Words and photos by Howie Minsky
Today, we spent most of the day planting Zambezi Teak trees to repair a section of forest damaged from several years of overgrazing by a large elephant herd. Trying to maintain a harmonious balance between flora and fauna takes years of preparation and planting and although our work is only a tiny blip on the timeline of this preserve, every bit is needed to make a difference.
After a long day of planting trees, our reward is a camping trip into the preserve. Just as the sky fades and dusk approaches we load the 4×4 with our camping gear and drive to find a campsite deep in the bush. As we drive through a forested area filled with giraffe, elephant and kudu, we come upon open field on a hill overlooking the Zambezi River, which winds its way through the grassy savanna below. Dotting the vista in fading light, elephants, giraffe and zebras browsed on grasses and leaves.
As we set up camp, a Lilac Breasted Roller, my favorite African bird, lands on a tree branch near me. I throw a handful of raw oats on the ground and he flies down to join me.
I assemble my tent to face west toward the savanna and the setting sun. The easterly winds blow gently through our campsite and whisk the remaining heat from the day. We gather wood and dry grass and have little trouble finding dozens of branches and logs to keep a fire burning through the night.
As the flames flicker yellow and orange I scoop the embers beneath the logs to form a circular pile adjacent to our campfire. On the embers I place a black iron kettle filled with water. Within minutes steam rises and we are ready for coffee and tea.
I didn’t think it possible, but I may have found a replacement to the marshmallow. Here in Africa the campfire treat is “Stick Bread.” (Like most things named in Africa, simplicity rules the day.)
First , you make sure to find the perfect long, pointy stick. On the table is a bowl filled with bread dough. You simply tear off a piece and wrap the dough around the top of the stick, holding your stick above the flames for about 20 minutes. When the stick bread turns golden brown, the outside is crispy and the inside is soft and warm. We then pour some condensed milk in a mug and use it for dipping the stick bread. This is to die for—a wonderful treat after a long day working outside.
We circle the fire with chairs and sit back to enjoy a few beers, the breeze off the savannah and the warm dancing fire. In the distance baboons bark and there’s the occasional roar of a lion. It feels as if everything is quiet inside me, as if I am one with myself. I breathe deeply in the cool air, the darkness soft and deep around me.
Africa is in my soul.
Read more about Howie’s adventures at the “Our Man in Africa“ page.
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