I got off the plane and was overpowered by the rich earthy scent I would come to know in later years as Africa. A fragrance so intoxicating that I have to close my eyes and savor it each and every time I land on that continent.

We all have those defining moments in life. Where a line in the dirt is drawn. On one side, you are the way you were born. On the other is the way you are reborn. That is the blessing Africa gave to me so many years ago. 

I was still a newbie television producer when I was hired onto a wildlife show that covered stories around the world. My first assignment lasted eleven weeks in Africa, traveling to South Africa, Botswana, and Malawi. I was excited to go, though scared, really scared, of anything that would bite, sting, or turn me into an afternoon snack. My fear was almost paralyzing as I remembered the stories my father would tell of going to the French Cameroons as a teenager and getting malaria, which nearly killed him. I remembered the documentaries that we would watch in science class about sleeping sickness and elephantiasis. My challenge was going to be rising up from my fear so I could do my job in a land I did not know with people I had never met before. 

As my local production crew and I drove into Kruger National Park in South Africa, I was fixed to the center of the back seat, putting as much distance as I could between me and any would-be animal coming toward our vehicle.

Then I saw my first giraffe gracefully, fluidly crossing the road in front of our Land Rover. Looking oddly, yet perfectly prehistoric and regal. Stopping to turn its head toward us, batting its long, long eyelashes. That is when my love affair with Africa began.

Then I saw my first elephant, first lion. With each sighting, I would move a bit from the center of the back seat until my nose was against the window, now watching baboons all around us. I was fascinated by all of the animals. Their movements were mesmerizing. How close they would come to our vehicle. Though there was no way, I was ever getting out of our Land Rover. My window was rolled up and going to stay up.

Though somewhere along the line, something profoundly shifted in me. The epic sky, the vast plains, and the humid air seduced me from the comfort and safety of our motorized metal cocoon. 

One day, I stepped onto the dry dirt to look at some animal tracks with our guide and suddenly felt like all of me was expanding across millions of blades of tall blonde grass. Inside, I felt a primal stir. That stir became more intense with each passing day. I was no longer able to sit scared in the center of the back seat. I could say it was because I wanted to be outside, tracking animals, getting our story. Though it was more than that, deeper than that. My feet were pulled to connect with the earth. In connecting with it, I felt its age. Nowhere else in the world do I feel this kind of connection, this sensual connection with mother earth. It changed me. It renewed me. It redefined me. That is what travel does, what travel does when you go on safari in the African bush. It transforms you. Indeed, it did me.

The one who landed, not wanting to get out of a vehicle left eleven weeks later not wanting to stay in a vehicle. I went from contraction to expansion. I was a different, more whole person by the time I got on the plane to return to the States. I felt more open to and respectful of the environment and all that it contained. I no longer felt so concerned about having a safety net in life. I felt braver to take risks. All feelings that have remained with me to this day.

My paralyzing fear of the African bush turned into a great love affair that forever changed me.

About. After researching Happiness and Mindfulness for more than a decade, part of my mission in life is to help people get out of the crazy and into the happy. I write about Transformational Travel and Wellbeing. Website: The Sojourn Experience. Newsletter: 8 Good Things.


  • Maria Baltazzi

    Ph.D., Conscious-Centered Living

    The Sojourn Experience

    Emmy Award-winning Television Producer, one of the original producers on CBS's Survivor. After years in the entertainment industry, Maria began studying Happiness and Mindfulness as a way to deal with the stressful demands of producing. Today, she works with professionals to uplevel the quality of their lives. Her teachings include meditation and mindful movement. Maria has been on all seven continents twice. Once as a storyteller. The second time was entering and walking marathons for charity. When not on location producing a show, she curates inner and outer journeys for a greater good. She leads private transformational adventures as well as happiness retreats.