meerkats standing on a woman

The Joy of a Walking Safari

333/Close Encounters

The reflections and more on life on safari and a walking safari, from Safari for a Real guide and author Lex Hes (Image copyright Lex Hes)

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 an exhilarating experience, full of high expectations. But there is one intrusion: the sound of the game drive vehicle that blocks off those natural sounds.

An excellent 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 a walking safari.

Take a walking safari through the wilderness

Set off on a walk through the wilderness of Africa together with a qualified armed guide and suddenly that feeling of expectation, along with a sense of vulnerability, is significantly 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 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 the big game country where lion, elephant, buffalo, rhino, hippo, leopard and other potentially dangerous animals roam freely, you have to be 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).

333/Joys Of A Walking Safari

The smells and sounds of nature

Walking offers an opportunity to see things that are very easily overlooked by a vehicle. An excellent 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 the 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.

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