1) Reading the right books will enrich your safari experience (and life)
In the African bush there is so much more than what meets the immediate eye. Every inch of Africa has a unique essence – a soul if you like – of it’s own, carved from journeys, shiftings of continents, local legends, bloodstains of man and animal and footprints both old and new.
Some of these things will remain mysteries to us, perhaps known by 1000-year-old baobab trees. The eroding traditional African art of oral storytelling has also, sadly, left some gaps in our knowledge of African culture and history – but for the rest, there are books! Fascinating, brilliant books about nearly every inch of our colourful continent!
Before visiting a place, do a bit of research online, download a book on your kindle, or wander the shelves of a local library or Africana second-hand book shop and find something to read that relates to the area you are visiting. I have found this incredibly rewarding, a way to acquire knowledge that has added lots of joy to my travel adventures!
There are awesome field studies like Veronika Roort’s Trees and Shrubs of the Okavango Delta, biographies of explorers such as To the Heart of the Nile and West with the night, memoirs by conservationists such as Ian Player’s Zululand Wilderness, An African Love Story by Daphne Sheldrick and Richard Leakey’s Wildlife Wars. Then there all-time classics like Jock of the Bushveld, Born Free and The Story of an African farm, delightful (sometimes terrifying) true stories of the most unconventional lives like Twenty Chickens for a saddle, The boy who harnessed the wind and Harry Wolhuter’s Memories of a Game Ranger. Some books, like The Challenge for Africa by Wangari Maathai will make you think, while non-fiction stories such as Alexander McCall Smith’s No 1 Ladies Detective series and Lauren’s van de Post’s exquisite novels A Story like the wind and A Far off Place will make you laugh and cry! There are also well-researched books on specific places such as African Thunder on the Victoria Falls and Okavango, Jewel of the Kalahari that are well worth a read. These are but a few of the favourites on my bookshelf!
2) Get stuck in!
Making campfires, putting up tents, braaiing – some things are better left to men… not!!! Get as involved as you can in camp life, it’s SO satisfying. If you’re not on a self-drive safari you can still offer to help your guide out with carrying cooler boxes, setting up drink stops on game drives and wherever possible!
3) Practical is better than pretty
When it comes to life in the bush, it’s less about appearance and more about practicality. Going on a bush trip with someone who spends too much time in the bathroom applying make up can be frustrating – especially because mornings are the most valuable time of the day and you want to be able to get out on a game drive as early as possible. Dawn, before the heat of the day sets in, is when animals are most active and predators often still on the move. The light is gentle and perfect for taking photos. So brush your teeth, throw on your clothes and smile at your messy morning hair, the animals won’t mind!
On the other hand, I do understand that just because your’e in the bush doesn’t mean you have to look as if you just crawled out of one. Sometimes I like to sleep with my hair plaited, which keeps it a little neater for the next day. You can also wear a buff on open vehicles which will keep your ears warm too! Wet-wipes are very useful to keep in the cubby-hole of the car for dusty faces and grubby paws. But forget your feet – they’re going to get filthy whether you wear shoes or not, just embrace it.
I would definitely recommend wearing shoes though – a pair of comfortable, durable open shoes for the day and a pair of closed shoes for the evenings to protect you from scorpions and snakes. This is something that has been hard for me to learn because I like being bare-foot, but at night it’s just not worth the risk.
I love khaki. It’s a practical colour; it’s cool, it blends in with the bush and it handles dirt well too. Other essentials are a good sun cream, sunglasses, hat, long pants for the evening to protect you from mosquitos and a jacket and beanie for nighttime. Of course, this again depends on the place and time of year. I got totally caught off guard in the Kalahari last year, not realising how cold the nights would be as the days were so warm! Luckily my Mum was able to send some thermal underwear up with friends, it is well worth investing in some of these. I promise you won’t regret it!
Try to be as friendly and open as you can to everyone you meet, there’s nothing to lose! Some of my most treausred moments have been sitting and listening to people’s stories. There are several ways to break the ice – greeting someone in their local language often puts a big smile of their face, having a soccer ball handy can instantly make you a friend or two or three, and sharing a packet of chips or offering someone a drink can be the beginning of some amazing stories shared.
5) The Importance of time alone
I don’t know about you but I NEED time by myself to completely connect with the beauty of my surroundings. I’m never really alone of course, with all the trees and birds and animals, which makes it the opposite of lonely. In quiet submission to the wild sounds and stirrings around me, I feel more alive and connected to nature than ever.
Even after just 20 minutes of sitting silently or strolling around camp on my own, I feel joyful and rejuvenated. Most importantly, I feel insignificant, which I think is the way it should be. In many ways trees and animals are a whole lot more amazing than people – smaller brains (or none at all) but adapted to life in many superior ways. How incredibly lucky I feel to spend time in these beautiful places! I bet you do too…
Do you have any thoughts or helpful tips to share? Please comment below, I would love to read them!