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Firebrand and I eyed each other with mutual distrust and the scene took on the sepia tones of a Wild West stand-off...any minute now one of us was going to draw a six-shooter...or at least that was what it felt like. “We’ve given you one of our feisty fellows” our hostess, a weathered, kind and adventurous lady, pointed out rather unnecessarily. “He’s fine as long as he doesn’t encounter water and he’s a bit skittish around logs” she added cheerfully. “Oh and watch out when you turn for home...sometimes he’s a bit eager for the stable”. With these ominous notes ringing in my ears, I glumly mounted my steed and adjusted the stirrups. My history with four-legged transport had been chequered and having been bitten on the shoulder, kicked in the thigh and thrown more times than was medically advisable, my view of horses was a fairly dim one: dangerous at both ends and uncomfortable in the middle. We plodded out of the paddock. This was my first experience of “riding wild”. The dry grasslands and whistling thorn of Kenya’s Great Rift Valley rolled away in front of us and the homestead stood in the prehistoric shadow of Mt Longonot – a vast volcanic crater that rises from the valley floor. The warm sun, the peace of the bush, the calls of the birds and the gentle swaying motion of the horse was hard to resist and I decided that I had missed my calling in life...I should have been a cowgirl. We hacked smoothly through the vegetation, able to enjoy its sounds and scents unspoiled by a jolting vehicle. Apart from the odd sudden sideways manoeuvre to avoid a perfectly innocent stick, my mount was well-behaved. With each animal encountered, it became apparent that, on four-legs, we were a much more acceptable part of the scene. In a clearing, a herd of impala watched with curiosity, jaws working and ears alert, but they didn’t run away. We found ourselves walking alongside giraffe as if part of the group, able to see the details of their painted hides and watch the ox-peckers at work. As we turned for home, we cantered full-pelt alongside a herd of zebra, stripes hectically flying past us, hooves hammering and dust flying. It was one of the most exhilarating experiences I’ve ever had (and consequently I embarrassed myself by shouting “yeeha”). At this point, we discovered that my younger brother’s nag (“the mellow one”), which had been reluctant and surly from the outset, had actually ground to a halt up a barely perceptible incline and all the kicking in the world was insufficient to galvanise it into forward motion. Of course we discovered that our backsides were ill-prepared for several hours in the saddle and spent the rest of the afternoon waddling around the garden, but it was definitely a memorable experience worth repeating. There are a number of places that offer short rides into the bush to view wildlife, or, if you are a seasoned rider, you could consider a longer riding safari somewhere like Kenya’s Masai Mara or the Okavango Delta in Botswana. Fancy yourself galloping across the plains? Click here for more information on riding safaris.
Shaking my shoes out should really be a matter of habit, having been raised in Africa, but we didn’t have much in the way of scatchy-bitey things where I grew up. Consequently I almost ended up with frog purée in my running shoe as the animal, demonstrating remarkably poor judgement, chose it as a cosy pied-a-terre, so to speak. Since there didn’t seem to be a plague of them, I chose to interpret it to be a sign of the imminent arrival of the summer rains rather than the apocalypse. Almost a year has passed since I moved to Harare and the variety and colour of the seasons here has been astonishing. At the moment, we are treated to avenues of dense purple jacarandas to match the bruised skies that precede dramatic electric storms. Clashing spectacularly with the purple, the bright yellow cassias leave a carpet of sunshine on the roads as the flowers start to fall. Over Christmas and the early months of the year, the flamboyants and poinsettias paint the northern suburbs with a festive red and a couple of months ago there was a tree that flowered pink, white and purple in such abundance that some roads looked readily decked for a fairy-tale spring wedding. Harare’s botanists planned for the streets always to be clad in flowers and they did a remarkable job. It goes without saying that the accompanying bird life is equally noteworthy, with iridescent starlings and sunbirds, multi-coloured louries and vocal robins.
As we wait for the tropical summer storms to brew and ripen, we sit supine on steamy verandas in temperatures that climb to the mid-thirties. In June and July, I hauled out boots that last trod London streets and lived in thick woollen jumpers. There was even frost on a couple of mornings. The passing seasons have rung other changes too in Zimbabwe’s capital. Young people are flooding back and there are new cafes and restaurants opening every month, in which it is often difficult to find a table. There are ten times more cars on the road and a buzz of cautious optimism about the country’s future. Shops are full, and though the cost of living is not far off London, people seem happy that they no longer have to queue for the basics. There is talk of elections next year and everyone hopes that these will not throw obstacles in the road of economic recovery that we seem to be steadily travelling.
There are some people to whom the idea of being liberally basted in coconut oil and being left to slow roast on a lounger with a good book comes in lower than a slow-painful-death on the to-do list of life. Nightmarish images of sensitive areas chafed by sand embedded in sticky bullet-proof sunscreen, hot-footing it across scorching ground to gain some respite in a tepid pool haunt their pre-holiday dreams. On the flip-side escaping to a desert island where no mobile phones have yet penetrated, to snorkel in crystal tropical oceans and encounter giant land-crabs is what other people look forward to all year.
The fact of the matter is that beach holidays in Africa are so varied that it is possible to find something that appeals to everyone if you plan carefully enough. It goes without saying that most places have a plethora of opportunities to indulge in the above-mentioned do-nothing activity. Above and beyond this, though, are places like Lamu Island in Kenya, Zanzibar in Tanzania and Ibo Island in Mozambique where the culture is fascinating and you can spend hours wandering the narrow streets, encountering unique local craft and architecture, meeting the locals in colourful markets or watching the fisherman argue over the day’s catch. For the sporty folk, some of the best diving and deep-sea fishing is to be had off the coasts of Tanzania and Mozambique. The coral reefs are abundant and accessible, with regular migrations of whale shark, humpbacks, dolphins and big game fish. Some places are particularly geared for young folk and offer water-skiing, dune boarding and sailing. For really little ones – well, they just see the world’s biggest sandpit. If you are an intrepid sort, then sleeping under the stars on an uninhabited island off the coast of northern Mozambique and island-hopping by dhow or kayak might appeal? There are far flung islands that are little more than white piles of sand surrounded by improbably blue seas, like Vamizi or the remote Kiwayu. To find out more about the kaleidoscope of beach getaways that you could be heading off to as winter approaches...click here. * Image courtesy of Vamizi
“Luxury” is one of those words that is bandied around shamelessly to the point where you become almost numb to what it actually means. Rather like an exclusive club that you’ve skulked into without the necessary qualifications, it seems somehow nefarious and indulgent. Most definitions angle towards material exces: big cars, expensive hotels, small delicacies on big white plates with equally large price-tags. Which is all very well and dandy if this is what blows your hair back. Back to that old cliché: wealth doesn’t bring happiness. Actually, it probably does, but more to the point is what you do with your available spondoolies. The interesting thing is that the richest experiences don’t necessarily cost the earth. A few years ago, while camping in Namibia, I had one of the most surreal nights of my life. The tent was tiny – just a taut mosquito net between me and the stars. During the deepest part of the night when even the crickets seem to stop humming, an odd feeling woke me. I remember being aware of the quality of the darkness - it was not quite right. Lying still, I took stock of my surroundings and then the side of the tent shifted slightly, almost as though the wind had suddenly gusted. Looking up, I became aware of shades of night above me and suddenly came properly awake with the realisation that what I was looking at was the underside of an elephant. With two fore-feet against the side of the tent (only a couple of inches from my prone form), the animal was stretching gently over the tent to reach some ripe fruit on a bush. Weirdly, I didn’t start thinking of the inconvenience of being crushed to death at that moment, but lay there marvelling at the size and quietness of this animal. I could smell its grassy scent and hear its knees rubbing against the canvas from time to time. The point of the story is that this is something that will remain with me forever, long after I will have forgotten the finer points about the interior decor. In Africa, the real richness comes from just being in the place and the closer you can get to the essence of it, the more memorable it is likely to be. Want to know more about luxury in the bush? Click here. Have a look at luxury safari ideas.
Tippi Degré was born in Namibia in 1990 to wildlife film-maker parents. Already it would seem improbable that she was destined to have a run- of-the-mill childhood. Her first ten years was indeed pretty special as her parent’s work took them travelling throughout southern Africa. Namibia’s game ranches, conservancies and the tribal lands of the Himba and San Bushmen became as familiar to her as the local neighbourhoods of a town-child. Rather like a modern-day Rudyard Kipling (and his Jungle Book creation, Mowgli), Tippi not only made herself at home in the bush but also befriended its inhabitants, displaying unusual fearlessness to the creatures she encountered. Pictures of Tippi scaling the trunk of an elephant, reclining against the furry flank of a leopard and riding an ostrich depict a very unusual child. How cool that your best mate is a meerkat and that, barely knee-high to a grasshopper, you can tick off a leopard by tapping it on the nose and saying “stop that!”. Her mother, Sylvie Robert, developed the belief that her scruffy little rough diamond of a daughter could communicate with the animals and regarded them as her contemporaries. Not all children are Tippis but they all certainly have the capacity to be captivated by Africa and its wildlife. How tangible is the excitement of children when they first see the tent they will spend the night in, or the Samburu warrior who shows them how to shoot a bow and arrow, and the antics of geckos catching moths around a light at night! While Nintendo and the TV do provide handy distractions for kids, how can they possibly compete with excavating the tiny funnels of ant lions in the sand, or the excitement of hearing a hyena whooping at night? And, selfishly, how cool to benefit from a second childish euphoria while you watch all this as a grown-up? Furthermore, and probably stating the obvious here, but if the next generation don’t get to enjoy the barefoot freedom of wild places and develop an understanding of its importance for our future, how on earth can we expect them to take an interest in conserving it? Find out more about going on safari with your children. Check out some ideas for child-friendly trips to Africa. Check out Tippi’s web-site.