Blog written by Barbara Hibben – long time client of David Rogers
“Africa changes you forever. Like nowhere on earth. Once you have been there, you will never be the same. But. How do you begin to describe its magic to someone who has never felt it? How can you explain the fascination of this vast dusty continent, whose oldest roads are elephant paths?” – Brian Jackman
I love the whole package, so much so that I have dragged many friends and all my family to some part of Southern or East Africa, and some more than once!
Yes, I have been to the continent more than 30 times since 1991. Actually, I have quit counting as it is beginning to sound like I have a screw loose!
I love the smells of Africa, the wild sage predominantly. I love the clear skies, especially after a storm, – no pollution! There is dung everywhere, large and small, from all of the animals, especially from elephants, but the dung doesn’t smell. I haven’t figured that out.
I love the sounds of the birds, 350 varieties of them, most notably the cape turtle dove, singing ‘Botswana – Botswana – Botswana” or “Work Harder – Work harder – Work Harder”, depending on what country you are in.
I love the varied landscapes from open plains to dense forests to thick brush to magnificent rivers. The safari camps are almost always located beside a river. There is the Zambezi that runs both above and below Victoria Falls, the “Smoke that Thunders”, according to Dave Livingstone. When you are above Vic Falls, you can even have lunch, sitting at a table, and on chairs, in the middle of the river. And when you are below The Falls, you can spend a day or a week rafting Class 4 and 5 rapids and then portage a Class 6 rapid. It is exciting!
Then there is the famous Mara River where hundreds of wildebeest and zebra cross, to follow the rains and the grass, but must negotiate the 13-foot crocodiles, waiting in the river. And the Luangwa River with 50 hippos per mile and fascinating ebony forest nearby that is a forest in the dry season but a tributary to the Luangwa in the wet season. Finally, there is the river in Angola that floods sometime in late April, sending trickles and eventually rivers of water into Botswana during June/August, creating the huge Okavango Delta, the only delta of its kind in the world.
I love the people – cook staff, the tent stewards, and the askaris – the team that maintains the camps. Then there are the guides, all skilled (well, almost all skilled – you get what you pay for when it comes to guides) who not only are on the lookout for the game during our drives, educating us as we go, but are working together, coordinating our days, and also listening during the night for the sounds of what is the neighbourhood. Additionally, some of those young guys cause “Khaki Fever”, a most welcome disease!
And the safari camps – the best are plain, canvas tents, some mobile, some permanent. When I first started going to Africa, a tent was just that. The loo and the shower were external to the tent, and shared. Over time, the facilities have been moved inside. Now they even have a flush toilet, how that works I am not quite sure. “If it is yellow, let it mellow. If it is brown, flush it down.” This requires coordination with your roommate. And the showers are inside the tent as well. The water for the shower, heated by the camp fire, is supplied by buckets that are hung on the outside the tent, and the shower itself is operated by a manual lever inside. Today you even have electricity inside the tent! Generators at work! And, the latest enhancement is an oriental rug between the two cots! Not all camps are the same. Most are located near a river so that you are treated with two sounds at night – hippos honking as you fall asleep and reed frogs who keep you from falling asleep. However, the reed frogs go to sleep at 10:00pm. It is as if someone turns a switch, and “Boom” – no more noise! Some safari camps are more sophisticated to the point where they are called lodges. There are even hotels but who wants to stay in a hotel on a safari! But the lodges can be lovely.
I love the fantastically beautiful torrential rains that they have in Kenya and Botswana during August when the sky becomes a dramatic display of flashes of lightning in all directions, with thunder clouds spewing out horrendous crashes, all to let you know that the rains are coming, and that you had better hurry up with your photography, hopefully catching at least one flash, but never succeeding, as the sun sets and you hurry back to camp hoping to get there before the rains dump and you never make it. But there is your tent steward, waiting to help you out of the vehicle with an open umbrella and a friendly hand, and helping you race to your tent where the steward unzips the flap as quickly as he can so you can enter your tent, soaking wet, in spite of the fact that you hurried.
Sometimes you are in the dining tent when the rain hits, and everyone unrolls the flaps as rapidly as possible and then they have to push up on the roof of the tent in order to dump the tons of water that has gathered there. Then, the next morning, after a storm, we go out on the game drive, and try to cross a river, a river that we had no trouble crossing the day before. Sometimes one vehicle gets across, perhaps two, but the third one gets stuck because the river is so high. The rest of us position ourselves are up on the hill above the river, watching the show below, cheering the guide and his family of clients along the way, laughing all the way. Sometimes we even have a flat tire during a rainstorm and that’s not much fun for the guide. And in Botswana we have watched the storm coming in and waited and waited and waited to put our ponchos on, waiting a bit too long, allowing ourselves to get completely soaked. It’s all part of the experience of why I love Africa.
I love the animals, all of them. Over the years I have learned and seen so much, mating lions, even mating elephants, and hippos, and ostriches, “Wham! Bam! Thank you Ma’am! Sorry about the pain but I’ll be back in 20 minutes! Don’t go anywhere!” That’s the lion mating process. Elephants are more like the impala (antelopes) – the males follow and then chase the females as the females resist. I have learned to appreciate elephant families led by the matriarch, and I have learned how wild dogs operate as a family and as a team when hunting. I have learned about hyenas, the scavengers whose dung is white from eating bones. I have learned tons and there is tons more to learn – also part of the experience.
Then there are the friends you make who have the exact same interests as you have, friends from all parts of the world, friends that you run into year after year, initially accidentally, then planned. And the friends who live in Africa that you met along the way, and that you visit each year, and who visit you. It is a community of animal/bird/fun-loving people.
I love the “sundowners”, especially those along a body of water where the elephant families come to drink each afternoon. On the afternoon game drives you watch the sun as it moves lower in the sky, keeping an eye out so that you can time your arrival at the water hole. You hop out of the vehicles, ready your cameras, open the tail gate to grab a beer or a scotch (with ice of course), and wait. Sometimes the eles come, sometimes they don’t, in which case you chat about nothing and revel in where you are, cocktail in hand. Eles or no eles, you are there to enjoy, and perhaps photograph, the beautiful sunset in front of you.
You never miss a game drive, at least I don’t. The one time that I did miss (because I was pooped from the flight to Africa), the group saw a mother cheetah and TEN cubs! That “never” happens, – but it did, and we never saw them again.
Some game drives are walks, or boat rides, or mokoro rides – it depends upon where you are. There are bush breakfasts and bush dinners – always a surprise. You can even have naps in the afternoons. What you can’t do is take a walk out of camp, – at least not without an armed guard. That drove one of my guests crazy. He missed his workouts! Well, you can’t have everything – but close!
Yes, this is my Africa, Africa to me anyway. I have left out the opportunities you have to volunteer. I volunteered at two NGO’s. But that is another story. I will leave it at it was a rewarding experience, one I will not forget.