Sometimes the most unforgettable experiences come from the most unexpected quarters. The annual family holiday in these parts is usually us heading home to summer in the southern hemisphere and lolling about the house being fed and generally fattened up. Throw in the beach trips and nights out and we’re sorted. Every other year the family journeys down to Europe to enjoy the churches and museums. After about 5 years of this one tends to stop really planning holidays and take it as it comes.
This year we decided to be different. Actually we decided and in doing so we were different. I cannot really pin down how and when the Africa plan happened. Africa as a holiday destination had always been bandied about as a passing thought. But this time it just seemed to spiral out of control and before we knew it, we were upping and going to Africa! An agent was found, tickets were booked and we set off into the unknown – into the dark continent.
Armed with a sense of uncertainty, vaccinations and enough repellent to put down an army we landed in Kenya to begin a 7 day safari.
Africa is not a place. It is a feeling. It is much more than the sum of its parts. And what parts they are! The glorious Serengeti plains stretching out as far as the eye can see and beyond what the mind can fathom. Animals in all their natural glory with glowing eyes, gleaming fur and chiselled bodies. The colours of the sky and the earth. Craters millions of years old that harbour an ecosystem that is beyond conceivable. People with the most beautiful smiles on their faces and the warmest of demeanours. Song and dance of tribals that tell stories passed down from generations. Mountains shrouded in cloud, snow and mystery. Food that bursts with flavour, colour and the faint fragrance of woodfire.
But Africa is more than the sum of these parts. There is a pulse about the place. A pulse within the place that needs to be experienced. That needs to be felt. It lies deep within the land and everything in it. It gives the faintest glimpse of the complex processes that govern life and the million of years that have gone into making it this way. It was like evolution through the looking glass and understanding the true meaning of fine balance in nature.
We learned a lot from the short visit, not the least of which was that our knowledge and judgement are very often clouded by western media. We learned the joy of being disconnected. The wonder of watching the sun rise over the rolling plains and bathe everything in its glow. The intricacies of the migration of herds across the Serengeti. As precise an exercise as any. We were blown away by the beauty of the giraffe batting its long eyelashes as it glided along its way. The prancing gazelles that looked like they were moving to silent music. The walk of a lioness, the roar of a lion. The symmetry of the zebra’s stripes and the elusiveness of the nimble leopard as it slept on a tree branch. You haven’t lived until you’ve been lifted over the plains in a hot air balloon and peered down into dense forests and ancient rivers that have weaved their path around the land. And you have really lived if you’ve felt the fear of elephants trying to knock the water tank off your tent while a leopard growled menacingly outside.
We learned a lot from the short visit. That womenfolk have a raw deal in all species. That the wildebeest is pretty much the base of the pyramid, much like Trump supporting Americans. But unlike Trump supporters, the reckless courage of the wildebeest spurs a positive outcome! That lions are the ‘king’ not because they do a lot but because they get to grab their cubs’ food and generally be asses once they’re the alpha male. That baboons are just asses in general. And that actual asses are quite useful. Zebras are much more intelligent than they lead us to believe and that elephants actually don’t have much to worry about at all. Hyenas as not as ugly as they’re made out to be and cheetahs and leopards look quite different. And that Tsetse flies are attracted to moving vehicles!
There’s a lot we will miss of the short visit. Sitting around a bonfire munching warm peanuts and talking about politics, the weather and life in general. The thrill of racing over to a point of sighting and wondering what we will see and if we’ll get there in time. The roads of which there are only two kinds – ‘dismantlers’ and ‘rattlers’. The Masai sunset song. The clouds clearing to give a glimpse of the Kilimanjaro. How we were spectators to something far before and far beyond us. And most of all how everything is ‘Hakuna Matata’. It means no worries – and that’s exactly what it was.