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.

24 Responses to “Safari”

  1. Natacha Says:

    O my goodness, I am so jealous! I think I am going to catch a plane and come over to visit you….

  2. Marie Says:

    So beautiful! I’m in Liberia, which I’m thinking now is the wrong side of this continent.

  3. MsCaroline Says:

    These photos are so incredible they make me ache. I am sure you have been told millions of times how lucky you are to live in a place like this, but it’s worth saying again. Loving the elephants!

  4. Carol Says:

    Fantastic photos – am jealous! Glad you are home safe

  5. Elaine Says:

    I found your blog last week, from a link on another blog (can’t remember which one now I’m afraid) and have been reading it from the start, like a novel. It’s been a fantastic read and my poor family have been neglected while I spent hours on it, only dragging myself away reluctantly to make the odd meal, or put the washing on. I have laughed at the funny things, felt your sadness when your children were off at school, felt your frustration when things were not going well, enjoyed looking at all the fantastic photos and loved every word you have written.
    Your most recent safari looks wonderful – I am very envious!

  6. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Natacha, MsCaroline: yes, am lucky. Tiny shards of my own childhood that I can give to my own children – sort of old fashioned safari in still unspoiled bits of wilderness …

    Marie … the East is lovely – for the space and the game …

    Carol: yup, home safely. Eventually. After all those punctures …!

    Elaine: how kind. And especially gratifiying given YET another rejection from a publisher!

  7. janelle Says:

    bliss. what utter bliss…i can smell everything…i’m going to go camping SOON….got to. for the soul. or else it shall wither….gorgeous post anthea!!! xxx j

  8. nappyvalleygirl Says:

    Wonderful photos, it sounds so glorious (and I am wondering how on earth you got close enough to that crocodile – I hope your camera has a very long lens…)

    I went on safari aged 8 with my parents in Kenya. It was a much more touristy one than yours, all staying at huge lodges and so forth, but I remember that early morning chill as you drove out to see the animals with steaming mugs of tea. Amazing.

  9. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    ah yes Janelle: it was. glorious. bliss. dust in your hair. sun in your eyes and the complexion, because after a lifetime here it’s gone to pot anyway, gloriously sunstarched and rosy. ready to go again but also a living to hobble together! x

    Nappy: a long lens, a very long lens. my pix make me look braver (or more stupid?) than I am. i’m glad you remember your safari so well.

  10. Alcoholic Daze (Addy) Says:

    Beautiful pictures. That crocodile’s beady eye would scare me rigid. Did they and the lions leave you alone in your canvas bliss? Or do you carry guns? I so wish I was there, though………. sigh.

  11. R. Sherman Says:

    Very, very cool.

    And to think, most Americans get jazzed just seeing a whitetail deer once in awhile.


  12. Iota Manhattan Says:

    I loved reading this post.

  13. robyn Says:

    Ohhhh-amazing-that croc eye! Can’t wait to get back to Africa and to camping and canvas-thank you!

  14. Expat Mum Says:

    Well, I won’t be complaining about the perils of camping in the USA any more. Delightful post.

  15. Doglover Says:

    Elephants silently roaming through your campsite! Marvellous, but not sure about those hippos. The most dangerous animals in Africa apparently. Apart from mosquitos.

    Super photos, super story.

  16. Rob Says:

    The Green Eyed Monster has got me!

  17. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Addy: it is such a malevolent stare isn’t it: the crocs. Everybody left us alone in our tents. No. No guns. Just some common sense and a healthy respect for the bush and the beasts therein!

    I know Mr S: we’re lucky. Very cool. i hope my kids know HOW cool?

    Thank you Iota x

    A good long lens Robyn … from the safety of my car!

    No perils really Expat: everybody just quietly, respectfully, VERY respectfully, going about their business!

    Doglover, you are absolutely right, After the mozzi they are African’s most dangerous animals. my telescopic lens makes me look more reckless than i am! ironically got home and poor husband felled by a vicious go of malaria, so playing nurse this week.

    ah rob. next year perhaps? x

  18. nuttycow Says:

    Hey RM – glad to see you back (and that you had such a good time). Did you ever get an answer as to why food tastes so much better outside? It’s the same with picnics as well as camping. Hmmm. Maybe it’s the obstacle course you have to play with wasps, ants and flies in order to enjoy it!

  19. John B. Says:

    Hi there. I’m a tardy arrival from Randall’s place.
    I grew up next to my grandparents’ farm in a rural area west of Austin, Texas, and loved backpacking in the mountains as a Boy Scout, so I like to think I have an appreciation for wild places. But this . . . I truly have no words for this.
    Thank you for sharing.

  20. Pat Says:

    Thanks to Randall I caught this magnificent post. If I could do one thing before i die I would like to do that. Sunshine eggs and all.

  21. OldOldLady Of The Hills Says:

    Randall sent me here and I am Sooo glad he did! What a trip! It sounds magical in every way…But I must admit I so enjoyed reading about it from the comfort of my cozy bedroom…(lol). You are a brave group!!!!

  22. jane Says:

    I live in Vancouver, Canada, and have a cabin on a mountain lake with no road access. It is pristine, and beautiful, and every time we go there I feel restored. But your trip and the photos make my soul ache for Tanzania. I grew up there, and much of my heart is left there. I would trade my blue lake and snow kissed mountains for your safaris in a blink. You are blessed!


  23. blueberrybuzz Says:

    moving – and really, what sort of imbecile would reject your book? You write in a way that makes me want to read more.

  24. Kerri @ Baby Monitors Online Says:

    Aw that place looks absolutely gorgeous…. *jealous* 🙂

    Your pictures are lovely.

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