We made it back a few days ago, and I now have everything resorted, collected, and ready to sit down and write a few final observations about our trip to Southern Africa.
First, I is a LONG WAY to South Africa from the USA, and we were on the east coast. We were lucky enough to break it up by visiting Paris on the way out, but three airplanes and 24 flight hours were required to get back to Washington from Botswana. We treated our younger daughter to a business class seat, and she commented that she would make fewer trips and travel at a higher class when travelling this far. But don’t let the distance turn you off…It is worth coming, just be prepared for the length of the travel.
Second, I was amazed at the depth of this continent. We visited five countries, and I felt like we had made nothing more than a superficial sampling of what Africa has to offer. It is a complex and diverse land. For everything we experienced, I discovered ten more that await me (hopefully) in the future.
Third, I will never think of zoos in the same way ever again !!!! I’m really not sure I will ever want to visit another zoo, EVER !!! I understand that not everyone has the resources and time to come here…But, once you see this wildlife in its natural state, there is no turning back. Just like everything else we try, Mankind can not simulate or control nature.
Fourth, I, once again, was amazed by the complexity of the land, animals, people, and geography. I understood all the crazy assumptions I had made about Africa. I think most Americans think Africa is a dry, hot semi-arid or arid continent where people subside on very little. In fact, Africa has many distinct climate zones. There are vast rain forests south of the deserts of northern Africa. The rivers that irrigate the land (Nile, Zambezi, Congo, etc.) are beautiful and teaming with wildlife. This land is old…The archaeological discoveries of early Man were found here. Many villagers live in the old, traditional ways. And yet, it is also new…South Africa, in particular, was very cosmopolitan. I’m sure some people come just to sample the wines.
Fifth, I was surprised by the calmness of the animals we observed…I am not sure if you can tell by the videos and photos, but we came as close as five feet from elephants. The mentality most Americans have of elephants is one of bluster and aggression…NOT SO. They, and most other animals, were not bothered by our presence and maintained a calmness towards us. While ALL animals maintained a defensive perimeter, which usually had the dominant males of the herds posted as lookouts, if we maintained our non-aggressive posture, so did they. This might not be good for defending against poachers…But for us, it allowed closer proximity with respect. The best example occurred when our guide stopped at the top of a hill, allowed us out of the rover, and broke out the wine. Most of our group took advantage of the opportunity to visit nature’s WC. As we were finishing up and walking back towards the rover, my son-in-law, Matt, casually observed a bull rhino coming up the path !!!! We were all shuttled back into the rover until the chance of direct contact passed. While thinking about this later, I remembered our teachings that Rhino are thought by the public to have terrible eyesight (Wrong !!), AND they have excellent hearing. So, there is no way this rhino didn’t hear the verbal chirping and glass clinking of our African Happy Hour. I think he was curious and said, “Well, I’m on my way up this path…What is that commotion in my forest ???” He was probably amused by our presence and then leisurely sauntered off around a couple trees and proceeded on his journey. Remember the old MasterCard commercial??? South African wine: $ 300 Rand… Accidental encounter with a Black Rhino: PRICELESS!!!
Finally, for today’s impressions anyway, I was impressed with how far South Africa has come in its quest to become free, equal, and democratic. What used to be symbols of Apartheid are now promoted as museums of a new Africa of unity and hope. Outward appearances are very positive.
So we leave with a hope of returning…Maybe Morocco…Maybe Namibia’s Shipwreck Coast…Maybe further north to the rain forests or Kilimanjaro…Maybe the Seychelles. Only the future knows for sure.