How do I?
You will never forget your first day on safari.
Your first sunset.
Your first night under an African sky.
I promise you.
Shumba Camp, Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe. A happy accident that will always hold a special place in my heart. Encircled by elephants and within earshot of hippos we lay awake deep into the night, listening to the world, lost in the Milky Way.
How do I describe Hwange? To be fair, I could ask myself this question about every park we visited in Southern Africa. Hwange however, is and will always be; special. How would you describe the first time you feel your bones rumble in response to an elephant’s vocalizations? A sound so deep that it will quite literally, shake you to your core.
How do I describe the first time we laid eyes upon a big game animal? A giraffe. One which appeared so suddenly out of the bush that we panicked a little, hit the brakes hard and threw up a cloud of dust. The way excitement leapt in my chest, how my heart thudded against my ribs and my hands shook as I scrambled for the camera. My wonder at the unbelievable size of the creature.
How would you describe the first time you get lost in a zebra’s unique symmetry? Or felt chilled watching a crocodile slide through the shallows, dragging something’s leg behind it? The first time you wonder at the size and shape of a Kudo’s horns or find peace in a symphony of bird calls which you’ve never heard before? What about the time you come across a wildlife roadblock and have a Mexican standoff with giants, or when you cross paths with a herd of buffalo and come to understand why it is that we fear them.
How do I describe to you the first night we spent in the African bush? The first sunset? A golden ball, impossibly large, hanging in a blood red sky. A herd of elephants surrounded us, close enough to touch. So many that their numbers were lost in the depths of murky night. We stood for hours watching them feed, watching them interact, watching them behave. A family of beautiful, four-legged people. They are us, we are them. The difference is nil and that to me is plain as day.
Imagine lying awake late into the night, hypnotized by a brilliant Milky Way as it dances its way across the sky. You are serenaded by the night. By hippos chortling in the dam, by birds calling in the trees, by insects flicking from leaf to leaf, by elephants guttering and trumpeting amongst themselves. And within all of this, fleeting moments of silence. Moments of purity in which the entire world stops, and the quiet rings loudest of all.
How do I explain to you what it feels like to climb down from your rooftop tent in the dead of night and walk to the edge of camp, begin a healthy stream of relief and look up to find a pair of large feline eyes staring back at you? Floating in the darkness, far too close for comfort. Long breathless seconds tick by. Constant eye contact. No movement. Finally, turning slowly the lithe shape of a female cat slips through the darkness, alight in the soft glow of my lamp. Gracefully she disappears into the bush and is greeted by elephants’ echoing calls. Trumpets blowing in the night.
I scamper back up the ladder breathing hard, and try to come to grips with what just happened. A lion. On the ground, just a stone’s throw away. Holy shit.
How can I possibly describe these moments? I can offer you words. I can offer you photos. But I can’t transport you. I can’t immerse you. These weeks camping in the bush, driving across Southern Africa, through endless kilometres of sand and spent in awe of every waking minute, contain the most unbelievable experiences of my life. I can’t take you there. You just have to feel it.