At the age of 25, I was happy to call myself a fairly well-accomplished traveller. I had seen the pristine beaches of South-East Asia, walked the Great Wall of China, skied above the lakes of New Zealand, snorkelled the world’s first and second-largest reefs in Australia and Belize respectively, admired the ancient Chichén Itzá in Mexico and watched the famous Ayers Rock change colour at sunset. But not once had I set foot on the African continent – and, in all honesty, not once had I really thought I would. But when I was offered the chance to travel to this vast continent with cazenove+loyd, I jumped at it. And so began my affection for Africa…
They say that Africa gets under your skin. For me, certainly, this is a lie. It got under my skin, into my veins, ran through me again and again, and like a beautiful disease, stole a fair chunk of my heart. If I think of the wildest regions I have been – the Australian Outback, parts of New Zealand or the Scottish Highlands – I can draw similarities to various places in Africa. In the vast expanses of Mana Pools or Hwange national parks in Zimbabwe, you feel small in the same way you do in the Outback. Looking out over the vast plains of Lewa Downs and across Kenya’s Laikipia Plateau, you feel as if you might be in New Zealand or Scotland. The first time I laid eyes on Mount Kenya, it took me right back to seeing the jagged peaks of the mountains around Chamonix in the French Alps.
Once you consider all these thoughts, you realise that in Southern and East Africa, in particular, you have some of the most amazing scenery in the world. It stands apart, however, as these landscapes are home to the greatest animals on earth. From elephants and lions to zebra and eagle owls, every animal is different and has so many fascinating habits to learn. Within a matter of hours of being out in the bush, I was hooked. I had never experienced anything like it. No phone, no Wi-Fi, no television and a complete disconnection from the world as we Westerners now know it.
Then there are the guides. My first real introduction to safari was in Mana Pools and, to this day, my guide, Dave, is still something of a hero to me. Especially in Zimbabwe, the guides are put through the most gruelling of exams, so no matter who you are with, you will be intrigued for hours and hours. Needless to say, all the guides used by cazenove+loyd are passionate, informed and have a skill of striking a chord with every guest. And let’s not forget the conservationists who have dedicated their lives to finding the most sustainable way for animals and humans to live alongside one another. Then there are the brave rangers who are out there in the line of fire between poachers and their helpless targets. What respect these people deserve.
A trip to Africa is revitalising. You will leave knowing that there are people determined to squash all of our fears that there might be no elephants left for future generations. You will also head home feeling refreshed from technology, having been intertwined once again with nature and surrounded by a world that doesn’t care about your new haircuts or trainers.
Of all the places I have ever been, nowhere has left me with the blues quite like Africa. Every time I get off the plane following a trip to this awe-inspiring continent, I feel empty. Back in the concrete jungle, life is full of different joys but nothing is ever quite as exciting as elephants walking past your tent, metres away from you, or hearing a lion breathing nearby while you’re trying to sleep.
If you have already been to Africa, then go again. If you’ve never been, I almost beg you to go – because it is another world, where your senses are heightened. And trust me, no gin and tonic ever tastes as good as it does when you’re sitting in the bush watching the world’s mightiest animals meandering in the twilight, and listening to your guide retell stories of the bush. It’s those memories that you cannot create anywhere else in the world. Simply put, Africa is, in my opinion, the greatest continent of them all.