You only go around once... make the most of it and take your "Trip of a Lifetime"!
For me, that trip began somewhere over Morocco at 37,000 feet. I went on a spectacular 17-day safari to South Africa, and from start to finish, the memories of that remarkable adventure will live with me forever!
For many of us, one of the things we put off much too long is taking that trip of a lifetime. We tell ourselves that we can't afford it... Work is too hectic... I need to tend to things around the house... maybe next year!
Believe me, I've used every one of these excuses at one time or another. Over the past several years however, I have altered my way of thinking. Some of that change has been the result of maturity. Some of it has been due to the consequences of my own mistakes. A great deal of that change however, has been the product of personal observations.
I am in a profession that is dangerous, and at times highly stressful. I see people who are sick or severely injured; people who don’t have a care in the world one minute, only to have their lives completely turned upside down or destroyed the next.
I am a firefighter and unfortunately I all too often see life at its worst. What this has taught me over the past 27 years is this: Life is precious. Life is short. You need to enjoy it to the fullest, because you only have one shot at it. Procrastinate too long, and your dreams may be lost.
One day a special opportunity presented itself to me, and for once I acted on it. I put away all those excuses of the past, and took MY TRIP OF A LIFETIME. Hopefully, after you read this story, you will do the same!
As I alluded to earlier, this adventure "officially" began for me on South African Airlines flight 261. "Technically" however, it began rather innocently many months prior. My wife and I were perusing a local sportsman show, and as we meandered up and down the isles, nothing much was catching our attention. Suddenly, I found myself standing in front of a particular booth, my eyes fixated on the display. As I began flipping through the photo album before me, I marveled at the unique and wonderful animals pictured there.
The gentleman in the booth obviously detected my interest, and introduced himself. He was a Professional Hunter from South Africa. I was further intrigued by his accent, mesmerized by the photographs, and captivated by his description of the "Dark Continent" with its vast hunting opportunities. I began asking question after question, and he patiently and politely answered each and every one. I lost complete track of time, and was oblivious to everything around me. As we drove away that evening, all I could think about was his description of South Africa and all it had to offer. What a magnificent place it must be; with all those unique and beautiful animals. Surely it must be one of the most amazing places on earth! I was completely obsessed!
I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I was driving as if in a daze, my head reeling with visions of Africa. Then suddenly, I had a fantastic idea. I would be turning 50 years old in several months. Wouldn't it be great to go on an African Safari on my birthday? At first it seemed like a far-fetched idea. But the more I contemplated the thought, the more determined I became. For the first time in my life, I was going to stop making excuses as to why I shouldn't go. Instead, I focused on all the reasons why I "deserved" to go. Soon, I was planning my trip of a lifetime.
I began searching for all the information I could find regarding Africa. I quickly learned however that this was a daunting task. With all this information, I was suddenly overwhelmed.
Then, as if by chance, I learned that a fellow fireman had recently returned from a hunting safari to Africa. I contacted him right away, and we spent hours pouring over the pictures of his trip, and I listened intently as he described his adventure. He put me in touch with his PH, and I immediately phoned him. The more we spoke, the more I liked him, and the more excited I became. Before long, I had reserved my dates, and sent my deposit. I spent several months finalizing the details, studying all the species of animals, and trying to decide which ones I wanted to hunt. I couldn't wait till it was time to embark on what was to be a monumental journey.
That brings me back to the beginning of the story, and the final inter-continental flight to Johannesburg. I didn’t know it at the time, but Riaan, my Professional Hunter, knowing that this was going to be a special occasion for me, had gone to great lengths to make this a very memorable trip. To my amazement, a stewardess approached me, presented me with a bottle of champagne, congratulated me, and brought me information from the cockpit that we were over the country of Morocco at the stroke of midnight, May 24th, 2001. What a wonderful, and unusual birthday gift! The series of events that followed defy description!
After a short flight from Johannesburg to Kimberly, South Africa, I was met by my PH, and although we had never met in person, we recognized one another immediately. With huge smiles, and a firm handshake, we began what would prove to be the most fascinating trip of my life.
First stop, the Kimberly Fire Department where I was introduced to the Fire Chief, a columnist from the local newspaper, a representative of City Hall, and the on-duty fire crew. They treated me as if I were a celebrity. The now abandoned Kimberly open pit diamond mine was fascinating to see.
As exciting and interesting as these events were, I was anxious to depart on my hunt. Finally, we were off to my ultimate destination. Arriving at the ranch, there were yet more surprises in store. The accommodations were impeccable. Large private bedrooms with private baths, a thatched roof eating area outside, fire pit, and "braai" the South African equivalent of our barbecue. The décor was authentic South African, with wildlife mounts, wood carvings, paintings and other furnishings.
That night, a magnificent backyard birthday party, complete with hors d’oeuvres, 50 candles on a cake made in the shape of "5-0", exquisite South African wines, wonderfully prepared and delicious wild game dishes, a traditional dessert, and more. And as if all this weren't enough, Riaan produced congratulatory e-mail messages from my family, and a strategically timed phone call from my wife. What a wonderful surprise. The effort put forth on my behalf was overwhelming. The kindness and thoughtfulness that these people showed was absolutely amazing.
Over the next 14 days, I would experience some of the most beautiful and incredible sights I had ever seen. I would see unbelievable sunrises and sunsets that absolutely defy description. The sunsets are so mesmerizing that each night we would stop whatever we were doing and enjoy a "sundowner". It truly doesn’t get any better!
Last, but certainly not least, were the hordes of magnificent, majestic and unique animals. .. some of them the most amazing and awesome in existence.
There was the Eland, weighing in at over 1,500 pounds, it is the largest antelope in Africa. At the opposite end of the scale was the Duiker, which is among the smallest of the African antelope. The regal Sable, with its black coat and rearward sweeping horns. The epitome of South Africa is undoubtedly the Impala, an athletically built animal, with tremendous power and grace. The Springbok exhibits great speed, and is known for its long and graceful leaps, soaring great distances seemingly without effort. I could go on-and-on describing these magnificent creatures, but rather than read about it here, you owe it to yourself to experience it in person!
In the end, I was fortunate to harvest 7 outstanding animals. The competence of my PH was exceptional. Each day, he would school me on flora, fauna, animal behavior, tracking, and more. To say that I was impressed by his abilities would be a gross understatement.
Alas, the animal that I coveted most was also the one to escape me. The final 3 days were devoted entirely to the elusive "Gray Ghost". We spotted several but none presented an ethical shot.
Ultimately I departed, knowing that I would have to return and once again match wits with the magnificent Kudu. I think that this is all part of the grand scheme of Africa. Everyone who has been there says the same thing. "You can never go just once".
They are absolutely right. I too will someday travel back to this enchanting place. A certain Kudu has seen to that! Perhaps on my 60th!
Please, if you dream of Africa; if you want to take your "trip of a lifetime"; if you want to experience first hand some of the most incredible scenery and animals on the face of the earth, and meet the wonderful people who live there... then you owe it to yourself to GO!
I assure you, you will not be disappointed.
Roger D. Libby