‘Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik’: Going Solo Through Africa

Travel Books: From south to north, Marie Javins journeyed alone across the continent. Frank Bures reviews her chronicle of the trip and finds the author a likable travel companion.

02.01.07 | 7:03 AM ET

Stalking the WIld Dik Dik coverFor some reason, not many American travelers—at least those not on expensive wildebeest treks or endangered species trophy hunts—go to Africa. Many go to Asia. Most go to Europe. And quite a few head south through the Americas. But American budget travelers tend to avoid Africa.

So Marie Javins didn’t quite know what to expect when she started her journey from south to north, a trip she recounts in her book, Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik: One Woman’s Solo Misadventures Across Africa. “I hadn’t expected to love Africa,” she writes, “and it caught me by surprise. Africa had just been a place on my to do list.”

Javins arrived in Cape Town on a ship as part of an epic trip she was chronicling on her Web site, which she launched in a bid to escape her workaday life as a freelance comic book writer. But the “obligatory” African leg of her journey ended up being the most important one.

From Cape Town, Javins headed to Namibia, known to most Americans only as the birthplace of Angelina and Brad’s offspring. But it also has massive and swallowing parks; beautiful, quasi-Martian deserts; lots of wildlife; potable water; and a nice little backpacking circuit. She then caught a bus north across the continent to the Zambezi, where she and other travelers camped next to the river along with crocs and hippos. From there, she took a train to Tanzania, before catching an overland truck north to Kenya, where she is awoken one night by a wild dik-dik—a tiny African antelope. She continued on to Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt.

Along the way, Javins also sees mountain gorillas in Uganda, giraffes and lions on the savanna, blue oceans in Zanzibar and ancient ruins in Ethiopia. There are the inevitable crammed buses, tireless hustlers, beggars and more beggars, friendly strangers and road accidents. It’s all fun and familiar to anyone who has traveled around the continent, and Javins recounts it all in a lively, easy-to-read style as she skims across Africa.

At times, though, that skimming can get a little tiresome, as she muses over ethical and cultural issues, like whether to give pens to begging kids. Once, for example, she hears Kenyan rap and writes, “The African rap sounded unsophisticated to my ears. How funny that the African influence on American pop culture has come full circle to where American culture was as influential on Africa as Africa had been, in turn, on America.” (Italics hers). Things seldom get deeper than that. Maybe we don’t want them to.

Yet even if “Chasing the Wild Dik Dik” is no Dark Star Safari, and Javins is no Paul Theroux, there is something alluring about this breezy book, which is mostly a pleasure to read. Javins is a likable travel companion for such a long and hard trip, and reading her account almost feels like being out there, on the road, trying to deal with the daily logistics of travel, and the days when a tidy bathroom, clean sheets and a good mosquito net are the only requirements for extreme happiness. And when it’s all over, maybe there is one small thing to be learned.

“If there was one simple lesson I had taken from my yearlong, ground-level journey around the world,” writes Javins, “it was that the vast majority of people are friendly.”

Frank Bures is a contributing editor at World Hum, where his stories have won several awards. More of his work can be found at frankbures.com.

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