Travelling the world can change many things about you. It may change the way you view other cultures, how you want to live in this world or your sense of what is important. You may learn to expect the unexpected. Or that your expectations will never be met in the first place. These things can make going home an exercise in surrealism, but you only notice it once you are back into your normal routine.
What is usually noticeable way before, is the way your constitution changes. Your fingers may swell from humid heat, you get used to exercising in 30-degree weather and all of a sudden, you find yourself grabbing a jumper when back home you’d be celebrating the warm weather. Which is exactly what happened at the Makgadikgadi pans in Botswana.
Having been enjoying temperatures well above 30 degrees, our bodies clearly got used to this kind of warmth. As we are travelling closer and closer to the Kalahari dessert, our surroundings become increasingly more arid. And so, we have great hopes of seeing these amazing salt pans. We’ve been lusting over pictures where perspectives are distorted by white expanses that seem to vibrate in the heat. In stead, we find ourselves on an overcast day of a “mere” 20 degrees.
Nevertheless, we are excited to drive to the salt pans en after that to the cute meerkats that inhabit the bordering grasslands. I ask Erik if he thinks I should put on my leggings, but he is sure of it. It will warm up; he is sure of it. This is Africa after all.
And it would seem that we haven’t changed our views at all in the past couple of weeks. We still haven’t learned, that in Africa, expectations are useless. What you’re certain will be amazing, might really be a bummer. The little things you do for someone else might actually be incredible. And every once in a while, your expectations will be met, just to make it more confusing.
So, we expect it to heat up, but it doesn’t. We are freezing our asses off in Dutch summer temperatures and then arrive to a muddy expanse that turns out to be the salt pans. No vistas, no distorted perspectives and no simmering heat. Just cold water, people trying to make the best of a disappointing event and me going for a jog just to warm up. This is Africa.
The grasslands surrounding the pans – or lake – are mostly brown and yellow grass. Meerkats are mostly brown. There is no way – NO WAY – we are going to be able to spot a meerkat. Even Eriks super spotter eyes will be no match for this landscape. Or so we expect. But this is Africa.
And so, just as we are ready to declare this day a waste – or funny tale, depending on your outlook on life – we spot them. Africa’s cutest animals. The Lion King’s Timon. The stars of Meerkat Manor. Yes, this is Africa and so we do actually manage to find a meerkat in some of the most monochromatic landscapes I have ever visited.
And the two meerkats we see, enthral us. We snap picture after picture after picture. Waiting for them to stand up, waiting for them to look at us. Waiting for a cow to pass behind just as the meerkat is looking at us. Trying to take a meerkat-selfie – yes, we are that crazy – and trying to find a new way to take a picture of a meerkat. From high up above, or lying down in the harsh dry spikey grass. I feel again like a wildlife photographer (never mind that I don’t have the right equipment and only just this trip started to learn how to actually use a camera) and get sucked into the experience until Erik (rightfully) calls out that I should have enough pictures of the two meerkats standing around and digging a hole. Reluctantly I get up, get on the safari truck and get back to reality.
Travelling can change many things about you. The more immersive the experience, the more you’ll learn. The rougher the journey the more you will learn. And no where have I learned as much as in Africa. Not least of which that this actually is Africa. It will never meet your expectations. It will defy them and you will love the continent for it.