Losing My Heart To Africa

The only man I envy is the man who has not yet been to Africa – for he has so much to look forward to.” Richard Mullin

For my first post about one of my adventures, the only thing that I could possibly talk about is somewhere that is very close to my heart.  In fact, it’s somewhere so close to my heart that I’m pretty sure I left it there when I returned home and it’s been calling me back ever since.

Since I can remember I’d always dreamed of going to Africa.  I’m not sure if it was down to the wildlife, the landscapes, the different culture and traditions, or the desire to help people, but I knew that a short holiday wasn’t going to be enough.  So I decided to quit my job and travel the continent for 4 and a half months, from Kenya all the way down to South Africa – 9 countries in total.

Our first stop was the small town of Moshi in Tanzania, where we had planned on doing some volunteer work.  My first impression, driving from the airport to Moshi, was that it was exactly how I imagined it would be.  With Kilimanjaro as a stunning backdrop, it had beautiful scenic landscapes, dusty orange roads, small shacks on the side of the road selling fruit and veg, teenage boys herding goats, and women in brightly patterned clothes carrying huge buckets and bags full of fruit on their heads.

Brightly clothed women selling fruit at the side of the road in Moshi, Tanzania

This is the picture that is painted of Africa in documentaries, TV shows and photos and so it was exactly what I was expecting.  But I also found that Africa has another layer and if you cared to stay a bit longer, dig a bit deeper right into the heart of the continent, you’d understand why it’s my favourite place on earth.

Every country we visited was so diverse with the snow-capped mountains of Kilimanjaro in Tanzania…

…miles of sandy deserts and sand dunes in Namibia…

…the misty green jungles of Uganda…

…bustling cities such as Cape Town in South Africa…

…the dry yellow plains teeming with wildlife in Kenya’s Masai Mara…

…and the white sandy beaches and clear blue sea in Zanzibar…

…yet there’s a feel to Sub-Saharan Africa that makes everywhere very similar.  The only thing this can be down to is the people.  The wonderful, friendly, caring people of Africa.  The friendliest people in the world that I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet.

It’s impossible to walk down the street without being spoken to by someone.  The older women would stand up from picking their crops to wave and shout “Jambo!” (“Hello!” in Swahili) as we walked past.  The children would spot us through their windows and race outside to meet us, holding our hands as we walked along the street until we told them to go back home.

The teenagers would wave, giggle or high-five us and the men would always want a chat and to talk to Alex about football.  I couldn’t believe that, despite some of these people having hardly anything to their name, some living in a small one-room house made from tin sheets or a hut made from wood and mud, they were all so warm and inviting and they never failed to have a beaming smile on their face.

Being taught how to jump high like the men of the Maasai tribe

Being taught how to jump high like the men of the Maasai tribe

Some of my best ever memories are from my time in Africa – bottle feeding and playing with lion cubs in South Africa; teaching English in schools and playing with children in an orphanage in Tanzania; riding a horse into Lake Malawi; Alex coaching a football team in Moshi; standing in the flowing water at the top of Victoria Falls; gorilla trekking in Uganda; skydiving over the Namibian sand dunes; a plane ride over the Okavango Delta; and of course plenty of incredible safaris…the list could go on and on and on!

Yes, at times I became enraged with the continent – the dust meant that my nose was always bunged up, my hair was so constantly tangled and knotty that I gave up even trying to brush it, and I seemed to wash half of Africa off me every time I had a shower.  My malaria tablets were giving me occasional dizzy spells and hallucinations and at one point (after a trip in the Okavango Delta) I counted 63 mosquito bites all over my body!  After camping for 2 months there were plenty of times when I longed for a comfortable bed, a hot shower, a proper toilet instead of a smelly hole in the ground as well as a truck or van that didn’t continually break down.

But, despite all this, I never once dreamed of going home.  Because I already felt like I was home.  This incredible place had swept me up and claimed me as one of their own and I would spend the rest of my life there if I could.

It’s been 3 years this month since we left Africa and not a single day has gone past that I don’t think about it like a long-lost love.  The slightest smell or sound will take me right back there and I’ll go off into a daydream about the best time in my life, walking down the road with a ridiculously huge smile on my face.

And I’m not the only one who Africa has had this effect on.  Everyone I know or who I have spoken to who has spent time there has found it a wonderful place too.  If you haven’t been yet I urge you, no plead with you, to go.  You won’t regret it.

But be warned…Africa is a place that steals your heart, captures your soul and makes you long to return.  This is certainly what it did to me.  If it’s possible to fall in love with a place, then Africa…I love you.

34 thoughts on “Losing My Heart To Africa

  1. Kelli says:

    yup, i couldnt agree with you more. we are planning a trip to Namibia and Mozambique and im super excited!… any must see’s/do’s in Namibia?

  2. Jess (JessinBelgium) says:

    Ayla, what a gorgeous post. I’ve only been to South Africa, but I definitely left my heart there earlier this year and think about it all the time. What a great thing you did quitting your job to live there for awhile!

  3. Frank says:

    Wow! Fantastic post Ayla! I lived in Zambia as a kid and went back in 1990 and visited Zambia and Zimbabwe. I agree with you in all respects, once you’ve been to Africa you are hooked. Just trying to convince my wife, she’s a bit nervous about going…
    Malaria tablets did same to me. I know it’s probably unwise, but a lot of expats just don’t take them. My mom lived there for 5 years and just didn’t bother, she was fine. I’ve also heard that tablets don’t do anything to some malaria strains. But I’m not a doctor, so I’m sure all the above not advisable.
    Great post and I look forward to more on Africa!
    Frank (bbqboy)

    • Ayla says:

      Tell your wife she will love it! You can’t take malaria tablets for a long period of time so no one who lives there takes them but I didn’t want to risk getting ill while away. Thank you for the lovely comments 🙂

  4. Erica says:

    Oh my goodness how beautiful! Argghhh it’s posts like this that make me itch to go. Seriously. Why have I only been to Northern Africa even after saying that I want to go to Africa for so long… until I actually finally make it, I’ll just live vicariously through you 😉

  5. Heidi Wood says:

    Oh Ayla I love this ❤ I'm gonna have to write up about my trips away! I'm planning to have many more but Tanzania will always be in my heart ❤ So glad to have met you and Alex out there! Hope to see you both again soon!

  6. Suze says:

    I’ve been to South Africa and Namibia. Namibia was awesome. Animals, cultures, landscapes – so incredible. Sometimes it just amazes me when I hear people talking about Africa in a certrain way yet they have never been to any of it’s countries (and hey, the “extreme” North doesn’t count! 😉 ) I certainly can’t wait to go back. Tanzania I am very interested in!

    • Ayla says:

      No the North is so different to Sub-Saharan Africa. Tanzania is one of my favourite African countries as well as one of my favourite places in the world. You should definitely visit 🙂

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