“When you leave Africa, as the plane lifts, you feel that more than leaving a continent you’re leaving a state of mind. Whatever awaits you at the other end of your journey will be of a different order of existence.”
Has a song ever changed your life?
Back in the 1980s I was an impressionable teenager living in a council estate in Luton, England. Each Saturday I'd head into town for the chance to spend my paper round money. Most times I found myself in HMV, mesmerised by the vinyl singles and albums on offer. During one of those moments I caught sight of an album called Kilimanjaro, by The Teardrop Explodes.
Not only did I love the cover, but also the post punk tunes etched into the vinyl, each with stirring lyrics that soon had me bopping in my cramped bedroom.
Little did I know that the sight of Kilimanjaro on the album cover would plant a seed, to one day stand on the roof of Africa.
Years later, I wrote the following in my travel memoir, Wild about Africa.
I was 15 years of age when I first caught sight of Mount Kilimanjaro. I still remember studying the herd of zebra standing on the dusty plains of Africa, a snow-clad mountain looming up from the clouds behind them. At the time, I was holding the front cover of a music album, by a British band called The Teardrop Explodes. They’d named the album, Kilimanjaro.
Until then, I’d been unaware of the strange-sounding mountain, located a few hundred miles from the equator. I had no idea that a trek to the summit took climbers through five different climate zones, from a hot and steamy jungle to a sub-zero mountaintop, encrusted with snow and ice.
Like many teenagers, I learned a lot about life through music and lyrics, and over the next few months, the tracks on Kilimanjaro were played relentlessly, along with my growing collection of eighties sounds. At times, I’d listen while staring out of my bedroom window, wondering what life had in store for me. Eventually, tiny scratches appeared on the vinyl surface of Kilimanjaro and for a while it lay forgotten, as other bands fought for my attention.
By the time I was in my mid-twenties, I’d collected a stack of records from musicians that spanned many years and many tastes. I didn’t care about trends to follow. I just wanted to sing and dance to songs that had meaning or made me feel alive. Throughout this time, Kilimanjaro still made appearances on my turntable. Just as before, I’d listen to the songs while studying the snow-clad mountain on the album cover, wondering if I’d ever get the chance to stand on the African plains and gaze at such a majestic sight.
Overland across Africa
Before moving to Australia, my wife and I boarded an overland truck - for the adventure of a lifetime. Throughout the trip, one of the highlights was sitting up front with Tony, our driver. As word spread amongst the other passengers that the cab offered the best views in Africa, I soon realised that my special times alongside Tony were drawing to an end.
This is how I captured that moment in my travel memoir.
I didn’t know it at the time, but this was to be one of my last trips in the front cab with Tony. Other passengers were vying for a chance to enjoy the bird’s-eye view and friendly chats. As our next camp approached, I asked the inevitable question. ‘So Tony, with all that you’ve seen and experienced, where’s your favourite place in Africa?’
He took a while to reply, his south London accent somehow out of place as we passed a warning sign for hippos. ‘There are still many places for me to explore in Africa. I enjoy every trip, as each is different in some way. You sometimes meet a group of passengers that make the trip a memorable one and at other times it’s a wildlife experience that takes your breath away. I love the remoteness of Malawi and the wilds of Tanzania. As for my favourite camping spot, it could well be Ngepi, which is where we’ll be very soon!’
He reached towards the sun visor, pulled out an assortment of leaflets and asked me to find the one on Ngepi. I flicked through the material, suddenly aware of all the other locations and attractions that could be visited during a tour of Africa. I found the one on Ngepi and read the first lines: Ngepi camp is situated in the unspoiled upper reaches of the Okavango Delta panhandle, in the western Caprivi strip, Kavango Region, Namibia.
While I studied the leaflet, Tony informed me about the prolific wildlife that could be found in the area, including elephant, buffalo and leopard. The remaining words on the flyer completed the picture:
With clean Kalahari Desert air, the camp is set on an island under amazing trees, with permanent river frontage and surrounded by seasonally flooded swamps. It is a paradise of flooded plains and secret swampy backwaters, teeming with wildlife. We are nestled between Mahango National Park a few kms to the south and Bwabwata National Park, directly opposite across the river.