Brian Jackman is a freelance journalist and author with a lifelong passion for travel and wildlife. For 20 years he worked for The Sunday Times, during which time he was voted Travel Writer of the Year in 1982. In that same year he also won the Wildscreen '82 award for the best commentary script, Osprey, at the first International Wildlife and Television Festival in Bristol…
1. When did the travel bug bite you?
My first trip abroad was quite modest – a week in Paris at the age of 15 with my uncle and a cousin – but I loved every moment. This was my first taste of garlic – and real coffee! My first independent trip abroad was a journey by rail and bus to a Catalan fishing village called Rosas. That was in the 1950s when the Costa Brava was still hardly developed and that is where my passion for travel first took root. Not until 1974 did I manage to realise my dream of visiting Africa. That was when I first saw the Mara and it just blew me away.
2. What is your biggest struggle as a professional travel writer?
I feel as if I have lived through the glory days of travel writing. If I was starting out now I don’t see how I would survive financially – certainly not as a freelance. For me, the most difficult part of being a travel writer is the sheer slog of long haul air travel – the discomfort of economy class seats, the endless process of checking in and jumping through all the security hoops. But once I am in the bush all is forgotten and I am in heaven.
3. Which safari destination tops your bucket list?
For no specific reason I am rather ashamed to say I have never visited Uganda or Malawi; but the destination I would most like to see is the Liuwa Plain National Park in the far west of Zambia. Only a few hundred people ever go there every year, and what they see are endless grasslands with a sensational migration of blue wildebeest, zebra and tsessebe, plus 334 bird species.
4. Which park or reserve disappointed you most?
I’m afraid I found Shamwari a bit disappointing. I hate saying this, especially as I am a huge fan of the Born Free Foundation, which Shamwari has fully supported. Maybe it was because I had just been to the Ruaha in Southern Tanania, which was so big and raw and totally pristine, and made Shamwari pale into insignificance beside it.
5. What is the most posh safari accommodation you’ve stayed in?
The most posh safari accommodation I’ve stayed in? That’s a tough call. In Botswana, Mombo and Zarafa spring to mind, as does Jack’s Camp in the Makgadikgadi. In South Africa, Londolozi and Tswalu Kalahari are hard to beat, as is Cottar’s 1920 Camp in the Masai Mara. But the one I enjoyed most is Sabora Tented Camp in the Singita Grumeti Reserve - not only for its stunning location but also for the feeling it gives of having a huge chunk of wild Africa all to oneself.
6. What is the weirdest sound you’ve heard while on safari?
The weirdest sound I have ever heard in the African bush is the unearthly call of a juvenile Pel’s fishing owl – likened to the cry of a condemned soul falling into a bottomless pit.
7. If you could bring only one item on safari, what would it be?
I never go to Africa without at least one kikoi – the versatile cotton wraparound that you can sleep in, wear as a scarf on chilly morning game drives, and even use as a makeshift bean bag on which to rest your camera.
8. What is the most unusual method of transport that you’ve used?
The most unusual method of transport I’ve enjoyed is the broad back of an African elephant while staying at Abu’s Camp in the Okavango. An elephant has to be the best all-purpose vehicle in the bush, eco-friendly, able to cope with every kind of habitat from belly-deep water to thick bush and, apart from the inevitable piles of steaming droppings, entirely pollution-free.
9. What is the strangest local dish you’ve eaten in Africa?
The strangest dish I’ve ever eaten? Has to be fried mopane worms – the juicy caterpillars that Zambians seem to enjoy so much. But I’m afraid they didn’t do anything for me.
10. If you reincarnate as an animal, what would you want to be?
I used to think I would love to be reincarnated as a leopard. How marvellous it must be to climb effortlessly into a lofty kigelia tree and sprawl at full length along one of its branches. But then, this year, after a microlight flight with John Coppinger from Tafika Camp in Zambia’s Luangwa Valley I have decided I should like to return as a bateleur eagle and soar for hours on end over the African bush.