I love how untamed Africa is. The sun scorches, red dirt stains your takkies (sneakers), and spotted hyaenas whoop at night.
It is still possible to live where there are free-roaming lions, elephants, leopards, rhinos, and hippos. Sadly, this amazing continent is facing major wildlife population declines because of (you guessed it) humans. For example, giraffe numbers have fallen from around 155,000 in 1985 to 97,000 in 2015. Lions were estimated at 450,000 in the 1940s and now there may be as few as 20,000 animals.
Despite these declines (which conservationists like us are trying to reverse), there is still plenty of adventure left in Africa. I think that the level of wilderness based adventure South Africa has to offer is still pretty high (especially if you go out there looking for it), but I also think that it used to be higher when the country was less developed. I love listening to old men in Africa because they tell the best adventure stories of an Africa where life was tougher and rawer.
Southern Africa has changed drastically in the past century. Now large wildlife is mostly confined to fenced areas (albeit very large fenced areas), many roads are paved, we have maps, phones, and GPS units. Old white men in Africa wearing khaki field clothes and knee high socks tell stories of adventuring across Botswana (Bechuanaland), Zimbabwe (Rhodesia), Namibia (South West Africa), and Tanzania (Tanganyika) in barely running landrovers or on rickety trains. They remember times with no roads or proper maps, just being out in the bush fending for oneself. They had close encounters with wildlife and there weren’t swarms of tourists around. As young men, they were hardy, sun-worn and tougher than nails. They bandaged their own wounds, fought their own battles, and knew how to survive. These men know an Africa that I somewhat romanticise because of the vast expanses of untouched wild areas. I could listen to old men in Africa talk for hours. I hungrily seek out and consume memoirs and stories of life in the Africa from earlier days – books like Mukiwa by Peter Godwin, The Power of One by Bryce Courtney, I Dreamed of Africa by Kuki Gallman.
I can still find places in parts of Zimbabwe and Botswana that I believe might resemble old Africa. We camp in Big 5 areas with no fences and no neighbours. We wake to find lion or leopard spoor outside the canvas tent flaps. We drive across empty expanses and don’t see anyone for a long time other than battered looking donkey carts and their drivers. Our mobile phones have no reception and there is no power to charge them anyways. Our landy gets stuck in mud and we make a plan to get out which may involve a whole village pushing in mud up to their waists while elephants wade in the river nearby. This Africa does still exist and it makes me feel alive.
South Africa is a land of old men remembering a grittier wilder Africa. Not all aspects of this old Africa were good and not all aspects of this new Africa are good. We love South Africa and we think it is ideal for raising a young child. There is plenty of adventure but there are also good hospitals nearby. There are amazing animals you can live amongst but you can chose to live with the ones who are not going to munch up your toddler in one bite. There is food in the supermarket and power. But I also crave the rawer wilder Africa from time to time, the old man’s Africa, and I am looking forward to taking my son there when he is a little bigger. I want him to know this world and tell the stories one day.