Usually, my year is filled with safaris, here and there, if I dare say. As always, I like to disclaim, and repeat how it is hard for you to fathom the gratitude I have for being able to do the work that I do. But it is there. without my guest, there is no need for a guide, without guest there’s is no lodge, no staff and inevitably no wilderness. Well, this year, in a lesser or disparate way, has taken all of this from us. No guest could come to Africa which meant there was no need for us to go into the wild. Our borders, too, were closed which meant we were confined to our various latest-areas-of-occupation, prior to the panicked-derived regulations that stripped us of so many dear things (a conversation for another time)
My last area, the one I was confined to, was the city of Johannesburg. As are most cities, I assume, it has little in terms of entertainment for a nature born/living ‘fundi’. I was soon distressed, like a cat in a cage, at the thought of not be able to get away from the noise and synthetism of it all. I was told you get used to the sounds at night, I don’t. I am more alone in a city than I am sitting, actually alone, under the shade of a mopani tree in the middle of a vast African wilderness, I realized. I had to find some stimulation and some peace and quiet.
The only option, in the time of lockdown, was a small game reserve called Dinokeng. Barely out of the city, actually, and just out of my ‘zone’ but definitely worth a shot in my, desperate, mind. I soon had a potjie pot packed with an absolute flop of a meal, a mat, some water and a box of bad habits that had spawned their ugly heads again in this time riddled with opportunities to make excuses. I soon got through the only roadblock (try an explosive smile and respectful greeting, works every time) that stood between freedom, to an extent, and the frantic city in the rear-view mirror, it was actually still around me just less dense.
On arrival at my patch of grass that was to be my campsite, I realized two things. One, I could still hear the N1 highway and two, I was not alone. It seems my campsite had two other families in it, on either side. One, shit-faced already, seemed to be ‘the boys’ on a weekend get away from their wives. The other, shit-faced, a couple that seemed only to fight about work-related stuff. It was a far cry away from my usually retreats in far out wilderness of Africa, but I rolled out my map and fell into a deep sleep under the stars.
After a morning coffee, burning my 25th box of cigarettes (half full) of the year, I returned to Johannesburg, spirits lifted, amazing what nature is capable of, how it can heal and rejuvenate you. However, with only a night away I was soon consumed by the hustle and bustle, seemingly meaningless, of the city. One night was not enough. ‘nearly quite’ wasn’t enough. I needed more.
Luckily, and thanks to impossible Zambian immigration, I was forced to return home in order to collet my residency, or not return at all. Funny how you will make things work, when you have to! Soon Alice and I had managed to organize to not only meet each other, and my father, in Zambia, after ten months apart, but also to visit some interesting places in the Kafue National Park, my old stomping grounds.
It was a wonderful trip, indeed, and which moment, exactly, was my favorite. I am not sure. But being in a pristine wilderness for the first time in a long time and with the people I love was, by far, the highlight of the year. A stern reminder, too, of how I not only enjoyed my time in nature, I was bound to it, I could not survive without it.
I hope you all get back to your various escapes, from wherever you may be.