SUNDOWNER ON YOUR AFRICAN SAFARI
Africa’s Famous Happy Hour
Everything on safari is larger than life: the sprawling landscapes, the magnificent big cats, the enormous elephants, and giraffes… and yes, even its celebrated Happy Hour – known as The Sundowner.
Imagine, you’ve spent a very full day rumbling over savannahs, through the bush, over the hills, and deep in the forest, witnessing every form of wildlife in their natural setting. You’ve marveled, you’ve photographed, and you’ve seen more big game than you’ve thought possible. Now, the softening light of late afternoon is settling about and it’s time to catch your breath.
Your Africa Kenya Safaris guide pulls up to the shade of an acacia tree, overlooking a great plain, a deep scenic valley, or perhaps by a river or lake. He lays some blankets on the ground and pulls out a small kit, a veritable bar with glasses, libations, and all sorts of yummy snacks. And then he takes orders for your drinks. Would you care for a gin and tonic, some wine, beer, or a non-alcoholic beverage?
As you look above, the sky paints itself with streaks of pink, gold, and a spreading canopy of orange twilight as the sun magnifies and glows on the horizon. The hors’d oeuvres are passed around and as you take in this lovely setting, you sip your drink and pleasurably soak up the ambiance of the fading day.
This is what the sundowner is all about, a gentle transition into the evening, a moment to reflect on the beauty of Africa and how joyful it is to be here.
Part Of A Long Tradition
You may not realize it as you enjoy your sundowner but you are part of a long tradition here in Africa. This marking of the day’s end originated during the years of colonial rule, with the British troops, taking their gin and tonics out on the plain both as a social drink and for health reasons.
Winston Churchill was said to have quipped, “The gin and tonic has saved more Englishmen’s lives and minds, than all the doctors in the Empire.”
So what were these special properties of the G and T, as the famous drink became known, that prompted Churchhill’s admiration?
In the 17th century, malaria was a scourge that felled great swaths of tropical populations. But it was discovered that quinine, which was derived from the South American cinchona tree, could effectively treat the disease. The Jesuits learned of the healing properties of the tree’s bark from the indigenous peoples and introduced it for medical use in Europe.
The quinine was distilled into a tonic and so staved off the fatal disease. However, the taste of quinine was terribly bitter, so to make it more palatable, British troops mixed it with sugar, lime, and gin. This last, the gin, was part of their standard rations. Thus, the timeless gin and tonic concoction was born.
The Empire And Its Tonic
It is said that the British soldiers stationed in India first mixed the G & T, and as the empire developed in other malaria-stricken areas, such as Africa, it was only natural that the popular and medically necessary drink traveled with the troops.
Soon the gin and tonic became the cocktail of choice for British officers and then the elite of 19th-century society. At day’s end, glasses were raised with this increasingly popular drink and thus the sundowner became a ritual in colonial Africa.
Although we no longer take gin and tonic for medical reasons, the classic taste of this time-honored drink has become a part of today’s sundowner ritual. Further contemporary enhancements include snacks as well as wine, beer, and sometimes cigars to accompany this relaxing pause in the safari day.
So as you sit back and enjoy your sundowner against the magical backdrop of a sunset on your African safari, know that you are part of a long tradition.
Savor the moment as thousands have before you throughout the centuries on the magnificent fields, plains, and forests of a timeless Africa.
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