By Frosty Merriott
In 2009, our first ever Daddy Daughter Trip was Yellowstone and we stayed in a cabin with no lock on the doors and there had been grizzly sightings! It was my first alone time with Shiloh and no Carly and she was a teenager for God’s sake! When the Pillow Pet came out, though, I knew I was still just Daddy. The Lamar Valley was referred to as the “American Serengeti” and that stuck; I wanted to take her to see the real thing. I began saving my money.
I was thinking we would do an National Geographic Photography Safari but Shiloh had other ideas. She didn’t want to just take pictures but wanted to see the people and the culture (we have sponsored several Tanzanian children through Compassion International). She had read where there was a place you could feed orphaned baby elephants and she had seen on Facebook a place where you could have breakfast with giraffes?!
On my end, I was having very uncharacteristic serious self-doubts about an adventure like this. Lots of voices in my head: “You’re too old to go on a trip like this, time to adopt a more mellow lifestyle.”
I asked my good friend, Stacey, what she thought. “What is the worst that can happen? You get carried off by a lioness and never seen again!?”
“Yes!” I replied. So I asked Dr. Kotz his thoughts. He said that was pretty common but it was all about making memories. I knew this but I just needed to hear it from my doctor. The chance to spend time with Shiloh, before she started work and/or had a different man in her life was too powerful. I also wanted to see Africa as it is now while there are still elephants, lions, cape buffalos, leopards and rhinos. We saw and got pictures of all the Big Five! To think you are considered an accomplished hunter if you kill the “Big Five” is so disgusting to me.
I contacted Lise Kargaard in South Africa and told her my daughter wanted to feed baby elephants, go to that Giraffe Manor Place and learn about the culture, visit a Masai Village and, oh yeah, I would love to take some pictures as well.
The next thing I knew, we had fostered two baby elephants Karisa and Kelelari for my granddaughters in Mississippi from the Daphne Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage. This got us into the orphanage at feeding time and while we were staying two nights at Giraffe Manor! The orphanage had 36 elephants between one month and two years old. The keepers slept with the young ones at night and rotated lest they (keepers) become too attached. They are so cute but it is so tragic! If you get the chance read “Life Love and Elephants: An African Love Story” by Daphne Sheldrick. It was one of those books I did not want to ever end.
We flew from Denver to St Paul to Amsterdam to Nairobi, Kenya. Some 20 hours in the air, bone tired and sleep deprived we walked out of the Nairobi Airport, there must have been over 100 men in the dark holding up little name placards. Welcome to Africa! Finally, I spotted George he was holding a small dark giraffe! When we arrived at the Manor it was like 11 at night but they had prepared fresh meat pies a candle light dinner with Tuskers Beer! The people were so sweet and friendly. “Jambo”!
We stayed two nights at the Sand River Camp in the Masai Mara where the owner sat us down on arrival: “This isn’t Disney World; the camp isn’t fenced and you are not allowed out of your tent between dusk and dawn without security!” (Masai warrior with a spear; no guns are allowed except by rangers) He said that the lions hunt through the camps at night and sure enough we were awakened almost every night by either a roaring lion, a screaming hyena or a snorting Cape Buffalo. This is also where we met our favorite guide, Newton Congo, who is our newest friend on Facebook.
We also stayed three nights at the Kusina Camp in the Serengeti, where a pride of lions watched us have a beer from 50 feet just outside the glow of the bonfire. And our final stop was at the Sanctuary Camp in the Ngorongoro Crater. You just have to see this to believe it. The trip now seems surreal at times, but no, the memories are vivid and real. We will remember this adventure for the rest of our lives.
In fact we are already thinking of going back when I turn 75 and taking the whole family. Good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise of course. I’m still just Daddy.