Most of my life has been spent Out of Africa.
Now it’s time to go — into Africa!
Many years ago I spent five short days in South Africa chasing lions while filming an episode for the Canon Photo Safari with celebrity guest David Alan Grier. It was difficult concentrating while David talked about the benefits of using Impala turds rather than olives in the local martinis. My job was to teach him something about photography, which was like trying to feed a cat broccoli.
My experience was nothing like Robert Redford’s, in the epic film “Out of Africa,” so it is time to revisit the place.
This brings up a good question, how can anyone possibly experience a place even a fraction of the size of the continent of Africa in such a short period of time? The usual vacation period is two weeks. Most of that time is spent packing, traveling, and returning home. Sometime during the over-planned days at the destination, you may find a few precious moments when all the planets align, allowing you to truly feel the place. These moments become the light at the end of a long tunnel of time that lures you back to that exact place sometime in the future. To feel any place is to hear its sounds, smell its scents, and sleep in its silence. These things take time.
I remember my first cruise with my wife to the Caribbean. She was so excited, having surprised me with an incredible vacation of a lifetime. One day we signed up for one of the excursions to Trunk Bay on the picturesque island of St. Johns. The pamphlet promised a four-hour trip to one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. After taking the tender to shore, getting the orientation, riding a bus, fitting the snorkel gear, and then finally listening to yet one more orientation, we had 45 minutes of real-time on the beach.
It’s hard to take time out and when we do, we often pack it full of busy stuff. Every place I have visited has a heartbeat. When you stop and listen you can actually hear it. Sometimes it takes longer and requires great patience. This can be done by planning a slower itinerary rather than filling each day with the production schedule of a Sesame Street episode. It can be difficult to accomplish when others traveling with you become bored and don’t want anything to do with sitting around waiting to hear the so-called, “heartbeat” of a place.
There is a subtle way to deal with this syndrome, leave them home! If that is not possible, then I suggest considering a compromise. Schedule half your time and leave the rest to the wind. If you are looking to photograph a place, this will allow you some time to explore a lead never anticipated, or walk a trail, not in the guidebook.
When I travel back to Africa next October, I have carefully planned out an itinerary that will allow time to listen, not only to the guides’ instructions for staying alive in the middle of a wildlife preserve filled with wild animals but also to the silence of Africa.
Maybe there is hope I will have the out-of-body/Africa experience after all!