I was asked yesterday what it was about Africa, or travel, that was so appealing to me. Here’s the not-so-brief take on Africa.
I was told that there is “nothing on Earth that compares to an African sunset”, only weeks before my dream holiday to southern Africa. A safari was high on my list contained in my overflowing bucket, and when I moved to the Middle East (where there are some remarkable sunsets as well), my first major vacation was to finally quench my desires and enjoy the safari experience. Not only was I not disappointed, it began my love affair with Africa. A love affair that has never let me down or made me feel cheated.
A smile creases my face every time I see another elephant, a zebra, or another herd of dozens of impala. The herd looks just like the last one, only minutes past, but the smile returns, deepens with each moment spent amongst the wild and in this place. Other cars rush past; but I would sit and soak it all in for as long as I am able. I am in my element here.
I always said I wouldn’t go back to some place if I could see some place new, but Africa keeps calling me back. And I answer every time. The animals, the scenery, the sensory overload as you walk down her cities’ streets, or even better, as you follow a path through the bush not knowing what is watching you. Life seeps from every pore. The hairs on the back of your neck stand up when your ranger motions you to stop, his fine-tuned senses telling him that we’re not alone and might be in for a surprise. The hustle and bustle of her people, the vibrant smiles and candor as they greet you as you pass. This is not the place the horror stories foretold. Sure, they may exist, but those places are far more likely to be realized in my mind. For now, my Africa is one of wonder and delight.
I knew before I went that first time that Africa would be special. While on horseback on my second day in Zimbabwe I saw my first elephant. I nearly forgot I had a camera with me I was so in awe of this lumbering beast easing through the foliage. Before the trip was over I had seen dozens more, and rhinos and buffalos, and one very skittish cheetah just resting after a hunt. Not seeing a lion or a leopard that first trip guaranteed I’d be back. But one moment, more than any other, fully allowed Africa to take over my soul.
Our tour group had paddled into the Okavango Delta in the traditional flat-bottomed mokoros favored by the indigenous people. As we eased across the water, the sun lit up our surrounds and all you could hear was the gentle splashing coming from the poles as they propelled us forward.
After camp was set up on a remote piece of land within the watery expanse, we had the evening to relax. As night fell and darkness, a darkness as black as I can ever remember, overcame the delta, the sounds of the bush, of Africa, enveloped us as mist envelopes the sky. I walked away from the fire, down towards the water where we kept the mokoros, and I waited. A hyena bayed somewhere in the distance to my left. The flap of wings came from above, from beyond, from everywhere it seemed. The unmistakable “Sploosh” of a hippo finding water came from somewhere near to my right. With my flashlight scanning the channels I hoped to see a pair of eyes light up as it waded past our camp. I waited an hour, alone with my flashlight and an empty bottle of beer. The hippo didn’t pass. The promise of him kept me there. It is that promise of something wonderful that keeps bringing me back.
And wonder never disappoints.