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Life on a Family Safari

Avid traveller and author Rosie Millard recalls her experiences on a family safari in Africa.

I am not mistaken. Charlie is pawing the ground. His ears are flapping. His trunk is trumpeting. Charlie is a fully grown African bull elephant. He must weigh around four tons. I am sitting with my family in a jeep. It is possible that Charlie is intending to sit on our jeep. “Let’s get out of here!” squawks my husband.

After what seems quite a long time, but which is probably only about five seconds, our guide calmly puts the vehicle into fast reverse. We scorch out of the terrain. Our four children look around, wild-eyed with excitement.

Around us, the African bush sprawls in the heat. It’s as if we have left our living room and jumped right into the middle of a David Attenborough programme. Our trip is a heady combination of (safe) excitement, learning and spectacular sights: giraffe awkwardly bending down to drink; bushbabies, hippo and in one magical moment, a giant herd of elephants, big and tiny, at play in a waterhole.

What a wealth of knowledge we gain! After five days, our children can tell the difference between a leopard’s pawprint and a hyena’s, and know what a carmine bee-eater looks like. Furthermore, they understand that when Charlie is flapping his ears and trumpeting, it’s not really very dangerous. He’s just showing off!

The sun is hot, the sea balmy, the bush full of life. There are two other families with us, and our assorted children, aged from 8-15, are fascinated by the game drives (at least two a day). The children spend hours watching one-clawed crabs, learn a bit of Swahili and experience how the African equatorial night falls like a blackout curtain. There is messing about on the beach, and time for quizzes and competitions over supper. When they get tired of the game drives, they simply fall asleep in the jeep.