There’s something to be said for really seeing Africa. By this I don’t mean hopping from one idyllic lodge to the other in a private aircraft (although admittedly, there is certainly something to be said for this). No, actually experiencing the life, the buzz and colourful melee which is daily life to the majority of Africans. Wander through any market and you’ll be treated to a sort of raw sensory overload that I can bet you’ll never match. Large-bottomed ladies in colourful prints argue over the price of tomatoes and sharp lads sit around playing draughts with bottle tops while imbibing the contents of the bottles. Chickens cluck and scoot around between flip-flopping feet, dusty and calloused from hard days treading the rough streets and weekends spent hoeing fields. An old woman, sucking teeth that are either missing or black, rests her back against a red-brick wall; legs outstretched and creased hands kneading folded notes in her hands. She sells crispy-smooth woven palm mats and baskets, wooden spoons for stirring goopy white maize meal. The sea-smell of drying capenta – small lake fish – fills the air in this corner, while further on, a young woman swiftly chops away at a clenched bunch of greens, bitter and fresh. All around are people calling to each other, advertising their wares, exchanging greetings and family news, gossip. In southern Africa, roundabouts are known as “circles” and traffic lights as “robots” (making for potentially disastrous results when requesting directions). Robots are a prime opportunity to tempt captive motorists into purchasing all manner of things...miniature markets. Loofahs, brash holographic pictures of waterfalls that move when you walk past them, dustpans made from cut metal sheets printed by Coca Cola. There are wooden bowls and cheap alarm clocks, copies of men’s magazines covertly displayed between the pages of the local newspaper. There are sometimes puppies and rabbits. It’s where you get your daily newspaper and your telephone scratchcards. The interesting thing is that the vendors don’t try and persuade you that you need the thing. Their sales pitch revolves entirely around how cheap it is. You say “no thanks” and they say: “but, madam, you know the price? So cheap!”. You say: “even if it was free, I still don’t want it”. They say: “only $5...such a good price. End of the day. Closing down sale.” As if this was reason enough for you to go home with an ironing board. Africa....wonderful, frustrating, unique, surprising Africa.
Taking advantage of the Monsoon winds, the Sultans of Oman and Zanzibar plied the Indian Ocean in these unusual wooden crafts known as Dhows several centuries ago. From the Arabian Peninsular they brought dried salted fish, dates and myrrh and on the return trip they were loaded up with cereals, ivory, and human slaves, until slavery was abolished in 1873. To this day, dhows are an integral part of the East coast of Africa and the Persian Gulf - transporting mangrove poles, tea, sugar and cereals. Smaller dhows are sturdy enough to go fishing way out into the ocean for several days at a time. Now it was my turn to set sail. Heading out from Lamu Island towards the mangroves and then to the open sea beyond, it was so easy to pretend for a moment that we were pirates setting forth in search of ancient gold and exotic spices, or fishermen heading way out into the Indian Ocean for weeks never to see land, but the reality was quite different. I was aboard Tusitiri - a beautiful dhow owned not by The Sultan of Oman but an eccentric Scandinavian gentleman. The wide wooden deck furnished with heaps of brightly coloured cushions, a vast wooden dining table at the base of the mast and, at the front, the massive wheel. This was to be home for the next three blissful days. Going to the loo got some getting used to; the small wooden cubicle hanging off the edge of the dhow was a tight squeeze but perfectly private from the team and with fabulous views of the sea and passing dhows. Getting used to using the smallest bit of loo paper was a tad awkward but very important. The shower on the other side was refreshing and a real luxury. In the cool, dark depths of the hull below was space for luggage and changing. Our days were spent on deck with forays onto deserted beaches for picnics. Most of the rocky coves are covered with oysters so armed with a knife, we gouged off the oyster shells, prized them open, swilled them in sea water, a squeeze of lemon, drop of Tabasco and plopped into your mouth. You can’t get fresher than that. We certainly did not starve. In fact, every meal was a banquet of either lobsters, mangrove crabs, barbecued fish or prawns, all freshly prepared by the on-board chef using local spices and plenty of coconut milk. Hot bread, tropical fruits, salads, cakes and pastas, the table was positively groaning not to mention the old waistline. I snorkelled, water-skied and went deep-sea fishing, where I caught my first sailfish which was tagged and released. It was nonstop - and I thought I was going to finish my book! Twilight was the best bit. Cool air, delicious smells coming from the galley kitchen, a chilled glass of white wine, relaxing on cushions, and listening to the men sing their gentle Swahili songs while watching the great sun disappear across the sea. Explore more beaches and coves: check out camps and lodges on the Indian Ocean coast.
...and into a macabre mixed metaphor. Carl Swanson got this extraordinary shot last month in the Northern Serengeti. He spent 3 nights of his safari with a private Nomad vehicle and guide, up at Kogatende on the Mara River and it was here that he witnessed this extraordinary scene. Here's what happened in his own words: "We were standing up in our safari vehicle in complete awe as we watched a seemingly endless parade of wildebeests crossing the river. This scene would have been more then enough to call it a very successful day. Then all of a sudden we saw a lion, who came out of nowhere, slowly walking past us and toward where the wildebeests were surfacing on our side of the river. She crouched down, considered her multiple options, and then viciously pounced on this young wildebeest, wrestling it to the ground. It was shocking and exhilarating to watch, a brutal example of survival of the fittest, just 25 feet away from us! It truly was a major highlight of our two weeks in Tanzania!"