In a spectacular explosion of froth and spray, the Zambezi River plunges abruptly into a crack in the earth, like spilled water disappearing between two paving stones. Hitting the rocky bottom of the gorge, the water kicks vertically upwards, as though the shock of the river's sudden disappearance has flipped the world upside down, making rain fall from the ground. This soft mist drenches everything deeply and completely, showering tiny pinpricks on the skin like blood rushing back into sleepy limbs.
Game hunters in Africa originally coined the phrase "Big Five" to describe the five animals deemed hardest and most dangerous to hunt on foot: the elephant, lion, rhinoceros, leopard and buffalo. Because of their size, aggression, intelligence and speed, these animals were trophies that came with significant risk, and were therefore prized above all others. Safari operators now use that same phrase to describe the animals they know their clients hope to "shoot" with their cameras.
Looking through the window of the bus that was driving me from the airport through town, I understood this trip was going to be very different. I could see many people walking the dusty streets of the capital in oppressive heat, some of them carrying jugs of water on their head. For the first time of my life, I was in Africa.
Trying to stay upright, I slowly place one foot in front of the other, and I focus on the encouraging face of my Malagasy guide. One false step and I'll be in the drink with all my gear. I'm crossing a stream on a slippery log in southern Madagascar on my way to learn how to develop sanitation projects in remote communities. This is pretty incredible, considering that just 48 hours earlier I was staring at two male lions in the comfort of a Land Rover while leading one of Backroads's most impressive trips: South Africa & Botswana Multisport. Now, here I am trudging through the lush green countryside of one of the poorest countries on earth: Madagascar.
A hint of a sea breeze fills the air. The sky is a deep blue. From where I'm sitting I can see Table Mountain looming overhead. The waiter casually walks in and places my food in front of me. I look down, and I know I'm in for an exciting new culinary experience.