Not your average travel blog
Just before the end of my adventure across the United States in 2014, seemingly impressed by my intrepid spirit and wordsmithing, I received an email from a man I had briefly met a few years earlier. He requested I help him complete a couple of expeditions and begin some projects in some remote and relatively unexplored regions of Southern Africa. Apparently, I’m now useful.
While visiting my sister (who at the time was near the end of her eleven month drive from the UK to Cape Town), I met a confident young man in Malawi. Operating his adventure safari’s, Bjorn took us on a two night trip into Vwaza National Park. As we indulged on a smorgasbord of African wildlife (not orally), I shared my outrageous plans to soon journey across the USA on a tiny budget. Admittedly, at first, Bjorn was not impressed, but mostly for negative opinions of the USA which we then shared. Although from completely different worlds, Bjorn and I have a few things in common. We were both moved around a lot as children and we lived outside of our native countries. We share a love of the wild. We are both familiar with wine, women and song. We have a hobbyist approach to competitive chess and our views on the environment, humanitarianism and conservation almost coincide. Essentially, we have a lot to talk about – especially Bjorn who, when prompted can chat the hind legs off a hyena. His enthusiastic and long, normally sordid and entertaining stories do go on for quite a while around a campfire or bar – I’m more of a listener unless debating or attempting to flirt as smoothly as a bearded viking on holiday. Unless there are easily offended or troublesome ruffians within ear shot, Bjorn manages to stay out of trouble…ish
In his youth, a Bjorn well known in school for “simply playing and fighting” moved to southern India with his parents and returned to South Africa following some time away from the apartheid regime. He spent as much time as possible in the bush near the family plantation (in southern India), and at some point following his return to Africa, hitch hiked around some more remote, southern parts of the African continent – non of which were without horrendous racial, political and social controversy – which has formed and moulded Bjorn’s rather justified, strong and confident, opinionated but principled, fairly typical South African personality. Nobody can dissuade him of his acute opinions of the world, no matter how controversial a few of them might be. It isn’t hard to understand why I’m interested in spending some time with this brash bushman, and maybe at some point we’ll find a good reason to work together again beyond these next few months.
Bjorn’s passion is for big game and I learnt he had been a wild guide in various guises for ten years or so (even though he’s yet to reach 27 years old). He gained some ranger training in the famous Kruger National Park (South Africa), where his love for large animals but also contempt for commercial sight seeing grew. We later found common ground again, following my uneasy trip to Yellowstone National Park (see here if you’re interested: https://winstonwolfrider.wordpress.com/2014/08/21/1607/ ). Sharing a loveless sentiment towards over-commercialised aspects of Disneyland wildernesses – which we humans are painfully good at creating, I’m sure we’ll find a lot more to chat about as we explore some of Malawi’s untouched and unexplored areas.
Bjorn also volunteers as a Swiss Grenadier (mountain infantry), travelling back to Switzerland each year to develop his wilderness and survival skills, and to keep sharp should Switzerland ever decide to hop off the fence. I also think he volunteers to put himself into situations where he has to respect authority. He may not consciously chose to do this, but he is aware he sometimes lacks discipline while getting up to all kinds of shenanigans in Malawi (and that’s putting it mildly). Don’t judge, but I’m encouraging.
As well as being a wild child and fancying himself as Indiana Jones or Dennis Finchatton, he does portray a professionalism and maturity which can only be conjured from having “experience in the bush”. Seeing him in front of a charging elephant, handling a number of logistical nightmares in the wild, and watching him operate close enough to a hippo which might make you think he’d recently taken it out for a tasty salad (hippos are vegetarian) and a midnight bottle of Malbec (they’re also considered nocturnal….although they’re gangsta enough to pretty much throw their weight around at whatever time of day they bloody well like). I’m confident that although at risk (in Bjorn’s company in general), we will work well together on the projects he has “planned”. If not, at least it’s likely to be an interesting story…
We judge people too much on their age, appearance, and the unfortunate scenarios they find themselves in. Wisdom, experience, reliability and the ability to make the right decision in specific scenarios count for everything. Take divorce for example. Nobody wishes for it. Everyone struggles with it. People make the wrong decisions and people are judged on it, but nobody wants to be there making those decisions regularly enough to get it right. American presidency? Is the primary voted in on presidential decisions? No. Its impossible.
Trying to stay on topic….despite working with a gregarious risk taker who has a penchant for adventure in wild situations, I think I know what I’m getting into. I’m deciding to work with this relatively unpredictable and young wild card – but realistically, there is nobody I would rather have alongside me if I was to find myself in trouble in the African bush…or in a Malawian bar. If I continue to attempt to compliment him, he’ll probably unload a spear gun in my direction….aiming at a lesser-needed part of my body, obviously. I’ll tone it down for my left arm’s sake, but where’s your emotion, Bjorn?! Where’s the love?! Hidden behind the macho macho man, I assume. That song was written about you, by the way…it’s ok, the ladies love it.
Bjorn has briefed me (very briefly) on what we’re doing together in Malawi, but more of that in the next update. By any person’s standards, he has, and still does lead an interesting and unconventional life. Something we connect on. You quickly forget how young he is when you spend just a few minutes in his company (there you go Bjorn, something that’s questionably complimentary and less sentimental). Bjorn informed me not to shave my massive beard…maybe he’s just worried my youthful complexion will struggle in the African sun…I’ve been requested to exude experience and professionalism in front if his peers and possibly some government cheeses. In Africa, apparently the youthful wizard look gives you a leg up. I keep finding males in African wildlife who sport a beardy chin: lion, wilderbeast, warthog even, but I feel I’ve a little way to go (at least a few months) before I feel at home here.
I’ve learnt that with personal ambition, life can be interesting, but as with all relationships, together we can create limitless possibilities. Bjorn and I have a few in mind already, and we’re just getting started…