Thursday, August 18, 2011

Words failed me

Avoid the final picture in this post if you are soft-hearted or squeamish..
It was hard to blog from Africa because internet access was at first nonexistent, then intermittent, and never powerful enough to post photographs. There was so much I wanted to say that I ended up saying nothing.

A very quick summary of two weeks in Africa with Owen:

Jamie Oliver is correct: Township food is better than much American food.
We started the trip in Johannesburg, where we ate stewed tripe, beans, and cornmeal porridge in a restaurant in Soweto, which was a highlight for me. Not the tripe, Soweto. Owen had no idea what it meant, but he was an excellent sport.

Mandela House
We flew to Zambia and drove through brushy countryside that looked like I had expected Africa to look, in both good and difficult ways. The border crossing/ferry to Botswana was exactly how I'd expected Africa to be, but only in the difficult ways. At our Okavango Delta camp (it bore no relation to camping, but it is called a camp) we saw cheetahs, zebras, giraffes, kudu and warthogs, and had a close encounter with a baboon. It was altogether magical.

Then we moved to the Chobe River.

Multiply by 1000.
The Chobe River is crocodile infested and let's not forget the water snakes. Here, I ate curried warthog. Here, Owen fell ill.  Here, I realized I would rather not travel than stay in hotels where I don't want to touch the doorknobs. I am ashamed that I am like that, but too old to pretend. Despite seeing many handsome elephants and hippos, plus sinister crocodiles and horrifying water snakes, this was the nadir of the trip.

Then, our luck changed and held. Owen recovered and at Victoria Falls he beat me at chess. I've seldom seen him more pleased with himself.  Monkeys tried to get into the room and I saw a hippo swim by at sunset. Victoria Falls is indescribable, so I won't even try.

This does not begin to capture it. 
But while we saw a lot of magnificent sights and animals throughout the journey, it was not until we arrived at a place called Londolozi that we began to understand how it all fit together -- the thorny trees, the rockpiles, the many and varied creatures. Our ranger here knew everything about the animals' sagas so you weren't just seeing cookie cutter leopards, you were seeing specific leopards. You were seeing specific lions, from specific prides and coalitions with noble and ignoble histories, lions involved in epic clashes and Shakespearean power struggles. It was a lesson in the power of narrative. We sat at dusk in a jeep, shivering and watching three enormous lions do absolutely nothing, and I think we would have sat there all night just to hear the ranger tell their stories.

This is the one part of the trip -- Londolozi -- that I think my husband and daughter would have loved.

But they're not into animals and they didn't want to go to Africa. I respect that. I also think they're a little crazy.

The most memorable African meal 


  1. now THAT'S a trip. what food did you most crave upon returning?

  2. Trip of a lifetime! Magnificent.

  3. So amazing. Good for you for going. We need to get better at being okay with splitting the family vacations like that.
    I'm glad that was as low as the nadir got. And welcome back!

  4. lovely once again, thanks TB.

  5. Wow. Quite a change from your usual post, but very interesting! You'll always remember this and so will Owen!

  6. Welcome back! I could go for some venison right now.

  7. Sounds amazing! Love the last picture!

    We just returned from a trip to Yellowstone where we witnessed a similar sight involving a bear, some wolves, and a couple elk. I expected my vegetarian daughter to be competely grossed out; instead she took it all in and has nearly renounced her vegetarian ways.

    Thanks for sharing!

  8. Hi Tipsy, what an incredible summer you've had. From Somerset to Soweto with the photos and stories to prove it. So wonderful that you could share with both your daughter and your son.

  9. Wow! One thing I'm always struck by when you post about travel- Owen is growing up with such cool and unique memories. The most exotic trip I ever went on as a kid was Canada, and even that was a big enough deal for me that the memory is still vivid. Your kids will have memories and experiences not just of wide travel, but of challenging foods that most kids would be too afraid to try, and farm-like experiences that most kids will only ever encounter in books.

  10. what a great trip...I don't know if I will ever have the guts to travel to Africa--looking forward to seeing more pictures if you have time to post although I know that no picture can do justice to beauty on that grand scale. Owen is a lucky camper--glad he wasn't sick for long (actually one of my biggest fears is my kid getting sick in a foreign country--a friend's daughter had emergency appendectomy in Malaysia--we joked with Sophie that we were going to have hers removed prophylactically before our trip)Glad you are back ;)