Kenya Safari with Teens

Senior editor Norie Quintos, just back from an African safari with her teenage sons, filed this report. Previous blogs in this series include taking care of paperwork, staying healthy, and packing.

Norie’s teenage sons swim in the Ewaso N’giro River

Teenagers act as if they’ve seen it all, and in many ways they have–most have been subjected to a 24-hour, hundred-channel television loop; they have viewed every viral YouTube video that titillates, shocks, saddens, tickles, or pulls heartstrings; they’ve done everything from fly jets to race cars to shoot bad guys in hyper-real videogames; they’ve seen the wonders of nature in HD-clarity on Planet Earth DVDs.

And yet. Real life trumps virtual reality every single time. And our recent trip to Kenya blew them away like no Playstation, Xbox, Blu-Ray, Imax, surround sound, or new-tech substitute-reality invention ever could. Turns out the travel experience just can’t be pixelated.

The trick to traveling with teens is to go beyond the visual and engage all their senses. (I worked with my outfitter, Micato Safaris, to plan such an itinerary.) Thus in the scrubland of Kenya’s Laikipia Plateau, Sabuk Lodge was such a hit. Run by Kenyan Verity Williams (that Africans can be white was one preconception busted for the kids), the eight-room ecolodge offers every fun activity and more listed in the popular The Dangerous Book for Boys; in fact the book, as well as its counterpart volume for girls, is displayed prominently on the coffee table.

There’s fishing with a stick, string, and bread-dough bait in the Ewaso N’giro River; jumping off boulders into same river; playing outdoor table-tennis with a red-robed Samburu; looking for game on foot and on camel; learning to read scat and animal tracks; and listening to Verity’s fireside bush tales (she worked on movie sets, including Out of Africa and The Ghost and the Darkness). Who knows what more we could have done had we stayed for more than a night? While it’s hard to say no to all the activity, the languorous lure of the lodge is strong, with its uniquely handcrafted local furniture, open-sided suites overlooking the river, hearty meals served family-style, and quiet library nook.

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Sabuk is one of a group of game lodges established on private reserves that once were exclusively ranch lands. Loisaba Wilderness is another one, where cattle ranchers and villagers and game lodges work in a unique, if sometimes uneasy partnership, with the result being the protection of once-hunted animals. For the visitor, it’s a more intimate and exclusive experience. At Loisaba, visitors can do everything from game drives to horseback safaris to dips in the pool to tennis to river-rafting. For all that, I loved sitting on my private deck with a pair of binocs and watching giraffe and elephant and zebra visit the watering hole far below. The kids, meanwhile, played endless rounds of bocce ball with the gardener, and made bows and arrows with the Samburu guide. We also walked to our next night’s accommodation, the Kiboko Starbeds, run almost exclusively by the neighboring Laikipiak Maasai and Samburu tribes. Our netted beds were on raised platforms and wheeled out from beneath the thatched roof at night. We slept to the tune of hippo grunts and hyena laughs.

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Loisaba also offered rides on quad bikes (also known as ATVs, or all-terrain-vehicles). Though the revenue goes to the local tribes running the operation, it somehow felt incongruous to guzzle gas, make loud noises, and kill grass in one of nature’s most wondrous landscapes. As my sons motored along rutted trails with me straining to keep up–catching flashes by startled zebra and gazelle looking up from feeding–the kids didn’t notice the contradiction; they were having too much fun.

The boys’ first sighting of a lion outside a cage was electrifying, and that the big cat was in the gutteral throes of mating was an experience my teens, themselves in early stages of adolescence, will never forget. This is what an African safari at its best provides: moments of raw, uncensored life at its most elemental.

Photos by Norie Quintos

Norie’s next installment covers Kenya’s iconic Masai Mara. Norie is updating the magazine’s safari planner. Share your own tips and experiences with us.