Recent acquaintances often ask me, “Why Africa”. And those who know of my trips more intimately ask, “Why Kruger National Park”. I also hear quite frequently, “Don’t you want to see other places”.
These are good questions and all have very solid answers. I’ll answer the last question first. I am - what we in the States call - an Air Force brat, meaning my father was in the military and in being so for his twenty-one yearlong service career we moved quite frequently. My brother was born in Japan. We lived in many States and in Germany while growing up.
All of my adult life I have been involved in a career that kept me packing and unpacking suitcases and boarding planes on a frequent basis. To date I have been to every State in the United States except Alaska, which is on my short list. I have maintained a passion for travel all of my life and been fortunate to do a lot of it. I have climbed inside the great pyramids of Giza in Egypt, cruised the Caribbean, investigated the relics of Rome, zip lined the forests of Costa Rica, explored the Mayan ruins in Mexico, seen the mannequin de pis in Brussels, Belgium, had coffee at the shop attached to the royal palace in Vienna, Austria, walked the crazy streets of Caracas, Venezuela, been to a World Cup Soccer match in Stuttgart, Germany, took the trite picture of me holding up the leaning tower of Pisa, climbed up the spiral staircase to the top of the Vatican, walked along the canals of Amsterdam, kissed a dolphin in the Bahamas, snorkeled in Jamaica and so much more.
In 2001 though I went to Africa for the first time; a three week group tour of South Africa. There was no forewarning that trip would change my life; no sign the trip would be any different than the aforementioned trips. But no place up until that point affected me the way South Africa did. I felt connected to not only the place but also to the feeling deep in my heart that I felt while there; a feeling of great serenity and peaceful ease. I had to see more of the great continent. Seven weeks after I returned from that trip I was on a plane headed back to Africa, to Knysna, South Africa, where I rented a flat that I used as my base to travel more of the great continent. The result of that first trip and subsequent six month long journey was my first book, “Domestic Departures – A Midlife Crisis Safari”.
Since 2001 I have been to Africa once a year; occasionally twice a year. I have been to fourteen different countries on the continent. Why go back time and time again? Because the bush of Africa – no matter which country – is a different experience each and every trip. If I were to go back to the coliseum in Rome it would be the very same as I left it last. If I were to go back to Pisa the tower would still be leaning. Mannequin de pis is still pissing and the view from the top of the Vatican is still of the city of Rome. But each and every trip to Africa is as different as each snowflake that falls from the sky because I am not going there to see anything man made. It’s about nature and natures’ unpredictable show.
Why, again, for the – I don’t know – tenth time, perhaps, do I go back to Kruger National Park? Because there is no place in this world - that I am aware of anyway - quite like it. Kruger is a National Park – the first of its kind on the continent of Africa – the size of Israel where you can drive yourself amongst the wildlife without a guide. There are great accommodations that can be booked facing the fence line of one of the nine public camps where you can witness a myriad of things while cooking dinner over the fire listening to lion roar, hyena howl and watching large herds of elephants wander right by within feet of your grill. I’ve seen leopard, hyena, zebra, wildebeest, long tusked bull elephants and much more without even cranking a vehicle. And in Kruger if you want to be even more secluded you can book an accommodation at one of the smaller satellite or bush camps where it truly feels you are the only person for miles and miles listening to the bush sounds of Africa and witnessing more stars in the sky than you ever thought possible. In Kruger you can be on your own time and schedule; no guide, no group, no scheduled meal times; completely on your own! If you want to pack a cooler and sit under a tree at a watering hole all day, you can. And yet you have great accommodations; some even with air conditioning and if you booked such, your hut, tent or cottage also has a great view of the bush, a kitchen and full bathroom. Most all the camps in Kruger have great shops filled with groceries, wine and liquors, souvenirs, candles or whatever you need. They have gas stations and restaurants but still manage to maintain the feeling of wild seclusion away from all the distractions of life today.
Every time I go back to Kruger it is a different experience. The last time – for example – I saw animals I had never, in all of my trips, seen. A honey badger came to visit to see what was for dinner at one camp. A genet watched my comings and goings from her perch in a tree night after night in another. Neither species had ever graced me with their presence before. There are also animals I still haven’t seen in the wild like pangolin and porcupine; reason enough to go back in my book.
The bottom line is, I will indeed – if I am fortunate enough to do so – see and experience new places outside of Africa. But to date there is no place I have visited that has affected me the way Africa does. There is no place outside of Africa that I desire to see for the second time much less the fifteenth, sixteenth or whatever my count is today for visiting Africa. There is no place I have ever been except Africa that brings tears to my eyes when I leave as if I were leaving the greatest love of my life not knowing if I will ever see her again.