When we returned from Zambia at the very end of 2019, there were the first murmurings of a new coronavirus that had appeared in China and was starting to be seen in various other countries around the World. No-one was particularly worried and at this very early moment, few could have foreseen the events of the following few years. There had been such virus outbreaks before, in recent years, and the impact had, each time, been over-threatened and had under-delivered. I came home, got New Year out of the way and went back to work as normal.
started to go horribly wrong.
On a world-wide scale!
Country by country, the whole world shut down to try and stop the spread of what turned out to be a deadly disease. I spent several months at home, in total lock-down, luckily supported by the Government, while simultaneously suffering from my first ever bout of sciatica. I spent four months standing in long supermarket car-park queues whilst not being fit enough to do so and worrying whether the next big leg spasm was going to leave me lying on the ground rather than standing in pain.
The rest of the time was spent sitting in front of my computer watching mind-numbing statistics of infections and deaths across the world.
I took the enforced time-out to write the long-form book that became Finding 400 and Beyond, detailing my eight trips to Africa with Fred, Elizabeth and Chris, expanding on our great luck, lucky escapes and comical adventures across the last 15 years or so. Of course, I also wrote up and completed my coffee-table book about the Zambia Trip (Zambia: The Waters of the Zambesi and its Tributaries Explored).
I have to be eternally thankful for the Zambia trip. It was so good that it has managed to tide me over for more than three years through some of the most difficult times the world has ever seen. Even now, I think of the magnificent sightings of leopards and painted dogs in South Luangwa and the incredible times we spent with Chris and Charlotte McBride in Kafue with a fondness and longing to return.
I don’t miss it at all. I still help out many of my existing clients on a casual basis, have a few regular small businesses and charity customers and do a wide variety of different jobs that keep the bills paid and allow a little to be put aside for very expensive trips to the dark continent.
I can manage my time to suit myself and that gives me time to make sure that Dad gets his paper in the mornings and makes it to his (very) many appointments. It’s a bit of luxury to not have to start work until 10am, but I do often not finish until well after six, so it all balances out in the end.
It hasn’t all been plain sailing, of course. I’ve edged into depression a couple of times, but do now feel that I have the tools at hand to deal with my mental health for the better. There’s nothing wrong with therapy, whether with a specialist or with suitable drugs, but I really do hope that I need neither of those options going forward. I’ve found that just being able to write my thoughts down – like this – and then to publish them on my blog has been a great help.
Maybe a problem shared is a problem halved, but more likely, a problem shared is out there and can be looked at from a better perspective!
My world has come so far in the last twenty or so years, as have I personally. The last couple of years, in particular, have seen me be even more open about being gay. I’m happy to say it, not quite “proud” yet, but getting there. I’m glad I live in a country that now has little or no discrimination, stigma or hate. I just wish that the countries in Africa that I like so much could find a way to do the same, but I must admit that I’m not hopeful.
I’ve never felt uncomfortable during any visit, but then I’m not particularly camp or effeminate and probably don’t present as gay in any stereotypical way. No matter what, though, the pride flag will always be on my camera strap and my sun hat, wherever I’m travelling.
Views do change - on both sides of the scale - but the more comfortable I feel about myself, sadly the less comfortable I feel about visiting some of the places that I love. I’d have to include Tanzania in this list of uncomfortable places, but you can’t let prejudice rule your life.
I think that Fred has shown remarkable patience and restraint. He’s travelled to Africa during the past three years, once most of the restrictions were lifted, but has sensibly waited until now before planning another trip for the four of us. Things have changed, prices have risen, travel is more complicated and we have had to temper our expectations.
When we were in Zambia, we had talked a bit about the possibility of returning to Tanzania in the future and this is what we ended up deciding to do. Fred struggled to try and get us to do the whole country, but couldn’t make the schedule or the costs play fair. Actually, it would have been too much travel in any case. I was beginning to think that we’d end up doing something completely different, but in the end, he managed to pull together a trip to the more southerly parks that I have never visited at a good price and with enough variety to ensure good birding and good wildlife.
It really isn’t cheap though. We have had to limit ourselves to three weeks – short when we often do trips of four or even five weeks duration. I’ve also finally bit the bullet and splashed out an enormous sum on a new camera and a super-zoom lens to go with it. It’s more money than I’ve ever spent on a physical item that didn’t have four wheels and an engine.
I even had second thoughts about it, until I managed to get a superb, candid, pin-sharp image of a sparrowhawk in my back garden with only time to take two shots. I now know the camera and lens will work, that I’ll get the shot that matters and frankly that the camera is better than I am at this photography thing!
If we count the camera and lens as part of the trip, this is a £10,000 holiday – it’s a good job I’m single! Anyway, it’s three years between trips and I can’t take the money with me when I go which means I should use it to keep the economy turning over as best I can.
We leave the Isle of Man on February 1st. We have our customary stay overnight in Manchester, mostly because of a very early flight to Amsterdam in the morning for our onward connection with KLM to Dar es Salaam. It’s a long day before we will make it to our overnight B&B.
Then, drive to Mikumi National Park for three nights, although this includes a day trip south to Udzungwa Forest to seek rare primates.
Next, we head to Ruaha National Park and the reserves around it for a total of ten nights in three different locations – Ruaha is so huge that changing camps will make exploration easier.
Finally, we fly to Nyrere National Park (Part of the former Selous Game reserve) and one of the largest protected wildernesses in the world. We have four more nights to explore the massive park by vehicle and boat. We finally fly back to Dar es Salaam and then return home overnight.