At the beginning of a new year, I take stock. I like to look back at the year gone by, remember what I’ve done and reflect on what I’ve achieved. 2017 held some true highlights: I visited Shanghai and New York, holidayed in Provence and of course, spent a lot of time in Paris. It was the year I watched my brother marry his lovely wife. We spent long summer evenings on the fjord and cold winter evenings in front of the fire with our best friends who were visiting from Brazil. But really, for me, 2017 was all about one thing: Africa. For the first 11 months of the year, my mind wandered constantly to another continent as I got ready for my first trip to Sub-Saharan Africa.
Have you ever looked forward to something so much that it hurts? Anticipation mingles with a fear that something might go wrong: you might get sick or lose your luggage; it might rain torrentially in a bout of freak weather; or worse, much worse, it might not be what you hope it will be. That was the fear that consumed me in the run-up to our 9-day mobile safari in Botswana.
We didn’t get sick or lose our luggage. It rained once, just enough to cool the air and leave a beautiful sheen on the new blades of bright green grass. And it was everything I dreamed it would be.
We spent 9 days on safari, starting in the national parks of Chobe, Savute and Moremi, and ending in a private concession in the Okavango Delta. Over those days we saw countless wildlife. One of the most amazing moments came when we were watching a pride of lions, relaxing by a waterhole. As it got hotter, other animals started approaching, wanting to drink but afraid to get too close to the lions. Zebra and wildebeest gathered in huge numbers. They stayed far enough away to outrun the lions but inched closer and closer, driven by thirst. Then the elephants started arriving. They headed straight for the water, paying no heed to the sleeping cats. They kept on coming, jostling for space at the waterhole. The whole place was teaming with animals. We could see giraffes striding by in the distance and a hippo struggling to stay submerged in the water the elephants were thirstily sucking up.
Just as we were about to leave the incredible scene, having watched for about an hour, a pack of wild dogs ran in to drink. They had blood on their faces and darted between the legs of the elephants, teasing the poor, dehydrated hippo. As we drove off, our guide said, “no matter what happens from this day on, you’re going to remember this moment for the rest of your lives”. There were other moments like that: just before sunset one evening, we came across a lioness that had been chased up a tree by a herd of buffalo. We sat and watched her glaring down at her would-be prey as they glared back at her and the sun set behind them. We saw a herd of zebra stampeding across the plains, kicking up dust behind them, spooked by a predator that wasn’t there. Each night, we had dinner by the campfire, gazing up at the stars and listening to the sounds of the wild. We heard lions roar and hyenas call. We held our breath as an elephant sloshed through the wet grass by our camp and smiled at the old-man chuckle of the hippos soaking nearby.
After Botswana, we had fun retelling our adventures to friends and family but soon there were only the memories left. Our African adventure is not something we can do every year. It took a lot of saving and a generous donation from my parents to get us there. For now, I have to be content with the memories. I read a quote the other day: “the only man I envy is the man who has not yet been to Africa, for he has so much to look forward to.” I envy my pre-November 2017 self, waiting for Africa, filled with that thrilling mix of anticipation and fear.
Now, here I am at the cusp of 2018, wondering what I’m going to do with the year ahead. Normally I’m full of plans but right now I’m feeling uninspired. What is there after Africa? Paris, of course, but what else? I have a blank canvas in front of me, I just can’t think what to put on it. Come on 2018, what have you got? The year has already started and the clock is ticking! You have a lot to live up to, that is for sure.