Only defining the Kalahari as a desert is akin to only appreciating a diamond for its strength. The Kalahari plains burst to life after the rains. Springbok pronk in plains of finger grass, and kaleidoscopes of African Monarch butterflies dance around wild dagga flowers.
Stories about the spellbinding beauty of places around the world
Travel to the Jao Concession to see the place that sits between earth and water, as a cloud does between air and rain. A flowing land made completely soft and flat by tens of millions of years of slit and sand. A place where lavender waterlilies bloom over rivers painted sangria red with tannins, or glowing aqua blue above the white Kalahari sands.
Ibo Island feels like an heirloom, passed from culture to culture through the ages. The Swahili, Arabs, Indians, Dutch, Malagasy, British, French and Portuguese have all left their imprint on the island. Some are harsh colonial scratches on its soul, while others are picturesque like the Swahili sails on the fisherman’s dhows.
The most memorable part of scuba diving Tofo was the incredible visibility in the water. For my first time, I got vertigo on one of my safety stops watching divers about 25 meters below me circling around a coral bommie. It just felt like I was suspended in the air. These conditions were perfect for crisp underwater photography, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in it.
The locals have learned to navigate the tidal sand bars and offer trips from Vilanculos out to Bazaruto and Benguerra islands in Swahili dhows. We saw rare humpbacked dolphins and manatees on the way out. The islands combine the stark beauty of the Namib desert dunes with the azure water of the Seychelles.
We arrive at the Kolmanskop ghost town just after dawn, as the rising sun illuminates the dunes, but before we can feel its heat. Not only is there no one else there, there is no sign of anyone else having had been there for decades. There are no ticket booths, or tour guides. There are not even footprints in the sand, as the winds sweep the dunes back into place every day.
Flying over the Namib Nauluft National Park around Sossusvlei, you glide over artful wisps of star and crescent shaped dunes. They seem to be connected in long scripts as if purposefully painted by a calligrapher’s brush. For those that can decipher this “Sand-skrit”, they tell ancient tales of wind and rain in geological time.
The Ebb and Flow of the Okavango Delta hen the water in the Okavango Delta is high, it is an alluvial fan with marshy islands in the middle, and finger lakes extending far into northern Botswana. Day lilies dot the water, and mokolwane palms and papyrus reeds line the waterways. The reeds are […]
Khwai is a tapestry of ecosystems, each with its own enchanting character. In October, the Khwai river is reduced to a stream. It flows slowly like silver solder into a groove, giving its surface a metallic cobalt sheen in the afternoon. On its banks, majestic elephants wade through marsh, ripping reeds in slow motion with their trunks. Hippos float in river bends, and wallowed cranes, and saddle billed storks poke around the papyrus reeds for a meal.
The Savuti sun seems to descend into the eyes of the lions, setting them aflame with devious focus. They emerge from the surrounding shadows to set ambushes in the dark. Even the elephants seem weary. In fact, Savuti is famous for a pride of lions that hunts elephants. An extremely rare feat, even for these king cats.
I stayed a week, and felt this wild park grow familiar. Sitting by the campfire and watching the sun’s glowing orb set over pods of hippos in the Luangwa river, and the stars float in overhead on a moonless night is the epitome of a wild safari. I do not know if there is a better place to do that than South Luangwa National Park. So, although it will always be a place where I will have to look all ways before getting out of my car, I am so happy to now have a connection to the ecosystem that will certainly bring me back for years to come. Now I know, South Luangwa was the park of my dreams.
While the conditions on Erta Ale are brutal, the show is spectacular. It feels like the lake is alive, changing its moods without warning. Sometimes it flows all in one direction, down into a hole at one edge. Then a fissure in the metallic black crust will slowly pry itself open, exposing a shape like a radioactive snake. This is the time to wait and watch until hot molten, the color of the sun, leaps through the chasm like a ballerina on center stage.
Arriving at Dallol drenched in sweat, it feels like we have found nature’s toxic waste dump. The landscape is oozing neon celeste, rust, canary and emerald. Our guide requests everyone to stay behind him because of the odd acid pool or release of deadly gases. However, he wanders off, and immediately everyone is off on their own like a bunch of drunken scientists on Mars, poking things and taking selfies with sulfuric acid.
The crashing water creates an aura of spray, which shoots directly back up into the air. It nourishes an oasis of flowers and foliage, and fuels vivid rainbows. Giant vase shaped Angel’s Trumpet flowers, colored Apricot and peach, hang upside down below the falls, harboring strange horned chameleons with bright yellow heads, as if doused in sunlight.
The snow-capped peaks of the Rwenzori Mountains tower to the west, and the dense woodlands of Kibale Forest National Park stand to the north, stocking the Bigodi Wetlands full of water and wildlife. It is one of the best places in the world to see primates, with nine species jumping through the treetops during the day, and four nocturnal ones that emerge under the moon. Further, the birdlife in the swamps is exceptional, as the wooden walkways traversing them allow you to go deeper into the ecosystem than usual to find what is hiding in the reeds.
Lake Bunyonyi is surrounded by terraced hills where local farmers grow groundnuts, plantains, sweet potatoes, and cabbages in patchworks of adjoining fields, so it appears like someone laid a volcanic red and verdant green quilt over each hill.
Ishasha lies in the Southern sector of Queen Elizabeth National Park. It is a fabled place in Uganda where prides of tree climbing lions live in the canopies like troops of monkeys. This behavior is rare enough that there is still debate over what drives a 180 kilo (400 pound) cat to clumsily scratch its way up a tree, but sightings seem to be becoming more common.
There are about fifty crater lakes around Kasenda in Western Uganda guarded by steep volcanic slopes, but you would not know it, because hardly anyone does. They are due west of Kibale National Park, and just East of the Rwenzori Mountains, and right off people’s maps. Even Ugandans who have heard of them have trouble pronouncing their tribal names, so the whole region generally slips off the radar of travelers.
Staying on Samatian island feels like the world has melted away around you and have somehow found the last haven of civilization. Samatian Island is the only development on its own island in the middle of Lake Baringo, so staying at the camp means you have the whole island to yourself.
The elephants wake-up early, and the day starts with a visit to their enclosure where they can sleep safely through the night. If the wild herds of elephants visited the night before, they can be quite rambunctious, crashing through the trees, and trumpeting to the wild giants, but the wild elephants are still suspicious of them, and not ready to accommodate them in their herds.
Hundreds of thousands of hooves beat down on the soil, and huge clouds of dust rise-up over the savannah. The dust veils the herds, and animals leap out from it, as ghosts from crossings past, suspended in mid-air before splashing into the muddy waters below. The crocodiles inch forward through the ripples, patient, observing, carefully choosing a target among the masses.
Nosara rests in the middle of this expanse, providing a strategic base for exploring pristine sandy coves of the Nicoya. Nosara itself, features exposed surfy breaks at Playa Guiones, and a quiet sunset cove called Playa Pelada, where you can grab a cold beer from Olgas, or a gourmet meal from La Luna and watch the sun drift below the crashing waves on the northern tip of the cove.
In the boundless Northern Area of Pakistan the world’s greatest mountain ranges all come to meet. Pushed upwards by the subduction of the Indian subcontinent, their snowy peaks rise above parades of clouds providing habitat for The Golden Eagle, Snow Leopard, Himalayan Ibex, and The Tibetan Wolf. This is where the Hindu Kush, Himalaya, and Karakoram mountains merge, hosting five of the world’s 14 peaks higher than 8,000 meters (26,247 feet), including K2, the world’s second tallest peak after Mount Everest.
Fairy Meadows is the bouquet of alpine flowers set before the towering translucent tomb of Killer Mountain, called Nanga Parbat in Sanskrit. The mountain provides the views that make Fairy Meadows such an alluring destination, but Fairy Meadows are where the legends of Nanga Parbat are kept alive, told by generations of villagers who witnessed the legions of climbers that never descended its icy walls.
The long grasses hang heavy with dew drops, but the skies are clear, and the rising sun reveals the silhouette of Mount Kilimanjaro 120 kilometers to the west. The dew twinkles in the sunlight as it evaporates, the grass lifts its seed ladened stems upright like a peacock spreading its plumage, and the whole savannah turns a lavender pink.
The rocky point will lead you to a beautiful crescent moon beach, back dropped by a dense mixture of coconut and pine tree foliage, mixed with tall sweeping pandanus grass, and jungle vines. This walk will take you through a series of secluded little white sand, crescent moon beaches, but only after the first three (at Pantai Avoi Beach) will they be deep enough to swim in.
The cabins themselves do feel as if they are from a fairy tale, guarded by the spirits of the fish eagles that stand like sentinels around the lakes, surrounded by little white everlastings flowers, giant cabbage-like tree groundsels, and heathers reminiscent of the Scottish moorlands.
Shela has morphed from the humble fishing village it was into a secluded haven for travelers who want to locate themselves off the map and on the beach for a while. Some may lament this, however, it does seem like those who modernized it, did so with respect to the timeless Swahili style that has always given Shela its character.
The large Mkanda channel sweeps the sand slowly out to sea along the southern shore of Manda, separating it from Lamu Island. Fishermen with weathered hand woven dhow sails tack to and fro across the channel, and the channel itself branches off, slithering silently through the heart of the island until it is slowly strangled by a mangled maze of mangroves.
However, for those willing to take a shallow plunge, the reward is spectacular. The sun illuminates the jellies, causing them to radiate golden light through the emerald green lagoon. As you dive through them, it feels like gliding through a million stars in the night sky, some gently brushing across your mask, and along your skin, pulsating on their path towards the bright spot of sun on the lake.
We were not entirely comfortable there, as we knew rains upstream might flood the river bed in the darkness, but all that descended that night was a piecing alpine cold. We had not brought sleeping bags to save weight, and long before dawn we were all awake willing the sun to pass over the surrounding peaks and flood the river valley below.