safari with a toddler
We are far removed from our Kenya safari days when, unencumbered by a small child, we spent days on end jostling around the country’s many game parks. Our first road trip with Munchkin – when he was barely 3 months old and during which he slept peacefully so long as the car was in motion – is likewise far in our rearview. We were excited to take him on his first safari, to watch the emotions play out on his visage when he came face to face with the wild animals he had heretofore only seen in books. At the same time, we were apprehensive that he might not enjoy the experience, which would almost certainly mean that his screaming would ruin it for us as well.
We had good reason to worry. Munchkin got a taste of Uganda’s legendary traffic on our way into Kampala from Entebbe airport, and he did not like it one bit. Even the iPad could only mollify him to a certain degree. To be fair, two and a half hours of Kampala traffic would drive most anyone at least a little bonkers. Still, Munchkin’s incessant screaming about wanting to get out appeared to portend an unpleasant journey to Murchison Falls National Park, which lies 4-5 hours from Uganda’s capital.
He did whine as we navigated the city traffic for an hour Sunday afternoon, but then he calmed down and even slept a bit once we hit the open road. When Munchkin awoke, D kept him entertained by spotting cows for almost two hours until we reached the park gate. No sooner would we pass a long-horned zebu by the side of the road than Munchkin would squeal with delight, “Again! Again! I wanna see more cows!”
Not only did this bode well for the game drives that awaited, but it also gave D an opportunity to practice counting with Munchkin. He has mostly mastered counting to ten in English thanks to a healthy dose of hide-and-seek, which has long been one of his favorite games. We say mostly because he frequently skips ‘ten’ and ends with ‘eleven’ instead. In Russian, however, D could only get Munchkin to say four numbers (2, 4, 8, 9) – and though he recited them in increasing order, the result was somewhat less that what D had hoped to accomplish over the course of our long car ride.
Munchkin’s first encounter with African wildlife came when we happened upon a group of baboons shortly after passing the park gate. “Look at the monkeys!” we exclaimed in unison, to which he excitedly responded, “Gorillas!” Given how omnipresent the images of Rwanda’s famed gorillas are all over Kigali, this was not an unreasonable error, but it sent our otherwise stoic driver into a paroxysm of barely controlled giggles. “Did he just call them gorillas?” he wanted to know in between smothered guffaws. Clearly, this is not a mistake an African child would have made.
We explained to Munchkin that these primates were called baboons, which struck him as a hilariously absurd moniker. “Big baboons,” he chanted delightedly, breaking out into peals of laughter with each sighting, “Again! I wanna see more baboons!” This lasted for the better part of an hour until he abruptly lost interest, but by then we were approaching nightfall and were not far from our lodge. A handful of times on our subsequent outings he referred to the smaller vervet monkeys as baboons, but he never repeated his first mistake, and even underscored the point as we were leaving Murchison Falls. “Look, baboons in the road!” one of us said, to which Munchkin replied, “They are not gorillas.”