When my maternal grandmother referenced ‘safari’, she meant anywhere of any distance from home: my grandfather went on safari to London, Mexico and Tanganyika (as it was then and as it remained as far as my Grandmother was concerned until she died – long after Tanganyika had morphed as indendent Tanzania).
Safari for me is synonymous with canvas and campfires, woodsmoke and dust, yesterday’s shorts and things that bump and bark and growl in the night.
Ours recently took us south west to Katavi where we pitched our tents overlooking the wildlife arena of the Katuma River, fatly swelling with hippo as the water receded.
We watched two male elephant wander up from the banks where they’d drunk and sat in silence as they meandered through our camp to take a dustbath beneath a Tamarind tree; you only know they’re coming because of the snap and crack of branches, their footfalls are kitten-soft.
I was glad the buffalo didn’t wander through though. Mean-spirited and quick-tempered, they don’t make good bush companions.
We kept a watchful eye for crocodile – a veritable rash of them swarmed the river’s edge or hid in hidey-hole caves dug into the bank. What’s the collective noun for crocs, I wondered aloud. Nobody could tell me: a float I discovered, or a bask. Both apt though rash seemed best in the case of Katavi’s huge congregations.
And then it was time for sundown and sundowners and a supper of stew. And the wine tasted better and dinner richer, ‘why is that?’, I asked Husband, ‘that everything tastes better outside?’
And we slept and woke and slept and woke to the crack of elephants moving around the camp, their soft pachydermic purrs indicative of contentment; we heard the gutteral roll of lions’ grunts and the near-growl of the impala and the bark of zebra and so I mused, faintly, thrilling afraid, what eyes might be watching?
And we caught the dawn with steaming mugs of tea made on a fire encouraged to life with the jab of a stick and a few hearty puffs. And we watched the hippo go to their watery beds after a night of feasting. Cross and overtired, they eyed us grumpily.
And from Africa’s big beasts to it’s really little ones: a host of aquamarine butterflies, a bejewelled lilac breasted roller so that in flight it looks as if gem has been cast to the air. A saddle bill stork reflecting deeply and quite unperturbed by its dangerous neighbours when there was fish to be had.
But the impala must be mindful of the river’s sharp-toothed, quick-witted inhabitants, they drink skittishly and cross the river in six foot high bounds. Even the lion that we saw crossing the same water as we sat in camp looked warily about and then traversed in giant leaps.
And back to camp for a brunch of ash scorched toast and eggs the colour of sunshine. Before a drive across the blonde savannah where the elephant raised their trunks as periscopes and the giraffe stood looking on.
And after two days we packed up camp and headed further west, deeper south to where Lake Tanganyika stretches to the Congo, down to Zambia, up to Rwanda, an inland sea: that’s what early explorers thought when they first stumbled across it, such was its size, so dust laced the air that they could not see the other side where precipitous mountains soar but only in newly rain-rinsed light. You want to put your hand in to taste the salt such is the sea-green clarity.
So we swam and we fished and we snorkled and we ate sushimi and I drank a beer looking across an inland sea stained the colour of vin rose. And I thought my grandmother was right: safari is any trip that involves escape, the canvas and the campire are added perks.