Published: April 13th 2012April 13th 2012
This is the story of my first true travel adventure, and quite possibly my favourite so far!
July 2007, I was a fresh faced 16 year old, who had never been away without his parents, facing the prospect of spending three weeks in a place with more things that could kill you than in all gun lockers in America as my mother put it.
I remember having the most incredible mix of feelings just before I got on the bus from my school to the airport. Feelings which I could never describe until I rewatched the film Armageddon. Was I 98% excited and 2% scared or even the other way round?. I believe it was the former. However it is this amazing cocktail of feelings that I believe gives us that buzz and urge for travel. Not knowing what will happen or where or even how you end up. It is an adrenaline rush like no other.
So here I am armed with malaria tablets, a mosquito net, a heavy back pack and the usual token penknife, which I had dreams of using to fight off a ferocious lion and save a fair maiden (A dream like I
imagine most lads that age would dream)
We flew from Heathrow to Nairobi Kenya. Here we were supposed to fly straight to Zambia, however thanks to a problem with the plane, we were forced to spend the night in a 5 star luxury hotel put on the airline, including buffet dinner and swimming pool - Oh bugger - what a shame! (I will point out now, this trend has become something of a common occurance.)
Now, I can't say much for Kenya, only that I can't remember being more uncomfortable in a place in my entire life. On the bus from the airport to hotel, I felt like we (me and the group I was with from school) were constantly being watched, stared at even. Very daunting and intimidating for a young man. I will stress, that it was just before the civil war and that I think that any hostility (if there is any) felt, is reasonably justified considering the history of Africa and some places current strife.
So after one night, we left Kenya and then came the worst flight of my life - the plane was delayed (the pilot for air Kenya was supposedly
drunk and required a sobering period.) regardless of the situation, we went through the worse turbulance I have experienced to this date. bags fell from the lockers above, oxygen masks fell down and the electricity came and went. Needless to say, I was happy when we landed. To this day, I am still not totally confident with flight, put it this way, I would never let it stop me travelling, but if I could walk there, I would!
So we arrived in Lusaka, I got my first visa stamp ever and we moved north, to a tiny village called Mpanshya under the excellent leadership of our guide Manny Mavila (all names in this and all later text are changed).
He showed us around the local hospital, I saw people being treated for malaria, aids, cholera. to be honest it stops mattering what they are suffering with, merely that they are suffering and in some cases so pointlessly. It sounds cheesey, but until you have seen this, you can't say or understand it, but we as Westeners take so easy for granted such seemingly trivial things, which can make such a huge difference to people like these.
there we went a to a remote village on foot, a 14 mile round trip, under a fairly hot African sun. It was amazing to be in area of such simplicity, mud huts, living off the land... the illusion unfortunately broken by the village elder's mobile phone going, she had to go on a three day trip every two weeks to charge it in Lusaka!
It was here that I saw something die for the first time in my life. A goat, an animal we had been playing with earlier that day. Held down, throat slit and then hung up for the blood to drain. Its cries were haunting, but you realise that here animal wealthfare and suffering doesn't matter compared to survival for these people.It was then skinned and cut up before our eyes, I think looking back, this was the sickest part, seeing its skin being removed like a carpet from a floor was not a pleasant sight, but something I am glad to of witnessed, at the time, it felt like not doing so, would disrespect the goat.
That night, we ran late and ended up walking much ofit in the dark of the night. Now this is an amazing experience, every noise sends a small shock to heart, what is it, where is it, is it hungry. It could be a mouse, but in the dark you are always convinced its a lion. The thought stalks you like a lion would, getting worse as a lion would get closer and closer, except in our case, we would never know... I am glad for this, because the not knowing makes the memory so much more exciting.
Our final night in Mpanshya (we spent just over a week there) we were lead up the West facing side of a valley and I saw my first true sunset, sinking down the African savana. I had never been interested in sunsets before this. I saw them simply as soppy romantic things guys pretend to be interested in to get girls. But this was beautiful, the colour, the surrounding, the sheer quiet. I have since watched blood diamond. I love the end where Di caprio dies, he looks out across the plain, realising there is no where else he would rather be and rather die at. I think if I had the choice, mine would be here.
Next we headed south to Livinstone, this is certainly the touristy end of my trip, but you know what, I don't care, I saw some amazing things, nearly died and went to one of the most awesome places on earth.
It was here I discovered the most amazing beer, Mosi, named not after the rather annoying bug, but after the smoke that thunders - Victoria falls (Mosi - oa - Tunya). This beer was amazing, I am yearning for it even now, to the point I wonder if actually the reason why I wish to return to this land is for the beer!
I can't remember the exact order of events, so I will begin with Victoria falls. This place is literally breath taking. Such power, such noise and its constantly raining. I would post a photo, but I have learnt with photos that they never truly capture the depth, the noise, the atmosphere. You take a picture but not the memory. It is worth mentioning here, I am utterly terrified of heights. But that bridge which span the falls, was simply amazing and walking across it was both the most terrfying and amazing experiences of my life.
My next adventure on this trip was the truck safari, I don't care how touristy it is, this brought me the most amazing sight. We came into the reserve, the driver stopped and gave us a safety briefing, stay in the truck, unless he says run etc and no sudden noise / movements when animals are around... he hadn't finished when his ears pricked and reversed back 15 yards, in the exact spot we were parked a herd of elephants walked out of the bush. Such amazing majestic creatures. They didn't walked across our path twice, not giving a dam about us. Fortunately there was no baby the driver informed us, or else we may not of been so fortunate.
During this safari, I saw buffalo, warhogs, meerkats and giraffe, which to see them run, is to see the oddest and yet seemingly most perfect thing on earth, please google it right now, you will see what I refer to.
My next part of this adventure concerns our canoe safari, in honesty I don't remember anything other than the story I will tell you, all I can certainly say I saw crocs and hippos. The latter closer than I would of liked to.
Now I had never done canoeing before this. So I was slightly rubbish, I was also supposed to steer, as I heaviest and supposedly mean you sit in the back. So we were going and going down the Zambezi and we eventually hit rapids. We get stuck in a whirlpool and start spinning, which is terrifying! I stuck my oar in and it snapped back on wrist, it got us out, but my wrist wasn't great. I had to go to the front, as I didn't have the strength to steer (I will mention now, my partner was the whinniest little git on earth and I want to punch him to the day,) I don't know how long this happened for, but we eventually hit rapids again, being the heavier and at the front, I catapulted my partner out the boat. thank god for life jackets. My problem now was pulling him in with a bad wrist. Something which was made easier by our guide Manny (about 50 yards away now) yelling to look to my left. We had entered a herd of hippos territory. They didn't like us and were coming for us, teeth bared. I guess I had a choice here, run or save the guy and run. I don't remember my wrist hurting, just that I got him in and then paddled like there was no tomorrow. I survived and it was amazing!
did this brush with death, put me off, did it fuck. I was alive and I was exhilirated.
My final night in Zambia ended with a sunset cruise up the Zambezi, an amazing night full of beer, food and friends. I may not of liked many if any of the people on my trip. But they all shared an amazing time with me and so will always be remembered with fondness. It all ended in disaster as a stupid American decided to jump close to port into the river, our guide pulled him out, about to lecture and instead pointed out the croc about to bite his arse off. The American nearly wet himself.
And so I returned home. What had I learnt? I am love travel, I am not scared of half as much as I should be and I want to be scared twice as much as I should do, because the adrenaline is amazing.
I also leant mosquitos don't like me, possibly thanks to my black South African blood through my grandmother, because I never get bitten. Much to the distaste of those around me.
To finish, I want to leave my song for the trip. Every adventure I have, I have a song. something that when I listen to, I remember my trip and smile.
For this it is Janie has got a gun by Aerosmith. While not as peaceful as I would like, I still smile with fondness at the thought of walking through the Lusaka airport sing it full blast, before someone pointed out, it was not the best idea I have ever had.
“No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow.” Lin -Yutang