Kim Wildman is a travel writer who authored and updated over 15 guidebooks, including Lonely Planet's South Africa and Bradt's Tanzania guides. We have 10 questions for her:
When did the travel bug bite you?
Growing up my family hosted 11 exchange students from various countries around the world including Finland, USA, Panama and Argentina. I was in primary school when we hosted our first exchange student. So for me it was exciting to hear about faraway places that, at the time, seemed so fanciful. As our exchange students were very much part of our family, my passion for travel pretty much grew out of the desire to visit them once they returned home.
What is your biggest struggle as a travel writer?
In all honesty, my greatest struggle as a travel writer has been trying to maintain a relationship at home while I am on the road – especially when writing travel guidebooks as you end up spending months away at a time away from your partner. For some people, it works – for me; not so much. Beyond that, the other thing I struggle most with is the misconception of what other people believe the life of a travel writer is really like. In spite of what most people think, it’s not nearly as fun or as glamorous as it seems. In fact, it's a lot of hard work. While most people imagine that my life is like being on one long holiday, nothing could be further from the truth. It's a job and, like any job, you have responsibilities and deadlines to meet. Not to mention the fact that you have all these other travellers relying on you to get the most up-to-date and accurate information about the destination you are covering. It's a lot of pressure. So while everyone else is relaxing on the beach or leisurely taking in the sights, my days are usually spent running around between tourist offices, attractions, restaurants and hotels, talking to numerous PR people and frantically scribbling notes.
Which safari destination (that you haven't visited yet) tops your bucket list?
Namibia. Having spent three years living in South Africa and more than ten years exploring the African continent for work, I cannot believe I have not been to Namibia yet. I’ve always dreamed of seeing the sunset at Sossusvlei, hanging out in Swakopmund, spying elephant, giraffe, rhino and more in Etosha National Park and gliding in a canoe through the Caprivi wetlands. Oh well, I suppose this just gives me another good reason to return to Africa very soon!
Which park or reserve (in Africa) disappointed you most?
The most disappointing game reserve I’ve been to is Tsolwana Game Reserve, 57km south-west of Queenstown in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. The reserve is apparently home to large herds of antelope, rhino, giraffe and mountain zebra. Though sadly, we barely spied any wildlife at all when I visited there with a friend a few years back. That said, our trip was very rushed and my companion and I decided to take in the park on a whim near to the middle of the day when most animals are less active.
What is the most posh safari accommodation you've stayed in?
I can’t say that I’ve ever stayed in what I’d consider to be posh accommodation while on safari. One of the most alluring places I’ve stayed in was Ruaha River Lodge in Ruaha National Park in Tanzania. This wonderfully scenic and very comfortable camp is the oldest in Ruaha and perfectly situated on a rocky hillside above a set of rapids on the Ruaha River. Game viewing is excellent from the camp with hippos resident on the river, elephant passing through regularly and many other animals coming down to drink. Accommodation is in unpretentious stone cottages, some of which lie directly alongside the river, so you can view game from your deck.
The prize for the most overtly luxurious of the lodge I’ve stayed in when not on safari though, would have to go to Isandlwana Lodge in the Battlefield region of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa. Attention to detail is evident throughout this 'African' themed lodge, from its magnificent stone-walled exterior to its beautifully decorated rooms – all of which have spectacular views over the battlefield. Gourmet meals are served in its elegant dining room where evening meals are sometimes followed by traditional singing performed by the Zulu staff.
What is the weirdest sound you've heard while on safari?
As part of a canoeing safari down the Zambezi River, I spent a night camping on what my safari companions and I naively thought was a deserted island. Falling asleep in my tent listening to the menacing grunts and bellows of hippos just metres away in the river, I found a little off putting. But what scared and disturbed me more was the sound of hundreds of mice scurrying around our campsite and gnawing through the hard plastic containers we’d stored all our food in!
If you could bring only one item on safari what would it be?
My sense of wonder and excitement. Going on safari is truly an experience unlike no other, so no matter what my destination I always bring my childlike sense of awe.
What is the most unusual method of transport that you've used?
4WD, local bus, minibus, bush taxi, tuk-tuk, plane, train, boat, canoe and even by foot – I’ve certainly explored the African continent by a variety of transport means. While it wasn’t the most unusual method of transport, the most fun I’ve had was travelling around the lesser known regions of West Africa on the back of a zemidjan. Basically it’s a motorcycle taxi which is an extremely popular mode of transport in countries like Benin and Togo. They are of course very fast and very convenient, but also very unreliable and very dangerous. Word to the wise, make sure you always get on/get off on the left side of the bike as there is a hot exhaust pipe on the right side that will burn you – I have a permanent scar on my inside right ankle that will always remind me of my time scooting around Cotonou directing my driver by yelling à gauche (left) and à droite (right) over the loud hum of the motor.
What is the strangest local dish you've eaten in Africa?
I couldn’t possibly travel all the way to Africa without indulging in a bit of the traditional food culture and, while in Ghana, that meant trying Okra Soup. I quickly learned that Okra is one of those vegetables you either like or dislike and I was firmly on the dislike side of the fence. A member of the mallow family, along with cotton and hibiscus, I mistakenly thought I’d like it so ordered a large bowl. But while the taste itself was rather innocuous, my stomach couldn’t cope with its slimy texture.
If you reincarnate as an (African) animal, what would you want to be?
A giraffe. It’s my absolute favourite African animal. They just look so tall and graceful – pretty much everything I’m not! Then again, they do look rather ungainly when you see them spread their legs and bend down to take a drink. But this is just one of their amazing quirks. Really, how can you not be impressed by a creature that that has a tongue long and tough enough to manoeuvre around the thorns on Acacia trees to eat? Besides that, as the tallest animal on earth they are easy to spot when game viewing even when the bush is thick or dense.