I first went to Africa in 1998 and encountered its magic with a trip to KwaZulu Natal and the Kruger National Park on a 10 night trip. Somewhere on that trip something inside me changed, no idea what but I knew that this was not going to be my last trip. Just two years later, I was offered the opportunity to buy the company that had made the arrangements and grabbed it with both hands but with a little trepidation as I had a good job in the City and had never run a company before. It was scary but offered so much.
Since then I have been fortunate to have visited just about every country in Southern Africa – Lesotho being the one exception – and have gradually worked out why I love Africa so much. Each individual who feels like I do, will have their own reasons for feeling as they do. For me it has now come down to one macro – when I land in Africa, it feels like I am home. Daft, eh!
What is Africa?
Well a country Africa is not. I know that sounds condescending but many people, seem to think just that. A drought in Sudan equates to a drought throughout Africa, civil unrest in Libya, same result!
But the size of Africa is often not known; why should it be. But would it surprise you that within Africa you could easily fit in the whole of the United States and Europe and India…………and China! The UK fits nicely into Madagascar. From Heathrow you’ll cross the Straits of Gibraltar, the southern-most tip of mainland Europe, in about 2 ½ hours but you’ve got a further 9 hours before you land in Cape Town. You get the idea.
The diversity of it landscapes immense, from the vastness of the Sahara, to the forests of the Congo and the huge savannah plains of Tanzania to the islands of Mozambique, the variety is just incredible. And the be said about it people and their languages many of whom shun modern life and still live and simple nomadic lifestyle – the Tuareg of the Sahara and the Himba people of Namibia are but two examples. More on these later.
Africa is also widely acknowledged (Google Oldupai (or Olduvai) Gorge, Tanzania) as being the ‘Cradle of Mankind’, our Ground Zero if you like. So that is perhaps why I feel like I am going home, because strictly speaking I am.
Africa rarely does things on a small scale, it has the room so why should it? This awakens emotions that I have somehow not felt when visiting anywhere else in the world. You have the usual ones; wonderment in what you are seeing, a feeling of peace and one of tranquillity – you can cut the silence with a knife. But then you start to feel an odd emotion, one of insignificance, of being somewhere for just a fleeting moment in its time. Of being humble.
This is experienced nowhere better in Africa than on the Magkadikadi Pans of central Botswana, a place so vast and so flat, and with uninterrupted views, that you can see the curvature of the Earth. Combine it with a full moon and the word often used too easily – awesome – has found its true meaning.
As huge as the African landscapes are, the most important element are its people. Africa is a tough place to live with civil wars and devastating droughts on top of an already challenging environment. These tend to affect northern and central areas of Africa, with Southern Africa offering a beacon of stability; a glimpse of the best of Africa.
But despite the harsh conditions, throughout my travels I have rarely come across anything but warm and friendly people, willing perhaps wanting to tell you of their story. They don’t have many of the trappings of modern life that we take for granted in the ‘developed’ world but they seem to be content with their lot. Of course it could and should be better.
When you think of Africa you naturally think of safari, of its wildlife; for this if what Africa is best known for. And for good reason.
The breadth of diversity and, in places, sheer numbers is just incredible. Whether they be the huge flocks Carmine Bee-Eaters who migrate to breed in the dry river banks of Zambia’s South Luangwa Valley, or the world famous annual migration of the wildebeest between Tanzania and Kenya, or the western lowland gorillas of the Congo, each and every living being contributes to the diversity of the continent.
Sadly, due to man and his spurious beliefs, some are now becoming critically endangered and urgent steps are being taken to preserve their populations. The most prominent at the moment being the rhinoceros, which is being mercilessly poached for its horn especially, but not only, in South Africa and Zimbabwe. It’s thus heartening that governments, charities and safari operators are coming together to move them to a place of safety. The next to hit the headlines for the wrong reason will most likely be the lions.
This may be a negative note on which to finish this ‘blog’ but African wildlife needs our help and if you take away nothing else than that from what I have written then I am not unhappy with that.