So, you have booked your adventure... you are counting down the days, but when traveling anywhere in the world, the most common thought is what to pack! Debbie Spillane, past volunteer gives us her VOLUNTEERS GUIDE FOR PACKING FOR THE BUSH as she returns from our Hands-On Lion Conservation project at Victoria Falls.
Africa! Unknown and previously untouched by – well, by me at least! Full of mystery, myth, light and color, and home to king of the jungle. I was lucky enough to spend two weeks in breathtaking Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, in the company of that most majestic of all animals, the lion. My incredible experience was with African Impact’s hands-on lion conservation volunteering, and it’s sadly a month in the past already! During my time on the program, there were countless occasions when we volunteers (or vollies, as we’re fondly called) sighed, “If only I knew, I’d have packed less…” or “When I come back again, I’ll definitely be prepared for….”etc, etc. So here is my guide to effectively preparing for some quality lion hang-out time!
Pack light and wise Although African Impact provides you with lots of information, somehow we all managed to misunderstand it! When packing, my primary thoughts focused on what I’d wear. We were recommended to bring ‘neutral-colored clothing, so I promptly packed 10 t-shirts or long sleeved cotton tops, primarily white, cream or kaki colored. This was my first mistake. White is not neutral in safari terms – it’s one of the colors that stands out to the very plentiful elephants in the area, and wearing it can potentially put your group in danger. Kaki, brown or black, the colors of the bush, are the best colors to opt for, so pop in to your local Primark or H&M and find yourself three plain cotton vests or t-shirts. Depending on the time of year you travel, a vest might be most comfortable, but bringing a more covering t-shirt is also recommended in case you’ve pesky sunburn to cover. I had wisely packed some kaki cargo pants, my idea being that they would save my legs from countless scratches. And true, they did – but the intense heat made me long for shorts! So bearing all this in mind, my enormous, bulging backpack was completely unnecessary and I could have travelled much lighter and wiser!
Pack 3 vests/t-shirts that are kaki, brown or black in color
Bring 2 pairs of shorts and one pair of cargo pants (even better are the cargo pants that can be transformed into shorts by a clever zip….the subject of extreme vollie-envy!)
So, I’ve mentioned the intense heat, which to be expected in Africa I guess! But what surprised many of us was how chilly it was at dawn. Every morning, we travelled out in an open, safari truck – and that bumpy, shivery trip was a better wake-up call than any alarm clock! Here is where the cargo pants come in handy, coupled with a scarf and cozy hoodie.
A warm hoodie is an essential wrap up for early morning lion walks and game drives!
Be prepared! By 9 am, I was usually filthy – the lions are irresistible, so every walk invariably ended up with me crouching in the dust beside them. And you’re bound to be the same, so embrace it – This Is Africa –and wear those grimy clothes all day with pride! There is no point in changing – you’ll be just as disgusting 10 minutes later!!
Walking with lions I proudly packed trekking sandals, thinking I’d be grateful for the non-slip soles and air between my toes! But the sharp sticks and stones mean that covered-in shoes are a far better idea, so I ended up wearing my trainers which are not really ideal for the terrain. Many of the vollies packed cumbersome wellington boots, which proved to be ornamental considering they are really only necessary if you’re visiting during the rainy season.
Bring covered-in trekking shoes
Pack wellies, but only if travelling in the rainy season
Evening cover-up Nights are slow and easy in Victoria Falls. Long and busy days with the lions result in very tired vollies, so evenings were usually spent hibernating in our temporary ‘home’ in Vic Falls. After a speedy shower on our return to base, it was time for dinner. And all those light and lovely summer dresses I’d packed were useless for these occasions, thanks to mosquitoes! If you need to feel feminine in a dress after such a dirty day, be sure to pack covering cotton leggings. But most vollies relaxed in jeans, t-shirts and that all important mozzie spray! And of course, men don’t have such issues!
Don’t forget mosquito spray (the strong stuff, as full of deet as legally possible!)
A torch comes in handy
Saturday night live As Sunday is the compulsory day off from lion duty, Saturday see the vollies ‘dress up’ and hit the town. So make sure you bring some slightly nicer attire, although due to the ever-present mosquitoes most of us still stuck with jeans!
What else? Remember to pack suncream, your malaria prevention pills and whatever cosmetic supplies you need – face creams, etc, are difficult and expensive to come by in Vic Falls. If you’ve lots of extra space your bag, it’s a good idea to use facebook to get in contact with active vollies and find out what is currently needed in the community.
Wear a smile! Perhaps it’s most important to bring an open attitude and good humor to the program. You spend 24/7 with your fellow vollies and wonderful local colleagues, so it’s important you’re pleasant to be with. But when you’re surrounded by the world’s warmest and friendliest people, it’s difficult not to be blissfully happy!
If you want to find out about the Hands-On Lion Conservation project that Debbie was involved in then click HERE!