Africa, It’s One Of Life’s Most Astonishing Wonders.
Africa has a way of seeping under your skin.
All at once it is seductive, a place full of promise and vitality and yet it is infused with an undercurrent of primal fear. It is an enigma, an exotic tale of extraordinary beauty, a Pandora’s box full of surprises but, for the uninitiated, it can be laced with danger.
As someone once said to me, “Africa is not for sissies!”
I spent a fair chunk of my formative years in Africa after my parents decided, after a rush of blood to the head to emigrate to various parts of this sprawling continent.
In my early twenties I left to live elsewhere but, like a siren calling from the sea, Africa sends out its plaintive call and every eighteen months or so I am drawn back to her shores.
There is a myriad of seductive attractions that lure me here; the pristine coastline, majestic mountains, undulating deserts, vibrant cities and of course it’s extraordinary peoples.
However, the one thing I long for the most when away is the bush. The vast, savannah grasslands have an extraordinary beauty all of its own not found anywhere else on the planet. In Southern Africa, these grasslands roll, undulating from horizon to horizon under a gigantic sky peppered with acacia trees providing the much-needed shade for the hordes of game all under a gigantic sky. This is what makes Africa so unique.
The wildlife safari is one of the most popular of Africa’s holiday options and there are many. A smorgasbord of choice awaits, from a luxury lodge stay, a camping experience, fishing or canoeing safari, or perhaps a leisurely train journey where giraffe and elephant can be viewed from the comfort of your berth.
The choice of how you’ll bed down for the night ranges from the outlandishly luxurious and exclusive private game lodges to permanent tented camps to mobile treks during which you pitch your own tent, do some cooking and help wash up. Whatever comfort level you select, at some time do make sure you walk on the wild side.
If you do happen to find yourself in the African bush put your best foot forward: A safari should involve getting up close and personal with your alien environment. Without a doubt, an on-foot ramble is the most thrilling way to see wild game in their natural environment. A rhino or elephant at just a100 paces will appear to be twice the size – and doubly dangerous – to one viewed from the relative safety of a game vehicle. Walking provides the most heart-stopping moments but it is guaranteed to ensure a treasured memory. Many camps will offer walking tours accompanied by a seasoned game ranger suitably armed in case of danger.
I encountered this sign at the gate of a reserve in Botswana;
“You may encounter black and white rhino, elephant, buffalo, hippopotamus and lion. You are requested to remain motionless. If the animal charges, move quickly and quietly behind cover. In the case of lions, DON’T RUN but move up in a close group behind the Game Guard.”
There is no greater feeling than seeing these giant animals in their natural habitat especially when you get within meters of them, especially lion.
Actually, the king of the beasts is not quite as handsome as he’s portrayed in glossy wildlife photos or in David Attenborough’s documentaries as his overall appearance is …well rather scruffy.
His tufted ears are usually infested with ticks, often he will be plagued with festering sores from insect bites coupled with scars marking his whiskered muzzle, wounds inflicted by other lions.
Often, to get this close means the pride has recently gorged on a ton of raw meat after a kill and are lying about digesting or alternatively, the unfortunate beast is dead.
Elephants are another story!
Get between an over-protective mother and her baby and trouble WILL ensure. A ton-and-a- half of a twitchy African elephant bearing down on you in a whirlwind of dust, its trunk blaring wrathful emitting ear-splitting blasts can put one off re-visiting the bush for life!
It is a little terrifying as your blood curdles, your stomach quakes, heartbeats go from a sedate 65 beats a minute to about 200 in a matter of seconds. It dawns on you rather quickly when you realise that all that stands between you and the irate leviathan is a slim lad who looked when we met him to be no more than 15 years old clad in jaunty khaki bush clothes toting a .458 rifle across his chest.
For him, it seems that this is just a normal day at the office encountering yet another elephant making a mock charge. Our group is actually on a low-bowed aluminium craft traversing a narrow water-filled channel in the Okavango Swamps. I would have thought that a large playful Labrador could easily capsize this lightweight craft simply by jumping on the stern.
Our tormentor stands a few metres away knee-deep in the water, swaying on gigantic legs, flapping its enormous ears and casting a sardonic yellow eye over our little group. The giant is so close one could actually gauge the depth of the wrinkles crisscrossing its leathery skin. After a brief standoff, it turns and lumbers off a deep gurgling emanating from somewhere in the depths of its stomach. I like to think this is the sound of an elephant’s chuckle having scared the bejesus out a bunch of tourists.
A safari is not always about seeing
the big five or encountering the large cats for big isn’t
always best: Small is equally beautiful. But it’s often
the tiny things that are most fascinating, especially when there are no big
creatures around. Having a guide who is able to point out and explain the
ecology of little things, be they plants, insects or some of most wondrous birdlife on the planet.
Africa is at its best just on dawn as with it comes birdsong, a lightening sky where thorny black silhouettes transform into acacias with grey trunks, gnarled branches, dark green foliage and spiky thorns. Morning game drives require pre-dawn starts as wild animals know these first hours of another day is when it’s best to be on the move.
Africa, it’s a dream destination but, if you never go, you’ll never know.!
Paul v Walters is a best selling author of several novels and when he is not cocooned in sloth and procrastination in his house in Bali he scribbles for several international and vox pop journals.