The Batwa – Uganda’s “first people” – were nomadic hunter-gatherers who developed advanced hunting and trapping methods. Their profound knowledge of the forest allowed them to harvest honey, fruit and roots to use produce food, medicine and shelter. But when the forest became a national park, the Batwa were moved out. Now, the Batwa Trail is their only chance to return to their ancestral home.
Some shots are a result of being in the right place at the right time – and this was one of them. But in getting to “the right place” required rather a lot of time, patience and knowledge. This is a desert-adapted elephant found in the bleak expanse of northwestern Namibia, and we had spent the morning tracking them, following footprints and droppings up and down dried-up riverbeds.
But unlike the routine travel we do back home – the daily commute, the weekend trips to visit family – “travelling” can provide some truly memorable means of reaching a destination, and as the Chinese proverb says, the journey becomes the reward. Here’s a round up of my five most memorable travel experiences – some because they were terrifying, others because they were unexpected. And many were both.
It’s appropriate that reaching the Himba involves such an arduous journey across Namibia. Arriving at the settlement, I realised life here was as far removed from my own as I could imagine, and the punishing journey was first test at leaving my comfortable, western lifestyle to enter another, more primal world, where human movements are dictated by nature, and not the other way around.
This woman belongs to the Himba tribe of the Kunene, an arid, rocky wasteland in northwestern Namibia. Her temporary hut is simple, hastily constructed from poles of wood and plastered earth, as red on the inside as the woman herself. Aside from her plentiful jewellery, crafted from leather and metal, she wears only a goatskin skirt, smeared ochre over time.
“We have a leopard situation.”
These words, spoken in the southern African savannah, far from the safety of the safari vehicle, were not exactly what I wanted to hear. But the beeping of the tracker’s aerial, picking up the leopard’s radio collar, was telling us that the creature was close. What’s more, the grass around me was waist-high – and leopards are the kings of camouflage.
A safari is normally characterised by trying to get nearer – tracking something down, pursuing it, getting the long lenses out. But a flying safari is about being just far enough away to make out the horizon beyond the mountains, to watch the coastal fog creeping up behind the dunes, to observe the earth becoming an abstract artwork of shadow and light, the known and the unknown.
After almost 40 years leading tourists through the savannah, it was no wonder that George had an awesome anecdote for every occasion. Besides killing a buffalo with an ancient rifle, he had thrown himself to the ground to avoid being bitten in two by a one-and-a-half ton hippo, and escaped a lion by dashing up a tree.
The tour introduced us to Namibia in a way that encouraged respect, admiration and a rather healthy (I believe) dose of fear. Standing within 15 meters of a notoriously grumpy black rhino named Hans Otto was a powerful experience; as was tracking radio-collared cheetah through the grasslands, only to discover that we ourselves were being tracked – by a leopard. We knew whose territory this was – and it was not ours.
Namibia is described as the “Land of the Brave”, but that was not how I felt as I lay on my belly on a thin piece of hardboard on the edge of a sheer, 100 metre high cliff of sand, which I was about to whizz down face-first at a speed of 80km per hour.