I’m ba-ack! In the States and on social media. We touched down in NYC yesterday morning before 6am. I actually slept fairly well on the flight so silly me thought that I’d just skip right past the jet lag and quickly reintegrate back into my normal routine. But, no.
Around 2pm, I could feel the drowsiness drifting in and by 7pm, I was passed out in bed. I woke up briefly at 11pm to have a slice of cheesecake before falling back asleep again at midnight. 4:30am this morning: I’m wide awake and ravenous. So before 9am even came around, I’d eaten the equivalent of lunch and dinner. I swear I’m not usually so uncouth. Jet lag works in mysterious ways.
So, my long-winded point is, it might take me just a teensy bit longer to get caught up on life than I had originally expected. You may have noticed that I was pretty MIA on here while I was overseas. Or maybe you didn’t. Well, I was. I had thought I’d at least be able to check in once in a while to respond to comments and maybe even write a quick post but due to our off-the-beaten path style of travel and resource limitations within the countries themselves, I ended up only having wireless access two of the 19 days I was gone, and only for a few minutes on each of those days. So while I was intensely focused on the activities of the trip, I lost track of most everything else. Like world events. Or the day of the week. Or the time of the day. So I am behind.
But I do want to thank everyone who commented on posts and sent me e-mails while I was away! It made me so happy to see those and I promise I will slowly but surely respond to all of them (emphasis on the slowly).
One thing I did manage to do during the trip was jot down some notes and ideas for things I want to share with you, so you can expect a lot of stories and photos in the coming weeks. But since it will be a bit before I can comb through the thousands of photos (I actually can’t even do it yet because there are so many, J has to make space for them on our computers), here’s a quick overview of the journey:
Over the three weeks, we had the opportunity to see and experience several distinct facets of East Africa. The first week was spent on a group tour with Intrepid Travel, weaving through major sites in Kenya and Tanzania for the primary purpose of seeking out and viewing wildlife. True to their word, Intrepid took us off the beaten path and on most days, we saw few (if any) other tourists as we meandered through dusty, small towns and drove through national parks gaping at animals whose natural environment, as it turns out, is not a zoo.
It seems a lot of artifacts and marketing materials associated with Africa are rendered in Earth tones, but when I think about the natural beauty of Africa, I think of green. Lush, green expanses as far as the eye can see. I’m not a religious person, but throughout the week, I was constantly reminded of heaven, Eden, and Noah’s Ark because it seems those places and concepts must have at least been partially inspired by the beauty of Africa’s flora and fauna.
Instead of staying in hotels, most nights we camped under the Africa sky: on the edge of a crater one night, by a lake on another, listening to the intimidating sounds and sometimes coming face-to-face with animals (though I missed it because I was snoring away in my tent, J tells me that spotting a giraffe walking through our campgrounds late at night- eye glinting from high above- was quite the eerie site).
After the tour, we bid our group adieu and J and I went on our own way to Zanzibar, Tanzania, an archipelago in the Indian Ocean. Zanzibar is known for its beautiful beaches and crystal clear waters and it seemed like the perfect area to vacation for a few days, basking in the sun and drifting in the sea. But while there was some of that, we discovered a place unlike any other beach town we’d ever visited. Instead of being at a resort, separated from the realities of life, our lodge was situated at the edge of a local village where daily rituals played out all around us each day.
Our last week was spent exploring Stone Town in Zanzibar, a once beautiful but now ailing UNESCO World Heritage site, and Nairobi, Kenya where we observed the mind-boggling juxtaposition of cosmopolitan developments with areas of abject poverty. Though not as fun and glamorous as going on a safari or snorkeling in pristine waters, the time we spent exploring the villages and cities were perhaps the most poignant of the entire trip; that’s where we had the meaningful interactions with locals that drew us closer to an understanding of the soul of the region.
East Africa was the right place at the right time for me. It challenged me in a myriad ways, significant and less so. It’s been a long time since I’ve been confronted with the realities and challenges of traveling through a developing nation. Much as I hate to admit it, I found many aspects mentally and physically daunting and it was a good reminder to manage my own expectations and figure out what I need to take care of myself and maintain stamina for the long journey that lies ahead.
This trip also gave me a lot of food for thought as I embark on this new phase in my life. East Africa is an area rich with life, culture and beauty and yet also rife with extraordinarily complex problems. You can’t travel in East Africa without thinking a lot about social issues and your place in the world.
I spent a lot of time during our long drives mulling over life and my responsibilities to myself and to the world at large. I’ve mentioned briefly before that I want to explore the greater potential of my travels and I spent much of this trip thinking about how I can integrate lessons learned during my journeys into my life on a deeper level and more effectively contribute to the communities that I visit. I put on my round-the-world bucket list that I definitely want to engage in a few volunteer projects while we travel but I think there’s more that I can do. I’m not quite sure what that is yet but the wheels are turning.