Cheetah Cubs in South Africa

I Dream of Africa:

How the Motherland Became My Great White Whale


I first fell in love with Africa by proxy.


In 1993 my buddy Tony– my best friend and the bassist in my band (a hip-hop/noise-rock fusion called The White Aphros, for those keeping score)– finished college and decided to enlist in the Peace Corps. It was a tough blow for me in several ways: Our band was just starting to take off, and Tony and I hung out constantly for 5 years when we worked together at a pizza place and were both students at Georgia State University. But I was determined not to lose that friendship, despite the geographical distance.


We kept in touch through his year in Burundi, before being pulled out by UN tanks after the war broke out in Rwanda; through two years in Gabon, where he taught fish-farming to local Pygmy villagers; and through his final two years in Zambia, before he and the lovely California girl he’d met in the Peace Corps came home to Atlanta and settled down. We’d communicate back and forth once a month,  sending care packages filled with letters, photos, reading material, and the music each of us was listening to or had recorded. It was through Tony that I first began to dream of Africa.




The music came first: Artists like Youssou N’Dour, Baaba Maal, Fela Kuti, Ali Farka Toure and Ladysmith Black Mombazo connected my soul from the Delta blues of my homeland in the American South back to the Motherland.


I became fascinated by African art, both from pieces Tony sent to me and from books I bought on the subject. By the time Tony got home and showed me his incredible videos from a safari in Tanzania, I was obsessed with my dream of Africa. But at 30 years old, with a wife, a mortgage and a job that offered more cool perks than cash, the reality of traveling there seemed unlikely at best.


So instead I focused on my work, spending the next few years building up a network of INsite Magazines, over which I was the National Managing Editor. Starting in Atlanta, we gradually added affiliates in Boston, then Austin and Gainesville, with more and more new outlets joining each year. Within four years we had 15 outlets around the country sharing the editorial my office produced, collectively reaching over 1 million readers each month.


My freelance writing profile was growing as well, as I landed major outlets like Rolling Stone and Tower Pulse. I became something of an expert on World Music, and was approached to collaborate on a massive book on the subject (so big, in fact, that the intros were written by David Byrne and Angelique Kidjo) for MusicHound Reference Guides. The money was never great, but it was definitely the coolest job I could’ve possibly imagined. And with responsibility came better perks, including my first press trips to Costa Rica and Alaska.


Nyala in Phinda Game Reserve, South Africa


By the year 2000, with a little travel writing experience under my belt, 15 cities in my network, and South African Airways pushing a new direct flight from Atlanta to Johannesburg, I decided to inquire about a press trip to South Africa. To be honest, I didn’t think there was a snowball’s chance in hell my dream of Africa would come true so soon– just 5 years into my professional career as a writer.


But SAA jumped on board immediately, offering us 2 round-trip Business Class tickets, and the Tourism Board arranged an incredible 2-week itinerary that took us from Londolozi Game Reserve and Kruger National Park to the Drakensburg Mountains and Durban, to KwaZulu Natal and Phinda Game Reserve.


As documented in previous GGT stories, that trip reduced me to tears, changed my life, and inspired the deep love of ecotourism that eventually moved us to create this website. It also fueled a passionate personal connection with Africa that I’ve never quite been able to kick– a feeling I’m fairly certain anyone who’s ever spent much time in Africa can relate to. Before I had even left Africa, I was already determined to go back.


Hippos in Kruger National Park, South Africa


That was 13 years ago, and my interest in Africa has since become an obsession.


But my best-laid plans went astray in 2001 thanks to two unexpected twists of fate. In June a disagreement between the various INsite publishers led to the dissolution of the editorial network, which immediately dropped from 15 outlets to just four, leaving me with a part-time job and no benefits. That August my daughter was born and, between the need to build a freelance career and my desire not to be gone for two weeks during this crucial stage in her development, I deferred my dream of Africa until she was older.


I started traveling occasionally again back in 2007, after landing gigs writing for AirTran and Spirit Airlines‘ in-flight magazines. It was mostly US and Caribbean stuff, which was fun… but it wasn’t Africa. I clawed and scratched my way up the freelance writing ladder, only to watch the bottom fall out of the market. When I did get work with publications that had sections on international travel, they were more interested in stories on Best Spas or Luxury Hotels than they were in stories on wildlife, adventure and ecotourism.


Sunset in South Africa's Kruger National Park


It was this frustration with the ups and downs of the freelance world, with the inability to find a publication that would pay me to write about the subjects I was most passionate about, with the fact that my likelihood of returning to Africa was no better than it had been back in 2001, that ultimately inspired Mary and I to launch Green Global Travel in 2010. It’s been one helluva ride, and I wouldn’t give this dream of ours up for anything.


But, despite the progress we made in 2012– the awards, amazing press trips, and 500% growth rate– I find myself feeling incredibly frustrated. We still haven’t found freelance outlets that will pay us to tell the types of eco-travel stories we want to tell. We still haven’t found a way to make substantial money off our site without selling out. And we still haven’t found a way to get to Africa (or Asia, or Australia, for that matter).


Perhaps that yearning burns even deeper because I can see that carrot of Africa dangling right in front of my face. We had an offer last year for a press trip to Namibia that fell through in the negotiation stages. Then we had another press trip to Kenya and Tanzania that fell through just at the last minute. And of course the fact that we see photos of our travel blogger friends in Africa on a regular basis doesn’t help.


Kruger National Park, South Africa


I’m trying not to feel deflated by my inability to make our dream of Africa come true. I’m trying not to be ungrateful for the remarkable blessings GGT bestowed upon us in 2012. But I’ve never been the type to spend a lot of time celebrating my own successes: After a quick look around from the summit, I’m always looking for the next mountain to climb.


At this point, the mountain that is Africa seems downright monolithic. But still the continent calls out to me through her music, her art, her cuisine, her wildlife and her people. I’m determined to find a way to crest that majestic summit, this time with Mary by my side, before 2013 is through. –text & photos by Bret Love


If you enjoyed reading I Dream of Africa, you might also like: 

South Africa- Londolozi Game Reserve Safari

South Africa- Kruger National Park

South Africa- South Africa- Zulu Memories

Tanzania- Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro

38 Responses to I Dream of Africa: How the Motherland Became My Great White Whale

  • Jenna says:

    I wish you all the best in your journey to go to Africa again. You will. Whenever someone is passionate about something as you clearly are about Africa, others notice and things naturally come to you. I am sorry to hear that it is not easy to get outlets for the types of eco stories you want to write. We need to speak out for the earth and animals more than ever, and I hope that more publications will pick up your stories soon.

    • Thanks, Jenna. The overarching problem is that our culture continues to celebrate the pursuit of material wealth and dramatic behavior (see: Real Housewives, Honey Boo-Boo) rather than philanthropy and stewardship. But I think the movement towards sustainability and “Green” lifestyles is coming, so it’s just a matter of time before the consciousness starts to shift. In the meantime, we’ll keep working hard to do what we do. We really appreciate your support!

  • Gaelyn says:

    Africa got in my blood. I tried, unsuccessfully so far, to get sponsorship to return, tour and explore. But I’m going anyway. I hope my upcoming posts about South Africa will entice you to make your dream come true.

    • Well, the problem we have now is that we have an airline willing to sponsor our flights, so it’s just a matter of finding someone to host our in-country transportation and our safaris. Unfortunately, we spent all our disposable income on last year’s press trips, so we’re just going to have to wait until the right offer comes along.

  • I, for one, have no doubt you will get back to Africa. Perhaps the shockingly speedy realization of your first trip necessitates a bit of extra patience for visit two, but you’ll get there. And you KNOW we share your frustration about the lack of outlets with editors as curious and globally broad minded as their freelancers.

    • Yeah, it’s a constant struggle, isn’t it? I feel like we got some incredibly unique stories out of our travels last year– from spending time with a 72-year-old shaman in the Peruvian Amazon and digging for 2000-year-old relics on the private island off the coast of Panama to exploring the surprisingly disparate nature reserves of Jordan and learning what it’s like to feel like an animal in a zoo in Churchill. We won 4 awards in various categories last year (video, writing, blogging), which served as validation for the quality of our work. So 2013 will be all about reaching out to new publications in search of a few that offer decent pay for well-written travel tales. And if you ever want to combine our respective forces, we’re always happy to share contacts with friends!

  • Bret, we’re all behind you. There’s zero doubt you’ll get to Africa this year 🙂 Here’s hoping for Uganda!!

  • Vera says:

    After you have been so close to going to Namibia last year, I’m pretty sure you’ll be sniffing some good old African air this year! There was this athlete (of course I forgot who it was exactly) who said: “People call it a problem, I call it a challenge.” – so don’t feel frustrated and deflated, just challenged. If you want to get there, you will! Hakuna Matata and Hamba Kahle:)

    • I try not to get frustrated, but after our second Africa press trip fell apart (when it looked almost like a sure thing) I felt like Charlie Brown when Lucy snatched the football away. My last visit to Africa was so remarkably powerful– the Zulus actually gave me a Zulu name after a magical night of playing music together under the stars– that I just can’t seem to shake my obsession with going back. And with everything that’s going on there now, with elephants and rhinos being poached at an alarming rate and native tribes such as the Maasai struggling to figure out their place in the ecotourism economy, it just feels like there’s this urgent need to get there SOON. But I never give up on a challenge, so we’ll just keep on keeping on…

  • Cole @ says:

    Yup, sometimes the most worthy (or relevant) don’t always get sent out the right trips… But never mind Bret and Mary! I know you guys will be offered the chance of a lifetime soon 🙂

    • Thanks for the vote of confidence, Cole. I didn’t mean to imply that other travel blogs aren’t equally worthy and relevant, as I don’t want to take anything away from anyone else. We just haven’t made the right connections yet, I suppose. Hopefully 2013 will be our year!

  • What a fascinating story, and so happy to hear positive obsessions about Africa versus the negative images that are so often falsely shared about the continent. I spent a fabulous three months teaching in Ghana and highly recommend Africa to any traveler!

    • Well, most of the negative issues with Africa (of which I’m well aware, but consider to be vastly in the minority) can be traced back to the era of colonial imperialism and the scourge of slavery. For us, understanding WHY things are the way they are is just as important as knowing how things are, if not more so. There are certain parts of Africa (the Sudan, Somalia, Libya, etc.) that we probably wouldn’t travel to. But there are also parts of the United States I’d never travel to. Africa’s rich cultural tapestry has fascinated me for years, so I’m dying to get back to explore and experience more of it.

  • Adam says:

    Well you’ve certainly inspired some Africa wanderlust in me! What a world we live in, yeah?

  • Larissa says:

    Obsession with Africa totally understood. Just don’t miss enjoying the rest of the world while you’re waiting for it–remember what happened to Ahab!

    • No worries about that! Mary and I have been to more than 25 destinations in the last 3 years alone. So we’re certainly not sitting around waiting for Africa to come to us. We know it will happen in good time, we just wish that good time would hurry up! 😉

  • Personally, I can’t wait to go eat. 🙂

  • Jennifer says:

    Well, you have definitely had an interesting life so far. I had no idea about the Music Hound. So cool!

    • Yeah, I don’t talk much about my career before I got into travel writing, but it was definitely intriguing in its own right. I would love to someday assemble a list of all the celebrities and rock stars I’ve ever interviewed. I’m guessing it would number over a thousand!

  • Travelogged says:

    Good luck! I really hope you make it to Africa this year because I would love to read about it and see your photos…

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  • Linda McCormick says:

    You never know, 2013 could be the year. With the ETSC being in Kenya, they’re working overdrive with media, so something might happen. Not sure if they comp travel for speakers… might be an in?

    • I’ve thought about that as well, Linda. We FINALLY got around to joining TIES and saw their call for speakers, but I’m not sure whether they comp speakers or not. I’d love to get over there and talk to them about working with bloggers and social media to spread the ecotourism/conservation message!

  • Micki says:

    I hope you make it to Africa this year, Bret and Mary. I’ve never been, but I’m waiting for my kiddos to be just a little bigger – four and seven are just a too convenient a snack size for a lion, I think 😉

    • Thanks, Micki! I’ve told my daughter she’ll have to be a teenager before we can take her to Africa. I’m not really worried about her safety, but I want to make sure she’s old enough that it will be an experience she’ll never forget!

  • I can’t wait to get to Africa myself…. Although I have kind of been living in Egypt for two years I didn’t get to the Africa you speak of. I’m not quite as intense about it being my goal as you are but it simply has to be done.

    This is my first time reading here and you have an amazing story to tell! I am sure if you keep on plugging away someone will pay you (or at least cover expenses) to go do the writing and seeing you long for.

    I’m guessing this site focuses on Green travel a lot and in a recent post I talked about my guilt’s… One of them was flying which is so bad for the environment. Have you got any posts talking about this aspect of travel and how to be more green with it?

    • We actually have a post coming up soon about Carbon Emissions and whether it’s truly possible to offset them. But, as with cars, it seems our best hope is to develop aircraft that run on alternative fuel sources rather than fossil fuels. KLM experimented with biofuels a few years ago, and I’ve read that some manufacturers are working on developing solar-powered hybrids, but I’m guessing that will take a few years.

      • Forest Parks says:

        I’ll look out for that post :). I wonder if this new airship that is being tested will have better energy efficiency.

  • I’ll look out for that post . I wonder if this new airship that is being tested will have better energy efficiency

  • Ah yes, Fela Kuti! I’ll have to throw him in right now… 🙂

    It will happen guys, might just take some time for the rest of the world to notice the potential & increasing influence of travel blogs.

  • I’m sure you’ll make it to Africa – it’s just a matter of time. And when it happens, it’ll be all the sweeter for having waited for so long 🙂

  • Kate says:

    I am only just started to get interested in Africa. I wasn’t interested in Asia till I went and now I love it, and I am thinking Africa might be the same. It’s only America I’ve been obsessed with since a young age!

    • Wow, that’s interesting! I’ve wanted to go to Africa ever since I was a boy watching “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom” on TV and reading my grandmother’s Nat Geos. Once I finally went back in 2000, it put a spell on me that left me DESPERATE to return. Hopefully we’ll find a way to make it happen later this year.

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