I’ve set up my tattered folding chair under the mighty Mopane tree, right in the middle of this little tree island on the banks of the lazy Liyandi River. I’m in Namibia’s Mamili National Park, a small game reserve, off the beaten track. There are no facilities here – no hook-ups, no convenient stores, no crowds – and you can even leave your car! (A no-no in almost every other game reserve.)
So, here I am, sitting in the shade, a gentle breeze rustling the savanna grass, the Liyandi murmuring. About 300 feet (91m) downstream I can see an elephant family slowly crossing the river: Mama, sister and baby, holding each other’s tail by trunk. The green, muddy waters soon become too deep for little Dumbo, and I watch in amazement as baby uses his skinny trunk like a snorkel.
Having reached the other side now, the Mama turns in my direction. She flaps her huge ears and moves closer to me, 100 feet (30m), then 50 (15m). I am petrified, yet there is nowhere to hide.
I begin to see my entire life flash in front of my eyes. Perhaps I should have listened to my aunt. “Think twice before you travel to Africa,” she had said before my departure, raising her index finger in warning. Having lived in South Africa for 30 years, she knew the risks of the Dark Continent well. And yet I hadn’t listened…
But abruptly, Mama elephant stops and trumpets. It almost sounds like a happy note. She seems to nod towards me and then disappears into the thicket. At this moment, I understand what my aunt had meant: Once you set foot on these wild lands, you will never get it out of your system again.
So, beware! This month, we’ve tried to capture some of the Dark Continent’s magic in our special section on Africa. Mark Pelletier’s stunning and vivid photo essay takes you on a journey to northeastern Sudan in search of the nomadic Rashaida tribe. From there, we marvel at the great migration in Tanzania’s Serengeti, go shopping “Zulu Style” in South Africa, and we visit Zimbabwe, where the people struggle under a ruthless dictator and the devastation of AIDS.
While we love covering tourism opportunities in Africa, the stories of “developing nations” need to be told, as well. Yes, it’s true that Ethiopia is suffering from famine, child slavery exists in Benin, and Rwanda is still healing after an atrocious genocide. Yet, there are still many lessons to be learned from these wondrous regions of the world.
I have never experienced more generous people than I found in impoverished Sudan, and the “Rainbow Nation” of South Africa is miraculously growing together after three centuries of apartheid.
Africa is wild at heart, yet that heart is incredibly big. Perhaps the most important rule to be followed here is one I learned in Mamili National Park from Ranger Joe: “Enjoy your stay!”
We certainly hope this will be true wherever your travels may take you, whether to London’s Borough Market or following in Lewis and Clark’s footsteps, exploring Rio de Janeiro or cruising in the British Virgin Islands.
Happy travels to all of you!
Heike Schmidt, Assistant Editor