Over the past several months as I’ve been interviewing people for our Profiles series the answer I’ve been most interested in from each was their response to the question, “How do you explain the spell a place like Africa casts on you to someone who hasn’t traveled there?” Of the dozen-plus interviews most have replied with some variation of, “It’s the laid back attitude of the continent,” or, “It’s simply an indescribably beautiful place.” (Paraphrasing, of course.) But it was answers from photographer Bruce Colin and ALERT COO David Youldon that struck me the most and best capture what the essence of Africa is to me.
I dreamed about you, baby.
It was just the other night.
Most of you was naked
Ah, but some of you was light.
“It is the light, the quality of light,” Bruce told me. “That is the magical ingredient for me.”
If there’s one thing I’ll readily admit to, it’s spending as much of my time as I can trying to chase down that magical ingredient. After returning from a week in Zimbabwe and feeling crushed and exhausted from what we experienced, I had a dark cloud hanging over me. A lot of that was due to the guilt I felt for making Kim an unwitting participant in everything that had happened. At every intersection of good, bad, and ugly, she was there; waiting patiently and quietly in the background, forced to suffer through whatever decision, situation, or malady I’d found myself in the middle of. I’ve always been amazed at her Zen mastery when confronted with my self-made predicaments, but I’ve never lost sight of the fact that she’s still had to suffer through them all the same. So when our stay at Antelope Park turned out to be more work than play, and when my plans for a romantic getaway in Victoria Falls to make up for AP crumbled because I was laid up in our hotel room with excruciating stomach pains, I endeavored to treat her to something beautiful during our final week in Livingstone. What could possibly go wrong?
David Youldon commented to me during our interview that “Africa is known as the ‘dark continent,’ but it is really a continent of light.” The best place to experience that light is during sunset, ideally on a nice body of water like the Zambezi River. There are many charter companies who do sunset cruises on the river, and many are “booze cruises” with copious amounts of free alcohol, dodgy food, and equally dodgy patrons – most of whom are young, loud, and have a need to make those stupid pucker fish faces whenever a camera comes out. Not really the kind of romantic evening I wanted to treat my sweetie to. We were told by the folks at Lion Encounter, however, that there was a plush boat called The Lady Livingstone that ran out of the five-star David Livingstone Hotel on the waterfront. Romantic, upscale, beautiful. It even included dinner, we were told, along with the sunset cruise. Perfect!
Lion Encounter offered to make a booking for us for later that week, which we happily took them up on. But when it took them three days and four reminders to actually get the booking taken care of, my Spidey sense should’ve gone off. It didn’t. This was Africa, after all. TIA and all that nonsense. I was just happy to have a date with my sweetie on a romantic boat to watch one of the most beautiful things there is: Sunset in Africa.
On the afternoon of the appointed day we took a taxi to the waterfront in Liv. Checking in at the activities center at the Livingstone Hotel we were told that there was no booking for us on the Lady Livingstone. What? Nor did they serve dinner on their sunset cruise. What-what? They triple-checked for our names, but there was nothing. They then tried to ring Lion Encounter to confirm a booking for us, but the person who picked up at the office couldn’t provide any answers and didn’t know where anyone else was who might be able to help. Perfect! Queue that sinking feeling of despair I’d become all too acquainted with these past few weeks.
To their credit, the folks at the Livingstone were very nice. They informed us that the Waterfront Hotel next door had a charter boat that did include dinner with its sunset cruise. Dinner? Perfect! Perhaps that’s where our booking had been made. Kim and I were both starving and had really been looking forward to a nice dinner to enjoy the sunset with. Surely the other boat must at least be marginally as romantic as the Lady Livingstone! If only I’d stopped for a moment to contemplate that thought, but it was nigh on 4pm and all the boats would shortly be pulling out to head down the river. It was now or never.
Kim and I raced out from the Livingstone Hotel and over to the Waterfront next door, where they said that they did indeed have a reservation for us. Or, at least they claimed as much. Yay! No time to worry about the details, the sunset waits for no one! We paid the booking fee and then sprinted down to the dock and onto the boat. Phew! Just in time. I took a moment to catch my breath and then looked around. That’s when I realized that we’d been booked on a booze cruise by Lion Encounter; the absolute opposite of what we told them we wanted. Perfect!
The boat, old and well-worn as it was, seemed sea-worthy enough. The crew, old and well-worn as they were, also seemed sea-worthy enough. And the “all you can drink!” bathtub gin (and other booze) tasted, well, like the sea. Down below in the kitchen area the “all you can eat barbecue” consisted of coleslaw, hamburger buns (without, oddly, any actual hamburgers or other patties of any kind to accompany them), and questionable meat in tube form. Definitely not the romantic dinner date I’d been envisioning and had been led to believe we’d be enjoying. We gingerly filled up our paper plates with coleslaw and empty hamburger buns and made our way back to the deck. “Happy romantic date night, sweetie!” I said, downing my second sea-worthy gin and tonic as a pair of young pucker fishes mugged for their camera behind us. “Perfect!” she replied, smiling.
And that’s the thing about Kim. Her ability to say “fuck all” to a situation and float above it versus my inability to say anything but “fuck you” to a situation while, with both hands wrapped tightly around its neck, I let it drag me under. Here I am halfway around the world on the Zambezi River, watching the sun dwindle into the most gorgeous light I’ve witnessed alongside the most beautiful woman I’ve ever met, and I’m complaining about hamburger buns and the pucker fishes onboard.
The evening light tilts itself sideways to illuminate my sweetie’s smiling face, making me realize that I’m so very, very lucky to have her as a traveling companion. That whatever darkness we may encounter are just my own fears and something I need to learn to let go of. That, no matter what, we have each other and the rest means fuck all. Small but important lessons. Darkness but light. That magical ingredient. As the sunset slowly fades in a bouquet of vibrant, ruddy hues, I can’t help but think: Perfect!
Even if the Lady Livingstone has been out in front of us the entire time bogarting the view.