This is a story of an old legal pad, a mountain in Africa, and a distant dream of shooting an honest game of golf under 90.
Tucked deep inside a cardboard box in Prague, Czech Republic, there’s a half-torn crumpled piece of yellow legal pad paper that reads somewhere in the middle, scribbled in blue ballpoint: “Climb Mt. Kilimanjaro.”
Those words date back to December 31, 1999. Audrey had been visiting me in San Francisco on a break from her Peace Corps stint in Estonia. As some people frantically stacked cans of beans in their cellars in anticipation of a Y2K meltdown, Audrey and I sipped coffees and each scrawled out “25 Things” – 25 things we’d hoped to do before we died. (If I were writing more formally, I’d call it an “exercise” and make it sound like something from an expensive self-help personal growth program you’d find in Skymall.)
On my legal pad I wrote, “Climb Mt. Kilimanjaro.” (Just under that, I incidentally also wrote, “Shoot an honest game of golf under 90.” Please, I’ve already been given a lot of grief about how uninspired that particular entry is.)
When our exercise concluded, Audrey and I compared lists. And wouldn’t you know it, she had “Climb Mt. Kilimanjaro” on hers, too. Alignment. Nice.
But all these years living, traveling, and thinking about the world, Audrey and I somehow always missed our Africa landing. (In fairness, Audrey spent time in Africa growing up.)
This Sunday, we fly to Tanzania to begin a tour with G Adventures (Tanzania Encompassed) that takes us to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro, to game parks like Serengeti National Park, Ngorongoro Crater, and Lake Manyara to witness the migration of the wildebeests and catch a look at some of the Big 5 (elephants, leopard, lion, buffalo and rhino), and finally to Stonetown on the island of Zanzibar.
I want to see the real-live Wild Kingdom (Or, as some of you may remember from watching it as a kid “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom”). Marlin Perkins' voice would rise only slightly – the pounce! A poor zebra or gazelle sipping at the water’s edge was another animal’s lunch. Aerial shots of great movements of wildebeest running across the veldt spoke to lifecycles and the vastness of our small Earth.
Then, looking eastward to the Indian Ocean, there is Zanzibar. Spice markets, beaches, and thoughts of pirates (a friend who was a Peace Corps volunteer in Tanzania had taught me to say “Zanzibar!” with a pirate’s accent.) Arrrgh.
Finally, there’s Mount Kilimanjaro, a mountain peak whose upper reaches are within our reach. A place where you can just put one foot in front the other and end up on the highest point on the African continent — that is if the altitude doesn't get you.
While I know I have time to hone my golf game, all reports are that climate change is taking its toll on Kilimanjaro and its glaciers are retreating to the point that perhaps in my lifetime, they will be gone. I’d like to see them before they go.
Africa, My Final Continent
This trip to Africa also marks my seventh and final continent. Before I took my first trip abroad when I was 26, it never really occurred to me that I'd see them all.
From my first travels abroad, it will have taken me almost fourteen years.
My first steps were in Scranton, Pennsylvania in North America. In 1997, Hong Kong offered me a first glimpse of Asia while Sydney was my first touch down under. The following year in Europe, my first taste was an unlikely Tallinn, Estonia in the grayest of winters. Eleven years later, the crisp, blue skies of Quito, Ecuador welcomed me to South America, a long continent whose southern tip was the launch point for a frosty welcome to Hanusse Bay, Antarctica.
In a few days Moshi, Tanzania at the foot of Mt. Kilimanjaro will be my first taste of Africa.
Now, I feel this is all a bit unfair to Audrey whose life travels began 22 years before mine. But for her, one continent remains: Australia.
We need to do something about that.
Where Else in Africa?
Traveling to Tanzania and saying “I’ve been to Africa” strikes me as a bit unfair to the continent. It’s akin to saying, “I had a piece of that pie” when in fact you'd only eaten a fragment of crust just rubbed with filling. You think you know what the whole thing is like, but you really don’t — and you won’t be certain until you’ve tasted more.
So a taste of East Africa I’ll have. But there’s much more to East Africa than Tanzania. Add to that North Africa and the Sahara, West Africa and southern Africa and you've got yourself another lifetime of travel. This is just one of the ways in which Africa overwhelms me when I think about it.
But for now, Tanzania. I’d like to think of this journey as planting a seed of something bigger, much as our first trip to Asia together in 2004 planted the seed of our current travels.
And yes, I know. I still need to get that honest game of golf under 90.
But until then, I’ve got a mountain to climb.
After this trip, we are going to be still for several months. I know, I know. We’ve been saying this for months, but barring an offer we absolutely cannot refuse, we actually mean it this time. The location, still to be finalized, points again to Berlin. Stay tuned.