What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen lately?
In Malawi I was introduced to the water spirit Tokoloshe. It resembles a human figure – two hands and two feet – but with extremely exaggerated features like the massive belly and enormous mouth and tongue. I have never seen anything quite like it and decided I had a buy one. Luckily, there’s a million craft stalls in Africa and Malawi is no different. I bought mine from a fellow that called himself “Cheap As Chips”.
Describe a typical day:
Over-landing in Africa is a game of endurance. The roads are long and generally not in good conditions. For that reason, I often get an early start – usually around 5am and on the road at 6am with a lunch stop along the side of the road before camping in the early afternoon. Sometimes I’ll have an afternoon hike before pitching tents and making dinner. The evenings are usually short but almost always amazing due to the incredible clarity of the African night skies. Africa is really blessed to be almost completely devoid of light pollution is vast regions of the continent. This makes for some of the best star gazing I have ever had.
On days where I stay put in one location for a while, the day’s activities can be anything from swimming in Lake Malawi or lounging on the beaches of Zanzibar or climbing the 16km road up to the top of a mountain to visit the Livingstonia mission.
The only other constant is the presence of street vendors looking to sell or trade their crafts. All across Africa you’ll find artists making masks, wooden picture frames, bracelets from copper wire or just plain images of the Big 5.
Describe an interesting conversation you had with a local:
I helped a woman in Livingstonia retrieve a tree branch which had become lodged in a second tree. Over the course of 25 minutes, we had something close to a “conversation” although since we didn’t speak a common language, it mostly amounted to a series of hand gestures, pointing and smiles. I was ultimately able to knock the branch out of the tree and judging by her relatively small firewood bundle, the branch was the daily prize and she genuinely seemed quite happy as she thanked me. Sometimes language isn’t required to have a simple and rewarding exchange.
What do you like about where you are? Dislike?
Africa has some incredible and varied landscapes with equally stunning wildlife that you simply can’t see anywhere else in the world. Every day brings images of life in Africa that I never seem to tire of. From the deserts and sand dunes of Namibia to the Okavango Delta in Botswana, Africa has some incredible sights that simply blow your mind.
At the same time, Africa clearly has enormous obstacles to overcome with arguably the single greatest obstacle being the challenge of containing the spread of HIV. The virus takes a difficult economic situation and makes it devastating. The resulting poverty – unfortunately compounded by corruption – is heart wrenching and forces you to be very mindful of your self and possessions at all time. While I’ve always been alert to my surroundings while traveling, on a number of occasions I’ve had to be particularly careful while in Africa. This is exhausting and emotionally challenging.
Describe a challenge you faced:
Although not a challenge exactly, I did try my hand at poling a Mokoro in the Okavango delta. A mokoro is a dug out shallow canoe which is propelled by a poler who stands at the back of the boat using a very large pole (hence the poling title). I spent an hour humbly trying to move the boat in a straight line before retreating in relative defeat.
What new lesson did you learn?
Poling is incredibly difficult! The guides in the Okavango delta are incredibly skilled at it and I was amazed to find out how difficult it is to do. Imagine standing on a balancing ball and then juggling at the same time and you get a sense of just how difficult it is. My hat goes off to the guides for their incredible skill.
Heading back home to Toronto for a few weeks to recharge before moving on to South America.