Saturday, 11 June 2011

Assante Sana

The local name for Victoria Falls is Mosi-o-tunya, The Smoke That Thunders. As with every major attraction in Africa, it is immortalised in a million post cards, sculptures, paintings and even its own beer ‘Mosi’ to the point that before arrival the traveller might well think that he has already been. These tiny snapshots daubed on card and relentlessly advertised across Zambia are, like everything I saw in Africa, nothing when compared to the mighty vision that greeted me on arrival.

Over 6 million years old, the Victoria Falls plunge down a face of basalt rock. The waters were high when we arrived, sending spray that could be seen from 30 kilometers distant. Imagine a giant garden sprinkler launching sheets of water (there is nothing so dainty of droplets here) hundreds of feet into the air. A quick walk along Victoria Gorge was wetter than most baths I have taken.

I have chosen to first (inadequately) describe Victoria Falls because it is iconic. I could have chosen almost anywhere. The sheer beauty of South-Eastern Africa is daunting. The open planes of the Serengheti, miles of flatness punctured by protrusions of rock. In the distance you can see entire storms brewing, unleashing and dispersing. The Ngorogoro crater: the red soil of Africa drags lush vegetation from the ground and feeds herds far as the eye can see. The Sahara as seen from the air, a scabbed skin stretched across the earth, smoothing itself into the cloudline and dotted with sidewinder-like dunes.

“It is a good place,” the man next to me on my flight to Nairobi assured me. Quite.

I am not one for nature. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I bore easily, that I am often hyperactive and find it hard to sit still. I have never before been able to while away hours simply looking at things. On the Great Rift Valley, no amount of time was too much.

Africa’s wildlife is on a par with her natural beauty. In these limited photographs I have tried to convey a small sense of what I saw. It is futile to say that these things must be experienced. We all know that.

In this case I have tried to convey a sense of my excitement. A distant shot of animals, partially obscured. The regularity and diversity of wildlife forced me to revise my photo-taking philosophy. That and I am a shit photographer. Pretty soon the only pictures to make the cut are this.

And this.

Elephants move absolutely silently. Their weight is dispersed over four solidly muscular legs giving them a lilting gait. Like ghosts they appear slowly, melting into being as they emerge from the undergrowth until they are suddenly so utterly there. Solid, powerful and slow they stare, registering every movement. Their movements are confident and relaxed. They know that nothing on this earth compares to them.

I have taken a fair few photographs of these. You can never have too many.

Oh an by the way, here is a male lion. They sleep for 20 hours a day. The females do the hunting. As far as I can tell they spend most of their time looking like utter heroes. I could absolutely get into that lifestyle.

I am keeping this blog-post concise since even with more description all I can honestly do is give but a vague impression of my visit. To anybody who is listening, I like to say that I have been to Africa. This is an understatement at best, and at worst an insult. This is not for some luvvie attempt to portray myself as having a social conscience. It is simply the truth. What I visited was a small part of the south-east of an unimaginably vast continent. I did not even begin to touch the west: Cape Town, Ghana, Angola or the North: Egypt and though when on a map they seem tantalisingly close, I know that even were I to spend a lifetime on the continent I would visit less than a single percentage of the sights worth seeing and meet even less than that of the people worth meeting.

Here are a couple of my favourite shots.

Oh alright alright. I admit it. I watched the Lion King when I returned.

By the way "Asante Sana! Squash banana! We we nuga! Mi mi apana!". That’s a real saying. It means, “You’re a baboon. I am not.”

Oh, and here is the greatest song of all time.

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