Ellen turned 21 at the beginning of this year and the question was how best to celebrate this milestone with someone who has no interest in parties, jewellery, drinking or even other people really, beyond their capacity to bring presents. Almost every one of Ellen’s birthdays up until now have been spent at the zoo, so why not take it one giant step further, we thought (after a few cocktails one night), and go on safari to Africa?!
The trip has been a year in the planning, with several hurdles to overcome, the main ones being;
a) Ellen’s refusal to have injections.
b) Ellen’s dislike of flying (our trip involved five separate flights).
c) Ellen’s heavy reliance on McDonalds as a form of sustenance.
d) Ellen’s insistence on wearing a jumper at all times no matter how high the temperature.
e) Her past history of running through passport control fuelled by a rush of post-flight adrenaline (which certainly made the security staff in Florida a bit twitchy).
I won’t bore you with the year spent relating social stories, rubbing in magic cream and the amateur dramatic quality of my experience-sharing activities. Instead, here are some of the highlights of the trip.
Ellen loved sleeping in the huge bed in our rather luxurious ‘tent’ on the conservancy. One morning, when I went to wake her at 6.00 am for the safari drive, she sat up and as she did so, a large black centipede uncurled itself from its sleeping position next to her (obviously noting the sudden lack of warmth) and slid off under her pillow. Daisy and I looked at each other in horror, expecting Ellen to have a total meltdown, but instead she was giggling and seemed to love the fact that she’d spent the night with a large invertebrate. I have to say though that my bed received a very thorough inspection that night!
We had fabulous food on safari, but there was no choice, you ate what was put in front of you. Dinner was four (yes four!) courses and as William, our Masai waiter, put the bowl of vichyssoise soup in front of Ellen on the first evening, we were all expecting her to reject it, loudly and irrefutably. What we were not expecting was that she would pick up a bread roll, ask for it to be buttered and then eat the soup as if she’d been dining on such things every day of her life! She ate soup many times on holiday, but in typical fashion has refused to touch it since we returned home, ‘she’s not on holiday now!’ Ellen told me firmly when I tried to do a similar ‘William’ trick back in Blighty.
Ellen coped well with so many new things; the ‘African massage’ we all received driving through the bush, at times so violent we were almost propelled out of our seats, the tiny planes with no co-pilot, sleeping under a mosquito net and a prolonged period of sharing a room with her sister. She even, after encouragement, dipped her toes in the sea.
Of course, she still talked about going home from day one, went mute one day and refused to try to sleep, or let anyone else sleep on the overnight flight home, but these things seem so minor compared to everything else.
The big question is – did Ellen enjoy it enough to undertake such an adventure again? And the answer is, yes I think so. Especially as, after having close up encounters with elephants, lions, cheetahs, hippos, wildebeest, buffalo and many many other fabulous animals, Ellen commented that she hadn’t still hadn’t seen any tigers.
India, here we come?