We have quite a few perks here at Little Red Rooster. Coverage of the month, for one. Friday drinks trolley, two (we do still get work done, I promise). Six-week sabbatical for five-years employment? Hell yes.
For me, my five-year anniversary came around incredibly quickly. What started out as an internship in 2013 soon enough turned into senior account manager and heading up our interiors division by 2018. But a six-week sabbatical seemed like a pipe dream that remained a long way off. Fast forward a few months and sure enough, I’m preparing my handover, briefing my team, and saying my long goodbyes to my clients.
In our professional life, we have to be highly competent and organised. In my personal life, I am the complete opposite. But somehow in the space of three months I’d booked my flights and a trip-of-a-lifetime, starting in South Africa before hot-footing it through Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Zanzibar and Tanzania, eventually ending up in Kenya.
The first 24 hours before leaving included a lot of “What the hell am I actually doing?”. I should highlight at this point that my trip was entirely camping; I haven’t put up a tent since I was about thirteen years old. My friends would in no way describe me as an outdoors person, but I was determined I’d be fine, and be a far more wholesome person for it.
Whether the latter rings true or not remains to be questioned, but what I can say is that those six weeks – which flew by far quicker than they came around – were unforgettable.
A quick stay in Johannesberg then lead into a week in Botswana. One of the most memorable moments of my trip was taking a traditional mokoro boat (imagine a wooden, dug-out canoe) through the Okovango Delta to Exile Island. I was quite petrified my mokoro would be overturned by a hippo – many of which were roaming around the plains – but we made the island safe and sound. Along with my fellow campers, we swam in the freshwater lake, undertook our first (of many!) walking safaris, and enjoyed a picturesque campfire with the locals, who taught us their traditional village songs under a picturesque, starry midnight sky. It sounds corny, but it was one of those magical moments that you could only imagine from a Hollywood film.
After pitstops through Zimbabwe and Zambia – where I ziplined between canyons across the border – I arrived in Malawi. This was another of my real high points from the trip. I had no real expectations of what it would be like, but I can hand on heart say it was one of the friendliest, most beautiful places I’ve ever visited in my lifetime. The infamous ‘Lake of Stars’, otherwise known to you and I as Lake Malawi, was unlike anything I could have imagined. The lake itself is so huge – it spans almost the same length as the country – but you feel like you’re on a deserted island in the middle of nowhere. Of course, I had to remind myself about the crocs that came out at night – but my memories of Malawi are some of my happiest from the entire trip. One moment that stands out in particular, was handing out toothbrushes to the local children. Something so simple, that we take for granted, made these children’s days, weeks, even their year. To see their excited faces, running around comparing colours, was incredibly emotional yet heart-warming, all at the same time.
Next up we arrived in Zanzibar, which I would wholeheartedly recommend anybody to visit. After what seemed like only a few short hours on the island, I was back on the mainland and heading to my next adventure; a three-day, 4WD through the Serengeti.
I’d been on safari before, I’d visited the Kruger when I was around eight years old (fun fact – I actually helped publish a book outlining 101 Short Stories from Kruger National Park. I think it’s still for sale on Amazon). But all I saw was impala after impala; no big cats, and possibly an elephant far off in the distance. The Serengeti was the complete opposite. Whether I was lucky, I can’t be sure; but the entire reason I decided to travel Africa came to light in those three days. I saw everything – elephants, zebra, giraffes, hyenas, buffalo, wildebeest, jackals, you name it. But of course, the reason anyone goes on safari; I saw all three big cats – leopard, cheetah, lion. All in all, I counted 38 lions on my trip, and I could never get bored of watching them. In fact, I could have sat there all day.
My time in the Serengeti was rounded off in Ngorongoro Crater; if you’ve never visited, imagine driving into a 20km volcanic crater, which resembles something out of Jurassic Park. The animals are essentially safe within the crater (cats and similar predators stay largely up high), so everywhere you look, across the plains, there’s animals in perfect harmony, mere inches from your jeep. It was, quite simply, breathtaking.
Not only did I see incredible things during my time away, but I met some incredible people. I have a new bunch of friends all over the world, in Canada, Australia, New Zealand. Perhaps for my three-month sabbatical at ten years, I’ll be hitting them up for a place to stay!
They say sabbaticals are good for hitting the refresh button. At certain points while on my travels, I felt like I’d need be needing another holiday pretty sharpish (imagine packing down a tent at 4am every day). But I can also honestly say I’ve come back to work feeling revived, rejuvenated, and ready to take on what the agency throws at me.