There will most likely be some down-time on safari. Some time for you to switch off, relax, snooze, go to gym (only for the truly dedicated) and enjoy being on holiday (although the 5am knock on your door might belie that fact).
Early wake-ups and exciting days watching wild animals do their thing invariably leave one tired, but as a visit to the African bush is usually combined with some or other activity like a trip to Cape Town or one of the Indian Ocean islands (at least for overseas visitors), at some point you will surely have some time to yourself in which you can read a book.
I usually like reading books about a place I’m due to visit before I got there; not so that my expectations are raised, but more so that my excitement can ratchet up a notch.
If you’re coming out to Africa, or if you’ve been, or even if you never intend to but still have some interest in the place, I strongly recommend you seek out the following six books. All are true. All are enthralling. All weave a wonderful storyline, and in all, the evidence of the author(s)’ love for the African continent is always close to the surface…
1. Cry of the Kalahari
In the 1970s two young American Zoologists, Mark and Delia Owens, lived and worked in Deception Valley; one of the remotest parts of Botswana’s Kalahari Desert. At least eight hours from any other people, they existed in this completely unexplored wilderness, researching some of the larger carnivores of the region, particularly lions and brown hyenas.
Cry of the Kalahari is their autobiographical account of their life here; the hardships they endured and the animals they called their neighbours. It is a beautifully written and honest account of a time spent in one of Africa’s truly wild places.
2. In Bushveld and Desert
Chris Bakkes is one of the great characters of southern African bush lore. A renowned storyteller, In Bushveld and Desert is his often hilarious, sometimes tragic memoir about his wild life, from his early years as a ranger in the Kruger National Park, during which he lost part of his left arm in a vicious crocodile attack, to his time in the remote parts of north-west Namibia, where he worked for Wilderness safaris.
In 2014, Bakkes was nominated at #7 of the top 20 safari guides in Africa by Conde Nast traveller, a recognition well-deserved. If you want to split your sides laughing but at the same time be afforded a behind-the-scenes look at Nature Conservation, In Bushveld and Desert is for you…
3. Ivory, Apes and Peacocks
The memoir of one of the great wildlife film-makers, Ivory, Apes and Peacocks is Alan Root’s superb life-story, in which he recounts hilarious anecdotes about being bitten on the backside by a leopard (for which he was reprimanded by the Park Warden for feeding the animals!), filming hippos underwater, and a completely out-there expedition to go in search of s rare peacock in the Congo basin, which turned out to not really be worth the effort.
Alan Root, in the words of David Attenborough “made natural history film-making grow up.”, and over the course of his career was presented with over 60 awards, including three lifetime achievement awards, an Oscar and an OBE.
Ivory, Apes and Peacocks is an absolute must-read for any who have ever been enthralled by a wildlife documentary.
4. No Picnic on Mt Kenya
This is the odd one out in the selection, as it doesn’t really deal with any of Africa’s wildlife, although its authors certainly encountered some on their epic journey.
During world war two, three Italian prisoners of war – Felice Benuzzi, Giovani Beletto and Vincenzo Barsotti – were being detained in an internment camp near Nanyuki, Kenya. Frustrated with their incarceration and lack of activity, the trio broke out of the camp, but instead of attempting an escape to join the Italian forces in Ethiopia, instead attempted to summit nearby Mt Kenya, Africa’s second highest mountain.
The best part of the story is not how they escaped prison, but upon the completion of their attempt they broke back in to the internment camp. The British Commander was so impressed with their sporting behaviour that he drastically reduced their punishments.
The book is a wonderful adventure story in the classic sense, of adventure simply for adventure’s sake.
5. I Dreamed of Africa
One of the more famous books to come out of Africa, Kuki Gallman’s memoir of moving to and living in Laikipia, Kenya from Italy. Newly divorced and recently injured in a car crash, Gallman restarted her life on a farm with the man who was to become her second husband, and her infant son.
An emotional book, it speaks of triumph and disaster, of joy and personal tragedy, and all the while offers a beautiful window into the colourful lives of an expatriate community in Africa.
6. A Game Ranger Remembers
Bruce Bryden started as a researcher in the Kruger National Park; South Africa’s flagship national park and one of Africa’s most famous.
Eventually becoming a field ranger and ultimately promoted to Head Ranger for the entire park, a position which he held until his retirement in 2001, A Game Ranger Remembers is Bryden’s candid memoir about life on the ground for the select group of men and women tasked with maintaining one of the world’s most wonderful wildlife reserves, (in Bryden’s words) at the cost of sweat and, not infrequently, quite a bit of blood.
From hairy encounters with pretty much every living creature in the park (all the big 5 plus many more) to lessons learned from some of the veteran trackers of the area, Bryden paints a wonderfully vivid picture of life as a ranger, in which it soon becomes clear that there is never a dull moment.