Africa is the second largest continent on Earth, covering an area of about 30.37 million square kilometres, or 11.7 million square miles. There are 54 African countries, meaning 54 distinct territorial bodies or political entities with defined borders and a sovereign government exercising control over its internal and external affairs. There are 'currently' 54 because geopolitical changes happen frequently in Africa.
If one can transcend their typical thoughts about Africa, they will discover the continent's majestic topography, exceptional weather, and the remarkable wildlife that inhabits the land. And there is no better way to experience the splendour of Africa than on safari.
Suppose you watch "Who Do You Think You Are?" or any similar show. In that case, you'll encounter guest stars asserting that uncovering a distant and fabulous ancestor is the catalyst behind inexplicable attachments to places they've never visited. This irrational attachment is how I have always felt about Southern Africa. However, any ancestor I had would have been the one shovelling coal into a steam engine, not running a plantation or big game hunting. My imagined ancestry is much less problematic than had my forebears been titled land owners.
Apologies for the generalisation of Southern Africa, but the enduring impact of colonialism has resulted in staggering wealth inequality, and pervasive corruption at all levels of government in numerous countries has left segments of their populations undereducated, underemployed, and impoverished. But when you see the sun filtering through wispy clouds and reflecting off the mountains, made luminous with warm, golden hues that accentuate the contours of the ragged terrain, you feel as though the heavens have illuminated its radiance for your eyes only. The foliage unfolds in tiers of green before erupting into vibrant hues. Textures vary, alternating between sharp and smooth, rigid and curved. The landscape is fresh and rejuvenated from the morning rain or ageless and majestic like the mighty baobab. The stars at night in the southern hemisphere shine so brightly and are so close you feel you could reach up and steal one right out of the sky, and no one would notice because the stars are so plentiful. And then there are the people of Africa, always courteous, always generous.
The best way to experience all that Southern Africa offers is by going on safari.
From today's standpoint, romanticising big-game hunting or glorifying the British Empire and other European colonisations in Africa might not be advisable. However, if one could temporarily set aside these emotions for a few hours a day, going on safari can evoke images of exotic travel, appreciation for nature, and, dare I say, the early endeavours of glamorous camping.
Safari lodges cater to your travel needs, often providing five-star luxury and top-notch cuisine. Stylishly decorated in modern African style, many resorts now include spa facilities, pools, and other amenities to enhance your stay. These lodges also often have good energy efficiency ratings and are sensitive to their natural surroundings and local communities that can benefit from tourism.
There are many different types of safari: walking, driving, and air. Each country, park, and lodge is unique in what it can offer its clients. What is immutable is that the experience of viewing wildlife is always exceptional, even if all you see is a dung beetle digging its way through a dune or a lonely kudu lounging under the only tree within a three-mile radius.
Our first safari in 2008 remains the most vividly remembered. We started the trip in the Lower Zambezi National Park at the Zambezi Safari Lodge, a lovely lodge with thatched cottages and a communal main lodge for dining and drinks. We engaged in morning and night game drives during our stay, enjoying tea, coffee, and rusks in the morning and sundowners at night. The staff entertained us with canoe trips on the Zambezi throughout the day, despite my silent concern for having young children canoed in waters shared with crocodiles and hippos. We also went fishing for tiger fish and spent an afternoon at a local community learning about preserving their culture.
From the Lower Zambezi, we travelled to Victoria Falls on the Zambian side. Victoria Falls, known as 'Mose-oa-Tunya-the Smoke that Thunders', by the local Kololo people, has the largest curtain of water of any falls in the world when the width and height are combined.
While game viewing was less plentiful here, we loved the old-warm charm of Livingstone and sunset cruises to the falls. We enjoyed less the free-roaming elephants that popped up unexpectedly in the resort and the copious amounts of hippo-sex, which happened, loudly, at night under our tented rooms that extended over the banks of the Zambezi.
After leaving Zambia, we travelled to Pemba, Mozambique, where we stayed in a boutique hotel on a peninsula on the southern border of the Quirimbas National Park. It has been only 16 years since the end of the civil war in Mozambique, and it was amazing at what people had been able to do in that short period of time. There has been further unrest in the country, so please be careful when planning a visit there. The lodge where we stayed appears to be closed until further notice, but they were very kind to us, and I wish them the best.
Embarking on three stops across two countries might seem ambitious for a first-time safari. However, uncertain if this would become a recurring holiday, we opted to seize the opportunity and make the most of our experience in one go. Fools! After my first taste of safari, I wanted to go back every year! Over the years, we stayed at several lodges in Sabi Sands, the private nature reserve outside Kruger National Park in South Africa, enjoyed a magnificent lakefront house in the South Luangwa National Park in Malawi, experienced the Okavango Delta in Botswana, star-gazed in Sossusvlei and rolled down the red dunes of Big Daddy in Namibia.
It has been many years since I've enjoyed being on safari, but I am determined to return to the bush soon. There is still so much to see; the wildebeest migration in the Serengeti, Tanzania and Kenya, and Gorillas in Uganda or Rwanda are tops of my safari dream list. I would once again like to inhale the morning air blended with the dust of the plains, savour the cool sip of a gin and tonic as the sun sets behind majestic acacia trees, witness the spectacle of a parade of elephants, and experience the exhilaration when a lion—usually the laziest of all animals—suddenly springs to its feet, and swiftly trots in the direction of your open-sided Land Rover. Crazy-loud nighttime hippo sex I can live without.
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