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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.

It’s too cute not to show you again. Our elephant side table safe at home in NYC. Photo by Eric Launder

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.

Nellu and I at a cafe in London. Photo taken by Eric Launder. Note to self: when your best friend flies across the ocean to meet you on your round-the-world journey make sure he’s in the photo next time too.

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.

~ Molly

Day 28

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.

Thanks to Christina Ungar for the photo. Back row (l-r): Bob, Claire, Line, Nellu, Me, Kristine, Janine, Andre. Front (l-r): Christina, Caroline, Chloe

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.

Nellu Mazilu

Chloe, Line, Christina, and Caroline join the Maasai women in a traditional dance. Photo by Nellu

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.

The Stucki Family. Thanks to Chloe for the picture.

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.

~ Molly

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