All month long we celebrate Ireland. From the music, to the festivals, to its famous coastlines and castles. Book our sweeping castle tour and spend an afternoon at falconry school. To get you ready, our travel experts share some of their best packing essentials. We also welcome three new advisors to the team.
Erika Reategui and Fernando Gonzalez
When our children’s ambassador Sofia Gonzalez turned 10 a few weeks ago, her parents planned a birthday she would never forget. “Sofia’s passion is animals. There’s no better place to experience wildlife than on a South African safari,” says her father Fernando, who also runs F1S.
Like any parents, he and wife Awilda considered the potential challenges of exotic travel with a youngster: bugs, food, long drives, illness. In the end, Fernando says “We encountered zero issues. It was life changing. Life changing at any age, and even more rewarding with children. He adds, “We all got to check out of our daily routines, and share this remarkable experience together.”
Sofia agrees. In her words, it was “magical.” She rattles off a long list of animals she spotted. Kudu (a type of antelope), zebras, giraffes, baboons, hyenas, crocodiles, even a rare black mamba. And, of course, the Big Five: leopards, rhinos, elephants, buffalo and lions. A pride of 40 lions to be exact.
It was on their first private game drive at Singita Sweni Lodge, a luxury camp nestled above the trees in Kruger National Park. Their guide and tracker had heard that a pride of lions had made a fresh kill. At sunset the guide loaded them all into their Jeep and took off in pursuit. There at the bottom of a water hole, a magnificent scene unfolded.
The Jeep carefully drove in to the muddy pit. For the next hour, the family watched this live version of National Geographic. They counted more than three dozen lions of all ages around them. Cubs were feeding and wrestling, as their mothers looked on. Two very rare white lions were spotted in the group. And one dominant male watched protectively from afar. When he roared, the others fell in line obeying his command.
Game drives were a twice-daily part of their five day safari. Mornings at both Singita Sweni Lodge and &Beyond Kirkman’s Kamp began before dawn. The first drive began at 5:30 am. A lavish breakfast followed, often shared with a playful troop of monkeys ready to help themselves. There was free time in the afternoon before the next sunset drive. Kid friendly activities included archery and baking cookies. Adults got to indulge in relaxing spa treatments. The evenings culminated with festive boma dinners full of singing and dancing.
Sofia thoroughly enjoyed her meals, especially the cauliflower with cheesy rice. Both camps paid extra attention to the children’s needs. Each morning the chef would ask Sofia what she would like for her meals. Fernando was the adventurous eater, happily sampling grilled kudu and warthog, which, he says, tasted like chicken.
Sleeping under the stars one night was a family highlight. The bed was tented, but “we could hear hippos and kudu walking through the bush underneath,” explains Sofia. Another highlight of hers was meeting the children of Happy Homes Pre-School through Kirkman’s Kamp. &Beyond’s commitment to the local community includes supporting this local school which not only teaches the youngsters, but also feeds them through their edible garden program.
Throughout their safari, the family was reminded of the importance of animal conservation efforts too. Sofia is back now ready to campaign to save the rhino. She reminded us that at the current rate of killings, there will be no more rhinos by 2019.
Before she left, our client Dr. Jane Goodall gave her encouraging words to get to know the children and experience South Africa to the fullest. Those words left an indelible impression. Now back in her daily routine in New York City, Sofia admits, “I left my heart in Africa. I can’t wait to go back.”