Anticipating Africa

OAT, like Road Scholar, provides an excellent package of preparatory materials.  These include everything you need to know about visa requirements,  immunizations, climate, what to pack, how much money to bring, plus a reading list for people like me.

I haven’t read ALL of the books on the list, but I have made my way through almost half.  Many were available from my local library, others I ordered from Amazon.   Here’s a visual of the ones that haven’t been returned to the library yet.  (Okay, I’ll admit it.  I’m a bit obsessive, but I figure if I am lucky enough to be able to spend time in another country, I should at least expend the effort to learn about it before I go.)

books


Much too much for one post, so I’ll start with the book that is a bit dense, but is crammed with fascinating information–much of it news to me.

Africa, A Biography of the Continent by John Reader
In its 800 pages, this weighty tome covers a little bit of just about everything: genetics, linguistics, anthropology, history, archaeology, geology, geography, economics, agriculture–from the beginning of time right up to the 1990’s.  And if THAT isn’t enough, you can delve into footnotes and bibliography for more on the various subjects.   The best part?  Each of its 55 chapters starts with a short summary of what will follow, which makes it easy to decide whether or not you want to read further.

Here are just a few of the interesting tidbits I picked up from skimming through:

  • I knew Africa is big, but didn’t know HOW big.  China, the USA, India, Europe, Argentina and New Zealand could all fit into its 18.9 million square miles!  Hard to believe, but take a look.

Africa0003

Pretty cool, huh?  Here’s another one–showing Pangaea before the continents drifted.

Africa0004

Although I knew about plate tectonics from my days of hanging out with geology professors while selling them college textbooks,   I couldn’t tell you the difference between Pangaea and Gondwana.  But now I can.   And I had never heard of Laurasia, from which North America was eventually formed.

But wait, there’s more…

  • The earliest evidence of life on earth was found in Africa.  Fossilized microscopic organisms from 3.6 billion years ago were discovered in the Barberton Mountain region of South Africa.
  • Geneticists, analyzing DNA mutations, have concluded that our entire modern population descended from a relatively small group of people who left Africa about 100,000 years ago (roughly 10,000 generations ).
  • The DNA  of chimpanzees and humans is 99% identical.  Here’s a little visual courtesy of the Auckland Zoo.  What a difference 1% can make!genetics

 

  • Linguists have shown that the most ancient languages originated in Africa.

I could go on and on, but I won’t.  For anyone anticipating a trip to Africa, this book is definitely worth a trip to your local library.   Remember, you don’t have to read it ALL–just the chapters that interest you.  And there is something for just about everyone!

 

 

Touring Africa via the movies

To me, travel consists of three almost equally delightful phases:

  • Phase One – anticipation and preparation
  • Phase Two – the trip itself
  • Phase Three – recollection – reliving the experiences through photos and the memories imbedded in my brain.

Right now I am deeply into Phase One, learning as much as I can about the countries we will be visiting, and how best to prepare for the trip itself.

OAT, like Road Scholar, sends an excellent package of preliminary materials.  These include what you need to know about the climate, what to pack, visa requirements,  necessary immunizations, currencies used in each country, plus a list of books and movies for us Phase One enthusiasts.

Not surprisingly, the movie list included Born Free, Out of Africa, Gorillas in the Mist, the African Queen, Hotel Rwanda, many of which I had already seen.  One title I had never encountered was The First Grader, produced by National Geographic Entertainment.  It tells the story of Maruge, a former Mau Mau warrior who went to school for the first time at the age of 84.  Even though we aren’t going to Kenya, it still is about Africa, and the movie intrigued me, so I borrowed the DVD from the local library.

first grader

What a wonderful movie!  It is actually two stories.  The first tells of Maruge’s determination to take advantage of Kenya’s offer of free education for all, and the obstacles he had to surmount to achieve his goal.   The second, through flashbacks, chronicles the Mau Mau uprising in the early 1950’s and the British brutality during that period of colonialism.

I’m so glad I got the DVD because it includes “bonus features”: a short documentary starring the real Maruge and Teacher Jane, interviews with the director, and a peek behind the scenes while the movie was being made. I enjoyed these bonus features as much as the movie, and after watching them, I appreciated the movie even more, because as indicated by the interviews and documentary, the movie didn’t embellish or invent — it  just told Maruge’s  story.

The movie was shot on location in Kenya, using an actual village school.  Only one main character, Teacher Jane, is British.  The rest are Kenyans–some are actors, but the children are all the students at that school, and the “movie” villagers are actual villagers.  The kids are truly amazing!  They had never seen TV or movies before, so they were just going about their normal activities, doing what the “teacher” (the director) told them to do.  One sweet little girl was instructed to go over to Maruge to ask him if he was okay.  When he responded, she said “when I grow up, I am going to be a doctor so I can make you feel better”.   The director wisely kept this unscripted exchange, but because they spoke in their native language, he added English subtitles.  Uplifting?  Definitely.

How I could have possibly missed the 2010 movie Invictus is beyond me. It was nominated for multiple awards, was directed by Clint Eastwood and starred Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon.  But I did.  Again, my local library came to the rescue.  This was another thoroughly enjoyable movie and for the other 10 people on the planet that also missed it–here’s what it’s about: Nelson Mandela recognizes the healing power of rugby.  The Springboks, South Africa’s team, represented apartheid to the black majority and when Mandela came to power they argued that the name and the team colors should be changed.  Mandela not only persuaded his countrymen to retain both, but he also actively supported the team in the 1995 world cup competition.  This is another uplifting movie about the triumph of the human spirit, and the healing nature of forgiveness.

Movies that didn’t make the list, and at least in MY opinion should have are the two The Gods Must Be Crazy movies.  Filmed in Botswana and South Africa, they tell the story of Bushmen encountering the oddities of the modern world.  Sweet, funny and thoroughly entertaining, it is also available on HBO.

crazy

As you may have suspected, I have a weakness for uplifting, feel good movies!

Geography Lesson

 

Geography was never a favorite subject of mine.  Memorizing capitals and products was excruciatingly mind numbing.  At the time, knowing where to plop countries on a mimeographed map didn’t appear to be knowledge I’d ever find useful.  Back when I considered a one hour trip to Boston a thrilling excursion, it was hard to imagine that I would ever be lucky enough to set foot any place outside of the continental USA.

I’ll admit that I wasn’t disappointed when Sister Pauline explained that there was no point in studying the geography of Africa, because everything was changing.  How sad that statement is one of the few things I remember from my geography studies!

Fast forward a half a century.  I will soon be filling that gaping hole in my knowledge of the world with a trip to that continent I didn’t have to learn about in elementary school.  Well, only the southern part of Africa.  But you gotta start somewhere.

This will be the first trip that Mike and I take with Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT).   Although we have had wonderful experiences with Road Scholar, and RS has a similar trip, we decided to go with OAT for the following reasons:

  • If you pay the full amount in cash a year in advance, you get a 10% discount (and I SO love a bargain)!
  • If you take another trip with them within the next 12 months, you get a 5% credit.
  • They have an amazing website, with very informative reviews and an incredibly helpful forum in which travelers share information and helpful hints.
  • They offer options:  you can do only the trip, or you can add pre and/or post trip excursions.
  • There is a maximum of 16 participants

Mike and I figured if we were going to shell out the money for airfare,  and subject our bodies to a total of 30 hours (round trip) in the air, we might as well stay a while, so we are doing the pre and then visiting Cape Town on our own.  Who knows if we will ever be able to get back to this part of the globe?

We start in Johannesburg,  then fly to Karongwe Game Reserve for the pre-trip.  Four days later, we return to  Johannesburg for the main trip, going first to two camps in Botswana, then one in Zambia, one in Zimbabwe, ending with a few days in Victoria Falls, before we fly back to  Johannesburg.   At that point, Mike and I will leave the tour and fly to Cape Town for a few days on our own, before returning to Johannesburg for a flight home.  All told, we will be gone for 26 days.

Oat created this very helpful map,  with the trip extensions in the insert.

 

africa trip

While on safari, we will be staying in tents in the national parks.  WiFi will therefore be limited to the few times we are in cities.  (So, sisters and cousins, when you don’t see a post, it will not be because I have met with foul play…it will just mean I am still off the grid).

We will be flying in very small planes, which limits both the weight and the type of luggage allowed.  One duffel bag each, without an internal frame, weighing no more than 44 pounds, plus one carry on. Here’s a visual of my duffel bag,  supplied by OAT, and my new (larger) back pack.   Previous travelers had experienced problems with the duffel splitting open (I told you the forum was helpful), but fortunately that appears to be old news.  Nevertheless, I’m packing some duct tape…just in case.luggage

Years of business travel trained me to travel light, but we will be visiting a school, so once I assemble the minimum amount of clothing and supplies needed, I’ll be cramming books, pencils, crayons and other odds and ends into the remaining space up to the weight limit.

Next post will be about pre-trip readings.