Africa correspondence

[words by Mark Eveleigh]

One icy Earl’s Court morning in the winter of 2000 (or was it 2001?), a Brit freelancer and a South African travel editor met over coffee. Since then, assignments have taken them all over the world – but their paths never crossed again. He did his best to avoid winters; she travelled to places that tied into her desk job.

Fast-forward more than a decade – he still chasing the endless summer, she now free of a desk – and the two writers met in Madrid, for the first time since that day in Earl’s Court.

That was early this summer. Now I’m sitting in a Madrid airport café while Narina boards a KLM jet on the first leg of a migration back home to Africa. This is the start of what will be a long winter of travel assignments in Africa, India and South East Asia. By a strange quirk of fate, our first trip together has started in real Parallel Worlds style. By the time Narina transfers onto another plane at Amsterdam airport, I’ll be writing my way through to the dregs of coffee number three in this same café.

About the time she’s sipping gin and tonic 30,000 feet above Cairo, I’ll be ordering a tepid plate of slimy, overpriced airport pasta. When she’s driving through Nairobi National Park on her way to the riverside refuge of The Emakoko, I’ll be stepping into my second identical metal tube of the day at Amsterdam.

Thirty hours after leaving my home in northern Spain I’ll descend out of the African sky to Narina, waiting for me in a Nairobi dawn.

For the next few weeks we’ll be working out of Kenya. It’s a country I know well. I was here just three months ago – tracking black panthers for Nat Geo Traveller and having ritual scars cut into my chest by Samburu warriors.

This trip, we’ll explore the country’s coastline, the main cities and at least five national parks. Some of our journey will run along well-waxed rails laid by good local contacts. For the rest we will simply hit the road on a wing and a prayer, by backcountry matutu minibuses and the (rather rustier) rails of the so-called Lunatic’s Express.

Narina has commissions from a few good travel magazines. Assignment sheets from publications like these are the modern-day version of a letter of introduction from an earl. I have Kenyan features to write and shoot for a major inflight mag, as well as for a UK mainstream magazine. We’ve also been hired to update the Kenya section of Fodor’s Complete African Safari Planner – so deadlines will be tight and travel will be exhausting.

The only thing that we’re really certain of is that, one way or another, the job will get done. We’re professionals after all. What could possibly go wrong?

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