As readers of this blog will know, Ellen loved her 21st Birthday trip to Kenya two years ago, but was slightly disgruntled that there were no tigers in Africa. Luckily for Ellen, her sister chose to spend her own 21st Birthday on a tiger safari in India.
Long plane journeys are always an issue for Ellen. She loves take-off but then immediately wants to land, and the constant ‘she wants to get off’ and ‘back to my home’ on a 9-hour flight gets wearisome in the extreme. For the first time when travelling with Ellen, we had been given a sunflower lanyard at check-in, which signals to staff that the wearer has a hidden disability. Of course, Ellen refused to wear it and I’d rather distractedly put it round my own neck. I was amazed when Paul the air steward approached me, said he’d noticed my lanyard and did I need anything?
Once I’d pointed him in the right direction, Paul’s interaction with Ellen was brilliant. He addressed her by her name and spoke directly to her, not looking at Rich or I for confirmation. Nothing was too much trouble and he made us feel comfortable and welcome (so unusual it’s noteworthy). He found her extra blackcurrant juice and was completely unfazed when 30 minutes from landing she vomited down her seat. I later found out that British Airways were awarded an autism-friendly award in April 2019 – and it showed. After being sick, Ellen was incredibly happy and kept talking about how she was sick on the plane and where the sick went. Luckily we didn’t have much time for this new refrain, which however monotonous, was at least different from ‘I want to get off!’
Finally arriving at Kahna Earth Lodge in central India, Ellen was delighted to find a group of monkeys in residence in a tree outside her lodge, and so the tone was set for an amazing few days.
Confronted at the communal mealtimes with soup, salads made of tomato and pineapple and spicy curries, did not faze Ellen. Things that she wouldn’t even consider eating at home, she was willing to try. She ate the soup, picked the bits out of the salad that she liked and had a go with all the curries – even imitating us by tearing up her roti bread and dipping it in the sauces. Anything that looked too suspicious was instantly dismissed, although she nodded every time she was offered extra rice. Even the very attentive staff at Kahna Earth Lodge were hard-pressed to keep her water glass filled, one meal alone she must have drunk 8 glasses – making up for her otherwise limited drinking during the day.
The tigers of course, she absolutely loved. She was incredibly hardy and rode over the bumpy tracks without a murmur while Daisy and I were shrieking and hanging on for dear life! Our guide had told us that at this time of year we could expect to see a tiger once in every 2/3 safari drives, and we saw 6 tigers (including 2 cubs) in 5 drives so counted ourselves very fortunate. This good fortune was completely lost on Ellen, who demanded ‘more tigers’ after each and every sighting! She got up early without complaint, climbed into the jeep without hesitation and waited patiently for the park to open at 6.00 am. This confirms how happy she was to be out spotting animals.
Iron-bladdered, she didn’t go to the toilet at all on safari until the final drive. The emergency arose after one of her ‘eight glasses of water’ lunches when we were in a remote area of the forest. There are a couple of lunch spots with rudimentary toilets, but the rest of the time the facilities consist of bamboo screens adjacent to the anti-poaching lodges which provide privacy to the squatter. Ellen was obviously desperate and even more so after we had driven fast over bumps for 15 minutes to get to the screen. She was so desperate in fact that after initial baulking at the lack of a toilet, she let me hold her arms while she peed al-fresco – luckily it wasn’t anything ‘more serious’ as there was nowhere to discretely kick anything.
Safaris are completely addictive. Now we are on our way to Goa for the beach-part of our holiday, I’m rather hoping Ellen will complain about not having seen gorillas, jaguars or orang-utans…