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Honest African Dirt

An old Africa hand was recently quoted in an article about “going beyond the infinity pool”, to effect, “…screw it. Experiential travel is for the birds. What we want to be doing is experimental travel!” [1]

For generations before the marketing gurus dug up this “experiential” word, safaris were exactly that! This notion of exploring as a curious, inquisitive and challenged traveller was simply what most visitors did in Africa.

Things have gone awry in the last decade …

namibia dusty feet Time to get some honest African dirt between your toes?Of course you’re meant to wear sensible footwear on safari…but who’s really bothered if you turn up in knee length boots?

We’ve come adrift…

On two accounts…

  • We focus on luxury instead of experience.
  • In the process mainstream tourists and real travellers risk becoming truly disconnected from what’s really going on.
    How is it that safaris used to be all about adventure, exploration and discovery; about getting into wild, remote and practically uninhabited spaces; those genuine experiences where a healthy dose of dust and muck on your feet were part of the deal at the end each day’s encounters?

The safari got dumbed down. Adventures have been sanitised so that a surreal element of luxury is the expected norm even in the remotest camps in the most fragile habitats.

The luxury’s not a problem – the disconnect is!

By treating the traditional safari as a commodity and skinning it with nothing but comfort we lose touch. We focus on the soft furnishings and frangipani petals in the foot bath.

We forget to see the bigger and more complex picture. Like trying to get to grips with eco-system preservation, habitat protection and the delicate balances between communities and the wild places on the boundaries near their homes.

Here’s the dissonance – during 2004, 12 rhinos were poached. In 2013, 948 rhinos were lost to poaching. In the same period, 2004 to 2013 the exact same safari from an industry leader in South Africa doubled in price!

Sure there’s no direct relationship between anti-poaching efforts and the price of safaris but the much broader ideas behind conservation underpin both and that’s where the balance has been lost.

GW Trans Okavango Michael Poliza - Time to get some honest African dirt between your toes?

Sure you’ll find a plunge pool in camp but Grant knows better places to get some dust off your feet! (photo courtesy Michael Poliza)

Some suggestions for African travellers…

The serious stuff

The conservation debate and battle is being fought in many corners. By governments, NGO’s, academics, scientists, conservation professionals and industry associations and leaders. By lobbyists, nature lovers and regular folks alike.

Sure Africa’s about lots of serious stuff – people, tribes, conflict, disease, wild animals, bugs, dust, heat, rain, sights, sounds, tastes and smells…it’s a big place too (see Kai Krause’s map).

But why not come and sweat it out a bit? Come armed with a layer of scepticism that forces questions about why and how environmentalists, conservationists and safari outfitters do some of the stuff we do.

The fun stuff

Africa’s about fun too! It’s one great continent with masses of playgrounds and places for adventures that you simply won’t find elsewhere.

There’s simply no shortage of variety from the southern tip near Cape Town, through the “adventure capital” at Victoria Falls through the World Heritage Sites and wild lands of southern, central and East Africa to the cultural and deep historical connections up north in Ethiopia.

Why not come and be like a kid again – come and get some mud and maybe a bit of honest dust on your feet…..

BH Kalahari Michael Poliza

…Brad having difficulty keep his feet planted firmly on the ground in a Kalahari sunset

1] Quoted by Peter Silvester in discussion with Mike Lorentz in article by Anton Crone – AfricaGeographic 3 October 2014


Complementary notes

  1. Our “secret seasons” – when tourists aren’t about, game conditions are best, safari prices are most attractive
  2. How to “go beyond the obvious in Africa” – where to go, why and when

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An old Africa hand was recently discussing “going beyond the infinity pool”, to effect, “…screw it. Experiential travel is for the birds. What we want to be doing is experimental travel!”

Posted by Zambezi on Monday, 24 November 2014

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