Tips for making the most of your safari experience.

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“Nothing but breathing the air of Africa, and actually walking through it, can communicate the indescribable sensations.” William Burchell (English explorer)
With the majority of 2020 having been taken up by the arrival of COVID-19 and the accompanying pandemic, we all tend to forget that the first 3 months of the year were normal. It was only when the reports of the virus started to filter through to us here at the Southern tip of Africa from Europe, did we begin to wonder if (or when) it would start to affect us. That, as we discovered, was to occur on March 27th and was supposed to last for 21 days. As we all know, that has rolled over from month to month and it looks as if normalcy will return on October 1st. But will it? Will the relaxing of restrictions and the complacency that will return not cause a spike in the number of reported cases again? Does that mean that countries will find themselves, South Africa included, returning to lockdown levels again?
BUT, to quote Monty Python “Always look on the bright side of life“… For now, travel for leisure purposes is being allowed and many are taking advantage of that. Especially those who love the outdoors and have, like me, been chomping at the bit to get back into the bush. If that includes you, then here are some pointers to make your safari the best that it can be.

Choose your destination carefully.

Remember, if the offer looks too good to be true, then it probably is. Given that there are post lockdown specials available to locals, many will be booking and possibly not conducting in-depth research on a lodge, but merely choosing a destination based on price. Not all reserves have the “BIG 5”. Often a lodge will market their property as having all of the species, however, on closer inspection, it might turn out that one or more of the animals are not resident, but merely wander through the property from time to time. The same might be true of accommodation, game drives and meals. Make certain exactly what you are getting at that ‘special’ rate. Otherwise, what seems like a great deal could, in fact, cost you much more than expected. Areas of concern: Are the guides allowed to off-road in order to find game? What exactly is included in the price? Is the bottled water complimentary? These might seem simple questions, but it could mean the difference between a memorable stay and an unexpectedly costly one. Given the fact that families have been in lockdown for up to 6 months, you don’t want frustrations to boil over while on holiday. If you are at all uncertain about a particular destination, use more than one online source to verify any claims made.

Caveat emptor is a Latin term that means “let the buyer beware Similar to the phrase “sold as is,” this term means that the buyer accepts the risk that product or service might fail to meet expectations that could be the case with the plethora of specials currently on offer.

 

 

Colour matters.

It does not matter if animals can see bright colours or not, you don’t want to stick out on a game viewer like a brand ambassador for United Colours of Benetton. Bright colours, like orange and blue, are NOT suitable to be worn while on a game drive, and most certainly not to be worn if you are on a bushwalk. Neutral colours, like olive green, beige and brown are ideal. Camouflage is somewhat OTT and is not really a requirement. Good, comfortable walking shoes are a must.

 

 

Packing correctly…

Always make certain that you have warm clothing in your suitcase. Even in summer, the early moving and late afternoon drives can become chilly. Even the most upmarket lodge will not require that you wear a suit and tie to dinner, but a pair of pants might be appropriate in some establishments. If you are driving to your destination, then what you pack is not limited by weight. If you are flying, then choose your clothing wisely. To have and not require is better than not have and find that you have to buy an expensive item of clothing from the in-house gift shop. Personally, I have also taken to packing an extension cord so that I don’t have to search for socket outlets to charge electronic equipment. Remember phone chargers, batteries for cameras and extra storage cards…all of which can be expensive if forgotten. And have a checklist. I tend to forget at least one item per trip, and that has included camera battery chargers for not one but BOTH my cameras. (I did remember to remove my cat before closing the lid).

 

 

Listen to your guide.

You might not be able to question your guides directly about their FGASA (Field Guides Association of Southern Africa) qualifications or years of experience, but it is possible to work it into a conversation if you are concerned. If you trust that the lodge has done their due diligence regarding their guides, then once you are in a vehicle or on foot behind a guide carrying a rifle, listen and obey all their commands. Even as a regular bush visitor, you are exactly that, a visitor. The guides interact with the animals on a regular basis and are therefore aware of how they might behave in any set of circumstances. If you are concerned about the proximity of any particular animal, talk to your guide before acting in what might be an inappropriate manner.

 

 

Temper your expectations. 

You are not going to find animals around every corner. In fact, there might be times when you see ‘nothing’ at all. But no game drive is ever without a sighting of some sort. There is always a variety of plains game to watch. It is the lack of Big 5 sightings that leads guests to say “We saw nothing” when returning from a drive or walk. You are in their territory and you cannot expect any of the animals to pose for you to get the perfect shot. Patience and the expertise of the guide will get that for you. So, sit back and enjoy whatever it is that you get to see. Be it a dung beetle, a spider or a leopard in a tree with a kill.

 

 

Interact with the locals

Part of the reason that I travel is to interact with the locals. Sometimes it could be at a market on the way to your final destination. I met this fellow in a market in Ghana and although there was a language barrier hand signals and smiles worked wonders. I have learned that photographing locals is not always welcomed, so ask permission first and if the answer is “no” then respect that. And I always show my subject the images I have taken, and as a result, I still communicate with several of my ‘subjects’ that I have shared images with.

 

 

Know your equipment.

Make certain that you are competent to use the equipment that you bring with on a safari. There is nothing more frustrating than trying to get a shot and your camera won’t respond in the way you thought it should. With digital photography, you can practice and delete before you leave on your trip. The same goes for phone apps and even binoculars. If in doubt, leave it at home! If you are going to use your mobile phone as a camera, then make certain that you take a phone charger on the drive or walk with you.

 

 

Remember your medication. 

 There is nothing more annoying that being pestered all night long by the incessant whine of mosquitoes. Most lodges do supply aerosol spray to keep them at bay, but if in doubt, pack your own. If you are going to be visiting a malaria area, then please consult a medical specialist as to what prophylactics might be required. Do this timeously as many of the medications currently in use need to be taken before you leave on your trip.

 

 

All the comforts of home?

Many of the lodges that I have visited over the years are luxurious in terms of their design and comfort, however, I have come to realize that many are situated a distance from a major city or town. If I have to wait for a solar geyser to heat up, then I will and if the connectivity is not quite what I expect of the high-speed fibre that I have in my home office, then I will make a plan…or choose to disconnect and just enjoy what like was like before we were all tethered to the internet.

 

 

Come out from behind your viewfinder. 

For me, as a travel writer and wildlife photographer, it is hard to tear myself away from my viewfinder. However, I have learned that specifically in lowlight conditions, where getting a useful shot might be impossible, putting the camera aside and enjoying the moment is a learning opportunity. I have also taken to doing this during daylight when I have come to realize that I don’t need 200 images of an animal that are almost identical. Memories are not always captured on a card, but sitting quietly and marvelling at the wonders of nature will be remembered long after you have lost your images on a hard drive.

I hope that these tips have been useful. If you have any suggestions that would make travel easier and more enjoyable for either myself or my readers, please email me at david@travelandthings.co.za

 

 

 

 

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