Travel Firsts: A Tanzanian Safari With My Toddler in Tow
After Gibb’s Farm, we hop a 12-seater bush plane to the Serengeti. Julian is all smiles one minute and howling like a hyena the next. No teething biscuits, medicine, nor Ms. Rachel will help; eventually, it’s the deafening motor of the aircraft that lulls him to sleep. By the time we land at TAASA Lodge, I want to throw myself to the lions—until Julian sweetly wraps his doughy toddler arms around my neck and utters what I’m convinced is his gobbledygook version of “I love you” and all is forgiven. At home or abroad, that’s parenting for you: a whiplash cocktail of emotional terrorism and unfettered tenderness.
TAASA, fortunately, is a salve to all that ails us. Located at the northern edge of the Serengeti, it’s far removed from the tourist throngs that plague the center of the park. Setting out each day in a private vehicle with our Maasai guide Logo and tracker Ruben, we see elephants grazing, teen impalas bumping horns in a blustery show of masculinity, and wrinkly pink vultures holding court in the treetops. Logo points out an ostrich in mating position and a leopard in repose. Ruben teaches Julian how to mimic a zebra’s bark and plays hide-and-seek with him at a bush breakfast. A night safari reveals a herd of wildebeest with spooky yellow eyes and two lions mating under the bordello-ish red lighting of a handheld spotlight. Julian sleeps through everything, which is just as well; he’s too young for the birds-and-the-bees talk.
Other high points from our stay include visiting a primary school where TAASA has built two classrooms and touring the traditional Maasai boma, or village, of a local tracker. Children race out of the thatched-roof homes to greet us; they’re curious about Julian but even more intrigued by his stuffed chimpanzee Bruno. (Maasai children aren’t raised with toys, says Logo, which explains why the littlest ones are afraid of Bruno; they fear he is a real ape.) When Maasai warriors demonstrate the Adumu, a jumping dance that showcases the young men’s strength and endurance, I desperately want Julian to pay attention. But in typical toddler fashion, he wanders away—more intrigued by a village fence than the actual villagers.
After six nights in the bush, we fly to the island of Zanzibar for a little R&R. Here we pinball between the swimming pool and the wide, seaweed-strewn shoreline at Breezes Beach Club & Spa, part of the homegrown Zanzibar Collection, and splash around the crystal-clear tide pools, careful not to step on any sea urchins. It’s a restful end to an otherwise exhausting adventure.
So would I do it again? 100 percent. Sandwiching the trip to Tanzania between two Middle East legs made it easier for Julian to adjust to the jet lag. Reserving private safari vehicles at both Gibb’s Farm and TAASA was essential because we could make our own schedule—indulging in as many (or few) game drives per day as Julian’s capriciousness allowed. His nap routine went out the window though: He slept when he wanted to sleep, which inevitably meant missing some memorable brushes with nature. And though I loaded up on toddler snacks and puréed fruit pouches at an Emirati grocery store before boarding our flight to Dar es Salaam, I needn’t have worried so much about food; Julian ate everything I ate at the safari camps and beach resort, including local specialties such as ugali, pilau, and mandazi, an East African twist on deep-fried doughnuts.
After Gibb’s Farm, we hop a 12-seater bush plane to the Serengeti. Julian is all smiles one minute and howling like a hyena the next. No teething biscuits, medicine, nor Ms. Rachel will help; eventually, it’s the deafening motor of the aircraft that lulls him to sleep. By the time we land at TAASA Lodge,…