PROMPT: Dream Destination

Author’s Note: I am resuming my prompt challenge until my mind goes blank again. I will not be defeated by a blank page.

Prompt: Write about your ultimate dream travel destination.

For me, it’s Africa. Hands down, Africa. It’s not even a contest. Africa all the way. I truly desire to see all of it, but when I think of my ultimate dream trip, I think of the South Eastern region of the continent. I’ve wanted to go there for as long as I can remember. It’s basically a lifelong dream.

To say I have carried a lifelong obsession with Africa is an understatement. When I say Africa, I mean all of it. The entire continent is SO diverse. There are so many people, languages, cultures, ecosystems, species, beliefs, and stories. I love them all. Some of my earliest memories involve watching documentaries on African wildlife for hours on end. I’ve spent countless hours researching the various countries, memorizing the ever-changing borders, and studying their political, cultural, and economic histories. In high school, I worked on various African human rights campaigns during my time in Amnesty International. I will watch movies and read books set anywhere on the continent. I follow it in the news as much as I can. Someday I hope to visit every single country on the map, especially the ones that don’t exist yet.

This trip I’m planning is only the first piece of a much larger journey. Africa cannot be seen in one trip. It must be explored in sections. For example, I firmly believe Egypt should be explored on its own for several weeks. A trek through North Africa would be part of a larger trip around the entire Mediterranean, with the primary goal of visiting sites from Antiquity (I did a Classical Studies emphasis, after all). Western and Central Africa can be very dangerous because of wars, depending on where you go. I would be willing to explore parts of Western Africa where French is spoken, but that would also be its own trip. That leaves East and South Africa, where it is generally safe for travelers due to heavy economic investment into tourism. What does tourism translate to? That’s right: SAFARI!

Six months, ten countries: Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa. How do I accomplish this mission? With a combination of volunteer work, safari, and solo writing time. Sounds pretty amazing, so far, right? Stick with me, my story gets better. No, seriously, it does. I literally woke up yesterday morning and spent my entire day researching and planning this trip for no discernible reason whatsoever. I’ve got my entire itinerary planned, right down to the flights. It’s crazy. It’s not planned planned for reasons I will explain later (money and exact dates), but the outline is there.

The only explanation I can think of for this is that the news is making it sound like The Great Plague is coming to end the world as we know it. While I am generally okay with this outcome for humanity, I would very much like to see Africa before I die. Therefore, I figure, I might as well start thinking about it now, while there might still be a chance for me to go. By my calculations, it will require at least a year to make it all happen. Good thing I was just offered cushy seasonal employment at a National Park. I’ll get back to that later. For now: Africa!

I’ve researched traveling to Africa on and off since graduating college. This time, I immediately googled “backpacking trip through Africa.” I found an EXTREMELY informative travel blog called Helen in Wanderlust, where the author recounted her first six month trek across Southeastern Africa. She accomplished this with two volunteer placements, a 77-day overland safari, a combination of riding trains/buses/cars and walking, and hostel hopping. While she was not always alone, she did accomplish all of this as a single Western white woman traveling solo. If she can do it, so can I!

Needless to say, I found it inspiring. I took quite a few tips from her. As I previously mentioned, I took a three-pronged approach to planning my fantasy six month trek across the continent: volunteer work, safari, and solo writing time (aka hiding out alone in an upscale hotel with western amenities for a few days between assignments). I’ll talk about the various aspects that went into researching each one.

VOLUNTEER WORK

Okay, so, anyone who knows me knows I have a lot of opinions about “voluntourism,” which often does more harm than good. If you aren’t familiar with this term, it refers to rich white people spending thousands of dollars to visit “Africa” (aka an unfamiliar country they know nothing about and cannot identify on a map) for two weeks, where they will take pictures with kids at orphanages, lay a couple of bricks on a wall, go on safari, and return home feeling better about themselves. There are lots of legitimate criticisms to be made about voluntourism. This is why I’ve stayed away from it… until yesterday.

Though I am cynical, I understand there are some people in this world who genuinely care about working in developing nations. They are not voluntourists. They dedicate their time and energy to uplifting local communities. They seek to create ethical situations where volunteer work is meaningful for both the community and the individual. I found SO MUCH info just by googling “Ethical volunteer work in Africa.” I’m so grateful to discover there are meaningful opportunities out there. Yes, I have to pay for them, but it’s fine, because my money is helping the organization, the mission of said organization, and the economy. A true act of charity involves giving both money and time. That’s just how it works.

I spent several hours sifting through my Google search results. One of the first pages I found suggested making a written list of my motivations to volunteer and any skills I have that might be helpful.

The motivation part was easy for me, because I am obviously a person who use to care about things until I moved to a small town and became a cynical, mean, depressed drunk. I care about the environment and feminism and politics. I want to make a difference, really I do. I don’t want to sit in the bar anymore. I want to DO SOMETHING THAT ACTUALLY MATTERS! Like I always thought I would when I was 18 and begging my indifferent classmates to write letters on behalf of a random journalist unfairly imprisoned abroad. Instead I am a miserable drunk falling off a barstool who recently worked for a major retail chain that is in the news for its CEO’s connections to a child sex trafficker. Oh, how I loathe what I have become, even though I did take that job pretending I was an investigative journalist there to get an inside scoop on the company. My Assessment? Its reign of terror in malls all across America will soon be ending.

Now for the skills. It turns out, I have some. For one, I have a Bachelor’s Degree in English and History. I’m a writer. Though I have no formal teaching experience, I have enough life experience to feel confident teaching others how to write. I could imagine myself teaching a basic writing class with lessons on fiction, poetry, and essays. There’s plenty of African authors out there to mine for reading material. Yeah, I’m pretty confident I could do that.

Anything else? Well, I’m pretty useless in the kitchen, but I do love animals and spending time outside. I have lots of experience trekking through the wild, as hard as that may be to believe. I also possess some basic horsemanship skills, which might come in handy at a moment’s notice.

Legitimate reasons for volunteering? Check. Useful, relevant skills? Got ‘em! Now, what type of volunteering should I do? Well, I don’t really like kids, so that narrows down the list A LOT. How about wildlife conservation and women’s empowerment programs? Sounds like that’s right up my alley! Wow, look at all these opportunities! But how do I decide where to go and which organizations to apply for? That brings us to…

SAFARI

When I read Helen’s posts about her six month backpacking trip, the biggest thing that stood out to me was her experience taking a 77-day (2.5 month) overland safari across the ten countries I mentioned above. The safari starts in Nairobi, Kenya and ends in Cape Town, South Africa. Though Helen did both of her volunteer assignments prior to this safari, I had the idea to bookend the safari with assignments and use it as the primary method of travel from one end of the region to the other.

This safari is incredible, by the way. It hits all of the major parks and game reserves in those ten countries, such as the Masai Mara (a chance to see the Great Migration!), the Serengeti, Ngorogoro Crater, the Virungas, Victoria Falls, Zanzibar, and the Okavango Delta. It also includes options for activities such as hot air balloon rides (DREAM), horseback riding, winery tours, and wildlife tours.

It’s incredible, but it also requires camping in the bush with a bunch of other tourists for the majority of that time. That means no running water. Strangely enough, this idea thrills me. I would willingly give up hot showers for a chance to go on a 77-day safari. Yeah, no, that doesn’t even phase me at all. It’s worth it. I know that I do not want to trek across 10 countries alone. I’m willing to give up some comfort if there’s a group of adventurous travelers along for the ride.

This safari is how I decided to choose my volunteer assignments. I found a few different women’s empowerment organizations in Kenya and Tanzania, which is where I would start. I truly feel this would be a situation where I would learn, not teach. My desire is to talk to these women and listen to their stories of survival. I also find it ironic that these organizations teach skills like cooking, sewing, and other “traditionally feminine tasks,” none of which I, a white Western woman whose version of Feminism they are theoretically trying to emulate, can actually perform. Maybe they would let me help teach them how to write their stories down instead. That’s a useful skill to have, especially when you’re a woman who has endured significant trauma.

After the first assignment is over, I would take an 8-day guided trip to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro. It costs $1500 to do this, by the way, because they feed you and make sure you don’t die on the trail (v. important!). All of the excursions are expensive. You stop paying attention after awhile and just figure out the total amount you need knowing it’s worth it.

After the climb, I’ll take a few days off to recover before taking off on the 77-day long overland safari. The safari starts in Nairobi and will pass through Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia, and end in Cape Town, South Africa. It will be… incredible. When we arrive in Cape Town, I’ll spend a few days locked in a Western-style hotel with a balcony overlooking the sea relaxing before heading off on my next assignments.

I found three volunteer opportunities in South Africa I am drawn to. The first are the wild cat sanctuaries. As they are ethical organizations, they are not a place where you play with lion cubs for photo ops. They are dedicated to saving these animals from abusive captors, poachers, and others who would bring them harm. They provide a place for these animals to live out their lives with dignity. These animals have their own stories of struggle and survival. They will tell you if you listen. I would be honored to work for them.

I’ll take another break between assignments to chill out in Cape Town, where the extra activities offered include things like shark cage diving, whale watching, horseback riding on the beach, and even MORE wildlife tours! Next up is a journalism internship/writing course I found. It’s one month of travel along the southern coast of South Africa combined with lectures and assignments. It would add a nice line to my resume and give me the tools I need to tell all of these amazing stories.

When this assignment is over, I’ll set off to Johannesburg via luxury train across South Africa. I’ll probably spend a couple days in Joburg before heading to Kruger National Park to assist with conservation efforts. This requires me to camp in the bush, again, in an area where the Big 5 (elephants, lions, leopards, buffalo, and rhinos) are free to wander through as they please and elephants regularly dismantle the rustic plumbing for fun. Conservation efforts include tagging and photographing endangered animals, eliminating invasive plant species, and helping a badass team of women called The Black Mambas track down and destroy poaching traps (STORIES GALORE!). Pretty epic, right? How often can one say, “I couldn’t shower for a week because an elephant got bored and stole a couple of the pipes just to feel alive again?”

This will be my last assignment, so I’ll spend my last few days enjoying Western amenities once more in either Joburg or Nairobi, depending on where I decide to fly from. Flight prices are crazy, but the good news is that the trip can be divided in half with a few days in either London or Paris to break it up. I need this, because I HATE flying. Then home, wherever that is, to sit down at my desk and write about all of the amazing things I just experienced. This brings me to my final prong for planning…

TIME ALONE TO WRITE

As much as I love to be around people, I also need to take time to be alone. I’m giving myself breaks so I have time to process everything, write, and relax. While I am willing to live in the bush for 3-4 months of my life, I also enjoy activities like hot showers, relaxing bubblebaths, and watching TV by myself while eating take-out. There is nothing wrong with this. I have every right to spend slightly more money on a balcony suite overlooking the sea if it means time to write. I figure I will be saving and spending A LOT of money on this trip anyway, so I might as well save up extra to give myself some ME time.

This is what puts me off staying in backpacking hostels during my designated “breaks.” I realize backpacker hostels are cheaper. They’re also full of drunk teenagers who have no idea what they’re doing with their lives, which I prefer to avoid at all costs. I especially want to avoid this in Africa, a place where people should come to meditate on the complexities of the natural world, not get wasted in bars. I am only saying this because I spend a lot of my time getting wasted in bars, which does absolutely nothing to benefit me physically, mentally, or spiritually. After my recent trip to New Orleans, I’ve realized I want to avoid too much bar time when I travel in the future. I end up missing out on all of the cool stuff I actually want to do and feeling bad about it later.

They say you are never alone in Africa, even if you’re traveling solo. However, I believe privacy can be bought and I am willing to pay for it. While I want to meet as many different people as possible, I also want time to myself so I can write. That’s okay. I am already staring at the photos of the sea view balconies on Hotels.com, imagining myself typing away happily…

———–

Wow! What a ride, right?! So many amazing things to do! Can you believe I spent an entire day doing research, took 4-5 pages of notes, and put together a real itinerary? For a trip I can’t afford to take? All because I was prompted by the “fake news media” to consider the fact that I could possibly die in the future? Incredible.

Now, for the Million Dollar Question: How much will this trip cost? LOL! That’s the fun part! By my calculations (and I tend to overestimate for security reasons), it should be somewhere between $15,000 – $20,000.

I know. I’m laughing right now too.

That total includes the volunteer/internship/safari program fees (which cover food, lodging, and some activities), cost of extra activities/excursions, spending money, supplies, flights/transportation, insurance, visas, and approximately 7-10 vaccinations for absolutely TERRIFYING tropical diseases like yellow fever and typhoid (none of which would be covered by my non-existent health insurance anyway). Africa is beautiful, but there’s a lot of shit that can kill you dead. It’s best to be as prepared as possible, especially because I am literally planning to camp in the bush.

Yes, I realize that amount is the equivalent to both a down payment on a house and a year of tuition for graduate school. My response? Worth it. Don’t care. I don’t want a house and with this experience on my resume, I’m DEFINITELY getting into a fully-funded MFA program (such as… LSU!!!). BRB, going to Africa for six months to live my dream and write about it all!

So how am I going to acquire these funds? Well, as I mentioned earlier, I was recently offered a job in a National Park. It’s a pretty good gig. Lots of potential to save money and train myself to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, which takes physical, mental, and spiritual strength. It’s absolutely nothing like my previous attempt to go to Montana, which as we all know ended in disaster. I’ll talk about the job thing in a different post. This post is dedicated to My African Dream.

I realize I sound COMPLETELY ridiculous right now. It’s okay. It’s not actually that ridiculous at all. It’s just a question of what kind of priorities you have in your life. For me, I already know I don’t want to settle down in the suburbs, get married, and have kids. I want to travel the world and write! So if I want to spend my money doing that, then that’s what I’m going to do.

After spending an entire day thinking about this trip, I went to bed wondering why I don’t just do it. Why don’t I use it as motivation to keep my job in the park for a year and save as much money as humanly possible? The only thing I would have to make sure of is that everything is booked at least 6-8 months in advance.

I’m stressing over the job thing. I admit it. However, this time I am determined. I WANT TO WORK. I AM GOOD AT MY JOB! I am tired of shitty people who have no idea what they’re doing throwing me out on the street. I will not let it happen again. I solemnly swear to you, reader, I will not let some petty bully come between me and my lifelong dream to see Africa. I will keep this damn job, no matter what! And if I can’t, I’ll find another one in the area. That’s the perk of working at a major tourist destination.

Well, that was fun to write about. I guess now that I’ve planned it out and written it down, it will all magically manifest into my life! That’s how the Law of Attraction works, right? Dream it, plan it, do it? Yes! Now… let’s get this bread! And maybe come back down to Earth from Outer Space for awhile, eh? Hahahaha. At least you can now say with full confidence you know what I’m thinking about when I’m sitting at the bar alone staring at my iPad. It’s an elaborate fantasy about camping in the bush with no running water, bonding with wildlife, and flying over the Serengeti in a hot air balloon. Who knew?

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