This issue is going to look, read and feel remarkably different than any other that this editorial team has produced in the 13 years I’ve been here. It’s not, mind you, the mission of DEPARTURES (living the right life) or the DNA of the magazine (to creatively and passionately travel the world) that has changed but rather the geography of where we travel and how we define the so-called luxury experience. Devoting an entire issue to sub-Saharan Africa—from a thundering rhino on the cover to Nelson Mandela in the boxing ring, Johannesburg circa 1950, on the last page—illustrates curiosity and the willingness to travel far afield. We know by now that for many a safari-goer, hot tubs, infinity pools and instant WiFi too often define that experience. What we’ve tried to do in this issue is far beyond the parameters of more conventional coverage in more conventional magazines. For to “safari” truly, madly and deeply requires an understanding of the greater geopolitical context of Africa. While The Safari Papers indulges your every question about what trip—urban, bush, beach or jungle—is right for you, Dispatches is a literary-cum-political collection of very personal stories, from Paul Theroux’s memoir of his Peace Corps years in Malawi to Philip Gourevitch on why Rwanda is now considered one of the most democratic and “fair” societies on the continent, while right across the border, the Democratic Republic of the Congo exemplifies just the opposite.
Mark Seal’s piece on the vanishing Serengeti will break your heart, no matter which side of the controversial proposed highway you find yourself on, whereas Tom Parker Bowles’s journey to Botswana should goad you into booking your first—or 25th—safari ASAP. Michael Shnayerson’s trip to Ethiopia may begin in the living room of a bejeweled Park Avenue socialite, but believe me, the combination of Evelyn Waugh’s itinerary from the 1930s with Shnayerson’s present-day observations is anything but, excuse the pun, a walk in, on or anywhere near the park.
This issue does not even begin to cover all of Africa. It is specifically built around sub-Saharan Africa, which, according to a Time cover story, “Africa Rising,” has the second-fastest-growing regional economy in the world. That said, Nairobi is still home to one of the largest slums on the planet, and although categorized as an upper-middle-income country by the World Bank, South Africa has one of the most divided societies anywhere. Though politics and Africa’s role in the global economy are covered in the issue, the real focus is on travel and how we think you, the departures reader, want to do it. The safari is, of course, key. How we wish we could have gone back to old favorites like Botswana’s Abu Camp, or to have experienced &Beyond’s new WILDchild program launching as we went to press: specialized family itineraries from a brilliant lodge company under the leadership of the enlightened Joss Kent. I wish every reader could have sat round the table with the Dyer family at Kenya’s Borana Ranch, as I did last December. Instead, we’ve distilled the best of what we do know from our own personal experiences or those of contributors we trust. If you’ve never been to Africa before, use this issue as a sourcebook for traveling comfortably and efficiently, and for the traveler who feels he’s been there, done that—think again.
For me, the inspiration for this issue begins with a remarkable woman by the name of Anna Trzebinski, whom seven years ago, in a story photographed by Peter Beard and written by Mark Shand, we called “The Lady of Nairobi.” The piece chronicled the remarkable life of this now 48-year-old German-born designer/artist/mother—the murder of her first husband, artist Tonio Trzebinski, in Nairobi 12 years ago; her beautiful collection of clothing and accessories, shown and sold in a studio on the grounds of her Nairobi residence; her new life with Samburu tribesman Loyaban Lemarti and the magical camp in Laikipia they built together in 2005. I first met Anna in 2006, when I had a couple-of-hours layover in Nairobi. She and Lemarti picked me up at the airport, took me for a quick shower and change of clothes at Karen Blixen’s original home, now a museum, and we then drove to her house and atelier. I had been to Africa before, but after three hours with Anna, I began to feel something different, an intimacy shared by an insider with me, an outsider. Since then we’ve become the best of friends. I’ve visited her camp (which is in the process of being relocated to the Kirisia Hills) and stayed at her house. When she comes to New York, she stays with me. Right now Anna’s in the process of opening a boutique stateside, on Manhattan’s Madison Avenue. All this is by way of saying that the African experience is not just about riding around looking at animals but also about making connections with tribespeople, with your own self or with a future friend out there, somewhere in the world, whom you didn’t even know existed. Until you came to Africa.