Monthly Archives: February 2010

The Juxtaposition of Existing and Living: Memoirs of My Journey to Africa: Part V

The flight over to Phinda was excruciatingly torturous – a two passenger plane that could barely fit me, my husband, and the overly plump pilot and his scrawny co-pilot sidekick.  Not being able to hide the horror on my face, I continuously attracted the attention of the pilot as he seemed to think that by turning around –- diverting his attention from the airy abyss that was swallowing us whole —  and cracking some “look no hands” joke would make me feel all better inside.  I also came to the conclusion that our brawny pilot must have been using his powerful legs to jump jet streams Flintstone-style as the icy air and turbulence caused a perturbing stiffening throughout my entire anxiety ridden body.

Finally we began to descend and I did the only thing I knew that would keep me from focusing on crashing planes — I closed my eyes and sang repetitively — “Everything’s gonna be alright” from the lyrics of Bob Marley’s No Woman Cry. Touchdown was so smooth that I barely knew we landed and I felt like a jerk for hating the talented pilots who so effortlessly traversed the sky in such a diminutive concoction.  Like a knight in shining armor, the pilot offered his hand as I jumped out and into a warm subtropical sanctuary.  We thanked him for delivering us to a new paradise and headed off to find our guide.

Although we were still in South Africa, the landscape was dramatically different and pleasurably clement.  Once again, we were greeted by one of the andBeyond staff members named Richard.  He informed us that he would be our ranger over the next six days during our stay at the Phinda Forest lodge.  Charismatic and witty, Richard began telling us about the phenomenal sand forest we would be living in, along with its intrusive vervet monkeys that were notorious for stealing the meals of guest and providing a soothing lullaby of drumbeats on rooftops all throughout the night.

As we drove to the lodge, I was astounded by the variety of ecosystems we traveled through in only 45 minutes.  Vast floodplains set against a back drop of rocky hillsides cloaked in an abundance of plant life. A massive crater hid a secret garden of somnolent waters, enchanting fauna, and imperiled creatures. Subtropical woodlands of lala palm, marula, bushwillow, and terminalia trees leading into a mythical sand forest whose floor was that of the oceans’ millions of years ago, all interspersed within the magnificent reserve.  It was quintessential, glorifying, and so Out of Africa.

Upon arrival we were greeted with a traditional welcome drink, but this time it was a refreshing glass of mango juice to cool down from the Sun’s intense rays.  A woman named Eunice walked us through narrow windy paths confined by tall lichen- ridden trees that led to an open-air lobby.  We were introduced to a petite, spunky young woman named Seranne who identified herself as the camp manager.  A brief overview of the lodge was given and then we were escorted to our room.  As we followed Eunice, a sequestered world unfolded right before our eyes.  Tiny deer-like creatures called duiker scampered inches from our feet, stoic Nyala grazed at every turn, playful monkeys swung from treetops overhead, and brilliantly colored birds sang boisterously from the swaying canopy.  There was something about the warmth meshing with the gentle breeze and the fragrance of the forest that was so invigorating.  I felt as though I was on another universe — one that was perfectly molded  —  its beauty untouched and life unscathed.

Eunice brought us to our villa which was elevated on stilts for privacy and optimal game viewing.  We entered, and once again were completely taken back by the tasteful minimalist glass wall bedroom and exquisite eggshell soaking tub, dual sinks, and carved stone rain-shower in the bathroom.  The room was almost enticing enough for us to lie down for an afternoon nap but we could not resist the urge to explore the forest and prepare for the game drive.  And so we wandered and discussed our plans to visit the local Zulu tribe, searched for a variety of animals endemic to the forest, pondered over whom we would meet throughout our stay, and continued to obliviously meander until daylight began to fade and dust slowly set in.


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The Juxtaposition of Existing and Living: Memoirs of My Journey to Africa: Part Four

Feeling the safety of the still ground beneath me as I hopped off the land cruiser, I slowly began to feel the adrenaline leak from my body as the cold surreptitiously seeped in. Nights in Kruger seemed frigid compared to the warm sun-kissed days, and I was beginning to wonder if I would wake up with pale blue frost- bitten limbs from a night in our non-heated jumbo hut. The dry, crisp air was filled with the wintery incense of burning wood, a sure sign that our boma dinner was about to convene. Under an starry sky, a rural fortress of tall sticks enclosed a rustic dining area of long beautifully dressed tables, caldron fire pits, illuminated acacia trees, and an impressive buffet displaying authentic African fare.

I was immediately drawn to the spitting flames as I drew my body as close to the small blaze as possible without baking my organs or singeing my eyelashes. The guests and rangers were beginning to trickle in, all gravitating to the glowing fiery swirls as they rubbed their hands profusely using the heat and friction to warm their cold bodies. Nothing seemed more appropriate than a robust glass of red wine and an enthusiastic toast to compliment the outrageous evening we had all just shared. Once our muscles gave way to the warming stimulation of a glass of Constantia, an outbreak of personal stories began to flow as fast as the fragrant butternut squash being poured into our porcelain bowls. Tales of past safaris, trips to the Orient, Middle East and Europe, political debates and constant questioning about how my husband and I remained US citizens throughout little Bush’s administration fueled hours of insightful conversation. Although we barely knew one another, the experience we had shared just hours before had created an instantaneous friendship that seemed to link us somewhere in the midst of nowhere from scattered origins across an expansive globe. To make things even more memorable, the staff performed a traditional tribal dance of powerful, upbeat, melodious song which flowed in tune with the passionate, rhythmic whirls of light-hearted choreography to end the evening in congruity with a spectacular day.

With the dawn of each life-breathing sunrise the beauty of the dry vast landscape became one with the ebb and flow of my inner being.  Majestic creatures roamed free, allowing a glimpse of a world that so few ever really understand and respect. Witnessing the compassion of an elephant matriarch nurturing and defending her adopted young, or watching a lioness leading her pride through a laborious hunt, or gazing as Cape buffalo court one another through hysterical facial expressions, could only be described as mythical. It was as if this completely separate, fascinating world existed unscathed and isolated.

It is hard to describe the kind of attachment one can form to such a dynamic place. I fell in love with the tick of nature’s clock, living the way humans were meant to live. Copious amounts of sunlight, breathing unenclosed oxygen, and stopping to observe the tiny enigmas that in a very unexpected way, made me feel so completely whole. I knew with an unquestioning instinct that this was the way our species was supposed to exist– a part not apart — from the natural world, as caretakers not destroyers of the one planet we have to call home.

As my husband and I left for the airstrip I leaned on him searching to be consoled. I did not want to leave as I knew a part of me would always be searching for the peace I had found here. I knew that more good was to come in our next excursion to a rare sand forest, but it was unbearable for me to think that I would most likely never again see the people we came to know as friends. Tears streaming down my face, I said goodbye to Exeter and Sabi Sands taking in a gulp of sweet air. It was time to move on to the next part of our journey, and to become acquainted with a different Africa; one of unforgiving circumstances and astounding beauty.

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In the Heart of a Small Town…

Cozy in bed, already fed, with visions of croissants dancing in my head. “Oh why, oh why, did I not stop at that cozy little bakery on Main Street instead?”

Nestled in the heart of Cranbury, NJ lies an adorable little French café and bakery that promises to treat all who visit. With its Victorian charm and intimate seating, The Blue Rooster is sure to please any pastry loving, organic “slow food” appreciating, artisan craving, foodie. Indulgence is the name of the game in this kitchen, whether it is a freshly baked decadent cupcake or a bowl of warm moist oatmeal, the result is the same: blissful delectation.

When I visit the Blue Rooster (which used to be EVERY Saturday and Sunday) I prefer to go for breakfast and begin my carb fest early, so that I have the rest of the day to make an assiduous attempt at taking the recommended 10,000 steps needed to stay lean and aerobically sound. My order would usually consist of a warm, buttery, apricot walnut scone with clotted cream to slather on, two creamy organic eggs with a side of handmade–soft on the inside, crispy on the outside bread, and a pot of Three Flower Burst tea. My husband would order the villainously delectable chocolate pancakes or cinnamon sprinkled brioche French toast, as I would shift his fork to the side to sneak in some satisfying bites . Once finished and bellies distended, we go for the knockout and order a perfectly golden, airy and light, kissed by Parisians, croissant. I can say no more because to talk about this sacred bread would be a sin and I certainly do not want to be guilty of exploitation. The most enticing part of this quaint home away from home is the variety of season appropriate specials available with each new visit.

Only love could have created such a harmonious marriage of food and ambiance, and indeed the sweet couple behind it all spends their time making customers feel like guests; comfortable and welcome. Bob and Karen Finigan lived in Ireland for several years as Bob vigorously studied the culinary art of bread making, while Karen worked at Trinity College helping people build small businesses from the ground up. Passion is what has crafted The Blue Rooster into one of the most loved and appreciated eateries in the Princeton area. A common ground for people to come together to catch up over a cappuccino, laugh through the sweetness of a homemade brownie, or simply sit by the fire on a cold night and enjoy the smells, tastes, and sounds of this delightful little nook in the heart of a small town.

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The Juxtaposition of Existing and Living: Memoirs of My Journey to Africa: Part Three

As we circled towards the runway I could see the open-top Land cruisers waiting by the strip.  I closed my eyes as we approached and was jerked with a “bump!” as we touched down.  “Thank freakin God” I thought to myself as I quickly gathered all my gear and bid “adieu” to the tiny plane.  Stepping onto the sandy savanna in search of our vehicle, we realized our new destination resembled no part of the world we left.  We were in remote wilderness encompassed in nature’s raw, fascinating world as low man on the food chain.  Once again the crisp air consumed me; its sweetness seemed to adjust the serotonin levels in my brain to “blissful aura”.  I was in a state of shock, feeling so far from home yet never closer.

A smiling African man with an eccentrically beautiful accent was waiting with an Exeter River Lodge sign to escort us to the lodge.  We boarded the vehicle and bundled up as the whipping wind pounced at our faces once we started cruising through the rugged terrain.  Our guide told us to take out our camera in preparation for animal sightings.   “Animal sightings!” was I ready to see a lion or a cyclopean herd of elephants?  “Yes, yes”.  I reasoned with myself that I was fully capable of handling this; that all would be just fine if I kept my hands in the vehicle and did not stand or rock in my seat.  “Wait, were those instructions for safari or “It’s a Small World”?


I saw our guide point to the right towards a herd of tawny, sleek antelope that harmoniously scattered using their agile frames to navigate through the thorny bush.  It was like witnessing a poetic dance between kin on an elusive stage.

We pulled up to the lodge and were greeted by the kind Exeter staff with some warm hot chocolate. The genuine welcome of each person that passed by radiated a sense of comfort and calm that was unexplainable.    Our luggage was taken and we were escorted to the common area of the lodge.  This alcove was an open air pavilion built on a hill overlooking the arid bush.  Breakfast was offered as a way to ease into our morning and enjoy the sights and sounds of Africa.  A man named Ronnie introduced himself as our porter.  Tall and thin with a contagious laugh and boyish smile, Ronnie, was just the person I wanted to get to know and understand during our stay at this magical place.  We ordered omelets and some honeybush tea and headed over to a spread of fresh fruits, breads, yogurt, and homemade jams.  I could not help but feel utterly blessed as I ate with my husband and absorbed the operatic songs of birds as they exposed psychedelic colored wings fluttering through the wiry branches, the vista of elephant lazily grazing in the distance, and baboons foraging through the tall spiny grass.

A short plump man named Oscar approached our table waking us from a deep state of contemplation by offering to show us the grounds and our room.  We gratefully obliged as we carried our hot tea and camera bag.  The area where guests could roam was fairly small due to the security issue of sharing space with ferocious man-eating carnivores.  There was a 24 hour surveillance kept by the staff and trackers, but who really wanted to test the obedience of our bad tempered “guests?”

“Now before we enter your room I want to assure you that the window will be replaced later this afternoon.”

“Um why would our window need to be replaced?” I blurted.

“Well yesterday a few baboons got in because the door was left unlocked and mistook the window as a point of exit while we chased them with sticks”, Oscar said hesitantly.

“They can turn the handle!?” my husband shouted.

“Oh yes, very easily, but don’t worry, if you lock the door you should have no problem at all.”

“Fantastic” my husband slurred sarcastically.

As Oscar swayed the door to our temporary abode, my mouth slowly widened with each glance of the large space.  The room was like a palatial oasis with a king size bed, living area, stand-alone tub, and dual rainshower heads that stood completely open facing a glass wall that looked out to the savanna.  Rewind to the beautiful glass wall and insert shattered glass wall.

Wow! That baboon must have been quite a big primate” I said

“He was definitely determined to leave and I can assure you that he will not be back” replied Oscar. “Your game drive will begin shortly so you may want to change and get settled before leaving…oh and remember to lock your door”.

“Oh right!” my husband and I said simultaneously as we ran to chain every possible nut and bolt available.

The afternoon game drives began at 4:00 pm just in time to soak in the last bit of sunlight and catch the memorizing sunset.  We were introduced to our ranger Ryan, and tracker, Phickson, both having cowboy written all over their adventure- seeking faces, and two couples: one from Dubai the other from Dublin.   Once the sun had exchanged places with the moon, the bush turned into a maze of open, low running rivers inhabited with agitated Hippos, dry sand beds, scrubby bush, and open grasslands.  It was in these grasslands that we met our first pride of lions.  Driving like a crazed man, Ryan was sure that these animals were stalking their dinner.  Shuttering out of my skin a rush of fear and dread ran through my veins as we pulled alongside the pride and the Impala that had just been slain.  All at once the pride began ripping the helpless creatures into shreds no more than 5 feet from the vehicle.  I turned away but I could not block the booming roars, daunting growls and putrid odor of fresh blood permeating the air.  Deep in a feeding frenzy, the lions fought one another for food, interlocking in a flesh stripping embrace tearing with knifelike claws pushing their weight around to exert dominance.   They paced furiously around the vehicle, only inches from us, searching for prey to quench their veracious appetite.

I wanted to cry, scream, and run in every different direction but everyone else seemed to be having a grand ole’ time calm as a clam, snapping away and cheering the carnivores on.  I felt as though I was watching one of those gory Discovery Channel documentaries on the hunting patterns of the night prowler; the kind of programming that causes instant perspiration and nausea.  The feeding seemed to last eons as I would slowly allow a sliver of light to pass through my cupped hands exposing an eyeball to the fiasco in front of me.  The more I peeked the more I became tempted to free my eyes as my adrenaline pumped and curiosity stirred.  The sheer size and strength of these magnificent beasts was humbling and in a very strange way I was completely intrigued.

Finally the lions began to wean off the carcass and starting coming dangerously close-our cue to leave if we wanted to keep all limbs intact.  Ryan escorted us back to lodge as we all screamed and ranted about the experience we had just had.

“Brilliant!” “Fascinating”! “Surreal!” “Sexy!”

We all stopped at the disturbing comment from the dirty-minded Irishman and dropped our heads to keep the mounds of laughter from piling out.  I phased out for a moment as I looked up at the perfectly transparent black sky to the Sothern Cross.  The same constellation I had starred at from the plane, only this time I was here, I was in Africa, living it, breathing it, embracing it and for the first time in a long time I felt so alive.

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Valentine Apoplexy

Valentine’s Day is a complex anomaly as it provides lovers an excuse to indulge in ethereal pleasures under the spell of candlelight, roses, and chocolate while the single curse Saint Valentine for having the tenacity to challenge Claudius’s “no marriage for single men” law, therefore getting him killed and canonized.  I find I fall under neither of these categories as I feel this day of love is just a way for vendors to bludgeon hard earned money from your delicate pockets without you feeling a single ounce of pain until you wake from your coma of love one week later. Don’t get me wrong, my husband and I still celebrate, but use it more as a  justification to find a Michelin Star restaurant to splurge on –which is exactly what we did this year and ended up with a Valentine apoplexy.

It all started with brunch.  Our plan was to check into the hotel, drop off our luggage, and head to New York City (I refuse to stay in NYC because of the constant screaming of sirens and horns all night long.)  As we neared our destination a tumultuous grumbling filled the car.  It was way past our morning feeding time, so we decided it would be best to head straight to Public for a euphoric breakfast.  Our minds saturated with visions of coconut pancakes and granola with raw manuka honey clogged any clear brainwaves that should have alarmed us to the fact that NY was just abominated by snow.  As we drove through the gray slush my husband thought it would be best to drop me off so that I could put my name on the waiting list.

Upon entering I was impressed with the clever mix of urban chic and earthy undertones, but could have done without the snobbish attitude of the hostess. The restaurant had just opened and was completely empty, but she refused to seat me because my other party member was not present.  I tucked my claws away and headed to the bar hoping that a cup of coffee might calm me down.  I ordered while continuing to admire the fun décor and contemplating the possibility of an evening rendezvous with friends.  My coffee came and it was bitterly dreadful.  The intention was not to order a drink that could sprout hair on my chest, but simply to enjoy a good ole wholesome cup of Joe.  Strike one!

As I waited for my husband, I read news reports on Haiti and immediately felt guilty for not keeping their loss at the forefront of my thoughts during the past week. I looked up from my Blackberry for a moment and noticed that ONE HOUR had gone by!!  I dialed my husband and politely asked why he had left me starved and all alone for one hour.  A rush of profanities gushed through the sound waves and hit my ear like a grenade.  “Oh honey, I am so sorry,” I said, “Why don’t we just forget this place, grab something at Whole Foods and park the car as we planned.”  My husband was having none of it and insisted that he would be able to find a parking garage if he traveled toward the West side.

As I scanned the restaurant I noticed all the empty tables were now filled with ravenous hung over 20 and 30 somethings trying to soothe their headaches with poached eggs and passion fruit Bellini’s.  The room started to spin and my dormant ADHD kicked in.  My bottom was sore and my stomach screamed through hollow echoes of gastronomical sighs.  It was becoming the morning from hell and to make things worse the pretentious hostess was snickering at me with one of her little devilish minions.

After an hour and a half of waiting my husband finally showed up.  Fast forwarding through our conversation of whining, complaining, and overall hatred of a morning that was supposed to be a heavenly food experience to –the FOOD.  We chose this particular place because it was rated the “Best Brunch in NY” and because it was awarded the Oscar of the culinary stage- a Michelin Star.  Our order consisted of granola, yogurt, manuka honey and summer berries (never saw the berries and the minuscule serving of yogurt barely even wet the granola), coconut pancakes with fresh ricotta, mango salad, and ginger-lime syrup (never saw the mango and the ginger-lime syrup belonged on grilled shrimp not pancakes), finishing with poached eggs slapped on a piece of dry bread accompanied by greasy mushrooms and a lonely roasted tomato.  I will not go on with this torture; I will just say that this restaurant was obviously providing the weeks leftovers at Saturday night prices.

On our 20-minute walk across town to the car I slowly began to understand the trials and tribulations of the Eskimo. The gelid, unforgiving wind ripped across my face as swarms of tourists, Valentine fanatics, and big men with small dogs plowed into me.  When we finally reached the car I felt as if I had suffered a stroke, losing all movement of bodily parts from the mind- numbing cold.  I was so relieved to be going to the hotel where I could take a steamy shower, change into comfy clothes and lie down for a nap before a fabulous dinner.

Check in went smoothly as we beat the afternoon rush of tourists looking to spend their romantic weekend in the Big Apple.  We headed up to the room and were surprised at the icy temperature upon entering.  I cranked up the heat to a blazing 80 degrees and hopped into bed to warm up.  After approximately ten minutes I felt as though I was lying in an ice block.  My husband confirmed that the air coming out was cold and called down to the front desk.  “They’ll be here asap” he said, “but you might want to put on some extra layers in the meantime.”  I could tell he was referring to my Rudolph nose, blue lips, and chattering teeth.  As every profanity know to mankind ran through my mind, I doubled my attire, wrapped a scarf around my neck, and put on the only hat I had — a blue knit pull-on with a puffy polyester ball atop.  “This is ridiculous! I want to go home” I shouted to my husband.

“Let’s just wait till they get here and see what maintenance has to say.”

“Fine” I replied as a there was a knock on the door.

“Hello, I am Carlos, I’m just gonna check your unit.”  The rest of the conversation between Carlos and my husband sounded like a script from the peanut gallery until I heard the words, “Oh this is not so good, no no not berry good at all.”

“What?” I said in panic.

“This unit is berry broken we must move you to another room.”

More and more profanity but this time I think I was spewing words out loud.

We moved to another room and wouldn’t you know that unit was broken as well!  More and more profanity came as I later had to apologize to St. Valentine for my obscenities.  By the time things were figured out we had to head out to dinner. No hot shower, no nap, no pretty V-day outfit or reapplied make-up,  just rush, rush, and more rush.

Café Boulud is the casual version of Daniel, New York’s premier restaurant in French cuisine.  Daniel Boulud is the dream child of these innovative, sexy, decadent eateries and he gets what French foodies want.  The misery of the day seemed like a muddled nightmare with one taste of the foie gras and complementary truffled risotto balls.  My main course of poached main halibut, puy lentils, brussel sprouts, gala apples, and crispy bacon in a sauce diablo was sublime!  The halibut crumbled like a mound of soft confectioners’ sugar; pure white, delicate, incredibly flavorful, and comforting in the way French food should be.  To end this beautiful meal I needed something decadent, something devilishly sweet, something CHOCOLATE.  The molten lava cake was a gooey, warm, ridiculously offensive chocolate cake.  Paired with a creamy dollop of Tahitian vanilla ice cream, there is truly no better dessert anywhere on earth.

Although our Valentine’s celebration was not quite what we had planned, in the end the comfort of traditional recipes that people ate the very same way hundreds of years ago brought us the very same comfort ( jazzed up, priced up, and Michelin stared up) today.  It was the purity and freshness of the food that reawakened my senses, released all tension, and allowed me to refocus on all the beautiful blessings in my life. So tonight, on this evening of love, take time to say those three magic words to the ones most deserving; the special people that make Valentine’s Day, every day.

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The Juxtaposition of Existing and Living: Memoirs of My Journey to Africa: Part Two

Upon arrival in Johannesburg I began to feel the voodoo of jetlag possess my body.  I was sure that I had a blood clot in my leg and that I had contracted a scalp infection from the seat head rest.  My husband assured me that it was just my usual sleep-deprived crankiness that was making me feels so shoddy.  I concurred reluctantly and pressed on to the gate where a staff member from the tour company was scheduled to greet us.  The gate gave one the sense of being a rock star amidst a barricaded crowd of anxious fans.  Hundreds of people were shouting out names and holding up signs as they pushed and shoved one another against the bars that confined them.  My eyes traversed the vines of swaying people in search of RUSSO scribbled on a manila card but the closest I could find was Rossol.  I had decided that if our tour man did not show up we would simply go with the bloke who was clenching the Rossol card and tell him that their company had made a terrible spelling error.

“Howszit!” Like an angel that had transcended from a “Where’s Waldo” fantasy, a small, beedie eyed, South African man appeared before us.  “Howspit” I replied (did I actually just say “HowSPIT”? I had practiced Afrikaan so many times!).  “Welcome to South Africa folks”.  He handed us a muddy-colored leather-bound journal, an envelope of transportation vouchers, and a clever looking, beige messenger bag.  “Follow me” and so we obeyed and followed the man to our next destination: The Intercontinental Airport Hotel.

Winding about the turnstile doors as I exited the airport, a blast of cool air struck my face and exposed extremities.  It was 7:30 in the morning and the magnificent African Sun was beginning to thaw the chilled ground below.  I inhaled deeply filling my lungs with an unfamiliar, but pleasurable floral scent of the city’s air.  I closed my eyes for a moment tilting my face toward the brilliant sunlight and smiled; the pain from my blood clot and scalp infection subsiding.

The Intercontinental was the most superior airport hotel I had ever stepped foot in.  Soothing white marble walls illuminated stunning ash-colored African art accented by sheer, flowing curtains whispered relaxation throughout.  We checked in, bathed under a heavenly rainshower spout, and changed into comfortable clothing.  After feeling starved from the miniscule, rubbery, non-edible material the airline introduced as food, I felt it was the appropriate time to gorge myself in African cuisine.  The chefs created a meticulous spread of exotic fruits, porridges, cured meats, cheeses, raw honey, and beautifully sculpted pastries.  I ate till I could no longer lift my fork from the fatigue of shoveling so much food to my mouth.  I lugged my jetlagged, bloated body up to the glass encased rooftop pool and settled down for an afternoon nap.

The next morning we boarded a very small aircraft en route to Sabi Sands within Kruger National Park.  At this point I could not contain the concoction of elation, trepidation, and titillation that was circulating through every inch of my safari- seeking self.  The moment I had been dreaming of for the past eight months was finally about to arrive.  The jet soared down the runway and projected gracefully into a stunning wild blue yonder.  As I peered out the window I could see the bustling city of Joburg slowly fade as we entered a foreign world of stark sand dunes, arid savannas, and stunningly desolate plains.  I clenched my husband’s hand; a gesture stating that we were experiencing something awesome together.

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The Juxtaposition of Existing and Living: Memoirs of My Journey to Africa

Globe-trotting 19 hours in a combustible, tin, bird-like structure was never a feat I was willing to undertake. I’ve always enjoyed traveling, and have nothing against flying short distances; it was just the thought of levitating half way around the world with no intermission to greet the ground that was slightly perturbing.

Three years ago my husband and I ran into some old friends at a local Starbucks. We got to talking and learned that they had just returned from a trip to Botswana.  Two lattes and a cupcake later, I was dreaming about Africa.  That night I stealthily stalked their Facebook page and rummaged through the photographs of their journey. Images of vast golden plains dotted with magnificent herds of herbivores living among the formidable “Big Five” became the most spectacular landscape I had ever laid eyes on.  These raw photos jolted an addiction that has been the root of my travel-fiend existence ever since.  And so began the process of booking a trip to Africa.

My husband and I purchased every possible “Complete African Safari Planner” available, and set to work.  Any free moment was spent in rumination over which country to travel to, what biodiversity to see, and the crucial decision of where to stay.

South Africa out bid the other countries based on its appeal of “A World in One Country” and the “developing” nation status.  This was going to be our first time traveling to a different hemisphere and we wanted to be reassured that there would be running water, post medieval means of communication, and standard medical care just in case we were to lose an eye to a baboon (I’ll get to the baboons later).

Choosing the tour company took five grueling months.  It became a constant negotiation between my husband and the agents on how many nature reserves we could visit without spending a year’s mortgage payment.  We considered Abercrombie and Kent, Micato, andBeyond, Africa Adventure Company, and Ker and Downey.  All are top luxury tour companies, but andBeyond won out due to their special rates, superior service, and exclusive lodges that lie nestled in remote wilderness.

As the trip grew closer panic began to set in.  We scheduled several inoculation appointments, and filled our anti-malarial/cipro prescriptions.  Then there was the surfeit of vitamins, bug spray, khaki clothing, first aid equipment, and sunscreen.  Each time I approached the checkout counter the register sounded like nails lacerating a chalkboard that were just waiting to slide down into my pocket to slash it open.  Nightly visits to the US Dept. of Travel website soothed my anxiety as I would read and reread the phrases “Food and water are generally safe, and a wide variety of consumer goods and pharmaceuticals are readily available.”

I reasoned that this trip was to be an experience of a lifetime, one that would become a transcendental revelation in the way I viewed the world, so all the preparation and nervousness would be completely worth it.  Travel had been at the forefront of our existence since all the other aspects of our lives were completely and dreadfully mundane. Each experience introduced us to extrinsic cultures and places opening our proverbial world to the possibilities of a life spent uncovering earth’s most intriguing venues.  I was sure that Africa would reawaken my soul, and it did.

The night before our departure was spent tossing and turning between REM cycles filled with nightmares of lions mauling me and planes plunging into large bodies of water.  I remember waking up and looking out the window to a blackened sky absorbing a palette of crimson, coral, and amethyst hues.  It was a memorizing sunrise that put my restless body at ease; I was sure it was a sign of the magnificent journey ahead.  After showering, dressing in my most comfortable North Face sweats, and dabbing a bit of concealer on the purple circles under my eyes, I was off to JFK.

The moment of truth had arrived.  I was about to board a beast of a plane comprised of three massive engines and a wingspan that would put any wandering albatross to shame.  It was truly a magnificent flying apparatus and I felt quite privileged to be spending the next 19 hours with it. The South African Airways crew was friendly and very accommodating even to common economy folk like myself.

My husband and I had two isolated seats so there were no possibilities of being next to a screaming child or snoring adult.  The seats seemed spacious, but only time would tell if there was truly enough room for proper blood flow and stretching.  A traditional international travel packet was distributed complete with an eye cover, toothbrush and toothpaste, and a very red pair of socks.  The saving grace was the petite television screens built into the head rests.  I felt calm, confident, and ready to become intoxicated.  I would have approximately 28 minutes till departure, just enough time for some down to business drinking.  I figured what better way to enjoy the flight than not to remember it at all?

“Sweetie?”  My mind was in slow motion.  A slurred resonance of chimes rolled through my brain.  I could feel something wet on my chin.  “Sweetie?”  “Please stop Sister Mary I am not the choir singing kind of girl.” “Sweetie!”  I awoke abruptly to my husband’s lips at my ears.  “Sweetie, you’re drooling.” “Oh, sorry.”  I felt terrible that I had become that gross passenger that I detest.

“Where are we?”, I asked him.  “Not sure, but you can see the Southern Cross to your right out the window.”  My heart raced as I looked out into a starry abyss.  I shuttered at the sight of the Southern Cross and felt tears welling up in my eyes.  My eyes shot to the tracking map on my TV screen and saw that we were leaving Botswana heading straight for Joburg.  I was in Africa!  Glued to the magnificent celestial vista I wanted to spend every moment of the last hour and a half of our flight entranced by the brilliant Milky Way and the idea that Africa lie waiting for me.

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