“When you leave Africa, as the jet starts off, you have the sensation that in addition to leaving a continent, you are abandoning a state of mind. What awaits you at the other end of your voyage will be of another order of reality.”
— Francesca Marciano, “Rules of Nature”
East Africa was a different ball game than Southern Africa. The relative abundance of comforts like Wi-Fi, hot water and ATMs that really functioned in South Africa, Namibia and Zambia gave way to dirt huts and brown water when it was functioning, that is.
Something else also changed. Copper-colored Namibia, with barely 2 million inhabitants, was the type of area where you could drive all day and never see anybody else. East Africa, on the other hand, is extensively inhabited. This not only meant an increase in traffic but also in the places and people I passed. Those who, practically every time they saw the vehicle, started waving and smiling.
I stopped reading books and instead turned my body to the window simply so I could welcome everyone in kind. Children and adults lifted their hands and waved, playing outside the mud houses and seeking refuge from the midday sun in the shadow of the overhanging palm fronds.
I don’t know why people salute, as I haven’t often met this sort of civility coming from a place in California where I hardly knew my neighbours. It may not be every day that they see strangers going by. Maybe that’s exactly what they do there, to each other too.
Because it’s such a novel notion, it’s all the more precious to me when someone acknowledges my existence in the world, and I do the same in return. We connect without a word for that instant in time.
The days of travelling across Malawi and Tanzania were long, and when it was finally time to board the ferry and sail over to Zanzibar, I was ready for a beach break.
Zanzibar appears in person like in the photos: white sand, turquoise seas and sailboats from the side.
Days were spent sunbathing on the rope and wooden deck chairs, snorkelling in the pristine seas with octopus and wrasse (with Zanzibar Watersports, which I highly suggest if you find yourself there) , and laughing with the people that live in the region.
Nights were spent dancing in reggae bars with local Maasai clad in draped red checkerboard trappings, and chatting about life in the countryside with a new acquaintance I had made on the beach, Niko.
We had bonded when he came to meet my friend Maddie and me (a lady I had met on the land safari), and we spent a solid hour laughing playfully, talking about his beaded necklaces and negotiating the price of a rainbow. He viewed me as a friend after that, showing his regret when I departed three days later.
My last night, I plunged into the peaceful, warm water alone, leaving Niko and Maddie on the sand.
That was an exceptionally gentle sunset if that has any value. He was the person who looked to move slower than normal like the day wasn’t interested in finishing. The waveless lake was so peaceful, everything blurred together as the sun fell below the horizon. For a good half hour, everything was drenched in golden light.
Standing in the water, the temperature inside much warmer than outside, I thanked Africa for the four months of growth. I thanked him for opening my eyes to another world I didn’t know existed. At moments it was upsetting, confusing and shocking, and at other times uplifting, wonderful and soothing.
The next morning, I left the vehicle behind and returned, single, to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania to catch my aircraft back to Berlin. Waiting in hours of gridlock (the city is known for this), sweating through my clothing and chasing mosquitoes, I should have been perfectly pleased to leave Africa in a cloud of dust. Nonetheless, I couldn’t feel anything except appreciation. I couldn’t help but feel unprepared to depart. Africa had grown on me and I on Africa. I left behind roots and small bits of my existence there.
Asante Sana (thank you very much), Africa. If I had departed this planet without seeing you with my own eyes, I would have missed a valuable gift.
A comment on the final 35 days of my trip in Africa: I joined an overland safari truck with Acacia Africa (here is the itinerary) with a small group of other individuals, with whom I really loved the company and with which I have made relationships. I generally travel solo and never join tours but this one was extremely remarkable and incredibly well-arranged covering all the lovely sites. Every member of the truck had to assist cook and clean, and we slept in tents every night (unless we opted to sleep beneath the stars instead) (unless we chose to sleep under the stars instead). This is the sort of trip I would recommend to somebody who doesn’t generally like tours, but is travelling alone in this region. Being a single lady especially in nations lacking public transit, I regarded this as my only alternative. Would want to do it again with a few buddies in a Land Rover, and that’s definitely on the list for the future. Nevertheless, on my own, this was a terrific approach to accomplish it.
Half of the safari was given at a discount, but I covered local fees. Even if it had all been free, or even if I had paid for it in full, I would say the same – it was a very fantastic safari, and I hope to join them again for more in the future.