Africa – Lytle

Jeff lytle

Is this the year? After thinking and talking about it so many times, is this the year you go for it and make the adventure to Africa?

If so, congratulations! Good call!

To help you make the most of it, let me share some tips based on the successful journey that my wife, Susan, and I made to southern Africa over Christmas. First and foremost, opt for the rustic route rather than the four-star lifestyles of the rich and famous resorts that sound more like private zoos than wilderness.

There is something about staying in tents, amid roaming animals and hearing them at night, that delivers the maximum “Africa” experience. Our tents at three of the four safari camps on our tour, with Overseas Adventure Travel (mention this article if you use them), had canvas walls with heavily screened windows and, yes, toilets and showers.

Escorted there after dinner by guides, sometimes armed, we were directed to go inside and stay there – no roaming the grounds or admiring the stars in skies free of light pollution.

But that was fine by us. We were dead tired after starting each day with a personal “good morning” by a staff member on foot around 5:15 a.m., at daybreak. If that did not give us enough time to get ready for breakfast at 6, a guide advised from the start of our three-week tour, get up earlier.

The first of two daily animal-seeking Jeep rides, or game drives, would be starting at 6:30.

One of our four camps was of the luxury, air-conditioned, full bathroom variety. Sweet. But, as fellow travelers with luxury safari experience told us, they prefer the tents.

Our next bit of advice is to not be afraid. Whichever accommodations you choose, you will be in the hands of professionals who have been there, done that, and they want to be safe and go home every bit as much as you do.

When in cities, be just as careful as you would be anywhere else.

In the field, that means taking direction from guides. They know how close they can steer you to lions and elephants, for example, and make clean getaways if necessary.

Anyway, most animals do not care about you. They have seen us and our Jeeps before. They are more interested in their next meal –something meatier than us.

In Africa the people who live there can be almost as interesting as the animals. Look for ways to meet and interact with them. You will be rewarded. They are warm, lovely and eager to show and tell — and share what they have.

Our group was able to do that quite well thanks to a guide who was a Zimbabwe native who spoke the dialect and knew the leaders of a village that we otherwise could not have visited. That experience was a highlight. They were proud to show us their “bank”– a fenced pen for goats that could be sold to meet expenses.

Questions went back and forth. When asked what they need, villagers said electricity and training for an ox that tilled farm fields. In turn, they wanted to know our ages and whether the women tourists enjoyed drinking beer and dancing.

Talking about beer, do try local brews, which are clean and tasty, as well as locally produced wines – which are plentiful. Go see a vineyard or two if you can. The ones we sampled around Cape Town help make that modern metro area steeped in global marine history a must-see.

A few words about shopping … be careful about money exchange rates. They can vary from country to country, and American dollars are welcome in most places. And keep in mind that price tags in local currency – the rand in South Africa, for example — can scare you away; stores offer $2 snacks for a whopping 39.99 (in rands).

Bargaining with marketplace and even indoor store merchants is the norm but be advised: every sale is crucial in poor areas, and merchants can get aggressive, promising carvings and clothing made elsewhere are authentic “local” goods and placing items in your shopping bag before you agree to buy. And, please, shop around when choosing when to go.

We saved money by going during the so-called rainy season. Our homework showed December-March was comparable to our summer, with rains more like random downpours than daylong events. We had only a few days with big rain, which actually helped cool things down. No safari activities were compromised.

Meanwhile, remember to check medical requirements for each country you plan to visit. Our destinations – Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana and South Africa – had no vaccine mandates, but we did heed the suggestion to take daily anti-malaria pills before, during and after our stay.

Ask your doctor and fill your prescription at Costco if possible.

So, there you go. Agree with these suggestions, or not, enjoy your trip. And if you are on the fence about noise-canceling headphones, flights of about 15 hours each way – grueling but better than choosing a stop in Europe — make the investment worthwhile. And opt for travel insurance; a year’s contract with Allianz is great.

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