Zambia was what I was looking for in Africa. A red soil dotted with dry thorny trees, acacias and baobabs, where animals roamed freely. Birdsong filled the trees. Women wore their hair in elaborate braids swirling around their heads making them look regal. Taxis came in every make and model of car, their unifying characteristic a secondary aqua blue paint job. Monkeys were everywhere. Baboons hitchhiked on cargo trucks and scampered around in the streets like comedic vagabonds. The gray vervet monkeys with their quizzical eyes and pointed moustaches approached fearlessly stealing food, shoes and other unattended items from inattentive owners.
We departed from Vish and Sunita’s house while the morning sunrays were still soft and long. Nairobi quickly faded behind us. Dwayne navigated the roads with a slightly terrifying confidence: the safari van’s top-heavy nature wobbled around the turns as we rose along a winding road, northwest to the edge of the Great Rift Valley. Below us, the valley stretched solid green, sprawling out for miles, further than the eye could see, vanishing in the distance. The forested slopes gave way to grasslands specked by acacias and cut by thin brown roads that connected modest dwellings. Two baboons straddled each other, unabashed, fornicating on the roadside, obstructing a perfect view. Their accusatory eyes glared sideways at passing tourists and their unapologetic clicking cameras.
A country known in the western world for having one of the most horrible genocides in recent history blew my expectations out of the water with its beauty, cleanliness and infrastructure. Plastic bags, the long-lasting litter of the ‘third world’—and much of the ‘first world’ as well—have been outlawed in Rwanda. Plain and simple: plastic bags are illegal. In the city and along the country roadways the ground is free of the heaps of trash so commonly seen littering the landscape.
In the heart of the Kalahari Desert live a small, strong people with slanted eyes, wide noses and caramel skin. Their slender bodies are adapted to moving through this arid yellow land. Women gather nuts, fruits and roots, knowing what each plant has to offer: food, medicine, dye, building material. The men hunt, mostly antelope, with poison arrows in multiple day pursuits: stocking the animal until they are close enough to shoot, then running after it as it flees, arrow lodged in its body, for days until finally the poison sets in, slows the animal and it can be sacrificed.
I am not a morning person. I never have been one and I doubt I ever will be. So it was not for the love of mornings that I arranged a taxi pickup at 4:30am. The hotel staff said to leave an hour before our 6:10am flight, but this was Africa and I wasn’t going to take chances. Experience in traveling has taught me that building in extra time is always a good idea.
We arrived with a big swell that had the surf town buzzing with excitement. As a cherry on top, offshore winds were also predicted for the entire swell.
The drive from Cape Town to Wilderness took us through beautiful countryside that resembled a cross between California’s 101 and red rock country; wine lands and red mountains. We stopped along the coast for Dave to surf a picturesque right point break called Mossel Bay.
Shark! Coming in from the front. Divers get ready— Divers down.
Five eager tourists stuffed into neoprene suits pushed on the bar of the metal cage and submerged their faces in the icy water, ready to see the magnificent animal approaching from afar.