HOW TO CELEBRATE IT
In February this year, on a wonderful family safari in Kenya, we celebrated my son Jack’s 9th birthday, our 10th wedding anniversary and my 40th birthday. For someone who has been in the travel business for 20 years I am very bad at planning our family holidays, and we’ve had a few disappointing trips as a result. Since this was to be the first trip to Africa for the children, I was determined to organise the perfect Spence family safari.
So in March 2008 I got going and booked our trip to Kenya, 11 months before travel, to tie in with the February half term. After chatting nicely to the children’s schools, they both agreed to us taking them out of school a few extra days either side of half term. It was the earliest I have ever booked a trip, but once I had done it, it was so liberating. I had 11 months to look forward to this trip. During the autumn months of 2008 when the world was in financial meltdown I did wonder whether doing an expensive trip to Africa was such a wise decision. However like our clients who pay us a deposit, I was committed to the camps and could not cancel. This ended up being perfect as, regardless of how tough the business climate was, we were still going on a holiday of a life time.
We did a fantastic trip staying at Giraffe Manor in Nairobi, Peponi Hotel in Lamu, Lewa in northern Kenya, and ending at Rekero Camp and Acacia House in the Masai Mara. Each element of the trip had highlights that were unique to that particular place. There were too many specific moments to mention but here are just a few.
On arrival in Nairobi, tired and grumpy after a night flight and a long queue at passport control, our spirits were lifted by the giraffes and wonderful hospitality at Giraffe Manor. Lily, my six year old daughter still swears it has the most comfortable bed in Africa. It really was the perfect start.
Next we flew into Lamu on a small plane. Seeing my children’s faces as they landed on a dirt strip and then stepped on to a wooden dhow to chug across the Indian Ocean to get to Peponi was memorable. This was like no other travel they had done before. No booster seat required, and no moans of, ‘Are we there yet?’ The hosting at Peponi, as many of our clients know is what truly makes it. I have stayed at so many different places all around the world yet Peponi always comes out on top. I really don’t know how they continue to work their magic day after day, year after year. My children snorkelled and tried waterskiing, tried sushi and caught a fish, all firsts for them.
On to Lewa by another small plane and from the air we saw snow-capped Mount Kenya up close and a hazy Kilimanjaro in the distance. Within minutes of landing Jack and Lily saw their first elephant, zebra and giraffe. During our time there they went on to help milk cows and goats, saw Daddy fly off on a yellow biplane (secret birthday present from my mother arranged by the office), rode horses and camels, bottle fed a rhino, got close to lion, and ate breakfast in the bush. The fried bacon appearing from behind a bush amazed Lily more than anything else. Was our Masai guide a magician?
Our final stop took us to Rekero and as it was Jack’s birthday I asked if he could sit in the front of the plane on the way down. Best birthday present ever and it was free – thanks, pilot. At Rekero I had requested senior guide James with whom I travelled to the US a few years ago and who had also visited us here in the UK. To see his smiling familiar face at the airstrip was another trip highlight for me. On to the camp itself where we were greeted by owners Gerard and Rainee, their two wonderful boys, Charlie and Sam, and Jackson, shareholder, guide and sometime BBC presenter on Big Cat Diary.
It was lovely to end our holiday amongst friends. They really did spoil us, as they have spoilt many of our clients before. Africa, as ever, wove her magic. As a family we had some really special moments I will always cherish. The children saw and tried things for the first time that I am sure they will have as happy childhood memories for life. My wife like many mothers was worried about how the children would cope with Africa. They coped better than us. I spent the money on a holiday rather than a big party or a new kitchen. Best money I’ve spent in ages. Bring on the big 50!