Out of Africa

I’ve always found July in Washington to be depressing. The weather is hot and muggy, with the evening hours offering little relief. Storms are a given, arriving fast and violent. The grass has turned a dingy kind of yellow-brown from the heat. The only thing that shakes me from my lethargy is seeing the crepe myrtle tree blooming, its magenta blossoms bringing fresh energy to a party that had grown stale.

July is when I hibernate. I enjoy staying inside, watching TV in my air-conditioned cocoon, waiting for September when the kids go back to school and it’s my turn to travel. Off-season is my favorite season. Except that now, of course, there is no off-season. Now I can’t look forward to September because I have no idea when Americans will be allowed to travel again. Am I really going to be able to get proof of a test result within seventy-two hours of a flight when the average wait time is over a week? Do I really want to spend two weeks of a trip in quarantine? And the alternative, domestic travel, is not all that enticing given the surge in cases across the country.

And so I keep waiting, hoping that next year we can put this all behind us and travel once more. In the meantime, I have decided to say goodbye to some of my older travel story posts. I’ve known for a long time that I needed to put them away, but they always brought me such joy. In times where I’ve had to put travel plans on hold, it’s been fun to revisit old trips. But July of 2020 in Washington is providing the perfect opportunity to stay inside and clean house. I suspect that, subconsciously, I’m attempting to strike a bargain with the universe. By clearing out the old trips, I am making room for new trips. I really hope the universe works with me on this one.

I started travel blogging many years ago because I didn’t want to forget my trips. Pictures and journals get buried, but a curated blog post would retain all the important details and anecdotes. Looking over my oldest post, however, I wondered what I would remember about the trip if I had never written about it. What did I remember the most about South Africa?

I remember that, in my time on safari, it was quiet. So quiet that you could come across a sleeping elephant and not realize it until you turned your head. Quiet at night with the literal sound of silence. And so dark at night that you suddenly understood how it was possible to navigate by the stars. I remember how excited I was to see my first elephant. I took a ridiculous amount of photos. Likewise with the next elephant I came across. And the one after that. Towards the end of the week, my sister pointed out an elephant in the distance. I told her that I had enough elephant pictures. And then I couldn’t believe that I had said that, as if elephants were a trend that had come and gone.

I remember learning how to respect nature. I was the type of girl who never went camping, and yet, while sharing a tent with a bat I realized that I would just have to leave it alone and hope it would leave me alone. I believe that we came to our mutual understanding when I attempted to swat at it with a stick, and we made eye contact as it came flying towards me. Turns out you can still get a decent night’s sleep with your head under the covers. Of course, I never came to such an understanding with the monkeys. I’ve always suspected that monkeys hate humans, and my experience on safari did little to prove otherwise. I can’t entirely blame them, but still, I never lingered when monkeys were around.

I remember that the trip was my first time in the Southern Hemisphere, and that it was the first time I felt insignificant as an American. Aside from a cab driver in Cape Town who was eager to discuss American politics, there was nothing to remind me of my American-ness. In Europe, it’s easy to see the influence of America, whether through fast-food joints, the inevitability of running into other Americans, or, quite fundamentally, a shared twentieth-century geo-political history. But all of that seemed so far removed in South Africa. It was probably the first time I understood that there are places in the world where America is not the center of the universe. It was a long overdue realization. It’s interesting to consider this now, when America’s place in the world is, shall we say, shifting.

Mostly, I remember that I always meant to go back. A friend had organized the group trip, and Cape Town was not on the itinerary. I added two extra days at the end for myself so I could see Cape Town, but it was not enough time. The area was beautiful and vibrant, and I only had a quick taste of it. I was sure I would make a return trip. But then, other places beckoned. Other opportunities came up. Even now, as I look forward to traveling again, other destinations are at the top of my list. I’m glad I held onto my post for so long, if only to remind me of something I didn’t want to forget.