Thursday, November 18, 2010

Unexpected


In just about six weeks, I’m going to Tanzania. The trip – which has been planned for some months now – is all about the African bush. This will be my 3rd trip to Africa and it is to be the first trip where I did not get sidetracked by other things – like culture, beautiful oceans, or history.

As planned, my niece Julia and I are starting out in a mobile tented camp (Serengeti under Canvas). The camp moves around the Serengeti with the goal of bringing guests within reach of great Wildebeast migration. The great unknown of the trip is that there is no guarantee that we will see herds here on the Serengheti or in one of the other camps. The wildebeast were early this year on their journey – passing across the plains in August as they trudged along on the vast circle that is the essence of the migration. We may see them here on the plains or we may see them up in Klein’s Camp or we may not see them at all. Regardless, this tented camp is to be my Isak Dineson moment – in a tent, under a starry sky falling asleep to the sounds of Africa

At our next stop – Klein’s Camp – we will be able to go on night drives. Night drives are memorable, not so much for the spotting of a nocturnal animal but rather the milky way sparkling against the inky black velvet of the great night sky. I see that so rarely from the overly bright East coast of the United States. It is a always a shocker when the guide stops the jeep, turns off the motor, and one is enveloped by the silence of Africa and the sight of the stars. That silence is composed of a thousand small noises – so quiet that the roar of a lion at a distance can be clearly heard.

After that, we go to Ngorongoro Crater where we will bask in the lap of luxury at the Lodge on the rim. I have friends who have stayed here – they talk about the drive down into the caldera -- a long extinct volcano that is something of a natural zoo – permanent home to some 25,000 animals. In my mind, I see it as being a bit like Noah’s ark with all the creatures of the world gathered safely in one place. The game viewing should be wonderful, the meals spectacular, and the time at the lodge relaxing.

The next stop is to be a small camp (Lukulu Selous Camp) in the Selous Preserve – a camp that features bush walks and canoeing as opposed to jeeps. I am looking forward to that -- the notion of getting out and walking – perhaps tracking a herd of elephants – is exhilarating. We are traveling during the short rains so perhaps more canoe’ing than walking

I plan trips like this far in advance – travel is my biggest vice and of all the places I’ve been (29 countries, 6 continents), Africa is the continent I come back to time and again. I weigh the options – and there are many – doing my own research and working with travel agents who know the lay of the land (in this instance, Ginger at Heritage Tours). At this point – with the trip just six weeks away, I’ve made my final payment, scheduled an appointment for vaccinations and to pick up malaria pills, and have papers in hand to get a Tanzanian visa. Planning done – count down begins.

Or so I thought.

Travel is about the unexpected – the beauty of a broken shell on the shores of Cape Cod; the magnificence of a sunset in the Australian outback; a Condor soaring on an updraft in Patagonia; a lodge with space for eight solely for you in South Africa; an unexpected river landing in Alaska. I plan a trip but am prepared for the unexpected.

Two days ago, Ginger sent me an email to tell me that the small tented camp in the Selous Reserve is closing early for the season. Normally it would close in late January but those early rains – the same ones that sent the herds across the Serengeti in August – mean this camp will be closed. Shuttered. No room for me and Julia. You “must be disappointed she wrote” and, I suppose somewhere inside I am but there is a part of me that is shouting with glee! Here is an opportunity to change the construct of the trip. To plan a different ending and to rethink those 12 days in the bush.

The options are not infinite but all are tempting. There is another lodge in the Selous Preserve that I could go to – one that features fly camping and will accommodate shorter walks in the bush. And then there are the beachers and turtles of Zanzibar with a visit to historic Stone Town and perchance to the Spice Market. There is an allure to ending this trip with four days basking in the gentle warmth of the Indian Ocean – days interrupted only by snorkeling or perchance a fishing trip or maybe even a diving lesson. Days for walking along the beach or napping on a swinging bed. Those are the types of days that I long for when I’m sunk into the hurly burly of my day-to-day life.

That night in a fly camp on the sandy beach of a river has great allure as well. I suspect that is the more true Isak Dineson moment -- a more bare bones approach to the wilds of Africa than the mobile tented camp on the Serengeti. It holds the promise of a quiet moment to be alone with my thoughts as the sun drops in the sky with the sounds of Africa around me.

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