“Do not leave camp and never walk at night without a guard, even the short distance to the main lodge,” warned our guide.
We had just arrived at Chem Chem Lodge in Tanzania, our first stop on the safari portion of our trip. That night, I awoke to the sound of lions roaring meters away from our canvas tent. We were truly in Big Five (lion, elephant, leopard, buffalo, rhino) country — and here, humans make way for wildlife.
Ever since I was a kid, I dreamed of visiting Africa and going on safari to view animals in their natural habit. For me, the whole rhythm of a safari is a new type of travel: We awoke before dawn, drank a quick coffee and then proceeded on a game drive with our guide. For the next 3–4 hours we drove around the bush in an open 4×4 vehicle with strict orders not to step foot outside the car.
We spent four weeks traveling through Tanzania, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Namibia. Due to the presence of both predators and potentially hazardous herbivores such as elephants and hippos, most of the camps in Tanzania and Botswana discourage visitors from wandering off. An elephant is a surprisingly silent animal and can charge and kill a human easily. Despite this, I did some excellent running in Benguerra Island, Mozambique; Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, and Skeleton Coast, Namibia.
“No run in Africa is ever boring.”
At first it was challenging to accept that I couldn’t just throw on a pair of shoes and run off into the distance. The expansive, beautiful landscapes fed an overwhelming urge to explore on foot. A few lodges offered gyms with a selection of exercise equipment for us endorphin addicts. I made it a point to work on strength, balance and core using my TRX. Other times I ran laps around the lodge property. Even sticking close to camp carried risks: At the Ngorogoro Crater Lodge, my husband ran into a leopard right outside one of the cabins. Luckily, they both turned tail and fled in opposite directions.
By the time we arrived at Jack’s Camp in Botswana, I was itching for a real run. Jack’s Camp, located in the Kalahari Desert, is on the edge of the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans and the arid environment and heat makes wildlife sparse as well as less active during the afternoons. Our guide, Greg, followed us in a Land Cruiser on a brutally hot 8-mile loop in the middle of the afternoon. I loved it. After returning to camp, we found out from another guide that we had run past the dominant male lion resting under a bush 20 meters away from the road. No run in Africa is ever boring.
Even in towns, wildlife is never far away. In Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, we went for a run on the roads around town. A few miles out, we saw some locals veering off the road into the surrounding brush. They told us to get off the road because a group of elephants was feeding ahead and we should take a side trail to get around them. We followed the locals’ tracks through the undergrowth and skirted around the elephants and heard munching on trees just a few feet away.
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In contrast to Big Five country, the Skeleton Coast of Namibia is a trail runner’s paradise. The arid desert landscapes and sand dunes do not support a large concentration of game, and predators are even fewer and farther between. I loved the challenge of climbing the giant Sossusvlei sand dunes as well as exploring the incredible mountains and geological formations around our campsites.
Throughout our time in Africa, I learned to be flexible and to enjoy each run — when and if it happened. Sometimes it’s just not possible to squeeze in a run amidst the activities, travel and work plans of the day. But always be ready because you never know when you’ll have the chance to jump out of the safari vehicle and race back to camp.