You are currently browsing the monthly archive for May 2012.
In July of last year we mapped out how we’d spend our five-continent oneworld round-the-world airline ticket and we found we couldn’t get a simple flight out of Nairobi, Kenya. The oneworld partners just didn’t have the routes we needed. We tried many different scenarios but finally settled on flying from Nairobi to London to get to Dubai. This option wasn’t a favorite solution of mine at the time. oneworld counts the Middle East and Europe as one continent, so we’d need to use two of the four flight segments our pass provides for each continent.
It turned out to be one of the best options we had.
Sometime in December, Eric, one of my oldest and closest friends, told us that he was thinking about coming over to London in February. And it looked like he could be there during the week we were flying through. It took one quick call to the American Airlines oneworld desk (ok, it took two because we were in Livingstone, Zambia and my internet time ran out) and we extended our one hour layover through London into three days. (Sidebar: That’s been one of the nice things about the round-the-world ticket. While we get charged for changing our route, we can switch flight dates and times as often as we want at no extra cost. We’ve moved several flights over the course of this trip.)
This would work perfectly. Eric was definitely one of the last people we thought would meet us on our trip, primarily because as a freelance stylist he doesn’t get paid vacations. (I wrote that line mainly so I could segue into a suggestion that you check out Eric’s work here and here.) One added bonus, Eric is one of the few friends in the world that I could absolutely count on to support our decision to buy a side table in Zanzibar with the expectation that he would carry it the rest of the way home.
The only hitch in this plan was that it was snowing in London. In the 10 months worth of clothes we had packed for this leg of the journey, we hadn’t planned on cold. I had my winter coat in South America but I left it at home in the face of China in August and September in India.
So we did what anyone would do when given the opportunity to meet up with their best of friends after camping for a month through Africa and being away from home for more than 6 months. We layered up every warm piece of clothing we had and headed out into the cold.
And we had a fantastic time.
When we said goodbye, Eric checked one more time to see if I wanted to keep his coat for the rest of our journey. “Nah,” I said. “We should have warmer weather from here on out.”
Famous last words.
In the travel log of our trek through Africa, I have only briefly mentioned some of our traveling mates. Part of the reason is they didn’t sign away their lives to me and the rights to their stories the way I assume my family has. But to be honest, the people we traveled with were really the heart of our journey. You don’t spend 28 days with people in a truckbus going from campsite to campsite without either growing to love them or hate them. In this case, it was love.
When we first started out on our trek, I was really concerned with the introverted nature of our group. While we all sat around staring at the campfire, I would ask, “Does any one have any good stories?” At one point someone told me I put everyone on the spot when I asked that question. For some reason, I was almost hyper about getting us to blend. I didn’t need to be.
But by the end, our group had settled into a comfortable rhythm. We easily enjoyed each other’s company and embraced the eccentricities of the personalities within our little circle.
There were eleven of us together for the whole 28 days. Including Nellu and I there were:
Bob and Christina – father and daughter from Canada (although Christina is currently living in Saudi Arabia working as a nurse. We got some great stories from her about life there.)
Kristine and Line (pronounced Leena not line) – two Danish ladies doing a bit of traveling before finishing up their studies
Claire – a British woman living in Australia working as a geologist in Perth
Janine, Andre, Chloe – the Stucki family. Janine is from France. Andre is from Switzerland. But they’ve been living in Australia for the past 40 years and their kids, Chloe and her brother, grew up there.
Caroline – our German architect who quit her job in November and decided to go to Africa. (She has a job waiting for her when she returns.)
I like to think of us as a tribe.
I found myself feeling fiercely protective of our group. At one campsite as I walked to the bathrooms, I overheard Raymond and Mazza talking to another overland group about how low-key we were. Most of our friends preferred to go to bed early rather than spend late nights drinking at the bar. (Every campsite had a bar.) One woman said, “They’re boring.”
“We are not boring,” I shouted back from the darkness. Even though Nellu and I would often go to the bar for beer and conversation, I was happy that our group wasn’t made up of hard-core partiers. I liked them just the way they were.
And even when we were in the Serengeti, when members from another group encroached on our campfire, I had to fight back the urge to kick out the outsiders. It’s weird how quickly my psyche tried to categorize “us versus them” even though our group had been randomly assembled by fate just a few weeks before.
I am actually surprised by the lack of pictures that I have of people! But over our trip through Africa, I tried to take a new piece of video footage every day, which will give you a better look at the awesome people we traveled with. I’ve started working on putting a package together but I need to devote some serious time to doing it justice. Please look for it soon after our return to the States in June.
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On this last day all together in Nairobi, we hung together not wanting to say good-bye. But as the hours and days progressed we would lose a couple of people at a time until it was just Nellu and I and the Stucki family.
We were really excited when the Stucki family decided to stay at the same place we did in Nairobi. (The hotel that our Gap tour uses was too expensive for our traveling budget.) They would be staying there for three nights as well, which meant we would have family there the entire time. We went to the airport together.
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While I’ve been writing about our trek through Africa, we’ve been in Europe and had the pleasure of visiting Caroline in Berlin and Line in Copenhagen and got the chance to chat with Kristine on the phone. It was such a joy to spend time with these ladies. There was an ease about their company that usually comes with friends you have known for a much longer time.
I guess once a tribe, always a tribe.
Today we take the ferry from Zanzibar back to the mainland Tanzania where we rejoin Raymond and the truckbus for the final stretch of our trip – the Serengeti and the Ngorogoro Crater.
We drive to an unremarkable campsite and crash for the night.
It will be a short drive to Arusha today. The plan is for us to overnight at a camp where we’ll get picked up by smaller four-wheel drive safari jeeps for the ride into the Ngorongoro Crater and Serengeti wildlife preserves.
On our way to our campsite we stop at cultural center – one that sells tanzanite. Tanzanite is a precious stone that is most often purple with reddish highlights but can sometimes be blue or even green.
We get a tutorial on tanzanite from the dealer at the shop, who shows off some of the most expensive stones he has on hand. Nellu and I have no business buying jewelry on this trip. But don’t worry tanzanite, I’ll be back – maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon and I’ll have you for the rest of my life.
It’s safari time. We’ve packed a few belongings into smaller bags because we’ll be traveling for two nights once again without Raymond and our truckbus. I don’t know if you remember our discussion earlier about the two nights of “participation camping” – whatever that means. Well that little secret is revealed. Participation camping means that handlers at the campsite inside the wildlife preserves will set up our tents and we won’t be responsible for helping with the cooking or the cleaning – a small luxury.
Three jeeps arrive to take us on our trip and our group splits up. Nellu and I join our Canadian friends Bob and Christina (North Americans sticking together!) as well as the South African/Australian couple Brett and Angie, who came on board our trek in Zanzibar. The vehicles look exactly like what you’d want your safari jeep to look like, complete with pop-up roof for viewing.
Our driver and guide introduced himself. “I’m Emmanuel.” he said. “Emmanuel, like Jesus Christ.” He probably shouldn’t have said the last part because for the remainder of our days with him, we neglected to call him Emmanuel and just went with “Jesus.” We had way too much fun with him, shouting out “Jesus Christ” or “Thank you, Jesus” whenever we thought it was appropriate.
From our camp we drove first to the Ngorongoro Crater, where we stopped to take pictures at the crater’s edge.
We’ll get an chance to go into the crater when we return. We also stop at a “traditional” Maasai village. It’s actually not their real village but one that they’ve set up so that safari tourists can see what traditional Maasai life is like.
Mazza tells us to keep and open mind during our visit. We’ve come to realize that this is what she says when she knows that people are going to try to shake us down for money or pressure us to buy something. Which is what happens. Nellu gets pretty close to buying a spear from one of the Maasai but backs off when the reality of taking a spear on multiple airplanes sets in. But the guy kept following Nellu around calling him “a good business man.”
After the tour, we continue to the gates of the Serengeti.
As we approach, the scenery begins to change. Much of the green vegetation goes away and the wide open plain begins to appear. These next few days will be the most remarkable of our trip.
Our group hadn’t seen a big cat in our whole trip through Africa but there on the first day we saw a lion in the shade of a tree on a distant rock.
These next two days were all about the animals so I am going to let Nellu’s pictures do the talking. You can see more of his pictures by clicking here. The highlights on Day 26 – a cheetah, prides of lions, and the great migration.
Oh and on our way back to camp that night, we get a fresh sprinkling of what they call African powder – dust from the road heaved into the air by passing jeeps. We try to close the windows for a moment while the jeeps and their dust clouds roar by but Nellu still comes back with an interesting effect. We think he looks like Moses.
Today we descend down into the Ngorongoro Crater. The name is one of those spectacular words derived from a sound. They say “ngong, ngong” is the way the cow bells of the Maasai herds sound, hence the name.
Here not only do we see another cheetah and a rare black rhino, but we get to see lions in the honeymoon period where they mate several times an hour for days while being guarded by another male lion.
Oh and a lion came over and sat in the shadow of our friends’ jeep. The video is by Claire Walton. Our jeep missed it but it was just too amazing not to show.
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We return to our campsite in Arusha. While we are gone, Raymond has been tasked with the grocery shopping for our last dinner together. He picks up meat for a traditional South African barbecue, a braai.
We arrive back to camp in the early afternoon and spend much of the remainder of the day hanging out in tables outside the bar. A portion of the proceeds from the bar at the Snake Camp go to supporting the Camp’s charitable efforts, so we feel doubly good drinking a little for us and a little for charity.
While we drink a local kid shows up, joins the group, coming in with Nellu, and begins laughing loudly at the jokes. Raymond is disturbed by his presence and asks him what he wants. It’s clear that he came in to bum a smoke or even ask for money. He leaves.
But the situation gets me thinking again about compassion. I spoke a few weeks ago about the tension I felt in Africa because of the clear contrast between the visitors who have so much and the locals who lead far simpler lives. Raymond must be exasperated by the constant harassment he has to deal with for the job. It makes me wonder about my level of compassion (or is it empathy?). Too often I feel myself getting ruffled by encounters like these when I should give people a little more room. I’ve watched other friends on this trek engage people who bombard them for a sale, talking and laughing with the vendors when I would have simply brushed them off. Even Nellu seems to have gotten to a better place since India. When did I become so closed off?
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That night during our braai, Mazza and Raymond make an impassioned speech, asking us to tell others about the danger faced by the rhino populations of Africa, which are being poached at an alarming rate because their horns are supposedly important to eastern medicine. 203 rhinos have been found poached so far this year. (Their horns are cut off and they are left to die.) The issue has recently gotten some publicity in National Geographic and other publications. You can read more here.
Just a little more to come…