impressions of africa

curious giraffeImpressions of Africa, that vast amazing continent and some holiday incidents, by Cheryall McCullough…

Amazing – The wildebeest migration into the Serengeti national park; we were extremely lucky and privileged to witness the start of it. Some two million animals move into the lush grazing over a couple of weeks. Here and there the long line five or six abreast with the largest bulls on the outside, is broken as a lion makes a run for dinner. In no time, the lines reform.

Anachronism? – An enduring sight to bring home, was being on the first of four camels led by a long-legged Masai warrior-tribesman, garbed in traditional, colourful woollen robes (it’s winter), complete with spear – while he chatted on his cell phone! We have yet to see a mud brick/thatched house with a satellite dish, but it could happen.

Brilliant – African sunsets across the Zambezi and Chobe Rivers. A large orange sun sinks over the horizon into a purple, fading to aqua sky.

Careful – Baboons have a reputation of whipping open tent zippers; it pays to tie zip ends together on the inside, when retiring for the night.

Cute – Small packets of colourful fruit chewing gum given for change in Tanzania, when coins won’t make up the sum due back to the customer

Colourful – Muslim women, scarves, veils and draperies afloat as they drag nets for small fish off Zanzibar beaches, chest deep in the crystal aqua sea.

Delightful – Children everywhere are friendly and delightful, from the nomadic Masai in Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Malawi… and spotlessly turned out in school uniforms. They speak English! With dusty streets and clouds of dust put up by vehicles how do African women keep their children spotless, and themselves, whether in traditional Masai blanket/shawl robes or smart Western gear as they head off to work?

Embarrassing – Arriving in Stonetown after dark, the pre-booked hotel in this squalid, crime-ridden small town is full, “Sorry”. Our young Irish women accepted help from a local European, and were led down increasingly dark and narrow alleys for some minutes, before getting anxious as to where this could be leading; the white slave trade? They manage to extricate themselves from his persistent “This way, it’s not far now”; only to find on the ferry to Dar es Salaam the next day that he’s an Australian licensed safari driver. We kept bumping into his group for the next week, much to their embarrassment.

Exquisite – The colourful bougainvillea everywhere, the usual pinks, whites and brilliant reds, but also bright orange and liquid gold.

Funny – At Lake Malawi, large Golden Labrador-coloured baboons entertained us, sneaking in to check rubbish bins, then bounding over the 3m wall (topped with glass shards) as if it wasn’t there. These are an aggressive breed compared with the greys and took no notice when shooed by us. They respond only to Africans chasing them! Johnson confirmed, they really do know the difference between the races.

A tree full of baboons in Kruger, feeding on soft white blossoms – the tree was bare of leaf in early spring, but had large thorns. There were lots of “ow, ow, ouch, oooh, eek” from the baboons as they tried to dodge the thorns!

Fable unfolded – Where do all the old elephants go? There’s no secret valley of bones; when elephants’ sixth and last set of teeth wear down in old age, all elephants gravitate to soft feed, tall grasses, mosses and rushes around the riverbanks. Barring accidents, all die of starvation; the ivory and bones are carried away in the next Big Wet.

Impressive – Whether far out on the Masai Mara, or the 15,000 sq kms of the Serengeti, Africans enjoy great cell phone reception. Telecom Australia, please take note.

Lucky – Seeing three of Africa’s rare wild spotted dogs, dodging several vehicles in Kruger National Park, while intent on a jackal hunt. Willie had never seen them before in five years of tracking/guiding. Next came two leopards with their warthog kill‚ in a huge tree, 50m from the highway. A group of parked vehicles alerts new arrivals that there is something special to see.

Magnificent – Victoria Falls on the Zambesi River, over a mile-and-a-half wide, calm and serene suddenly falls into a chasm in the earth. We heard the ‘thunder’ at night in camp as the river is reduced to narrow, turbulent rapids. Indescribable – it’s really something to see for yourself!

The Blyde River Canyon lookout, over 1000 m sheer drop to the river; an hour west of Kruger National Park.

Peculiar – African women’s preference for wigs. Pharmacies and department stores are full of them. We noticed this early in Kenya. We got to be able to spot the difference amongst the women on the streets.

Sad – A pitiful sight: two painfully thin lionesses in Kruger, near a waterhole, one has a chronic limp with a dislocated hip. Our leader was advised that there’s been a recent TB outbreak. The bureaucratic rule is that they may not be put down in mercy kills.

Scary – Camping with no fences between visitors and inhabitants for two nights in the Serengeti and Ngorogoro Crater parks. It’s 200 m to the long-drop loos, so fearful anticipation keeps you in bed till daylight.

Silly – A small group of Japanese men on the misty, forested pathways atop Victoria Falls confronts a large baboon that was helping itself to banana peels from a rubbish bin. One wants his photo taken with the baboon, and stands right close up to it. It suddenly grabs him around the knees and pulls tight, one hand yanking down on his trousers. He loudly protests, the baboon pulls harder, then everyone screams and it runs away! Lesson learned, I wonder? Don’t mess with the animals.

Just about to leave camp and remembering that my glasses are in the window pouch, now tightly wrapped/rolled up inside one of four tents…. sigh. We undid two to find the bent mess – no permanent damage done.

Surprise – One surprise is how well we slept on the ground. With a thick heavy rubber roll and down bags, we’re as comfy and cosy as can be.

Uncomfortable – Tiny red ants swarming through the stitched seams of my tent at Lake Malawi; ‘abandon ship’ into a brand new tent for the remainder of the night. After breakfast, dismantle the old tent and not an ant in sight.

Being carried aboard by the local crowd as about 1000+ people swarm onto the ferry to cross the harbour in Dar Es Salaam. It’s a car ferry during peak morning traffic, but there was no room for vehicles.

Unusual – The thundering hooves of a zebra herd crossing my cabin’s patio after lights out in a Zambian camp.

Spotted hyena pacing the fence line, just 2 metres from our tents in Kruger National Park. Were they hungry?

Vast – The great flat plains of Botswana, then northern South Africa… arid with sparse scrub in the dry season. Yet large herds of elephant still roam.

Weird – Poked through the tent in the small hours; heard the canvas crinkle, felt a soft jab in my ribs. Lay dead still; heard nothing! But I didn’t imagine it – baboons or local teenagers having fun with the tourists?

Whacky – Veronica (pictured below), shapely, sexy and vivacious local hostess on the ‘Africa Queen’ booze cruise on the Zambezi River, enchanted us all. Later she suddenly doffed her elegant coiffure onto a passenger’s head for a photo! Her head was shaved absolutely bald.

zambia cruise

Tour Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa and more with Intrepid on trips like these great small group adventures:

East Africa Wildlife Safari – 15 days ex Nairobi
Kenya to Cape Town – 45 days Nairobi to Cape Town
Vic Falls to Kenya – 24 days Livingstone to Nairobi

About the author

Sue Elliot - Like many of us, Sue contracted a serious travel bug at an early age. She's visited over 90 countries in search of a cure, but her wanderlust just seems to get worse. Thankfully at Intrepid Travel she's amongst people who understand the affliction and since 1998 Sue has enjoyed being our blog and newsletter editor. Here you'll find helpful travel advice and inspiring tales from Sue and other Intrepid travellers.

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