Africa: God\'s chosen land

South Africa-Travelogue  |  Travel time: May / June 2004  |  by Neil Hougham

For the first time in 14 years I am going back to Ma Afrika. So many memories and so many friends. But what awaits me? There have been changes a plenty, and it\'s said that you should never revisit, because you cannot recapture what once was. But nothing can ever change the smell and the sounds and the smiles of the people.

A previous visit.

It's a long flight from Heathrow to Johannesburg. Over twelve hours, non-stop. They used to stop at Nairobi. In fact, pre-jumbo jet days, they stopped at Frankfurt or Rome or Zurich as well. And pre any sort of jet days, way back when there was just a small jetty on the Zambezi, close to Victoria Falls, the flying boats took five days, and stopped at dark and long-forgotten glamorous places: Daedalus Camp, El Geneina; Fajara Rest House, Bathurst; Vaalbank, Durban. Those great airborne Rolls Royces, the Shorts flying boats. The Horseshoe Route; Captain O P Jones. Ships of the Line and men with lined faces, staring into the sun, waiting for news from home: letters, chocolate, sunflower seeds, and The Times (but more of that another time).

Since the days of mass-consumer travel it has been easy to get to God's chosen land. Africa. Ma Afrika. We had flown overnight from London. The flight was predictably boring and sanitised, leaving me so unprepared for the rawness that the continent had to offer. A brief tease: the doors opened on a Kenyan dawn. Two generations ago the baggage handlers were proud Kikuyu warriors, tending their cattle and disembowelling their enemies. Now they genuflect to American ladies, five-foot tall in blue, festooned with Abercrombie & Kent labels, and heading for the Aberdares.

But our final destination is three hours hence. Four whining Rolls Royce RB211 bypass turbo-fans pick up the three-hundred-and-fifty tonne baton and head on down to Johannesburg. My mind is in a whirl when we arrive. Fatigue, duty-free booze and the air at six thousand feet above sea level combine to make me dizzy. Then we arrive at the first rest camp on our way to the game park, Hartebeestpoort Dam. It is very flat. Mpani trees and wild acacia dot the landscape. But the smell and the sounds: life is defined by smells. Dry, burnt, scorched earth. Not the sweet aromatic scents of a Greek olive grove, but a dry, nose-blistering heat. Also, not the chirrup-chirrup of European grasshoppers, but the gentle squawk of a buzzard, and the snuffling whinny of a zebra.

Looking ahead, there are rocks. We drive toward them. Someone gets out of the Combi (the Combi is to Africa what Coca Cola is to the World), and heads towards the vantage point to take a panoramic photo. A rock yawns, white teeth shining. The pride rouse themselves to look at the intruders. But they have tried Volkswagen before, and it did not taste good. They resume their strength conservation program. Somewhere, out on the veldt, is an impala with our name on it.

We drive up the side of a gentle scarp. The viewpoint (Uitkykpunt in Afrikaans: South Africa was tweetalig - bi-lingual - then) offers views of a slow fat river, making gentle foreplay with the muddy banks below. Luck is with us - elephants are there. Cows moving like light grey delivery trucks among their young. Bulls stripping the trees. Calves wallowing (down to the hollow, there we will wallow). The herd will be there for sometime, so the Americans make phone calls home. Bliss to Baltimore, courtesy of AT&T.

© Neil Hougham, 2004
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The trip
 
Details:
Start of journey: May 30, 2004
Duration: 8 days
End of journey: Jun 06, 2004
Travelled countries: South Africa
The Author
 
Neil Hougham is an active author on break-fresh-ground. since 15 years.
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