Last week we arrived home from an amazing four-and-a-half-month trip through Africa—a trip that we have been planning and dreaming about for the past two years. Danny and I met at our Peace Corps orientation in Boston in July of 2010, and amid the excitement, anticipation and preparation of our orientation week, we began to hatch the plans for this life-changing adventure. As members of the same training group in Cape Verde, we became close friends and realized our mutual love of travel and exploration. As our service in Cape Verde came to an end, the details of our trip began to take shape. Before we knew it, we were at the airport heading to the first of twelve countries: Senegal.
We think the travel gods wanted us to realize straight away the great truth of travel: sometimes, plans just don’t work out. We were supposed to arrive in Senegal on the 28th of September, but after being stuck in an airport for three days without a shower or change of clothes, we finally made it to Dakar on the 1st of October. We realized early on that sometimes you just have to laugh and chalk it up to experience. This was an important lesson to learn on a trip that would take us on every possible means of public transportation (buses, boats, trains, rickshaws, ox carts…).
It’s difficult to sum up a trip or even to name favorite experiences. When asked “What was Africa like?” or “What was your favorite country?” we usually find that we have no answer. A trip like this changes you and becomes a part of you, and that’s not something that can be easily shared. It can only come out slowly and naturally, story by story, moment by moment. Somehow you realize later that the experiences that seem at the moment to be the most trying and frustrating are actually the most hilarious and memorable. Our trip took us through beautiful jungle hikes and exhausting bus rides, breathtaking desert sunsets and sick stomachs, relaxing days on flawless beaches and uncomfortable sweaty nights hounded by swarms of mosquitoes. But I suppose the first things that come to mind when we think back on our trip are the little things. Sure our safari was amazing–there are no words that can do justice to the feeling of standing two feet from a wild cheetah. But we’ll never forget the night we spent on the Ethiopian-Kenyan border, teaching some local Ethiopians at our hotel how to play Kings, and eventually finishing our night with a meaningful conversation about ethics, citizenship, and friendship that crossed culture and country. Hiking out to see the gorillas in Uganda or rafting on the Nile were equally unforgettable. But we will always remember the moment we realized we can handle and successfully maneuver any bus station and bus route, anywhere in the world.
“Somehow you realize later that the experiences that seem to be the most trying and frustrating are actually the most hilarious and memorable.”
I’m sure we’ll still be telling tales from our trip on our 100th birthdays (undoubtedly to unwilling as well as willing ears). The experiences were invaluable, but they aren’t the whole story. While we never planned to travel with other people, it was a rare day that we were without company. As with any life experience, the greatest and richest part is always the people you meet along the way. We had the immense benefit of a wonderful Peace Corps family who housed us, gave us advice, and shared many a drink and adventure. We also met many travelers with their own stories, but always the same thirst to see and experience the world. And of course you never forget the moment you realize you aren’t so different from the Kenyan woman next to you on the bus, or you develop a real friendship with the Malawian from the restaurant (which you will of course continue on Facebook). We have met truly inspiring people during our trip, and we have developed friendships that will last a lifetime. There is nothing like a difficult and unfamiliar experience to build a quick and profound bond. We were lucky to finish our trip with more than a handful of those, and we are so grateful for all of the wonderful people who made our trip that much more memorable.
This was without a doubt the most valuable, life-changing, and gratifying experience of our lives. Our greatest hope is that you, too, will discover the beauty of travel.