31 January 2017
The romance of travel isn’t always evident by the one currently experiencing it. Truthfully, the romance exponentially decreases with the longer and farther one travels. Flying to East Africa from the west coast is right up there with a dental implant.
My goal is to travel light with as few complications as possible. That’s why I use a favorite carry on bag. If it doesn’t fit, I must omit. Equally satisfying is the pack and toss strategy. I have what seems an endless supply of slightly worn t-shirts, sweaters, and pants. Such items are perfect for travel. I find myself waking in a new city halfway around the world thinking, “What article will I toss today?” It is very satisfying to lighten the load. Sort of like a clothing diet.
I love my travel vests. I seem to carry most of my life around in its pockets and behind its zippers. I even created a larger interior pocket for my iPad. No matter what I need, I have it on me. Problem is I end up searching for the particular pocket holding what I need. I suppose it is no worse than the woman searching through her humongous purse. My hands are always free and I don’t carry around a bunch of junk.
My trip to Uganda and Rwanda was the first sans camera. I created a strategy for all photo work to be done with my iPhone 7. For the most part, everything went well. I love the photos. I don’t have the problem anymore of wanting to share a photo but can’t because it is on the camera. One less thing to charge. No more concern about batteries or memory chips. I easily share photos with my iPad, Airdrop photos to travel mates, share with friends and Facebook, and watch slideshows of the day’s activities. I left my camera and its little bits in Uganda.
But I digress. I return to the subject of long flights, long layovers and cramped spaces. My return flight over three continents, Africa over Europe to the west coast of North America, is 14 hours shorter than the opposite direction. Not that a 26 hour transit is anything to cheer about. However, after a 9 hour flight from Rwanda to Brussels, I marched directly to the United counter and upgraded to business class.
I currently am in no rush to land. It is another 9 hour flight but one that includes champagne, a mimosa and wine; reclining seats and a blanket; dinner service featuring no plastic, a salad fork and butter knife, cloth napkins and placemat; warm bread and beef I can cut with a fork. Oh joy, not all of this crammed on one little plastic tray! And a bowl of cashews! Watercress on my creamy, cheesy potatoes! A hot caramel sundae! Padded seat belts! Oh my! The romance of travel has returned as I wrap my quilt around me, recline my seat, and sip my Cabernet.
I fly over the frozen north with three hours to go. Yippee! My roomie Nancy is right, the extra $829 for business class is worth it to be treated like a human being and putting some romance back into flying.
Another disappointment felt when flying is the lack of trust and the increase in security. I loose another pair of blunt 1st grade art scissors which I buy for this potential outcome. The scissors traveled with me through security at least 8 times but nope, this last lady confiscates them. The Brussels employee, standing at the gate checking me in, is not really interested in what I did in Uganda, how close I was to gorillas, what hotel I used, what city I flew from, what my final destination is. The vetting is obvious and time consuming. Personally, after several hours in transit, I am lucky to remember the name of the country where I stand. I think that reassures the agent. Only tired tourists are so confused.
Airport security at Kigale Rwanda was the tightest I have experienced. Before entering the grounds, all luggage is stacked for the dogs to climb over and sniff. Guards use mirrors for searching beneath the car. We reload the luggage and drive to the entrance. There, another guard stands at the entrance and a third check in is at the end of a short walk, all checking if I should be here. Then I walk a short distance to check in for a reissue of boarding passes and weighing and tagging my carry on. Another short walk to more security and scanning of bags and person. Then a brief stop at immigration. Finally, I reach the Pearl Lounge where I wait almost three hours for my flight to board. But wait, one more security scan and loss of scissors. Really? The airport is the size of my local airport and must employ 50 times more people.
Taking malarone for prevention of malaria was a waste, though I did have a vivid dream I was divorcing Brad Pitt. Some in our group just stopped. Never really saw a mosquito. Did see vast fields of pyrethrum (looks like white daisies) used in the making of insect repellent. The netting around the beds was sexy safari-African style but a maze to exit in the middle of the night. Once the dim, dim, dim solar powered lights were off, it was so black I really couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. The linens and hard foam mattresses were superb.
And the night was filled with the tiny flash of fireflies, guttural coughs and huffing of leopards, bird and insect screeching. Lovely sitting in our safari tent watching and listening to the sounds of the forest and savannah, sipping sherry, nothing between us and a hunting lion, waddling one-ton hippo or curious baboon but a window screen. We shared out tent with lizards, preying mantis and bats but never anything bigger.
Uganda is a wonderful country of natural parks, wildlife, and kind and smiling people. For birders, primate spotters, or hikers, Uganda is a must. The roads suck, the cities are busy and crowded, and there are animals that will eat you. But the food, beer, hiking, scenery and people are wonderful. I always give destination + points to any country with a cheap bottle of good beer.
And you gotta love a country where “bush toilets” are literally bushes. Once our guides checked the environs for adders, lions, baboons or rogue elephants, we were good to go. Literally. You must do this trip while your knees are still good. The bush toilets were often better than an indoor facility. I saw some holes and facilities that had my iPhone fallen in, it would have been gone for good.
Ugandans, so soft spoken. Oftentimes, I felt their whispering voices and smiles reflected a diffidence, a kindness and respect beyond what one deserves. How the colonials must have enjoyed this behavior, received yet not earned. For me, it is almost an embarrassment of riches, an eagerness or expectancy to serve me as much as possible. I am left with a feeling of gentleness, so soft spoken are they; a deep tonal expression of sweet softness. As if loud noises or voices would bring a chaos to their lives. Like the giraffe who remains silent, even when the leopard has it by the throat. What must they think of these brash, independent American women?
I give Uganda a score of points because I never saw a smoker in two weeks; Ugandans are taught early that smoking is a shameful habit. Also, there were no stray dogs. The plastic bags and refuse along the streets continues to mar the landscape, but in Rwanda there is a countrywide ban on plastic. Streets are cleaner and one hopes Rwanda will influence Uganda to do the same.
When thinking of Uganda and Rwanda, I thought of gorillas. Both countries are so much more. Just like the poaching snares set for the smaller game, such traps also catch the bigger animals. I was captivated and snared almost immediately. Uganda is a country to discover. And while there, check out the beauty that is Rwanda.
I wake dreaming of gorillas.