For the past two decades, Mary Fitzpatrick has worked as an Africa-based travel writer. She has written extensively for Lonely Planet (including authoring and co-authoring Lonely Planet’s Tanzania, East Africa and Southern Africa guidebooks), as well as for various newspapers and magazines. A member of the SafariBookings expert panel, she currently lives in Tanzania with her husband and three sons.
The 10 questions:
1. When did the travel bug bite you?
I'd say I was bitten almost as soon as I learned how to read. I recall spending much of my childhood (in east coast USA, which seemed to me hopelessly mundane) dreaming of exotic, far-away places. Following university, I lived for several years in Europe, where I decided I didn’t ever want to go back home. My first trip to Africa was in 1993 – I still remember my first sighting of the Johannesburg skyline. Since then, I've spent much of the subsequent two decades living, working and travelling around the continent. Meanwhile, Africa has become home, although I still find myself dreaming of my next travels.
2. What is your biggest struggle as a professional travel writer?
Perhaps the biggest struggle is having to stop travelling and come back to my desk to write things up! Working on a country guidebook requires total immersion in the country, often for weeks at a time. Invariably I feel wistful at the end of such an intense journey. That isn't to say that I don't like writing - I love it. Just that I like travelling better. Another challenge is keeping a perspective on one's travels – putting yourself in the shoes of your readers, who may never have set foot in the destination before, and remembering what is going to be most useful, helpful and interesting to them.
3. Which safari destination (that you haven't visited yet) tops your bucket list?
Botswana's Okavango Delta, because of the Okavango’s mightiness among Africa’s waterways, and because of the diversity and beauty of the safari experience there.
4. Which park or reserve (in Africa) disappointed you most?
I don't think I've ever been actually disappointed on a safari. Some parks, of course, are standouts, others less so, but every safari destination that I have been to on the continent has its own beauty.
5. What is the most posh safari accommodation you've stayed in?
Ngorongoro Crater Lodge (in Tanzania) was probably the most eccentric of the luxury places. Phinda Private Game Reserve (South Africa) probably the one I enjoyed most, although this is very subjective and has to do with lots of things other than just the level of luxury.
6. What is the weirdest sound you've heard while on safari?
I can't think now of the strangest, but one of the most memorable in a very pleasant way is the sound of hippos grunting on the river at nightfall.
7. If you could bring only one item on safari (besides your clothes, camera and binoculars), what would it be?
A notebook and pen, so I could write down my impressions (by hand – no digital) immediately as I experienced them.
8. What is the most unusual method of transport that you've used?
Over the years, I think I've experienced just about everything - from swaying, overcrowded dalla-dallas to rickety Land Rovers to crowded, open-back truck beds, even the back of a bicycle being pedaled by an old wisp of a man. The most enjoyable transport usually is boat, whether a dugout canoe or a larger craft.
9. What is the strangest local dish you've eaten in Africa?
I don't have any grub or worm stories to share, tending to be on the conservative side when it comes to culinary experimentation. In North Africa, Egypt's molokhaya always turned my taste buds the wrong way. West African groundnut soup also takes some getting used to. For me, more of a challenge than strange cuisine tends to be blandness – getting away from rice/ugali and sauce for every meal – and lack of crunchy, crispy vegetables without oil. That said, wherever I’m travelling, I enjoy trying the main local dishes. Perhaps the most delicious cooking I’ve had in Africa is on the Zanzibar Archipelago, with its mixture of Arabic, Indian and African influences, its spices and its use of seafood. And also, along the Mozambican coast, where the seafood is outstanding.
10. If you reincarnate as an (African) animal, what would you want to be?
I've always envied the giraffe for getting the best views and generally staying out of the fray. Plus, they can run impressively fast.