Senior Summer: Africa

by Ida Biering

My family is one of those families that gets very stuck on tradition–anything from our preferred foods, to our favourite travel destinations, to the songs we sing on Christmas. Given our somewhat sporadic lifestyle, keeping up with those traditions is not always easy: my mother’s work keeps her in Sweden, my father’s at our permanent address in Denmark (where I’m from) and my brother’s career has led him to Belgium. Needless to say, getting four different schedules to coincide throughout an academic year can be a bit of a challenge, so whenever summer comes along, we always have a family holiday planned where we all travel together to get reacquainted and share meaningful experiences.

This year, our journey took us on a wildlife safari to Botswana, Africa. Botswana is a small country of about 2 million people, bordered by South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe, and up to 70% of the country is covered by the Kalahari Desert. Having travelled to Africa a few times before (twice to different parts of South Africa, once to Tanzania) my family and I have cultivated a bit of a love affair with the African continent. Something about Africa has had us continuously looking for an excuse to return (this especially goes for my father, who spent much of his childhood growing up in various African countries). So when we heard about the landscape and wildlife opportunities in Botswana, we collectively decided (via e-mail) this was an expedition worthy of our major family holiday.

“It was almost as if my family and I were not only tourists as we sat alone gazing up at the stars (the first time I ever saw a shooting star) or enjoyed our morning coffee as the sun rose, while listening to the petrifying roars of a lion in the distance.”

Victoria Falls, on the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe

A local tourist agency, &Beyond, helped organize an itinerary for us. After our flight from Copenhagen to Johannesburg, and a brief transfer to Botswana, we landed in Maun, a small village northeast of the buzzing industrial capital, Gaborone.

We traveled through Botswana heading towards the border with Zimbabwe, staying in tented camps owned by &Beyond along the way. We would switch camps every 2-3 days (with about a day’s driving in between), in order to experience as much of the area as possible. We also spent about 6 days travelling to different camps in the famed Okavango Delta in northern Botswana, where we had the chance to go on various boat rides along the rivers and smaller lakes in addition to our daily game drives.

Although I will be among the first to admit that camping is not everyone’s cup of tea (and having insufficient clean clothes did not help after leaving my suitcase behind in Maun because it was too big for the small airplane), I can honestly say that I was pleasantly surprised by the experience. Sleeping in a tent outside, in the middle of nowhere, with wild animals walking by at night (one morning we heard a hyena had stolen a pint of milk from the makeshift kitchen), and even showering using a barrel and a pitcher for 10 days straight, made this trip memorable in a completely different way from our previous trips to Africa. Perhaps this elected mindset was my attempt to glorify an outdoorsy experience to myself, but this trip proved to me that even the most adapted housecat can appreciate the subtle satisfaction being close to the stunning world nature has to offer.

Although like in previous trips, we came across astounding wildlife (the awkward moment where you have to wait to eat your lunch because there’s an elephant in the camp), this trip made me appreciate the natural element of the experience in way unimpressed upon me before. Even the air had a certain quality to it: a dusty, aromatic scent of wild sage and musk. I found myself longing for that magical time of day when the sun was just rising or setting, a great, glowing, blood orange orb in the multicoloured sky. I could not help but be in awe as the landscape would drastically change as we travelled further northeast. The same dry, dusty and stark wasteland characteristic of a desert region remained at various levels of constant, yet shifted to luscious green and as we drew nearer to water and marshlands. The mode of transportation, a 4×4 Range Rover and, at times, small airplanes, together with the wilderness camping element, gave the sense of an actual explorer’s journey.

Here credit goes to &Beyond for organizing a trip that was deliberately designed for such an experience, as well as for providing a very considerate and knowledgeable ranger (not to mention the impeccable staff in the various camps). But, between camps, we wouldn’t encounter people for miles. It was almost as if my family and I were not only tourists as we sat alone gazing up at the stars (the first time I ever saw a shooting star) or enjoyed our morning coffee as the sun rose, while listening to the petrifying roars of a lion in the distance.

When we arrived at Victoria Falls (the largest single falling curtain of water in the world, and twice the size of Niagara Falls) I found myself stunned once more. I had never been so amazed and yet so terrified at the same time, witnessing what must have been literally tons of water falling from the Zambezi River down a 107-metre drop into the gorge. The sheer force mesmerized me. In the end, this idea would help sum up my adventure for me: if there was anything going to Africa this summer reminded me of, it is the fact that the world is so much larger than we have the time to imagine in our ever-highspeed lives. The lyrics of “A Whole New World” from Disney’s Aladdin seem particularly resonant here (despite the fact that I am just perpetually trying to squeeze in a Disney reference into anything that happens in my life). There is so much to see and do, even if that doesn’t necessarily involve the next addition to your professional resume or that “backpacking trip around Europe.” Because once you’re on your journey, the best experiences are the ones that come naturally–and to this senior, about to confront that world, that is a comforting thought.

Ida Biering is a senior at Barnard and a guest contributor for The Nine Ways of Knowing.

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