“When you leave Africa, as the plane lifts, you feel that more than leaving a continent you’re leaving a state of mind. Whatever awaits you at the other end of your journey will be of a different order of existence”
– Francesca Marciano, “Rules of the Wild”
Eastern Africa was a different ball game than Southern Africa had been. The relative availability of luxuries like WiFi, hot water, and ATMs that actually worked in South Africa, Namibia, and Zambia made way for mud huts and brown water, when it was running, that is.
Something else changed, too. Copper-hued Namibia, with only 2 million people, was the kind of place where you could drive all day and never see another person. Eastern Africa, on the other hand, is heavily populated. This not only meant an increase in traffic, but also towns and people as I passed by. People who, just about every time they saw the truck, started waving and smiling.
I stopped reading books and instead turned my body towards the window just so that I could wave to each person in kind. Children and adults alike would raise a hand and wave, playing outside of the mud huts and seeking shelter from the midday sun in the shade of the overhanging palm fronds.
I don’t know why they wave, as I didn’t often encounter this type of courtesy coming from a place in California where I hardly knew my neighbors. Perhaps it’s not every day that they see foreigners passing through. Perhaps it’s just what they do there, to each other as well.
Because it’s such a novel concept, it’s that much more special to me when someone acknowledges my existence in the world, and I do the same in return. We connect wordlessly for that millisecond in time.
The days driving through Malawi and Tanzania were long, and when the time finally came to board the ferry and cross into Zanzibar, I was ready for a beach break.
Zanzibar appears in person just as it does in the photos: white sand, aquamarine waters, and sideways sailboats.
The days were spent lounging on the rope and wooden chaise chairs, SCUBA diving in the clear waters with octopus and Napoleon wrasse (with Zanzibar Watersports, which I’d recommend if you find yourself there), and joking around with the locals who live in the area.
Nights were spent dancing at reggae bars with local Maasai, dressed in draped red checkered regalia, and talking about life in the villages with a new friend I’d made on the beach, Niko.
We’d bonded when he came up to my friend Maddie and I (a girl I’d met on the overland safari), and we spent a good hour lightheartedly joking around, discussing his beaded bracelets, and negotiating the price for a rainbow one. He saw me as a friend after that, expressing sadness when I left three days later.
My final night, I waded out into the calm, warm ocean alone, leaving Niko and Maddie on the sand.
It was a particularly soft sunset, if that makes any sense. It was the type that seems to move more slowly than normal, like the day isn’t interested in ending. The waveless water was so calm, it all blended together as the sun dipped below the horizon. For a good half hour, everything was bathed in golden light.
Standing in the water, the temperature inside even warmer than outside, I thanked Africa for the four months of growth. I thanked it for opening my eyes to another world I never knew existed. At times it was heartbreaking, bewildering, and shocking, and at other times uplifting, delightful, and heart-warming.
The next morning I left the truck behind and made my way, solo, back to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania to board my flight home to Berlin. Sitting in hours of traffic (the city is renowned for it), sweating through my clothes and swatting away mosquitoes, I should have been perfectly happy to leave Africa behind in a cloud of dust. Yet I couldn’t feel anything but grateful. I couldn’t help but feel unprepared to leave. Africa had grown on me and me on Africa. I left behind roots and little pieces of my being there.
Asante Sana (thank you so much), Africa. If I’d left this earth without seeing you with my own eyes, then I would have missed out on a precious treasure.
A note about the final 35 days of my Africa experience: I joined an overland safari truck with Acacia Africa (this is the itinerary) with a small group of others, all of whom I really enjoyed the company of and bonded with. I normally travel independently and never take tours, however this one was really special, and incredibly well-organized, hitting all of the beautiful highlights. Each member of the truck was expected to help with cooking and cleaning, and we slept in tents every night (unless we chose to sleep under the stars instead). This is the type of tour I would recommend to anyone who typically doesn’t like tours, but who is traveling solo through this area. As a lone girl mainly in countries without public transport, I saw this as my only option. I’d love to do it again with a few friends in a Land Rover, and it’s certainly on the docket for the future. However by myself, this was a great way to do it.
Some of the safari was provided at a discount, however I covered the local expenses. Even if it had all been free, or even if I had paid for it entirely, I’d say the same thing – it was a really good safari, and I plan to join them again for more in the future.