Simply put, Chalo Africa would never have seen the light of day if it hadn’t been for a fortuitous click of the mouse on a website called safaritalk.net.
For as long as I can remember, I have loved animals, both tame and wild, and have spent countless hours reading about them and watching nature movies, especially African wildlife documentaries. But this has been my personal and private passion and I’ve never quite found the right words to explain to others the fascination and attraction that the continent has always held for me. It took me many years to convince my husband that Africa was not a dangerous place to go on a holiday – in fact, it was only when I threatened to go off alone on safari with my daughter that he decided to join us on the trip. Since then, all of us in the family have been bitten by the Africa bug to a greater or lesser degree.
But the Africa bug is a very sneaky bug – in the more extreme cases, it enters your bloodstream, infects you and leaves you with a chronic condition in which no sooner have you come back from one safari that you find yourself doing nothing else but dreaming about your next safari, even if that next safari is two years into the future! And since safari choices are neither simple nor inexpensive, Africa-bug infected patients tend to spend many hours between their safaris (‘the interregnum’, I call it) plotting and planning for their next trip.
It was in one of these interregnums that I stumbled across Safaritalk. Imagine my delight when I found a whole community of people from all over the world, all equally mad about Africa! But unlike many other Africa forums on the Internet, this was not a commercial site. It was frequented by knowledgeable people, many of them experts in their fields, who were both civil and friendly enough to welcome a complete novice into their midst. There were serious conservationists here, as well as safari guides, authors and writers, biologists, experienced safari goers, students, teachers, artists, non-profits – in fact, a jumble of people from every walk of life who had one thing in common – all of them were passionate about Africa.
Safaritalk.net is run by a remarkable individual, Matthew Wilkinson, who came back from an Africa trip and started this forum as his way of contributing to the cause of conserving the best of Africa. Matt did not have unlimited funds at his disposal, so he put his sweat equity into building what I consider a truly amazing gathering of like-minded individuals who inform and engage with one another every single day on every imaginable aspect of Africa (and lately, many other parts of the world as well, including India).
Reading through the many, many unbiased trip reports posted here by members, this is where I learnt about my own safari preferences. Browsing through the many articles and posts about various African parks and concessions, this is where I gained immeasurably in knowledge about African flora and fauna. By engaging in (sometimes provocative) debate with other members, this is where I refine and clarify my thoughts about issues that matter to me. This is where I learnt about the beauty of birds and reptiles and the incredible power that images wield over the imagination… But most of all, this is where I have made friends and found mentors and confidence enough to launch, along with my partners Smita & Tanvi, our new enterprise, Chalo Africa.
Wanted to take a moment to thank everyone at Safaritalk for being such a wonderful example of Web 2.0 – a place with energy and synergy enough to allow fledgling dreams to peer out uncertainly over the edge of the nest, and then with the help of a heady updraft, take off on strong wings into the deep blue skies of Africa. Thanks guys. I owe you many (beers!).