Get all your news in one place.
100’s of premium titles.
One app.
Start reading
Tribune News Service
Tribune News Service
Mary Ann Anderson

Travel for Two: On safari, a gin and tonic gives rise to the perfect African sundowner

The end of the evening is fast approaching on the African savanna. On safari in Kenya, deep in the heart of Loisaba Conservancy in Laikipia County, our late afternoon game drive is chilly, enough to snuggle under a blanket in the open-sided Land Rover. Most safari lodges and camps across Africa provide wool blankets for those cold drives, and Elewana Loisaba Tented Camp in in northern Kenya is no exception.

Underneath the blanket, my husband and I draw closer for warmth after a long, exciting day of sightings of wildebeest and zebra mingled together with giraffe and elephant. We saw a few lions and, from a distance, the silhouette of a leopard snoozing away in the top of a tree. Late in the evening, as it is now, we celebrate our game drive with a sundowner as the sun begins to make its descent in brilliant bursts of shimmering gold and silver, warm reds and oranges, and rich purples and blues.

We toast the blissful day on safari by indulging with a delightful gin and tonic garnished with a sweet, zingy wedge of lime, all swirled together into a gorgeous cocktail.

Call it happy hour in the bush. The safari sundowner, complete with a blazing fire and a G&T, is a time-honored tradition, an end-of-day round of applause to the amazing wildlife and culture that is unique to Africa. The sundowner is for sharing those special moments with a significant other when the two of you, ice-filled glasses of G&T sparkling in the setting sun, recall the scenes and sounds of the day: the deep, guttural groans of elephants moving in the bush, the high chirp-chirp of a mama cheetah beckoning her wandering cubs back to her side and, the best of all, a pride of lions, golden and lazy with not a care in the world, sleeping underneath a thorny acacia.

The G&T cocktail is the customary tipple of choice on an African sundowner. It’s clean. It’s refreshing. It’s aromatic with notes of juniper and the perfumes of other florals, herbs and botanicals. It warms you when it’s cold and cools you when it’s warm. Certainly it’s quite tasty and super-easy to make with one or two parts gin, three parts tonic water and a wedge of sweet, freshly sliced lime or orange, all poured and then stirred over ice to get it so cold that the glass beads. And it’s historical. Yes. Historical.

The history of the mystery of the gin and tonic

First, understand from whence quinine originates. The base of tonic is quinine, an alkaloid extracted from the bark of the cinchona tree. The cinchona, native to the Andean forests of South America, also grows in humid climates in Central America, some islands in the Caribbean and in western reaches of Africa. Quinine has been used for medicinal purposes of treating fever, malaria and other ailments since the pre-Columbian times. As an antimalarial, quinine lays waste to — in other words, kills — the nasty parasites that cause the dreaded disease.

From those pre-Columbians to the ever-roving British, quinine has long been the drug of choice to ward off malaria. The adventurous British, as we know, were always off to tropical malaria-ridden corners of the globe like the Caribbean, America, Africa and India attempting to colonize new lands. Since quinine was used to treat malaria, it was added to water as a “tonic,” but its taste was still gosh-awfully bitter. So, then, the Brits, bless ’em, decided gin and sometimes sugar was a good mix with the quinine to make it more palatable. The lime subsequently came along to add a dose of vitamin C to prevent scurvy, too. Voila! No more malaria and no more scurvy, mostly anyway, but plenty of happy, tipsy Englishmen.

As the British trundled into more and more malaria-infested lands, including deeper into the plains, savannas and tangled jungles of Africa, the G&T went with them, gaining in popularity as the drink of choice for evening meals and social gatherings where malaria-wielding mosquitoes buzzed and stung. The quinine-laden tonic, it was thought, helped to keep malaria at bay. The sundowner, sort of an antimalarial prescription of the time, was, for lack of a better word, invented from those gatherings, and the gin and tonic became just what the doctor ordered. Even Prime Minister Winston Churchill touted the G&T’s remarkable preventative qualities, reportedly declaring, "Gin and tonic has saved more Englishmen's lives, and minds, than all the doctors in the Empire."

Happy hour in the bush: sundowner on safari

There’s just something wonderful about an African safari that inspires romance, from commoners like me to royals and celebrities alike. Prince William and Kate Middleton became engaged in Kenya, while Harry and Meghan Markle fell in love in Botswana, where, incidentally, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor spent their honeymoon on their second marriage go ‘round. For Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas, it was Zimbabwe for their honeymoon, while newlyweds George and Amal Clooney were spotted in Tanzania.

I think of the romance of safaris and sundowners, and my never-ending romance with Africa itself, as our guide steers the Land Rover to the absolute highest hill, the best spot that he can find, so we can watch the sun melt into the jewel-toned clouds of the horizon. After stopping on a dusty rise, he pulls out bottles of gin and tonic, plus a host of tasty, salty bites —nuts, chips, cheese and dried local fruits — to pair with the G&T. He expertly blends and stirs the fragrant concoction and hands it to us with a warm, wide smile. The transition from daylight to dark on Loisaba is magical, and the night begins to come alive from afar with echoes of roaring lions, barking jackals and whooping hyenas. With G&Ts in hand, we make a final toast to the last silvered rays of the setting sun and another perfect day on safari.


Sign up to read this article
Read news from 100’s of titles, curated specifically for you.
Already a member? Sign in here
Related Stories
Top stories on inkl right now
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Already a member? Sign in here
Our Picks
Fourteen days free
Download the app
One app. One membership.
100+ trusted global sources.