This is not only the most exotic vacation we've ever taken, it's also the longest: 23 hours' travel time (from Los Angeles via London), an eternity for kids. Lucky for us, somebody invented the portable DVD player. We're toting a small mountain of duffels, plus the camcorder I need to film Lippity-Loppity Lane, a Spy Kids–style movie our children wrote themselves (you can see the flick—and find out how we made it—at tlfamily.com). As soon as we get off the plane, we meet our exceedingly polite and patient safari host, Tonnie Kaguathi. A bald, fortysomething father of two, fluent in English, Swahili, and Kikuyu—the language (and name) of his tribe, Kenya's predominant ethnic group—Tonnie will be our guide for the entire trip, which begins with a drive into the hubbub of metropolitan Nairobi. Cars spew exhaust, people and animals crowd the streets, and kids play soccer in the red dirt. We're surprised to see striking contemporary architecture alongside British colonial buildings like our hotel, the Norfolk, a favorite of big-game enthusiasts since it opened in 1904. With its burgundy and blue velour—not to mention the bidet, which fascinates the children—our two-bedroom suite feels very European.
But there isn't much time to enjoy the splendor. We have only one day to see the local sights, starting with a tour of Kiambethu, Kenya's first tea plantation. Fiona Vernon, whose grandfather founded the venture in the 1920's, invites us to sit with her on the veranda of the hilltop main house, where we drink black tea from porcelain cups, eat English biscuits, and admire the view of Mount Kilimanjaro, while Paris, Brielle, and Blake feed banana slices to the black-and-white colobus monkeys that peer down at us from the roof. This is the first time they've seen monkeys that aren't in cages, and they are thrilled.
They get an even closer encounter of the same kind at the nearby Giraffe Center, a temporary home for abandoned and injured baby giraffes. The shy creatures can't resist the alfalfa-pellet snacks on our flattened palms, and their superlong tongues feel like slimy sandpaper—"Ewwww!" say the kids.
Désirée wants to stop at the Karen Blixen Museum, the Danish author's homestead on the northern edge of Nairobi where she set Out of Africa, a memoir of her experiences as a colonial coffee farmer. The ranch house is now a museum, decorated with her desk, lion-skin rugs, and photographs— of her lover, the big-game hunter Denys Finch-Hatton, and her ex-husband, Baron Bror Blixen-Finecke, the philandering aristocrat who gave her syphilis. (Needless to say, we don't tell the kids that part of the story.) After our tour, Tonnie herds us on to the animal nursery in Nairobi National Park run by the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. Here, a team of naturalists care for and rehabilitate young animals, many of whose parents have been killed by poachers. We see a black rhino and watch baby tembo (Swahili for "elephants") being fed and put to bed. A handler leads each into a darkened stall and keeps it company, just as its mother would have, until it falls asleep.