the travel time from New York was long, but we knew it would be worth it. 

The Four Seasons Serengeti turned out to be perfect for easing my sons into safari. While most safari camps are tiny, with minimal amenities, the Four Seasons is a full-service resort with familiar luxuries that are uncommon in the bush: a big pool, marble bathrooms, A/C, fast WiFi, a gym, a spa, a kids’ club and a kids’ menu (complete with chicken tenders and fries). It was fine that my youngest didn’t have the stamina for all-day game drives, because there was so much to do on-property. Raised boardwalks, that stretch from end-to-end on the 77-room property, meant we got plenty of exercise, as we were able to walk our 10,000 steps a day in safety, without leaving the grounds. My kids loved the fully staffed Discovery Center and on-site museum with lots of things to handle, from an elephant tail to an ostrich egg. My youngest dipped in and out of the kids’ club, which is equipped with computers, crafts, movies and XBox. This kept him busy and happy, while I did a bush walk with my older son.

We all did two morning game drives and saw abundant wildlife, including lots of cats: 32 lions, four cheetahs, two leopards. We even saw a lion take down a zebra. But we also had lazy afternoons by the pool, a nature walk to look for birds (our wonderful guide Daniel helped us spot 18 different species), a cooking class and spa treatments. One night we did a hike up a kopje and had a guided meditation from the hilltop at sunset. Another, we ate a candlelit dinner at a private spot down by the watering hole, where we could hear the grunts of water buffalo just a few feet away. 

My favorite thing about the property is that they have a dozen Maasai on-site at any given time, several of them just hanging out in the Discovery Center. We made so many friends. Kinama taught us why hyena dung is white (they eat bones to get the marrow). Edward showed my youngest how to make fire the traditional Maasai way, as part of the property’s Mini Maasai program. Kassi told us tales of growing up in the bush, including the time a lion attacked one of his cows and he and two friends fought it off with nothing but spears.

Related: Africa’s Top Female Luxury Lodge Managers

Even when we weren’t on game drives, there was surprisingly good animal-watching from the lodge itself. The elephants graced us with visits all four days and there was even a lion kill visible from our lunch table on the terrace the last day. Though I had been to Tanzania before, there was still plenty for my sons and I to discover and delight in together. 

Of course, the shared gaze of wonder doesn’t need to be centered on anything as grand as a safari to make an impact. Perhaps my earliest memory is from when I was about four and playing on the beach in Cape Cod by a large rock. My father lifted me up and showed me the indentation in its top where barnacles were growing, which I found astonishing. Now, 46 years later, the memory still gives me goosebumps. I have often tried to parse why that moment is so seared in my mind. Barnacles? I think it may be that what I felt was the intention behind the gesture. When we show our kids the world, we are showing them what is really important to us: them.

Contact Indagare for assistance planning the safari experience that is right for you.

– Eliza Harris on September 10, 2019

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