During the summer of 2009, a year after graduating university and still none-the-wiser as to what I ‘wanted to do’ in life, I arrived at Nairobi airport ready, or at least telling myself I was ready, to face five months of travelling alone;
First stop Africa.
I decided to immerse myself slowly in the travelling phenomenon and join a group tour for my first six weeks, whether I would have chosen differently if I’d travelled to Australia or New Zealand first I don’t know, but when faced with the prospect of east Africa and its tendency to have a few wild animals on the landscape I thought a group tour was the best idea for me.
If you’re thinking it was like an episode of Coach Trip or a bus full of tourists with their cameras at the ready before heading back to the prepared meal at their hotel, you’re wrong. It was a bare-bones tour that meant constructing and sleeping in a tent every night, cooking your own meals with the rest of the group, and using toilets that wouldn’t exactly meet Environmental Health’s standards. That last bit is an understatement: they were slats, slats over holes that you had to be careful you didn’t slip on and fall in, or at least that’s what I feared and often had nightmares about; luckily these were only on offer during a handful of the six weeks.
The group itself was made up by everyone from twenty to thirty-five, and whilst this may conjure up images of a Club 18-30 holiday, it shouldn’t; we were all there to see Africa in its simplest form and, to be blunt, on a budget. A number of us were just out of university or still in the confines of education, whereas a large number were made up of Kiwis and Aussies who had been working in the UK for two years and were on their voyage home to ‘settle down,’ whatever that means. We were all willing to take our turn at setting the five, and sometimes four, o’clock alarm and heat the coals to make breakfast and of course the tea, even if the latter did have to be made with whitener.
Over six weeks I travelled with a changing group of twenty-eight people from the dusty plains of Kenya down to the busy streets of Johannesburg, and loved every minute. The animals were of course the most amazing part of the trip, as is to be expected of one made up of weekly, if not daily, safaris; from the large bull elephant who insisted on coming up alongside our truck in the Serengeti to investigate just who these strange creatures were on his land, to the orphaned elephants in a Kenyan sanctuary hiding behind their keepers like shy toddlers and spraying one another with red dirt.
One of the many highlights was a six a.m. trip to walk with lion cubs; four gorgeous creatures that could surely rip you open with a bat of their paws, but played like children and looked upon you with large brown eyes. As cute and cuddly as they appeared, we were all a little taken aback at the weapon we were provided with to protect ourselves from the potential man-eaters: a stick. ‘Just wave it at them’ we were told by our guide, just as we were told to stand still if the giant rhino decided to take a disliking to us, those Africans seemed like a kamikaze bunch.
Of course you have to be on your guard in Africa, as you do everywhere, and we found out firsthand just how ruthless some thieves can be: our truck was taken over at the Botswana border by thieves who took money and cameras from our seats as we took the pedestrian crossing, and I was dragged into the road by a opportunist scooter passenger who decided to try and rip my bag from me.
Fortunately nobody was really hurt in either of these incidents, and whilst I may have suffered a shaky shoulder, ripped dress, and bruised elbows, at least my bag remained with me, and I’ve now got a cool scar to accompany my travelling stories.
Beyond these small warnings Africa had no downside: I loved it, and as soon as I can go back, I will.
It’s hard to convey the immense appeal of Africa, but if you imagine watching the Masai warriors perform their traditional jumping dance, the pink sun rising and setting over the Serengeti as the wildebeest make their annual migration, the plumes of water rising from the Smoke That Thunders at Victoria Falls, the view from The African Hotel on Zanzibar as you drink cocktails from a coconut like a proper tourist, and the gentle sway of an elephant’s tail as it munches grass on a Botswana riverside ignorant of your presence, you might be just a step closer to appreciating all it has to offer and booking that ticket.
Travel diary shared by Philippajane86