By Tricia Povah
I have not disappeared into the Heart of Darkness. Rather I have very slowly migrated from the mild temperatures of the massive Tanzanian mountain, to the scorching heat of the Namibian desert and finally to the lush wine country of South Africa.
One long bus ride and 2 flights brought me to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, where I was to begin my 3 week overland journey. “Overland Trip” is basically an exotic way of saying really long, bumpy, dusty, road trip across half of Africa. The truck is hard to describe, but think small semi-truck cab with a giant box built onto the back seating about 20 people.
After seeing the stunning Victoria Falls and white water rafting down class 5 rapids in the mighty Zambezi River (our raft flipped 3 times and I seriously almost drown twice), I met up w/ my overland group of 7 plus our fabulous guide and driver with whom I would be spending the next 3 weeks. The group is all Australian, save one Brit and one Irish. They LOVE to give me endless grief for being American, (which fortunately I am used to from previous travels) and have affectionately nicknamed me “America”. Sample of a typical conversation:
Me (to an Aussie): Hey, would you mind helping me w/ my tent?
Aussie: typical, America, always thinking the world revolves around you and that we should be at your beck and call.
Me: Oh for God’s sake, just help me – we’ll probably be saving your asses from something before long
Aussie: I’m sorry, I don’t think I’ll be able to help with the tent without prior U.N. approval.
Me: Well, that’s a convenient excuse for never doing ANYTHING and waiting for us to come to the rescue!
(Fits of laughter ensue, Aussie helps w/ tent)
The trip, now nearly over, has been nothing short of amazing. After Vic Falls, we spent 5 nights in Botswana (which I actually could have skipped), and 2 weeks in the absolutely stunning Namibia. Game parks, a cheetah farm, canoe trips, Fish River Canyon (the largest in the world second only to the Grand), and the renowned, massive sand dunes where we went 4 wheeling and watched the sunrise from the top of one – an experience I will never forget. The endless mysticism of the desert never ceases to fascinate.
Every night is camping, sometimes in a campground, sometimes in “the bush”, where we literally just pull off the road and sleep under the starlit African sky. I can count on one hand the days that have been under 100 degrees, and the truck has neither air conditioning nor seat belts. Campground pools tend to double as a shower, and of the nearly 3000 thousand miles we have driven, over one third has been on unpaved roads.
Despite all that, I did recently manage to get a pedicure in a town where we stopped – probably one of the only places in the country to offer such a service. I am a firm believer that femininity need not be sacrificed to qualify as a rugged outdoors adventure woman. So beneath 7 layers of dust, sweat, and a rather muddled flip-flop tan, shine perfectly polished red toe nails. I have, however, completely abandoned my hands and look forward to removing the dirt which has been a permanent fixture under my nails since I arrived in Africa.
Not all is thrilling adventure, stunning vistas, and the occassional spa treatment. As I venture further into this terra incongnita there have been terminally long days of driving (thank GOD for several Ipods on board), hot weather with little respite from the heat, and never ending dust. Still, I am absolutely fascinated by Africa. Its majesty lies not only in the scenery and wildlife but in the fascinating people I have met here.
Everyone in Africa has an interesting story to tell. I met a midwife living in the Congo working for Doctors Without Borders. A white Zimbabwean farmer whose farm was seized by the government during Mugabe’s (the tyrant) “land reform” where he seized every single white owned farm in the country without compensation.(The former farmer now makes a living clearing land mines in the Sudan). Hearing stories such as his makes it hard not to think about politics. For anyone who thinks socialism under what is effectively a single party system is a good idea should visit Zimbabwe. The effect has been devastating.
I have never felt so out of touch in all my travels as I have in Africa. I am thrilled to occassionally find a 3-week old Newsweek at the odd gas station (and have completely abandoned all hope of ever finding an Economist – my favorite magazine). Internet access has been practically non-existent, and when it appears, it is always dial-up moving at glacial speed.
Africa has been – dare I say – possibly the best trip I have ever taken and only two things are certain: I’m nowhere near ready to come home, and this will be only the first of many trips to the continent. Already I have been thinking about ways to venture back – work here for a while prosecuting war crimes? Seems there will always be a market for that.