One of my absolute favourite things about being on safari is sundowner time. Celebrating the day you’ve just had and taking the time out to stop, listen to the sounds as the night time creatures spring to life, and watching the giant red sun drop like a ball to the horizon. A cold gin and tonic with ice, and maybe a few nibbles (wonderfully named “bitings” in East Africa) are the icing on the cake. Somehow this small tradition makes every day special and it’s something I sorely miss when I return home and realise I’m stuck behind my desk, or in a traffic jam and have missed another sunset.
It’s officially April, in East Africa it’s the start of the long rains, bringing with them brooding stormclouds, sheets of rain passing over the plains and everywhere life being restored. Whilst other countries have a spring, summer, autumn and winter, East Africa has dry and rainy seasons. April and May are the long rains, November the short rains. Both provide much needed nourishment to the land, both for the people and wildlife that lives there. In the southern reaches of the Serengeti, the rain sparks an age-old instinct in some two million wildebeest, zebras and gazelles to start their annual migration. Dormant seeds lying in the dry earth suddenly sprout and turn the land green overnight. Flowers pop up providing bursts of colour and flocks of butterflies fill the skies. In many ways, it’s not dissimilar to our spring time here, with new life popping up everywhere – just a lot more dramatic. For anyone braving the storms, enjoy it and pray for a good rainy season for the sake of the people, land and wildlife of this beautiful corner of Africa.
I decided to do something a bit different today – encapsulate a few of my favourite moments, experiences, places and animals in Africa in an A to Z. Enjoy!
A – Aardwolf – how a creature so large can eat only ants I don’t know! I was lucky enough to see one near Sossusvlei, Namibia, several years ago.
B – Ballooning over the Masai Mara, watching the sun’s first rays hit the savannah
C – Chimpanzee tracking – a heart racing experience and a fascinating opportunity to learn more about these primate relatives of ours.
D – Damaraland, one of my favourite regions of Namibia, comprising desert elephants, arid mountain terrain, ancient rock art and unusual birdlife.
E – Elephant Orphanage, Nairobi – the work of Dame Daphne Sheldrick is humbling and inspiring.
F – Franschhoek in the Cape Winelands, one of the best destinations in the world for incredible food and wine. Go here for the ultimate indulgence.
G – The Great Migration; two million thundering hooves trampling the Serengeti and Masai Mara in search of fresh grazing – a true wildlife spectacle.
H – Hermanus – home to the best land-based whale watching in the world – something I’d love to see one day.
I – Indri – one of the largest lemur species in Madagascar.
J – Jinja, a charming small Ugandan town and home to some superb white water rafting on the first stretches of the River Nile.
K – Kenya, a magical country and probably the most misunderstood destination in Africa. I could go to Kenya every year for the rest of my life and never tire of it.
L – Laikipia Plateau in Kenya, a vast unending wilderness of dramatic landscapes, unusual animals and adventurous safaris on camel, horseback, on foot, mountain bike, river and vehicle.
M – Mahale Mountains in Western Tanzania, one of the most unique destinations; towering mountains, chimpanzees, sandy beaches and the continent’s deepest lake.
N – November, one of my favourite months in East Africa, Dramatic thunderstorms make for great photographic opportunities, the rain scares off other travellers so you can enjoy the wildlife to yourself – bliss!
O – Oudtshoorn, South Africa – a charming stop off on the Garden Route, filled with ostrich farms and the Cango Caves famed for their stalagmites and stalagtites.
P – Pangolin, one of the animals I most want to see (NB the more safaris you go on, the more obscure your wishlist of wildlife becomes)
Q – Quelea, a small bird that flies in flocks a thousand strong, making a beautiful whistling noise as their cloud-like formations spin and whirl across the sky – simply beautiful.
R – Rift Valley, filled with towering volcanoes, glittering salt lakes and thousands of flamingos – pure postcard perfection.
S – San bushmen, an inspiring and beautiful people who I have been honoured to spend time with.
T – Tonic – as in gin and tonic – one of my favourite safari traditions is the sundowner – what a beautiful way to pay homage to the day’s adventures than to stop, soak up the sunset and enjoy a cold G&T?
U – Under the stars. Fly-camping is the ultimate experience to get right out into nature and sleep under the African sky surrounded by all the nighttime sounds of the bush – I’ve longed to do this for years and am finally getting the chance in May – can’t wait.
V – Vervet monkeys – common as sparrows but I love these cheeky, charming creatures and could happily watch them scampering around an acacia tree for hours.
W – Walking safaris in the South Luangwa and Selous are amonst my best safari memories – from taking the time to notice the small things, to strolling into a herd of buffalo or an angry hippo.
X – Xigera concession in the Okavango Delta – an iconic concession offering superb birding, mokoro rides through the waterways and fantastic wildlife.
Y – Yum! Food on safari is one of the most surprising features for most first timers. I am a not-very-secret foodie, so the extravagant breakfasts, sumptuous lunches, afternoon tea and cake, sundowner bitings and a three course dinner make for an amazing day, almost regardless of any wildlife encounters I’ve had that day.
Z – Zebras, of which Grevy’s are by far the most superior and special – skinny stripes and big ears mean a big thumbs up from me!