Family Safaris: A special Father-Daughter Trip

Mona and Mark ready to board a plane to start their safari in Ruaha National Park, Tanzania
There is no doubt the best part of my job is when clients return and share the soul stirring moments that a safari inevitably produces. Fortunately, one thing that is becoming common is family safaris, whether it is a multi-generational trip or simply a parent and a daughter or son, it is a shared experience that will last and resonate between family members for all of their lives.
I was very fortunate to plan a special safari for Mona Cavalcoli and her father Mark. Mark is a retired Biology teacher and instilled his love of nature into Mona and an African Safari was the ultimate way for them to further explore this shared interest. They knew they had to see chimpanzees and then we crafted a trip around that priority. Mona has been kind to share a synopsis of their special trip with my readers, enhanced by Mark’s terrific photos. The last paragraph really captures the essence of the deep reach a safari can have to our inner African, and it just makes sense to me that a visit to our ancient home is just a perfect thing for a family to do together.
Father-Daughter Trip of a Lifetime By Mona Cavalcoli, New York, NY
(all photos copyright Mark Cavalcoli)
Mdonya Old River Camp guide Zachariah, Mark, and Mona relax to enjoy their first African sundown!

My dad and I took our first trip to Africa in August, thanks to the great planning of Bill Given and The Wild Source. Despite some nervousness before we left, our trip became what really was a trip of a lifetime for us.

Elephants are common in Ruaha and frequently visit right in Mdonya Old River Camp

Ruaha National Park

Ruaha: it was a nearly 2-hour drive from the airstrip to Mdonya Old River Camp where we were staying – but on that drive, we saw giraffes, elephants, zebras, impala, warthogs, monkeys, our first lion — and all manner of stunning birds. After arriving at camp and being shown to our charming and rustic tent, we went to the main tent for lunch – and while we were eating, 3 male elephants walked up to camp and began eating the bushes less than 20 feet from us! We capped off our first day with drinks and snacks while watching the sun set over the spectacular landscape. Dad and I found it hard to believe that things could be or get any better than that first day. But every day we were in Africa was a great day.
Open sided game drive vehicles at Mdonya Old River Camp and Katuma Bush Lodge allow for intimate wildlife observation in remote National Parks.
One of the things we enjoyed about Ruaha was the rustic tents and the fact that animals roamed all over the camp. We were always on the lookout for animals while walking back and forth – and the guides were very attentive to escorting us. Cape Buffalo in particular were frequently in camp – and our nights were filled with the sounds of animals: lions growling, elephants trumpeting, hyenas, jackals, and more. Our last night at Ruaha, dad heard a fight between some lions and a cape buffalo (apparently the buffalo escaped – and somehow I slept thru the entire thing). Then, around 4 am I woke, rolled over – and saw the shape of an elephant right outside our tent window! It put its trunk up to the window and was smelling us — and, OK, I was a little scared. It eventually turned and walked off, but we were quite thrilled at our ‘close’ encounter.

Katavi National Park

Observing the behavior of animals, such as this lion carrying her cub, is one of the great thrills of a safari.
After Ruaha, we headed to Katavi, where we found we were the only guests in camp at the Katuma Bush Lodge. Geoff and Colleen Mullen were the camp managers -and they treated us like family not guests. Accommodations at Katuma were fantastic, and we enjoyed having our own ‘private’ safari. One of our special treats at Katavi was finding a lioness with three 2-month old cubs, and spending time watching them play with each other and their mother.

Mahale National Park

Michio, a precocious young male chimpanzee (about 13 years old) known for causing chaos within Mahale’s M Group walks closely by Mona in a classic chimp trekking moment. Note that face masks are worn to protect chimpanzees from human diseases.
Our last stop was Mahale Mountains, where we went chimp trekking. For me and dad, this was a special experience as we are both huge fans of Jane Goodall. We stayed at Kungwe Beach Lodge, and were more than thrilled to hear that we were, once again, the only guests in camp. Our first day trekking we were prepared to be disappointed. Sixtus, our guide, informed us that the main troop of chimps had gone outside of their normal range and we might not see anything. We did, though! We saw three females including one baby. Tears came to my eyes upon seeing our first chimps in the wild. They were quiet, just eating in the trees, although they came down and we were able to watch them for a while on the ground. The next day, we learned the troop was back in the area, and we were able to see more of the group. For the first time, we heard them hooting and calling — and we heard AND saw the big males doing their charging displays! Our third day of trekking we observed the chimps grooming, resting, playing, eating – even mating. Several of the males charged by us — one, the alpha male Pim, shook branches so close to dad that one of the branches broke off and conked him in the head!
A remarkable behavior photo (Copyright Mark Cavalcoli) of a mother chimpanzee using a twig to fish for ants. This was the behavior discovered by Jane Goodall that saved her research and led to a fully funded project by shocking the world that humans were not the only tool users. This photo is even more amazing because it shows the generational learning as the young chimp studies his mother’s technique. A fitting find for two travelers who were inspired to Africa by Jane Goodall.
When it was time for the trip to end and for us to go home, I cried. We both did. In the short time we had been in Africa, it felt as though somehow it had become a part of us. We are so glad we took the trip, and can only hope that we will be able to go back someday. We would recommend our trip to anyone!

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