We saw it in our bookings at the dude ranch more often than we would have liked. Each summer some forest fires would rage out of control somewhere in the state. The perception would become “Oregon is on fire!” and reservations from outside the west coast would come to a standstill. Never mind that Oregon is more than nine times the size of Massachusetts.And yet, as our arrival date to South Africa approached, I would wake in the night to thoughts of encountering lions and black mambas and on hikes: lions and tigers and bears, oh my! Friends talked of camping and even backpacking in Africa, things I certainly enjoy at home, but my fears made me skeptical.
As with all things, the reality on the ground is not made up singly of sensational stories that make news in the rest of the world. Gradually, our fears blend with experience and transform into a less dramatic reality. Last week we stayed a couple of days in a tree house. It had no doors, just zippers on the sleeping tents, and both the kitchen and bathroom were open air, without doors or windows or complete walls. No monkeys raided, no venomous green tree snakes climbed onto our shoulders or even appeared at all. Our only visitors were a large spider in the bathtub and a couple of mosquitoes, or “mozzies.”
There was no feeling of threat. Small children ran to the gate on the gravel road leading to the tree houses, opening it for us so in hopes of candy payment. The locals walked the roads over the weekend and in the evening, a social time with friends and neighbors. The older residents waved to us as we passed, smiles for the tourists.
I guess this is an argument to avoid over-planning an extended trip like this. Things change as we go. We’re now debating changing our plans from Kruger, the Yellowstone of South Africa, to some of the less crowded places in Botswana. This week, we turned in the sedan and have rented a Land Rover with a camper. It’s all decked out with everything we need for planting ourselves closer to the environment. Although we’re not giving up the comforts of rental houses altogether, we’ll be mixing in more of the outdoors. We’ll still keep our eyes open for snakes.