I’ve been on many a safari. In English usage, the word ‘safari’ is used almost exclusively to describe an animal-viewing expedition in Africa. Having grown up on the continent, however, I like to use the word in the context of its native tongue. ‘Safari’ simply means journey in Swahili. Like many words in Swahili, it is derived from Arabic. In this case, it comes from the Arabic ‘safar,’ also meaning a trip or voyage. Google is a very helpful tool in studying etymology – the study of words and their roots. Arabic, Swahili and English, sharing a word that implies a broadening and opening of one’s eyes and mind. A journey. But this etymological digression is irrelevant to my main point – the smell of a safari.
A short safari – expedition, journey, venture – today reminded me of several African safaris I have had the privilege to experience. I was looking at a lion at the San Diego Zoo. Or maybe it was the elephants or cheetahs. No matter. I was observing an African mammal and I caught a whiff of it. The distinct smell of a safari.
Then I heard it. The distinct sound of a safari. If you’ve ever been on an African safari, you know exactly what I’m describing. It’s the low growl of an engine and the accompanying noxious fumes that always accompany a slow moving vehicle. The fumes become particularly acute when the vehicle has stopped to observe a creature in its natural habitat. It is widely known that smell triggers memory. When those invisible plumes fill my nostrils I think of a lounging pride of lions or a herd of grazing hartebeest.
Headaches are a naturally occurring phenomenon on safari. Not from the lack of hydration, though that can play a part, but probably from breathing diluted oxygen and the accompanying dust cloud.
The San Diego Zoo buses drive on lovely paved roads, so the dust cloud is not a concern. But they certainly recreate the safari experience with the exhaust that leaves me gagging every time they drive by, slowing down to point out the creatures in their world class, curated habitats. I imagine some day the zoo will convert to electric vehicles. However, it would surely decrease the authenticity of the bus safari experience. That genuine safari experience can still be gained in Africa where charging stations for the new electric Land Rovers are probably many years off.
In this slide show I’ve selected some of my favorite safari photos that prominently feature safari vehicles. Enjoy the images and imagine the fumes while you view.
2 thoughts on “The Trigger Scent of Safari”
Thank you, dear Heidi! I enjoyed your little essay and photos!! What wonderful memories!
Thank you for reading, cousin! It’s amazing how a smell will take you back in time.