So hello again, it has been some time. But some things are worth waiting for and this challenge was one of them!!
Michaela and I have been friends since we were 11 years old and started school together at Senacre Secondary, Maidstone….the mathematicians amongst you will work out that that is….a very long time ago, in fact now over 40 years which seems an impossibility. We were unable to complete our challenge during our 50th year (we were born 6 days apart) but I certainly did not mind….in fact I am extremely happy to stretch out the celebration.
Growing up my Dad encouraged, and sat with me, to watch all African nature programmes, Billy Smarts Circus (to see the elephants and the lions) and talked with a passion and longing about these animals. He even took me to Port Lympne Zoo on my 18th birthday to see the elephants, gorillas and other animals which was a wonderful day. However, his only visit to Africa was during the Second World War; and that was to Egypt. Since he passed away I have always thought how much I would love to go on Safari, and honour his memory by seeing these fabulous creatures in their natural surroundings. As yet this has not been possible. So, when Michaela said to me about her love of Giraffes and how would I like to do a UK glamping safari (at Port Lympne no less) this seemed a wonderful and fortuitous step in the right direction.
We arrived at the Zoo on a beautifully sunny September day and spent some time looking at the gorillas before our tour started. After our bags were tagged and taken away we went on a safari of the park with the extremely knowledgeable Jack as our guide. We learnt about the Aspinal breeding programmes for Rhinos, saw cute spider monkeys, were greeted eagerly by the new wolf brothers and then saw the Giraffes for the first time.
Because… the experience we had fixed upon was a stay at Giraffe Lodge (and what a great decision that turned out to be). There were welcome drinks, we were shown to our tents (ours overlooked the waterhole and out across Hythe, Dymchurch and out to Dungeness…but it looked so different with the Zebra, Elan and deer grazing across the land….positively African) so we decided to have a pre-dinner gin and tonic, a snack and sit on our veranda enjoying the splendid views…and what a view as the giraffe began their elegant drifting across the horizon. We later enjoyed a wonderful South African inspired brai with good company, a log fire at the Lodge and then strolled outside as the sky was perfectly clear. We could see Mars and Jupiter plus many constellations clearly in the sky…a perfect end to a wonderful first day.
We had chosen to leave the flaps of our tent open so we could appreciate the view and the autumn chill meant we both slept well (or that may have been the tipples we imbibed!!). Regardless, as the sun gently rose the following morning our tent was filled with soft very early morning light and so we got up to look out….WOW….an ethereal mist had fallen and was wrapping the tops of trees and clinging to shrubs, had obscured any sign of buildings or roads and I truly found it magical…We stayed for a few minutes, cold but taking it all in when what should appear to our left but the floating majesty of a giraffe. It glided into view and was followed slowing and regally by three more large male giraffes. We watched, captivated….not believing our good fortune. In their own time they walked past, stopping and stripping the odd branch, make their way past the water hole, past us and off again out of sight. What they left behind were two very content, overwhelmed and blessed women!!
And our break was not even over…we had a much needed “nice cup of tea” to deal with the excitement and then later a fabulous cooked breakfast. What superb and friendly staff work here, guides, chefs, hostess’, drivers…everyone!! So we then had to pack and take our second part of the safari which lead us past the hilarious ostriches and down to the giraffe paddock.
Here we were able to feed them ourselves…..what a treat. Their sheer height is inspiring, their delicate eyelashes are endearing and large, dexterous tongues would then grip and strip the branches of all their leaves (their strength left you thinking you might go up in the air too). We learnt about their habits, diet, interesting stride pattern and many other facts. It really was a most enjoyable and informative end to the trip.
And this is such an edited version; I cant begin to include how much Michaela and I discussed our hopes and dreams, laughed, reminisced, shared and were just comfortably silent ….the way true friends can be. It was a fabulous challenge as it allowed us to spend ‘time’ together….the most precious of commodities. So thank you Micky…for a great experience, for that lasting image of the emerging giraffe through the dawn light and for being a super friend.
Oh…and for reminding me that if I want something to happen I must make it happen…so today Kent……the future……AFRICA!!! So be like this baboon and …keep your eyes peeled for what comes next…