September 30, 2013

Days 26-27 (we went forward)

There's a bridge over the Zambezi River, spanning the gorge between Zambia and Zimbabwe, that belongs to no one.  

In order to cross it, you must leave through Zimbabwe emigration, entering a span of no-man's land until you enter Zambia on the other side.  And you must go on foot.  The taxi that took us from our Zimbabwe campgrounds wasn't allowed to cross the bridge due to work permits; the same for cabs on the other end.  

STOP.  You are entering Zambia.

Traversing no-man's land with our packs and pillows

On this bridge, dampened by the mist from Victoria Falls, you are on your own.  
Which, after three weeks of living on a bus with 15 other people, was just right.  

Leaving Vic Falls was supposed to be the start of the second half of our overlanding trip- a point from which many of our cohort left the tour and others joined fresh.  But for the handful of us that were spanning both halves, it was time to break away.  The 2nd half of the organized tour was supposed to begin by returning to Chobe, Botswana for another night (for those who didn't get to go in the 1st half) before proceeding on to Zambia.  And while Chobe was indeed amazing, traveling backwards felt all too much like... well... traveling backwards.  So instead, we went forward, walking, into Livingstone Zambia for a day of respite before being re-joined by the rest.  

View of Vic Falls mist from Livingstone campsite

Walking away, literally, from the half-way blues low point of Vic Falls, Livingstone was a high point.  A feeling of freedom.  Day 1 spent idling between the pool with beers and the deck overlooking the Zambezi River.  And cooking dinner for ourselves while listening to Johnny Cash.  

The sun sets over the Zambezi

On the second night, our campsite was overrun by a charitable social rally (apparently that's a thing) called Putfoot.  It's an organization where young people (mostly South African 20-something guys) travel around the continent, occasionally putting shoes on the feet of poor African kids.  And that's all I'm really qualified to say on the matter (if even that), so the rest of judgement will be withheld.  

But they rolled into town with enthusiasm, a DJ, and a photobooth, all of which were appreciated.   

Nights when the living room was on the lawn

Feeling the freedom of (semi-)autonomous travel, I danced all night with a sorrowful Canadian manager of a phone-sex call center, who had a life back home with "[his] girl" that didn't turn into the fairy tale it should have been.  Which points to the undeniable truth that we've reached an age where the people we know and meet have been influentially shaped by the people they've loved.  Exes are no longer mere high-school sweethearts, but ghostly imprints we carry around in the atriums of our hearts. 

But the joy and untethered feelings of these days flashes back to me with any of the following songs:

- Johnny Cash "Hurt"
- Daft Punk/Pharrell Williams "Get Lucky"
- Coldplay "Paradise"
- Violent Femmes "Blister in the Sun"

All of which I've been repeating on a looping iTunes playlist since then.  Because, really, a substantial part of travel is the traveling back we do in our minds.  The flashbacks and revisits.  Recalling the days when we were who and where we wanted to be.  

September 24, 2013

Day 25 (prisms all around)

* It's been 3 days, and the BBC just changed their top story from "siege is breaking" to "more gunfire."  The situation has felt, and continues to feel, surreal at best and nightmarish at worst.  My Facebook feed looks schizophrenic.  My international friends have changed their profile pictures to a black square with a single candle flame, overlaid with KENYA in block letters.  They post memorials about friends that have died.  My American friends are still posting cat videos.  

Not much heart or energy for the Overlanding Retrospective today, but I like the idea of publishing a bit of African magic now.  So then:

June 23, 2013 was a full moon.  A full strawberry moon, to be precise.  And while there was really no good reason for me to know this, we arrived at Victoria Falls on June 22.  And all that mist (rain) that thunders up from the crush of the Falls hitting the Zambezi River?  It turns into rainbows in the right light.  Prisms all around you.  And on full moon nights, the park re-opens in the evening for full moon rainbows.  

Photo credit: Irina Chernetskaya

Photo credit: Irina Chernetskaya

Photo credit: Irina Chernetskaya

Full moon rainbows over Victoria Falls.  This world of ours is replete with unimaginable beauty and poetry.  

Which is something to hold on to in times like these.

September 23, 2013

Day 24 (smoke that thunders)

*As I type this, the hostage situation in the Westgate Mall in Nairobi is ongoing.  Halfway across the world, sitting in my new San Francisco apartment, far (in time and space) from everyone I knew in that life, it's been an intense weekend.  I feel lucky that my people are all reported to be safe.  I feel pain for those who didn't share that luck.  And, overall, I feel a deep sorrow for the way life will change for everyone in Kenya.  I went to Westgate to watch the new James Bond movie on a first date.  I went there my last week in town for goodbye drinks.  People are sharing this article as a reflection of how it feels to see this tragedy happen in our home.  This is one of those moments that becomes a defining line between the way things were and the way things will be from now on.  A "pre-9/11" type of colloquialism.  But this blog is not a platform, and I'll now return to the scheduled program while the rest of history unfolds itself:

Victoria Falls, arriving at the place I've been heading.

Photo credit: Irina Chernetskaya

Photo credit: Irina Chernetskaya

From the journal: As I write this, I'm sitting, finishing lunch and tea, at the Victoria Falls Hotel- where I likely would have stayed with a friend if he had flown out to join me, back when I put out the RFP in Swakopmund.   The patio overlooks the bridge between Zimbabwe and Zambia, and provides a view of the mist from the falls rising up above the gorge.  It looks almost like smoke from a massive fire.  Which well befits the Zimbabwe bumper stickers that read "smoke that thunders."

Smoky view from high tea

I've now been camping for 21 days, punctuated by a few scattered nights in hostels.  This is the half-way point back up to Nairobi, and the "nearly-there" mark on my way out of Africa.  Like a VIP, I'm treating myself to an expensive high-tea afternoon at the hotel.  Lunch included a side salad with edible flowers and a man asking the chef to make a special, sugar-free dessert for his wife.  To all be filed (or hashtagged) under the things we do to feel back to life as real human beings.  

I'm fancy.  And also hiding from people.  

We rolled into "town" yesterday afternoon, after which I spent nearly 4 hours, $30 on phone credit, and ran around to at least 3 different internet cafes trying to interview for a job in San Francisco.  

Vic Falls, the town.  Warthog on sidewalk.  I passed him multiple times during this job interview.

This morning, I finally went down to the Falls, expecting a tranquil bench from which to sit and meditate on the beauty of nature, or perhaps read a book.  Instead, it's an adrenaline-filled walk as you swath yourself in a plastic tarp rain coat and try to avoid spots of deluge.  The falls crash so violently into the river below that mist falls as heavily as a true tropical rainstorm.  




Vic Falls.

My camera shut down in water-logged protest about half-way through the walk, disabling my ability to record for posterity the most beautiful double rainbow I've ever seen, over a cliff-backed pool in the Zambezi gorge.  But, of course, it was all beautiful, and I remain the luckiest person I could have ever imagined becoming.  

Photo credit: Irina Chernetskaya

As a half-way point, Victoria Falls was a psychological mindswirl.  Many of our overlanding crew (including most people I knew and liked) left the team, and others joined.  New truck, new team leader, new crew, new seatmate.  As a self-identify resistor of change, such wealth of newness sunk me into some halfway blues, a low reflective of the Falls' high.

Gazing down into the swirling abyss.  

The halfway blues.  Yes, I'm pretty sure that's a real thing.  As is the patience and understanding of other good people who let me experience my wallow without judgement.  Thanks for that.  

September 18, 2013

Day 22 (Check them all)


I mean...  Leopard!  I saw a leopard!  Big 5 complete!  First sentence in journal reads, "New best day"!

Today is a day of more pictures, fewer words.  Clever and coherent sentences are hard on a Sunday night before a daunting week of work (incidentally, also hard on a Tuesday night when I'm finally getting around to finishing this post).

Our morning began with a boat safari down the Chobe River, Botswana on our left, the Namibian panhandle on our right.  My expectations for a $35 boat safari were inchoate at best and rather low in reality, but it's one of the best safaris I've done to date.

The space between countries

We sat on the top deck with our feet up, in the sun, as we pulled up next to pods of hippos eating breakfast and lolling in the mud.

Nom nom nom


Gahh!  Hippo unrest!  Fly, bird, fly!

We saw crocodiles sunning themselves on the banks and then slithering into the water with a simple tail swoosh and flick when we got too close.

This is exactly what I want to do with my time on sunny days

Elephant families drinking water with babies, and one who swam across the river in front of us, with his trunk as a snorkel.

Quality family time


Birds, monitor lizards, buffalo, antelope, sun.  We all met the day together, on a river, in the melted-butter morning light of southern Africa.

Back to camp for a quick shower, lunch, and packing up the tents.

Into the great, wide Chobe

Then a game drive into the bush for our third (after Spitzkoppe and Okavango) complete wilderness overnight in Chobe National Park.  During which we saw a leopard!!  Oh, did I mention that I saw a leopard?  Crossing the road?  Right in front of our truck?  Back-spraying his urine between his legs to mark his territory?  No?  Oh, well that's what I saw.  Big 5- check them all off the list.

Crossing the road

Pretty close to the best leopard sighting you'll ever get on safari

Also some kissing antelope

And the babiest baby elephant ever seen (pink feet)

The safari sun sets over a river of gold

And later that night, around a big campfire of tree trunks and branches decimated by elephants scratching their hides, sharing stories and a bottle of red wine with the best kind of Australians.

At peace.

And finally, sleeping warm and snug, as elephants an honey-badgers prowl the grounds.

September 4, 2013

Days 20-21 (walk of snails)

Left the Okavango in the familiar, early-morning routine of shoving everything that's yours into a bag you can carry on your back.  These weeks and months, we are a veritable walk of snails.  
(That's right, collective noun lovers, look it up.)

Only this particular morning, we packed our shells into boats before unloading and repacking into the bus on dry land.   


Feeling either threatened or preemptively nostalgic, a rogue hippo chased our boats out of his territory, rising out of the water to bare his teeth and snap his jaws.  

Goodbye, Delta

And after that, more driving.  Day 21 was a cranky, snappy day for everyone on the bus.  Frazzled in a way not even a bonus trivia Super Quiz could contain.  But if it took us three weeks to reach this point, I can't help but feel that's a success.