Reflections on life on safari, from Safari for Real guide and author Lex Hes (Image copyright Lex Hes)
For me, one of the best things about going off into the wilderness is the sense of peace and quiet that one gets. No dogs barking, no traffic noise, no rush hour, no music being played everywhere you go, no radios blaring. Just the sounds of the natural world.
Most visitors to Africa experience the wilderness from the back of a game-drive vehicle as they head off in search of big game, and of course this is always a very exciting experience, full of great expectations. But there is one intrusion: the sound of the game drive vehicle that blocks off those natural sounds. A good guide will regularly turn off the engine so that participants on safari can get regular experiences of the natural sounds around them. But to truly experience a connection with the natural world, there is nothing better than walking.
Set off on a walk through the wilderness of Africa together with a qualified armed guide and suddenly that feeling of expectation, together with a sense of vulnerability, is greatly heightened as you find yourself on the same level as those big game animals that you have enjoyed watching from the vehicle.
You become much more aware of what is going on around you as you slowly begin to realise that your safety depends on your own alertness and situational awareness. A walk through the African wilderness isn’t just a relaxed stroll and a chat. There is so much more to it than that.
If you choose to walk in big game country where lion, elephant, buffalo, rhino, hippo, leopard and other potentially dangerous animals roam freely, you have to be absolutely certain that you are not going to bump into one of them unexpectedly. This means being alert to tracks, sounds, smells and sights.
You and your guide need to be continuously looking on the ground for tracks. These need to be identified and then freshness needs to be ascertained, especially if it is the tracks of one of the potentially dangerous animals. If tracks are fresh, you need to walk as quietly as possible so that the noises you make do not interfere with your chance to hear something that could signal the proximity of an animal: a low warning growl (possibly lion), a branch breaking (elephant) or an oxpecker calling (buffalo).
The smell of scent-marks left by predators or of freshly-killed carcasses can also be useful. And of course we all depend on our eyesight to spot movements or shapes in the undergrowth.
Walking offers an opportunity to see things that are very easily overlooked from a vehicle. A really good guide would be able to point out all kinds of animal tracks, varying from beetles to white and black rhinos, from dwarf mongoose to porcupine and mice, as well as other signs such as scrape marks, rubbing posts, skin parasites stuck in mud on the side of trees and so on.
But the best part of walking is the overall connection that you get with the natural world. You become more aware of everything that is going on around you: the wind blowing, every single bird call and insect chirp and buzz, rustles in the grass, the sky overhead, the distant views, the sun and the shade, the heat and the cool.
You begin to notice the impact that we humans have as we barge through the bush making all manner of noises, and you start to realise that you need to walk more carefully to reduce the noise that you make, and to talk less and listen more.
Take a walking safari if you can. It is good for the soul.
Lex Hes is a renowned photographer, author, naturalist and guide, and is a director-guide of Safari for Real www.safariforreal.com