on safari

Who knew you could go on safari in California. No expensive trips to Africa, no shots, or 20 hour flights.

Just a short drive north to wine country and you will find Safari West.

Stay in a canvas tent imported from Africa. Well-appointed with comfortable beds, African art work, and a bathroom. Camping in luxury or in simpler terms “glamping.”

A savannah so safe, there aren’t even locks on the rooms.

We had a tent on Giraffe Alley. A room with a view, where the girls could see animals right from the deck.

We walked down to main cluster of buildings around dinner time to enjoy an on-site barbecue. Ava and Mia made fast friends with another girl named Caitlyn. They were off and running across the lawn area, doing what kids do when there is complete freedom to just run. Rotund guinea hens teased the girls. Scooting away at the last second before their tiny hands could pet the hens’ feathers. Ava called them the “fat birds.”

After dinner, Safari West brought in a bug conservationist from SaveNature.org for the evening entertainment. Live bugs to hold and touch, each with a colorful and interesting story. We were assured that each and every bug presented was safe to hold and touch. The girls learned about beetles, millipedes, walking sticks, and other creepy crawlies. Mia, who would hold nothing else, was most excited about the millipede. She jumped up ready to hold this monstrosity of a bug. I cupped my hands below hers as he carefully placed it in our care. His feet feeling like velcro as he crawled across our hands.

After the barbecue and bugs, tired kids were dragged back to the tent. It was then we noticed the constant chatter from the flamingos. What was background noise before, was now clear and boisterous. Loud and indignant. The flamingos did not seem to notice the settling of twilight across the savannah; signaling that it was time to sleep.

A weird pink and feathery debate club who squawked ALL  NIGHT LONG.

Flamingo security on patrol.

They weren’t the only chatty group on the savanna that evening. A dark symphony of trilling, singing, chirping, cheeping, twittering, tweeting, chattering, and peeping. Escalating to a full cacophony somewhere around two am.

Tucked under a warm electric blanket, the girls slept straight through the night. Nature’s white noise machine, soothing to the crowd under five.

I’m all for the full wild experience, but next time I’m bringing ear plugs.

After breakfast, we gathered with our fellow safari goers; everyone excited for the upcoming adventure. Vietnam era military jeeps were our transportation; no doors and and exciting roof top seating for those who were brave and over 48 inches tall.

Jeff was our guide. Well-versed in safari animals and great with kids. We climbed into our truck, ready to see the animals up close.

We spent the next three hours on safari. A rough but exciting ride, yet leisurely in pace which gave us plenty of time to enjoy the animals.

The animals are too numerous to name, but I’ll share some of the highlights.

Visiting this time of year meant we were able to see a lot of babies. Beautiful and new. Snuggled close to their momma, safe from predators.

True to their name, we observed a flamboyance of flamingos.  A kaleidoscope of pink and white. Still squawking.

And so many beautiful birds. Colorful and bright. Safely tucked away in a jungle aviary for us to enjoy.

We learned about their breeding pair of rhinos. Passive like puppies, they are a close pair. A rhino’s gestational period is 16 months and they will not know if she is pregnant until she actually has a baby.  It’s been six years, but they are still hopeful.

There was a dazzle of zebras with several babies in tow. Snuggled close to their mommas; nursing often. A proud poppa on the hill overseeing the safety of his herd.

Majestic giraffes, both the reticulated and masai kinds. They eat 16 to 20 hours a day and are in a constant state of chewing. We learn the momma giraffes give birth standing up and her newborn will drop six feet to the ground. The drop is critical, it starts her baby’s breathing and heart beating.

We were chased by three ostriches. Need I say more?

My camera lens flew out of the backseat near the cape buffalo. Jeff quickly backed up the truck and retrieved my lens while a large buffalo lazily peeked over the hill. Good news was that buffalo was uninterested in Jeff and my lens was saved.

The girls held animal bones. Notably, the watusi cow skeleton was bigger than Mia.

After some exciting driving through the back acres of the preserve, we arrived back at camp. We spend the next hour touring the zoo part Safari West. Amiable monkeys, sleek cheetahs, beautiful birds, shy foxes, prickly porcupines, slow-moving tortoises, and limber lemurs. Education in action, the classroom come to life. The girls full of questions and inquiries.

Sometime during the safari, my youngest daughter developed a major crush on the unsuspecting Jeff. Puppy love at 3 years-old.

During the walking portion of the safari, she asked Jeff to hold her hand. Flattered by her admiration, he took it. Later she asked, “Do you have a girlfriend?” A little embarrassed, he gently told her that he was spoken for. It didn’t seem to faze her too much and she continued to clutch his hand.

Before we knew it, our safari finished.

We thanked our guide for the valuable education. Little girl minds now stuffed to the brim with animal facts.

We said goodbye to the savannah, bound with a new appreciation for the conservation work being done here at the preserve.

Knowing someday soon, we will visit Safari West again.

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