What do you want from your travels in 2018? Craig Rix shares his ideas for a year of adventure…
I’m one of those people that uses the occasion of a new year to put a marker in the sand and reflect on what I’d like to achieve in the year ahead. Because travel gives me so much pleasure, my mind wanders to trips I would love to take. It’s exciting to consider what new adventures might lie ahead, and what kind of experiences I would like to have, particularly if they reflect my new-found enthusiasm for ‘living a better life’!
Inevitably, the ideas flow beyond the realms of reality. There’s no way I will be able to tackle all of them, but I’m going to make a determined effort to put one or two of them in my diary. With this in mind, I thought I would share some of the more plausible ideas with you. Perhaps there’s a few on this list that might stimulate your own discussion as you plan your next African safari… and we hope that Travel Africa will continue to provide further inspiration throughout the year.
Visit a park that really needs your help
There’s a really exciting renaissance happening with many national parks across the continent; parks that have, for whatever reason, been sorely neglected but which now are being revived through private investment or management takeovers by organisations such as African Parks Network. This is opening up natural areas that have been barely visited for decades, and giving new hope to their (often exceptional) wildlife and habitats. Tourism will be essential to sustaining this great work. There are many worth looking at, but the three that most catch my eye are Gorongosa in Mozambique, Zakouma in Chad, and Liuwa Plain in Zambia (pictured above, courtesy Time+Tide).
Visit an emerging country
In our 20th anniversary issue (#80) we ran an article on the 20 places you should visit in the next 20 years. This got me thinking about those countries with fledgling tourism industries, quite often emerging from the darkness of civil war into a new peace filled with hope and abundant natural beauty. If you consider the remarkable story of Rwanda, I like the idea of visiting some of these places, to see them at the start of their journey, to show support and remember the thrill of going somewhere fresh, intrepid and unexpected. That’s a spirit of travel that is harder to experience in the modern world. I’ve been to Mozambique already (amazing place), and am intrigued by Sao Tome and Principe, but right now top of my list is Sierra Leone.
Go on an expedition
Every time I hear of a family travelling the world, all their belongings packed in the trunk of their vehicle for years on end, I feel a pang of anxiety that my life is painfully dull, that I am missing out on a dramatic life-changing adventure. Reason assures me that the practicalities of life mean such abandon is simply not feasible. Yet, I reckon we could all plan for a smaller expedition — even just a few weeks, but ideally a month or two. The secret is to ensure there is a sense of intrepid adventure, with long hours being a dusty steering wheel, sharing a simple meal cooked over a campfire. Of course, being somewhat cossetted, I’m realistic enough to know I can’t take Bear Grylls along with me (much to my wife’s disappointment). A road trip through Namibia sounds about right for me. Perhaps even starting in Cape Town and finishing in Victoria Falls. It’ll need planning, though, so maybe this year I’ll get my head around actually doing it in 2019!
Sleep in the middle of nowhere
One of the things I have missed nearly every day that I have lived outside of Africa is the vast night sky, sparkling with millions of stars, accompanied by the sound of, well, nature. There is something so life-affirming about being as far away from human settlements as possible, immersed in nature, the whole universe feeding your dreams. I would happily ensconce myself in one of the many star beds now offered at lodges across East and southern Africa, ideally in a dark sky reserve like NamibRand in Namibia. But my ultimate would be sleeping out on the ridiculously flat Makgadigkadi Pans in Botswana (pictured, courtesy of Natural Selection.
In the past, holidays have been an excuse for lazy indulgence. But I’ve been working hard to live a healthy lifestyle, watching my diet and doing more exercise, and I am now excited about using future trips to enhance and energise this. Africa is an outdoor environment; it draws you into the open (unpolluted) air, begs you to stretch your legs and appreciate freshly grown and cooked food. So for my next safari I’m going to seek out places that will enthuse and encourage me further. Perhaps a yoga safari? I’ve never done yoga, but the idea of doing it at Tuli Safari Lodge in Botswana is more appealing that at my local gym in Oxfordshire. Or maybe I’ll time my safari to allow me to do a 10km run or half marathon in somewhere like Victoria Falls, Malawi or in the shadows of Kilimanjaro. Much more enticing, and something to work for!
Take a hike
If you combine the idea of a healthy holiday with Africa’s vast open spaces and dramatic scenery, the idea of a hiking trip sounds really appealing. For many, Kili seems too difficult or, perhaps, too obvious. But there are numerous places across the continent where you can do a multi-day hike, not too strenuous but challenging enough: the Ngorongoro Highlands, Lake Natron, Zimbabwe’s Eastern Highlands, the wilderness trails in South Africa’s garden route or Drakensberg Mountains are all trips I would happily head off on tomorrow. With a bit more focused preparation, I would also be very tempted to consider Mt Kenya, the Rwenzoris or Nyiragongo. The great thing with all of these is that they are all very achievable and you can easily embed them into an itinerary that also gives you a great wildlife experience and possibly a bit of time at the beach.
Face a fear
My midlife crisis has been in full-swing for several years now, and I have slowly (and not so quietly) been doing things that have historically terrified me. My legs go all weak and feeble if I’m elevated just a few metres above ground, so I took advantage of a trip to Kenya to force myself along a forest canopy walkway, and on microlight and paraglide flights. I feel enriched for having experienced these activities and am less anxious about tackling such adventures in the future. They offer a new perspective; travel is supposed to be about discovery. So, what would be the big challenge for this year? Mmmm. Am I brave enough to tackle the world’s highest SkyLine or SkyWalk, which gives you a bird’s eye view of the second tallest waterfall in Africa, Muturazi, in Zimbabwe’s Eastern Highlands? (pictured, courtesy Far and Wide.) Maybe not, but I like the idea that I am now more emboldened to consider it.
Take a city break
It has occurred to me that so much travel in Europe is to cities, with people drawn by museums, historical attractions, theatre or restaurants. African cities are newer, with less of the historical appeal, and most struggle to cope with their burgeoning populations. But there is a growing middle class in Africa that is driving the emergence of modern, cosmopolitan cities with considerable appeal. I reckon too many cities are avoided, with visitors passing through in a rush to get to a remote national park. That’s a mistake. By spending more time in a city, you get a much better understanding of how the country ticks, what the mood of its people is, and they can be stimulating and interesting places. Cape Town is the obvious example of an African city that is ready-made as a destination in itself. Harare is surprisingly well development. I have spent a lot of time in Nairobi and love it; plan your outings around the inevitable traffic woes, and you’ll be really surprised by what it has to offer. So, wherever you go this year, think about staying an extra few days in the cities.
Learn a new skill or expand an interest
I find that the older I get, the more I am excited about learning new skills. And there is a wave of experiential opportunities offered by many companies in Africa now, that allow you to immerse yourself in specific activities while on safari — I’m much more drawn to the idea of learning something in the field, on safari, than I am at home. Want to learn how to scuba dive? There’s numerous opportunities down the East and southern African coast. Into your food? Several lodges now allow you to spend time with their chefs, sometimes even on a formal training programme. Want to understand wine? Head to the Cape Winelands to indulge in a sommelier programme. There’s two things I would like to do. First, I’d like to learn more about birds, so I’m inclined to seek out a specialist guide and concentrate purely on studying the birds on safari. Second, I would like to improve my photography. There are some great specialist safaris available in nearly every country now, where a professional photographer will tutor you. For some time I have had my eye on a week-long trip in the Chobe, with CNP Safaris, who pioneered customised vehicles, provide all the equipment and give constant tuition. Maybe this year I’ll make that happen.
Learn about the bush
I’m always struck by how much I learn on safari: the guide who explains animal behaviour, who gets you excited about birds, who introduces you to a fascinating world of trees, grasses and flowers… I’m in awe of the guides, who are always so knowledgeable, charming and charismatic. This year I resolve to spend more time with these people, and will read up more before I go on safari so that I am better prepared. In fact, what I would really love to do is to find a course where I can learn the tricks of the trade first hand; a mini learn-to-be-a-guide experience spanning several weeks. There are several such options in South Africa and I like the sound of the Pyramids of Life experience offered by Serian, but I am also drawn to the courses offered by the Okavango Guiding School in Botswana (pictured, courtesy Letaka Safaris).
Look at things a little longer
All too often we find ourselves on the move on safari, perpetually on the look-out for a fresh animal sighting or new scenery. It’s a shame, really, because we deprive ourselves of the opportunity to really absorb what Africa has to offer. So I resolve to spend longer in one place, and linger when watching wildlife, to study their behaviour, really take in how they look and what’s going on around. To listen. To notice the smells of Africa. In fact, I might just go on an art safari, which will force me to spend more time in location sketching a scene, paying attention to the details: the textures, the shapes, the perspective and the colours.
Engage with the local community
The longer we have published Travel Africa, the more I have appreciated the importance of the cultural exchange that takes place between people of different cultures. There’s an exchange of ideas, a discourse that fosters a better understanding of the wider world and our place in it. There is much we can all learn from each other, and the interaction between people speaks to the core appeal of travel. Such cultural engagement is now very much mainstream: nearly every lodge in Africa supports a community in some form, through education, health or environmental programmes. Some, like Project Luangwa in Zambia, are highly organised regional programmes, funded through tourism. Ask your lodge about their work and visit their projects. Or seek out companies like Orbis Expeditions which specialise in such trips.
Find a remote beach
Who doesn’t love a great beach holiday? Most of us cherish the idea of time spent on a remote beach, simple banda on the beach, walks in the sand, snorkelling on the reef. For me, Africa has some of the best beach destinations in the world, without question. Pick pretty much anywhere down the east and southern African coasts and you’ll find mile-long, wide beaches of soft sand and isolated island idylls. For me, the king of them all is in Mozambique. Wow. I’ve been lucky enough to go to beaches in several places around the world, and I would go back to Bazaruto in the blink of an eye (pictured, courtesy Anantara Bazaruto).
And, finally, some ideas for fostering your love of Africa in your own home. I’m going to bring a bit more of all of these into my life this year:
- Listen to more African music
- Read a novel by an African writer, or one set in Africa
- Order your presents from Africa
- Learn basic kiSwahili or Zulu, so you can speak with the locals when you travel
- Introduce some African food to your mealtimes
- Donate to an anti-poaching or conservation charity
- And, of course, share your love of Africa with a friend by sending them a subscription to Travel Africa!