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Out of Africa, out of this world

ESSENCE OF LIFE: African elephants walk to water at Serengeti National Park.
ESSENCE OF LIFE: African elephants walk to water at Serengeti National Park.

DRY landscape, dense with tall grass and rolling hills stretches to the hot and dusty horizon, villages speckled throughout. Wet and dry season in Africa show two different worlds: dry season is easy travel and easier game viewing.

The vast expanse of flat land rimmed by mountains appears to engulf us as we descend into Ngorongoro Crater. Through the dry landscape a pink haze can be seen shimmering at the edge of our vision.

We drive towards a group of vehicles, commonly known in this region as a picnic, and look in the direction where the many cameras are pointed. A large pride of lions laze in the sun ignoring the vehicles loaded with tourists in awe at their casual beauty. About 15 tanned cats blend into the dry grass and time feels like it stands still. We watch their graceful yawns for more than an hour.

SLEEPY KITTY: Lions relax in the grass at Ngorongoro Crater.
SLEEPY KITTY: Lions relax in the grass at Ngorongoro Crater.

Driving off, I look back to see a line of zebra crossing the dirt road and laugh at the irony. It's something I will probably never see again.

Enclosed huts lined with a high wooden fence appear suddenly before us. Masai Mara villages line the edge of Ngorongoro Crater and the surrounding area, camouflaged against the dusty environment.

Kilometres from any other human contact, young children sit on the edge of the road, tending to a herd of goats or cattle. Colourful in their dress; bright shades of reds and oranges, silver jewellery and serious faces stare at us as we pass, leaving a dust cloud in our wake.

Greetings from Serengeti - a massive feeding frenzy. As we drive along the bumpy dirt road, our driver stops and to our right we witness a committee of vultures feeding viciously on a bloodied carcass.

Before sunrise we crawl out of our tents ready for our early morning balloon ride. Five massive hot air balloons prepare for the skies and we take off gracefully over the Serengeti. Large herds of elephant walk toward their destination and we drop lower for better viewing. Giraffes chew on acacia trees and hippopotamus cool themselves in waterholes.

After more than an hour gliding through the sky embracing the beauty around us, we descend to relative safety and are taken by vehicle to breakfast overlooking the amazing landscape around us.

Following our early-morning aerial jaunt we set out on another game drive. Not far in we spot a baby hippopotamus, no more than a month old, camouflaged by its glistening round mother in the reeds of a small waterhole.

While preoccupied with the hippo, on the other side of our vehicle, a herd of elephants run enthusiastically our way, preparing to quench their thirst at the same waterhole.

Quietly, nervously, we sit watching from only 10 metres away. Once satisfied, the elephants trumpet dirt over their enormous bodies. Grey dust is blown into the air and falls down over their incredible grey bodies.

Moving on, we witness a crocodile making lunch out of a gazelle and spend the rest of our afternoon drive in awe of this massive reptile chomping down large pieces of meat.

The cool coastal breeze and turquoise water of Zanzibar is a welcome change of pace and our first day is spent wandering the meandering streets of Stone Town.

Rough white surfaces reaching to the blue sky, giant wooden doors with massive shiny golden spikes breaking the rugged building exterior.

Without using the sun for direction you might easily become lost in the labyrinth of narrow stone alleyways. Stone Town is known for its spice and slave trade and we are given educational guided tours for both before we head to the coast.

The swell bobs me up and down as I look into the water through my dive mask. Massive sea urchin and star fish cover the ocean floor. The water is about five metres deep and I build the courage to dive down. Kicking my flippers furiously, I get a closer look at the dark, spiky creatures.

Exhaustion finally overcomes excitement and I spend the rest of the afternoon relaxing on deck of our small wooden boat.

Barrel-like trunks with thin naked branches intertwine the grey landscape, twisting claw-like up to the sky like demons escaping the depths of earth. Baobab trees at the edge of Udzungwa Mountains National Park stretch for kilometres through the region.

A mixture of aromas fills my senses as we enter into a local food market at Mzuzu, on the way to our Lake Malawi campsite. I am greeted with the heady scent of spices, fruit and vegetables spread under small wooden stalls.

The smell of fresh, and not so fresh, seafood from Lake Malawi on offer fills my nostrils as I spot the mountain of seafood.

Lake Malawi confuses my senses even more when I go for a dip. Given the size of this vast body of water, covering almost 30,000 square kilometres, your mind expects the water to be salty.

I am grateful that the horse I am astride is a quiet old gelding and he slowly builds my enthusiasm for going fast. Clean, fresh air and beautiful big trees relax me into a steady rock and the occasional kick is needed to inform the beast below that I am still here.

Throughout our three-hour horse ride we pass a number of small communities. Little sounds of laughter erupt from behind the mud walls and children come running out to meet us, beaming smiles and palms out in the familiar greeting gesture.

My horse isn't so keen on swimming but we both manage to dip into the cool Lake Malawian water. I get to splash my feet about and I'm sorely tempted to let my inner child run free. We walk along the shore and I jump off to allow him a roll on the sandy shore before heading back to my group for an afternoon in the warm African sun.

IN THE WILD: Zebra crossing during a game drive at Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania.
IN THE WILD: Zebra crossing during a game drive at Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania.

Topics:  malawi, tanzania, travel




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