TIA. This Is Africa. And much like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get.
I had rather grander visions of the Source of the Zambezi, not this murky hole in the ground, half obscured by the root of a tree, and currently not showing much of an inclination to live long and prosper all the way to the magnificent Victoria Falls and beyond. I may not have shaved my legs for this (obscure reference to an old country song), but I did just drive through rain and mud, narrowly escape an involuntary immigration to Angola, (or was it The Democratic Republic of Congo?) and cover a once pristine vehicle in enough Zambian filth to start a flower bed of some prominence.
Just this morning, in a fit of maternal solicitude, I and my newfound friend of an old friend, Barbara, agreed to take our host’s darling little granddaughters to see this famed source of a famed river. It would be an adventure, we promised the two little tykes.
Careful what you promise, for you just might deliver, to paraphrase an old saying. And though our precious charges slept through most of our stellar adventure on four wheels, and Barb and I had our hands full getting there and back at all, at least they still talk about their adventures with Auntie M and Auntie Barb, and how they got to stick their heads out the sunroof as we tore down the grassy airstrip adjacent to our host’s home. Even adventure is relative, after all, and the younger you are, the easier adventure is to be found. It’s good to be five.
The vehicle on loan, a Toyota Land Cruiser, promised All Wheel Drive (though with promises of such good roads surely we’d never need it) and a journey traveled in style, comfort and cleanliness. Why, just that morning, Harry, diligent and devoted, had cleaned the car inside and out, and it positively shone and sparkled as invitingly as Cinderella’s carriage just before midnight.
Ah yes, but we all know what happens at midnight, don’t we…
Very well, so it wasn’t midnight, but it might as well have been when we returned well after sunset, two tired and bedraggled little girls in tow. Yet Barbara and I preened with pride, for despite missing road signs deemed obvious by African standards, watching the kilometers when the odometer counted in miles, getting caught in torrential rainstorms on roads already drenched and knee deep in mud, narrowly missing ditches and piles of excess road dirt as steering went the way of skidding tires, and passing through roadblocks where no one bothered to inform us the Source was already well behind us, we had indeed, through perseverance and sheer stubbornness, found our destination. We even laughed most of the way.
And while the destination disappointed, the journey did not. So perhaps it’s true what they say – it is about the journey, not the destination.
Africa has always been about the journey, a continent of discovery. The enticing destinations are infinite in number, the challenges likewise, the rewards immeasurable and indefinable. Africa takes your pulse and knowingly makes it quicken, reaches into your heart and stirs slumbering passions to full flame. It’s where people lose their head, never mind their heart. It’s where mice become men cum living legends and intense, personal liberty still finds a home, albeit in ever diminishing quantities. Africa is sanctuary to many a madman living a life well and truly lived, suggesting sanity is overrated, and life is never too short when lived in full.
It’s where I first fell in love, and where my heart first broke, never to be the same. It’s where I fell in love all over again, twenty years later, though this time not with a man but rather, with Life itself and with the promise of an uncharted future that I knew would look little like the past, for Africa had reawakened me and I could never sleep again. And it’s where my one true love would be concealed and finally revealed, just when I needed it the most and wanted it the least.
Few places am I more awake than on horseback in Africa. Be it galloping across the savannahs of Kenya in the company of frolicking giraffes or skimming across vast, sandy beaches in Mozambique, it’s where my soul slips its’ tethers for flights of fancy, soaring above the thundering mist of Victoria Falls and gliding along the twists and turns of the mighty Zambezi all the way to Lake Kariba, where elephants bathe among petrified trees still reaching for a sky they no longer sense.
But whether on horseback, on foot, by car or by canoe, in the end the mode of transportation hardly matters any more than do accommodations, just as long as I am in Africa. I may be in a funky old motel near some crumbling town where the wide streets lined with dusty Jacarandas still whisper longingly of bygone grandeur…while I wonder about bedbugs. I may be hiding from the rain in a fine establishment like the White Horse Inn, gazing out over a colonial breakfast at a tropical garden nestled in the Bvumba Highlands of northeastern Zimbabwe.
Perhaps I’m soaking in a pool overlooking a vast, serpentine loop in the Zambezi River, eating luscious fresh mangos dropping on my head from the tree above; or napping in a sky chair twisting and turning in the gentle breeze off the waters, wondering just how I got to be so blessed.
Then again, I may be camping at river’s edge in Mana Pools, Zimbabwe, chasing and cussing the cheeky baboons that stole our banana bread the moment we turned our backs, or at the famed Chitake Springs nearby, resting in a rooftop tent atop a vehicle under a full moon after a lukewarm bath of river water in a tin tub, still wondering if the water was dirtier before or after I had bathed in it. And is that a whiff of Eau de Buffalo clinging to my skin?
I may be kept awake by the roaring of lions, the trumpeting of elephants and the shrieking of baboons leaping about in a massive baobab, silhouetted against a night sky awash in moonlight and mildly unnerved by the tremors passing through the Land Cruiser and up my spine as buffaloes thunder about in bursts of hostility somewhere in the strangely textured darkness.
That’s just fine, and the pleasures of High Tea and other exquisite accoutrements of a renowned establishment like the elegant Victoria Falls Hotel or the rustic luxury of Governor’s Camp in the Mara in Kenya can hold their charm for now. For even as I peer through the silvered night for sight of the elusive elephants I hear stripping leaves and bark from nearby trees, I know I am living a lifelong memory as I seek – and fail – to attach a body to the shifting shadows and gentle footfall of one of the most intelligent creatures on earth.
There is no defining Africa, no cliché large enough to hold her. The north bears no resemblance to the south, her east and west share little but the equator. Have you been to Africa, one may ask? Oh yes - but which part? For have you really been to Africa till you have visited all her parts?
So many destinations, so little time. Best stick to the journey, and live it in full while you can.