Alan Murphy has been travel writing for 15 years, working for Lonely Planet and other travel publishers. He has co-authored many guidebooks on southern Africa - the region he first visited on the continent, and it still weaves its magic on him.
Alan coordinated the Lonely Planet guides for Southern Africa, Namibia & Botswana and Zambia & Malawi. He considers it a privilege to be able to watch the interaction of African wildlife in their natural habitat. Alan is a member of Safari Bookings expert panel.
The 10 questions:
1. When did the travel bug bite you?
I remember my older brother, John, going travelling when I was 15 years old. When he returned two years later his stories of adventure, strange places and stranger people, really ignited my imagination. My best friend at the time, Brent, and I made plans...so many plans! We were going to go everywhere. Then Brent ended up in New Zealand playing rugby and I followed my brother’s footstep when I was 21 years and went to London, which I was going to use as a base for travel for 6 months. I came home 4 years later...
2. What is your biggest struggle as a professional travel writer?
To find accurate, evocative and imaginative language to describe hotel, after hotel, after hotel... Keeping fresh is a constant struggle – I really need to connect with a place, feel genuinely excited about being there. That often involves a bit of down time, being able to kick back and let the ambient rhythms of travel caress my brain into churning out a reasonable standard of writing. From a research perspective, going into backpackers when you are past 40 years old can feel pretty weird – the undercover travel writer persona doesn’t cut it.
3. Which safari destination tops your bucket list?
Just about anyway in Tanzania – the Serengeti, Ngorogoro crater etc. Have heard so much about the open East African plains and the staggering numbers of wildlife. Very curious to see how it compares with Southern Africa. I also saw a programme on the Rift Valley recently, focusing on East Africa and it showed a river absolutely churning with hippo - there were hundreds. I love hippos!
4. Which park or reserve disappointed you most?
The Lower Zambezi National Park in Zambia. It disappointed me because access is so difficult and I spent days going through a Game Management area surrounding it’s eastern edge where I got lost, charged by a grumpy bull elephant and altogether spent way too much time. When I reached the river to cross into the park proper the waters were up and we couldn’t get across. Very frustrating!
5. What is the most posh safari accommodation you've stayed in?
Oh, there’s has been a few! One of the upsides of the job!! Probably one of the private reserves around Kruger National Park. Yes it was awesome – who doesn’t like a little luxury? The wildlife-watching is a bit sanitized because it’s kinda all done for you: guides locate wildlife for you to see and drive you to it – taking some of the mystery out of it. That said, a nice Stellenbosch chardonnay with my 3-course dinner afterwards by firelight overlooking a watering hole with numerous species wandering down for a drink as the sun is setting, kinda made up for it!
6. What is the weirdest sound you've heard while on safari?
A hippo scything through the grass a few metres from my tent!
7. If you could bring only one item on safari, what would it be?
8. What is the most unusual method of transport that you've used?
A small wooden dugout canoe rigged with old t-shirts sewn together as a sail. Negotiating the swells of Lake Malawi was fun (and scary!)
9. What is the strangest local dish you've eaten in Africa?
Oh, I’ve eaten some weird things over the years. I generally try to scoff down anything that’s put in front if me so as to avoid causing any offence. Maybe warthog sausages?
10. If you reincarnate as an animal, what would you want to be?
That’s easy – a hippo! I love everything about them, they’re just such a weird animal - they spend all day floating in the river, all night eating – what’s not to like?!