Birthdays in strange places

We very often get calls from people wanting to spend that “milestone” birthday in somewhere exotic – somewhere away from home – perhaps where you are not reminded about this new (scary) number that is now attached to you. Don’t you know we are all 21 in our own mind’s eye!

It got me thinking about some of the strange birthdays my kids have celebrated growing up in Africa. As a mom you always want to plan something different for your child’s birthday – like an evening out at a show or maybe the Science Centre or Calaway Park. We didn’t have the luxury of these places in the little kingdom of Swaziland where we lived so one year we booked the camp at Mlilwane Game Sanctuary – we took two huts, one for the boys and one for the girls. It was very rustic so sleeping bags and pots and pans were required to be packed. The plan was to get out there in the afternoon in time for a walk with the game ranger and then cook dinner on the fire under the stars and bed down for the night.

The best laid plans of mice and men!!

We set out for the game walk. There were no lions on Mlilwane – mostly buck, zebra a couple of rhino so we weren’t really too worried. But we had forgotten about Twinkle Toes – the ostrich. She was a bit irritable and well known to the rangers. Sure enough half way through our walk Twinkle Toes turned up. Now ostriches might look harmless but they are described as one of the world’s most dangerous birds by Britannica. They have incredibly strong legs – wikihow describes them best in this extract –

” Ostriches can be found in the wild, on safaris, or on ostrich farms. But regardless of where you find them, treat them with the utmost caution. Although they do not prey on humans, they have been known to injure and kill when provoked. Extremely fast on foot, they can deliver mortal blows by the sheer force of their legs, never mind the lethally sharp talons at their toes. The best thing you can do is steer clear of them, keep your distance, if you don’t bother them. It is unlikely they will bother you. Failing that, ducking for cover and hiding works best. As a last resort, you may even have to fight them. “

So we were understandably wary of Twinkle Toes and you can bet your bottom dollar she turned up on cue. The game ranger immediately shouted to everyone “down- on the ground now!”. The kids had already been briefed and dropped to the ground huddled up like little tortoises. Twinkle Toes strutted around poking her head here and there and our little team stayed as still as little rocks. After what seemed like eternity she clucked off, obviously disappointed.

Big adventures and lot to talk about on the way back to the camp where the birthday cake was cut and the song was sung and everyone pretty well staggered to their sleeping bags all very tired from a day in the sun. Except for one little lad who decided to water the bushes before he retired for the night. He didn’t realise that his little rainstorm had woken up a sleeping hippo just behind the bush. It was only when he heard the grumpy snuffling that he realised just who he had disturbed. Like a true African he zipped up and made his way quietly back to his sleeping bag.

Now those were good birthday parties!

By Lesley Keyter

Lesley Keyter is the face of travel in the fast growing city of Calgary. Every week since 1997 she has has featured live on the Morning News Global TV.


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