19 seconds in Africa – when silence matters

You can’t always get what you want when you travel. The unpredictable can go either way.

The woman arrived on day two, though her gender doesn’t matter. I don’t remember her name, it is better that way, but I remember her impact.

We were in camp, a safari camp, a walking safari camp in Africa though perhaps she missed the ‘walking’ part in the brochure. Four stand alone tents with ensuites set up around a central fire place and a separate main lodge tent where guests dined together and swapped stories from the day’s adventures.

There was no electricity, everything ran by fire light or battery with an emergency generator should a herd of elephants trample out our flames.

Each morning we’d wake to discover paw prints of roaming big cats that had walked through the groomed sands of our luxe camp set up. It was exciting in a truly thrilling way with just a canvas tent wall between you and a tussle with a lion kind of death.

But back to her.

The theory of a walking safari is you walk. A guide in front with a gun, a tail guide at the back with another gun and four or five guests.

Wake before sunrise for a gourmet camp fire breakfast whipped up in a steel drum followed by four hours of tracking rhinos through wild terrain infested with giraffe, hyenas, lions, leopards, elephants and more story book creatures that could kill you with a sneeze.

She was American, though it’s only important for the sake of her accent which will come later.

The first day we walked she lasted thirty minutes before returning to the camp. She never walked again. Unfit, overweight (yes I am clear that you can be overweight and fit, I am one, but she wasn’t) in that I’ve lived my life off fast food kind of way.

Each morning she’d tell our camp chef who had a way with an egg worthy of a Michelin.

“Don’t give me any of your foreign African style egg shit.”

See the accent matters.

“I just want five fried eggs sunny side up and a can of Coke.”

Her not walking became a blessing. It gave the two Frenchmen guests and myself respite for what would come when we returned to camp after life enhancing safari walks and embarked after lunch on the daily four hour open top vehicle safari sojourn at dusk. No walking required.

Yep, she would pile into the 4WD and take prime viewing position on account of her not walking and all. Did I mention she’s on a walking safari and not walking?

Trouble was this woman would…not…shut…up. Literally. The entire four hours in the remote African wilderness miles from the nearest wifi with nothing but wildebeest, hippos, antelope and lion cubs to exhale and wonder over. But silence was not in her vocabulary.

“Wow look at that giraffe” she’d say to her female travelling companion. I have forgotten her name too.

“My, giraffes are so tall aren’t they, like that guy, who was that guy, the basketball player, the tall one, you know the one, oh look there’s an elephant, I’ve always wanted an elephant, my mum gave me a Dumbo from Disney when I was a kid. I wonder what happened to that toy? When can we see a lion, I paid to see a lion. Oooh look there’s a hippo in the water, I wonder if I watered my plants enough back home.”

We timed her once. An entire 19 seconds was the longest she was silent for over the four hours in the vehicle in the bush.

I think she knew the French didn’t like her or maybe she didn’t notice them either. They pretended to not understand English between 10.00am and 10.00pm. Despite speaking fluent English on our walks from 6.00am to 10.00am each day.

I took to gin, it was the only way and the quinine in the tonic water ensured I didn’t get malaria so it was medicinal, which helped.

It got to the point where we would be begging the guides to leave us and the gin bottle in the wild in the silence at the end of each walking safari. Anything but return to camp.

I would dream at night that she was sitting outside my tent spewing forth fractured sentence after fractured sentence, not taking a breath and scaring even the leopards away until I realised she’d have to walk from her tent to mine to do this and as we know she didn’t like walking. Yes, yes, the brochure.

The day we left she said goodbye to everything. I mean everything. As we drove off back to civilisation transported in the open top safari vehicle she began.

“Bye bye Mr Giraffe, see you Mr Crocodile, nice to meetcha hyena, we’ll be back Mr Warthog” and on and on and on.

We parted ways. I didn’t say goodbye though she won’t have heard me if I did. Too busy doing the roll call of the bush.

Have you had an unpredictable travel experience that didn’t go according to plan thanks to the human factor?

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