Monday, June 5, 2017

Take the Bump!

We boarded our flight from San Jose to Johannesburg, via Salt Lake City and Paris, on time, but sat on the tarmac for 40 minutes while mechanics tried to fix the PA system. The safety video was played without sound but I suppose that is against FAA rules because the flight attendants had to do it live, like in the old days. It seemed like this was a first for the young crew because even I can clasp and unclasp a buckle faster than that.

Eventually we pulled away from the gate, without a PA system. This meant that the personal entertainment system wasn't working either so passengers where forced to read for the two hour flight, which seemed a new thing for passengers.

Our scheduled layover in Salt Lake City was short to begin with but now that we had burned 40 minutes sitting on the tarmac in San Jose, by the time we landed in SLC we would have only ten minutes to run to the next terminal, which is not a first for me but which bummed me out because who wants to arrive sweaty in Paris? Not moi.

I asked the flight attendant to request that everyone stay seated so that we with immediate flights to make could exit the plane first and trot instead of gallop to catch our connecting flights. But the PA system still wasn't working so it was hell, I tell you, to get off the plane and commence a sweaty gallop.

We arrived at our gate in the nick of time, the last passengers to board. We made our way to 35F and G to find our seats occupied by two folk who refused to make eye contact.
Just after the flight attendant cheerily suggested that we "...take those two seats at the back, next to the toilets, because this couple is already settled in", the Captain made an announcement basically stating that the flight was full to capacity, that the temperature outside was 96 degrees, that (as we knew) Salt Lake is at high altitude, the usual dynamics of lift, drag, and thrust were not going to get the plane off the ground no way, no how, unless ten people volunteered to get off the plane and take a later flight. When he got to the part about a $1500 credit per passenger we took a last look at the seats by the loo, did an about face (with our carry on luggage) and exited the plane.

The extremely capable mother-daughter team of Susan and Stacie did a fantastic job of re-booking us to Johannesburg with a 12 hour layover in Paris (even better!). Then Stacie printed off reams of hotel and meal vouchers and took our photo in their cockpit mock up nearby.

For those who say, "We'd love to travel the way you do but, you know, we have a kid." A smart family of 6 also took the bump. They put $9000 of flight credit in their pockets and are flying to Paris tomorrow. Their infant baby girl gave me the biggest smile when I leaned over her stroller and said, "Hey baby! Is this your first bump? And you're not even one year old yet!

The best part is that our new seat assignments to Paris aren't anywhere near smelly toilets. Stacie gave us First Class seats, 1B and C, and that's a first for us.

The take away? Be flexible. Travel light. Carry on only. Go with the flow. Smile.

All I can add is OO LA LA. Viva la Delta!

Saturday, June 3, 2017

A Horrible Day and Acts of Loving Kindness

One year ago today...

We set up in site number 6 at Limpopo River Camp, the same site we camped in 10 months earlier. As before, we had the entire place to ourselves. Scott slung the hammock and settled in again with Tony Park’s latest novel. I prepared a cold pasta lunch and showered in the private open-air ablution. 
The Limpopo River moved slowly and thickly in front of me. I could see a small pod of hippos to the left. I thought of Eve Jackson’s words of wisdom.  I may never have this view again, I thought. After my shower, even though we still had a few weeks together and Scott would be with Ndoto for another month after I left, I began to prepare the Landy for storage. “Why are you doing that now?” Scott asked somewhat irritably from the hammock.
“Dunno. Just feel like it.” 
 As I went through every inch of the Landy—the library, the pantry, our clothes bins, the secret places and the super secret places that we keep spare cash, credit cards and passports—I began collecting all the important documents, portable hard drives, laptops, wallets… all the valuable stuff, and I put it all in one sack and place it inside my clothes bin. Scott, absorbed in Tony’s book, didn’t notice my somewhat irrational behavior. He wouldn’t have understood. I didn’t understand. But, like an expectant mother who compulsively nests, or like a Boy Scout who wants to be prepared, I couldn’t stop myself.  

Later, I made burritos and served them on candlelit table with goblets of wine and a vase of wild flowers. Standing back, I took in the entire scene—the Limpopo, Ndoto, Scott, and the campfire. “I’m going to miss this.” I announced.
“What? Cooking over a propane stove?” Scott asked with a contented smile.
“No. Well, yes. I’m going to miss this lifestyle. This Africa. This time in our lives.” 
It had been a perfect day in the African Bush. We went to bed feeling peaceful.
In the middle of the night we heard splashing and trumpeting and looked out to see a herd of elephants frolicking in the river. We hung our heads and arms out in the moonlight to soak up and enjoy one of the most beautiful bush scenes imaginable. Babies and juveniles ran back and forth in the water playing, dunking, and charging while adults stood and drank before doing the same. Such joy!
“Why do the most perfect things always happen just as I am about to leave the Africa?” I whispered.
“Of course they do. You should stay,” said Scott quietly before rolling over and falling asleep. As was the case most nights lately, sleep didn’t come easily for me. In two weeks, I would be returning home, but Scott would be staying on in South Africa for a month to do a wildlife course. I lay awake, realizing that soon we would be apart for an entire month. As part of “our story” it didn’t feel right. For 40 years we have done most every adventurous thing together. We sailed our 40’ catamaran named Different Drummer across the Pacific Ocean to Hawaii. We trekked in the Himalayas. We transited Africa from Casablanca to Cape Town by public transportation. We rafted the Grand Canyon and walked the Camino de Santiago.  That we would now be apart felt like a disturbance in the Force. I knew that if I had said out loud, “I want you to come home with me,” he would have. But as much as I wanted him at my side, I also wanted him to fulfill his dreams. Still I was losing sleep over it.
At dawn I crept down the ladder and put the pot on for coffee. I walked slowly around camp identifying the spoor of animals that had walked through—hyena, genet, and civet. I love mornings anywhere but mornings in Africa are the best. Before we do anything else, we explore the bush news of the day. We examine the spoor that surrounds Ndoto and try to tell the story of what visited in the night. We recover the camera trap and thrill in the images of elephants and hyena, porcupine and civet that walked just feet from the base of our ladder. At some camps there are copious amounts of fresh elephant dung and spoor of all sorts around camp in the morning, which makes the sometimes 200-foot walk to the ablutions an eyes-wide, butt-clenching, quick march experience. It’s exhilarating. We are alone with nature. It is why we come to Africa. 
As so often happens when I am in Africa, feelings of gratitude and contentment washed over me. I am exactly where I want to be doing exactly what I want to do with the only person I can imagine wanting to do it with.
I started a small fire to take the chill off the morning and sat with my feet up on the concrete fire ring feeling tranquil and content. After half an hour, Scott joined me at the fire. He opened his iPad and saw an email from Anthony (Ant) introducing himself, ..." so if Scott wants to see the plane, he should come tomorrow to have a look." Ant was storing a plane for a non-profit in Tanzania that would be using it for anti-poaching surveillance. Scott had some interest in volunteering as a pilot with the non-profit, but wanted to see the plane before committing.
“That’s great!” I said taking a sip of coffee. “Timing is everything. If we couldn’t see the plane tomorrow, we wouldn’t be able to see it unless we went all the way back to Tanzania. Now you can see if it is the type of plane you feel comfortable flying before committing to fly it when we return to Africa next year. And the town of Louis Trichardt is right on our way to Kruger!” We sat in silence enjoying the dawn chorus. Warm rays of rising sun worked like a spotlight on a solitary bird, a kingfisher, that hovered and dove into the river. “Hey! He got a fish!”
“I’ve been thinking,” Scott started. “You might need help driving to Susanville to pick up Pika." Pika is our cat who was being lovingly cared for by my best friend Bonnie while we were away. Scott continued, "It’s a 7 hour drive and you’ll be jet lagged.” He paused and stared for a moment into the fire. “It feels like there is too much going on. I think I should come home when you do.”
I felt a great weight lift from my shoulders. “Oh Scott. Just to hear you say that makes me happy. You must have been feeling the same as me about being apart. It just doesn’t seem right, does it?” It was my turn to stare into the fire. “But let’s talk about it after we see the plane in Louis Trichardt. I’m just happy that we are both unhappy about you staying while I go.” I looked up and saw that he understood what I meant. 
The following morning, when we crossed the border into South Africa and drove to Louis Trichardt, I was far from happy and content. I was anxious. Ant wouldn’t be available to show the plane until 5PM, the exact time in Africa at that time of year when day turns to night. We try not to drive anywhere at night in Africa. Visibility isn’t great so chances of hitting a pothole, or worse, an animal or child are concerns. And having a mechanical breakdown in the dark is so much more anxiety producing than when it happens in the full light of day.
We arrived in Louis Trichardt and drove straight to the campground in town only to find that it was closed. “Let’s just lift the boom and camp here anyway,” I said. “We won’t get back from the hangar until after dark and I don’t want to drive aimlessly around looking for another place to camp. We can stay here and leave for Kruger at first light, okay? Let’s check it out.” I started to get out of the car to lift the boom when the camp attendant showed up. He explained that the grounds were closed because of an international bike race happening the next day and that camping there would not be possible, which made no sense to us at all. “There is a hotel just across the street. Perhaps you can stay there.” Scott walked over and inquired at the hotel. Not only were they fully booked, they assured Scott that every hotel room in town, and in all the surrounding towns, were booked out by the more than 15,000 racers in town. We were due at the hangar in 30 minutes and my unease was mounting by the second. Not knowing where we would stay that night we drove out to see the plane.
Ant had told us that the hangar was difficult to find and he wasn’t kidding. After following our GPS to a dead end at train tracks, getting briefly bogged, and being told by a pedestrian whom we asked for directions, “Oh my, you are lost,” we finally arrived at the airfield past our appointed time and well past dark. On the way there I announced to Scott, “After you look at the plane I am going to ask Anthony if we can pitch up in, or outside, his hangar. The airfield security guard can let us out in the morning. We’ll be off to Kruger by the crack of dawn.” Scott, intent on missing a pothole, but not missing a turn, said nothing.
When we arrived at the hangar Ant was understandably perturbed at our tardiness. But he is South African so his manners were impeccable. He welcomed us and opened the hangar door. Off to the right sat the small anti-poaching plane, a Sky Jeep. But dominating the space was a Polish Wilga, which to my eye, is the most romantic looking bush plan ever made.
“That’s a Wilga! Where did you get it? How long have you had her?” Scott exuded enthusiasm, admiration, and envy all at once as he circled the plane. He impulsively reached out to stroke the fuselage.
As with anyone who is met with an appreciative audience, Ant happily talked about his Wilga. How a lady pilot had flown it there from Poland, how much he loved to fly her, and how much his wife did not enjoying flying in her. Scott and Ant eventually made their way over to the Sky Jeep, which looked in fine shape and ready to help save some rhino and elephants in Tanzania. They lost track of time, but I didn’t. It was getting darker by the minute.
“Ant, it was so kind of you to take the time to show Scott the plane. I have one more favor to ask. All the accommodation in town is booked and the campsite is closed because of the bike race. May we pitch up outside your hangar for the night? We would leave for Kruger at first light.”
“No. You are staying at my house,” he said without hesitation.
I was floored. “But why,” I asked? “You just met us.”
“Because you are. Now get in your Landy and follow me.”
We did as we were told and followed Ant through the township surrounding the airfield and up into the suburbs in the hills above the city. It was the first of many times over the next 16 hours that I was to ask, “why?” 
Seven enthusiastic dogs of varying sizes and three cats, along with Ant’s wife Norma, greeted us in the small foyer. He must have phoned her on the way.
“You are welcome. Now,” she said indicating a room to her left, “this will be your accommodation for the night. You must be desperate for showers. Take your time then meet us in the lounge for drinks. And of course, you will join us for dinner.”
“But why?” I asked peering into a beautifully appointed bedroom with en suite off the entryway. “You don’t even know us.”
“Nonsense. Freshen up and we’ll see you soon for drinks, all right?”
“All right!” After bush camping for three nights no one needed showers more than we.
Soon we were gathered in the lounge with Norma, Ant, their son and his new bride, and a 9 months pregnant Veterinarian staying in a guest house on the property. All the dogs and one cat crowded in on sofas and laps around us. I loved everything about this house and these people. It had an air of You Can’t Take it with You the 1938 movie with Lionel Barrymore and Jimmy Stewart. It was a house filled with love and acceptance and stick togetherness.
Over drinks we found we had friends and acquaintances in common. We were enthralled by Ant and Norma’s stories of Zimbabwe and of how they met. It was as if we had known each other for decades rather than for a few minutes. None of the talk was small. They told us about their children and about how they had never had a honeymoon.  We talked about our families, about how lucky we were to have so many wonderful nieces and nephews since we were unlucky to have kids of our own. I told them about Clare and Colin, the youngest of the batch from my siblings and how we were the ones who got to teach them to ski, to backpack, and how to poo in the woods. I talked about how homesick I was and how anxious I was to see them. Recently I had received a note from Colin saying he couldn’t wait until I got home.  I smiled remembering how much fun we had with Clare and Colin growing up and I talked about what wonderful people they had had become, Clare a comedian and writer in New York and Colin studying to be a firefighter. Times spent with Clare and Colin are some of the happiest of my life.
“Scott and I travel a lot. We’ve been away from home longer than this before, but this time, it feels I’ve been away forever. I feel such a strong tug for home. Being here with your family, all the laughter, the warm fire, reminds me again of what I am missing. I’m really looking forward to being home.” While we talked, Ant’s son Benjie worked the grill and before long we were gathered around a table in the kitchen enjoying meats, and salads, and wine aplenty. No one grills like a South African male. Just thinking about it makes my mouth water.
It was getting late. Ant had an early morning meeting and we wanted to be off to Kruger Park at sun up. “Of course, you will have breakfast with us before you all leave,” Norma said.
“But why? Really you mustn’t go to the trouble.”
“Nonsense. Ant must eat and run early too so it is no trouble at all,” Norma said. I was falling in love with this family.
Scott and I retired to our quarters for the night feeling cared for and loved.
“Why?” I asked as we climbed into bed. “Why are they so kind? We are total strangers. Or were. I can’t believe the stuff we talked about. Personal stuff you usually save for the fifth date, you know?”
“They are just good people Tris. We would have done the same if we encountered a stinky couple without accommodation for the night.” He leaned over and kissed me. “Sleep tight.”
But I didn’t sleep tight. I tossed and turned. Even though we were safe and sound for the night the anxiety I had felt since yesterday when I was going through the Land Rover had not left me. I was up and ready to go by 6AM. 
We ate with Ant and Norma, promised to stay in touch, and drove off down the hill. As we rounded the first bend I took out my phone to check for messages. What I saw made my heart stop. There were messages from my niece Clare and from my brother Sean. The messages just said URENT. “Pull over Scott.” I said.  Scott parked off the road and grabbed his iPad saying, “I’ll connect with Skype so you can talk to Sean and Clare.”
I tried calling Sean but my call went to message. I called Clare and that call went to message too. Thinking the worst, I began doing an online search for the closest airport. We had never been to Louie Trichardt before so for all we knew we would need to drive all the way to Johannesburg to catch a flight. Then my phone rang.
“Auntie Teresa,” said Clare tightly.
"Clare, what's wrong? What has happened?"
“Auntie Teresa," she repeated. "Colin died.”
“WHAT?!” Colin was my brother Sean’s only child. I screamed. I wailed. Our anguished sobs carried across oceans and continents. I just kept repeating” No, no, no, no…”
“It can’t be. Oh my God. Sean and Ann. How will they survive?" I thought of Colin's beloved girlfriend Selina and felt overwhelming sadness for what might have been. Between our sobs, Clare just kept repeating over and over “I know. I know.” I could hear the pain in her voice. Both only children and a year apart in age, Clare and Colin grew up like siblings. Scott told me later that he had never seen anyone tremble as I was trembling. “How?” I wailed into the phone.
“No one knows yet. But Uncle Sean was the one who found him.”
“Oh my God,” I cried. “Clare, I’m coming home. Now. I’m coming Clare.”
I reached for Scott then looked past him to see Norma pulled alongside in her car, concern and confusion written on her face.
“I heard such screaming so I came to see who it was. But, it’s you. What has happened?”
I was still shaking. Scott was speechless and as white as a sheet. Finally, I managed to expel answers. “It’s my nephew. The one I told you about. Colin.”
She understood. For the third time since I met her just 12 hours earlier, Norma took charge and told us what to do. “Go back to the house. Park your Landy in the driveway. I will see to it that you get to an airport. You mustn’t worry about anything.” She repeated everything three times.
Back at Ant and Norma’s house Scott climbed up on the roof of the Landy and retrieved our backpacks out of the small storage bin. He tossed them down and I began throwing things inside. We didn’t speak. We just did. And I didn’t have to think. All I had to do was pick up the sack I had filled the day before with all our important stuff and put it in the backpack. I remember thinking; this is why I did this. Norma stood by saying, “Don’t worry about forgetting something. You don’t need it.” Then, “ Now, you mustn’t worry about your Landy. Just park it over there and don’t think about it. Go in the house. Scott, you can use my computer to book a flight. You must both drink the tea I give you. There is not a bit of color in either of your faces.”
We followed her inside like Zombies. I reached the bathroom just in time, as my guts and bowels gave way.
Norma gave us hot sweet tea. And pink grapefruit juice, also thick with sugar. I later learned these are good for shock. She stood by and let me talk about Colin, what an amazing young man he had become, what a wonderful girlfriend he had. About what a wonderful father he would have been.
“Why?” I sobbed. Then, “And why are you doing all this for us?”
“This is what we do. You would do the same for me.”
Within 15 minutes of hearing the news, we were on our way to an airport 100 kilometers away in Polokwane. There, we boarded a ten-seater bound for Johannesburg. All I remember of the flight was Scott repeatedly leaning across the aisle and squeezing my leg.
In the car on the way to the Polokwane airport Scott booked the last two seats on a flight to Abu Dabai. Or maybe it was Dubai. The plane was so full we couldn’t even sit together.  On the departure board in Johannesburg I noticed that there was a flight leaving for Dubai in ten minutes. I begged the powers that be to hold the plane for us but they said it was impossible. So we had to wait hours for our connecting flight. At the gate Scott explained to the ground staff that we were returning home due to a tragic loss of a family member and they found a way to have us sit together. Thank God. I don’t remember a thing from that 10-hour flight. We landed in Abu Dabai and waited again for a connection. It’s a blur. The 17-hours of flights to San Francisco, I don’t remember being on the plane. Then it was an hour by car to San Jose.
The 40-hours from the time I got the news until I was in my brother’s arms was a new kind of agony I never want to relive. I only remember two things from it—feeling like my body was turning inside out, and Scott's hand squeezing my leg.
I knew then the answer to the question I kept repeating to Ant and Norma, Why?
If it hadn’t been for our chance meeting and how they insisted we stay with them and enfolded us into their family, I don’t know what would have happened. Norma knew just what to do to keep us from driving away distraught and without a plan. She took charge because she knew we couldn't think clearly. She ordered us back to the house and treated us for shock. She offered phone and computer so Scott could try to book flights. She repeated everything three times because she knew we couldn't comprehend words.
I no longer believe in coincidences. I believe in serendipity and love. Something told me to prepare for a disaster the day before. Then there was the bike race and lack of hotel rooms, the Sky Jeep in Ant’s hangar, and Ant’s love of Landys. Ant insisting we stay at his house. Norma’s warmth, the dogs, the cats, the love, all of it was set in place for us so that we could survive in order to help others survive.
Once home, we stayed in our niece’s cottage until our tenants moved out. She again fed us fresh baked bread, calm love, and compassion. My best friend drove 7 hours to deliver our cat Pika to us, “Because,” she said,  “you will need her.” And we did. Our tenants moved out two weeks after we arrived which was a good thing because the memorial for my nephew Colin was three days later at our home. I don't know how we did it. Yes, I do. People exactly like Ant and Norma stepped up without question. They arranged the best caterer in Silicon Valley on short notice. A friend of my sister-in-law flew across the country and arranged all the flowers. The day of the event, neighbors appeared in the morning to set up all the chairs and tables, donated wine, and enveloped us in regular doses of hugs. There were over 400 people in attendance. Speeches were so heartfelt, those present, even those who had never met Colin, said that the day “transformed” them. When hearing that he had died instantly, of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, an enlarged heart, many people uttered sadly, “Of course he did” because no one had a bigger heart than Colin.
Just two weeks before he passed, Colin had completed his training along with extensive physical tests and interviews to become a firefighter, his dream career. He was still awaiting the news if he would be offered a position when he passed away. We found out the night before the memorial that he had achieved his goal. A fire Captain read the acceptance letter and presented Colin's helmet, jacket, and badge to his parents at the memorial. It was the most proud and the most sad I have ever seen my brother. Throughout the service Scott squeezed my leg.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Picking up the Thread of a Safari Jema – Fifty Days at Sea

Picking up the Thread
Safari Jema – Fifty Days at Sea

“What’s the most stern sail on the boat?”
“You mean the sail located most aft?” I asked.
“Not exactly. Stern as in meanest, most cruel. Or to put it another way, the sail most liked by many Brits?”
I thought a minute. There are sixteen sails on the ship, five square sails and a number of jibs plus some fisherman. They all seemed very friendly to me... and not at all kinky.
“I give up. What is the meanest or most British sail on the ship?”
“The Spanker!” said my witty sailor, my Mr Sky, Yachty Scotty.

It’s Day 31 of 50 continuous days under sail. We are aboard the Star Flyer, a four-masted, 366-foot long, barquentine clipper ship. In two days, we'll enter the Straits of Gibraltar and transition from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea. This morning after a lengthy emergency drill for crew only where water tight doors slammed shut automatically and violently, the captain called all the passengers to the Tropical Bar. Not to offer a sacrificial drink to Poseidon, but to explain why we would enter the Gibraltar Strait one day early. Fifty knot winds (damn strong winds) were expected in the channel between Africa and Europe so the captain ordered the crew, "Batten down the hatches and full speed ahead!" in hopes we will avoid the brunt of the ferocious gusts that swoop down from the Pillars of Hercules. This is A-OK with us because now we will cross through the strait around 4 P.M. instead of 4 A.M. so we will get a glimpse of our beloved Africa in daylight.
The first two weeks of this Sea Safari were aboard a different sailboat, the Windjammer Mandalay, a 160-foot, three-mast, bare bones beauty of a ship built in 1929 by EF Hutton as a gift to his wife. Many moons later, it is a rustic 58 passenger barefoot vessel sailing the waters of the Caribbean.
There were only 26 passengers aboard (half full) so there was plenty of room to move about, which came in handy after Swizzle Time, a spirited happy hour consisting of all the rum punch sundowners we could drink.

The passenger mix was a convivial crowd of mostly Americans (many of which came from California) and a surprising number of pilots. All but two passengers were repeat customers. Most were serial sailors loyal to Windjammer and the barefoot boat concept. Some took their first Windjammer cruise back in the 60’s or 70’s. We heard wild tales about the “good old days” when cruises were often singles only, and clothing was sometimes optional.
The first day aboard, Scott and I searched for a spot out of the sun to read and settled on well-worn blue mats on top of the wheelhouse. It only took a few minutes before one of the old-timers let us know, with a large degree of hope and enthusiasm, that the deck we were occupying was reserved for nude bathing.  We didn’t yet know our fellow passengers as well as we would come to know them but as we surveyed our shipmates from atop the wheelhouse we guessed that no one would be taking their clothes off any time soon and, save a few moonings directed towards monstrous 4000 passenger cruise ships that occasionally ruined our view, no one ever got completely naked.
Her loyal fans dearly love the Mandalay but she rarely operates at full capacity. The web site leaves much to be desired and advertising is next to nil. Without capital to fuel investment, she’s like the Velveteen Rabbit; dearly cherished, but much worn around the edges. Our first impulse upon boarding was to start a crowd-fund campaign to help replace the loose teak decking, the faded oft-repaired sails, and the torn carpeting below decks.
Why would we pay good money to go on such a ship? We too sailed the Windjammer in “the good old days”. In 1979 we took a week long trip aboard the Yankee Trader and had fond memories of riding the bowsprit, lounging in the nets, and dancing on deck after Swizzle Time. Back then, before air conditioning, most people slept on deck and only retreated to humid cramped cabins with the nightly 3 A.M. rain shower. These days, cabins are spacious and air-conditioned.
Our shipmates were some of the most interesting, fun people we have met anywhere on land or sea. The food was basic but tasty, the owner/captain capable and the crew energetic and delightful.
Every morning before dawn, after the anchor was raised, we helped hoist sails to the tune of Amazing Grace. We never missed a sunrise. The entire experience was incredibly moving, calming, and healing. I wished my entire family, especially Sean and Ann and Selina, were here with me.

            Soon there was an easy rhythm to the days. We sailed through lunch then anchored in a sheltered bay of one or another beautiful island for snorkeling, swimming, or hiking. There was usually a beach bar and palm trees to sit at or under. Throughout the day, many catamarans and yachts also came to anchor. Before long, tenders full of boaters headed ashore for dinner and dancing in the sand.

My birthday fell on the day we were at St Barts, a territory of France. St Barts is different than her nearest Caribbean neighbors. The vibe, with its main street of beautiful shops for beautiful people such as Prada and Tiffany’s, felt more French Riviera than Caribbean. To say that the yachts in harbor or anchored out were luxurious would be an understatement. On some of the larger yachts, the stern came equipped with enormous cargo doors for the tender that would be parked inside the yacht.
After 14 days aboard the Windjammer we arrived at St. Maarten. We did a heap of laundry and ate barbecue ribs at a beach bar. Then Scott had his hair cut at a small shop on a neighborhood street. This is always a great thing to do anywhere in the world because no one can inform you about the local sites like a barber. While Scott waited his turn, we watched a small boy getting tortured with his first hair cut. He squirmed and winced and worried until his father handed him a large roll of packing tape that the boy gripped tightly in both hands without moving a muscle for the duration of his cut. The TV was on so the barber and his regulars Monday Morning Quarterbacked the news of the day—standard barbershop talk the world over.
We met my niece Teresa (Treese to me) who, to our utter delight, decided to join us on the next legs of our sailing journey, a 20-day Atlantic Ocean crossing and a 14-day sail around the Med on a completely different type of sailing passenger vessel, the Star Flyer. With her bright new sails, polished brass, and warm teak decks she was a cut above the Mandalay in features and fixtures but could not hold a candle to the Mandalay’s special charms. I can’t say the Clipper ship was "better" than the Windjammer, just different.  We don't help raise any of the sails (most are raised mechanically anyway) on the Star flyer, but we are allowed to climb the mast to the crow’s nest—a horribly exciting activity I will never forget. Before I took hold of the first rung I asked a crew member, “Has anyone ever spewed while doing this?” She laughed and said "no" but I really don’t believe that to be true because I was one exhale away from letting my breakfast of hard boiled egg and toast rain down on the bystanders who watched with their eyes wide and mouths open from the deck below. There were so many butterflies in my stomach and so much adrenaline coursing through my body, that it took all I had to make my legs and arms move up the rope ladder, especially when a sudden gust of wind caused me to freeze and hang on for dear life halfway up the mast. I nearly backed down but a now or never feeling suddenly washed over me and my knees were able to work again. The view from the crow’s nest was worth the spent feeling I had for the rest of the day.

Treese also climbed the mast, eagerly and seemingly without fear. I am so proud of her. Born when I was ten, she was the first baby I ever took care of and we grew up together.
The three of us also climbed over the gunwale and onto the net that hangs from the bowsprit. The job of the netting is to keep crew that change the jib sails from falling into the ocean. So relaxing, I could have fallen asleep out there.

Some on board feel there is “…nothing to do, nowhere to go”. Ocean crossings aren’t for everyone. They are made for introverts. Readers. Writers. Nappers. Lovers of peace and quiet. Lovers.
I am made for an ocean journey. I treasure silence. But I also love meeting new and interesting people. If I want to converse, there are 68 other passengers from 13 nations, plus as many crew from as many nations, around for chatting. So far each person has a great story to tell. If I sit on one of the couches in the Piano Bar I can be guaranteed of an engaging conversation with a shipmate. But I can also go to the library and browse the books and read or do a crossword puzzle. I have time to do the things I love. What a gift! And we’ve made some truly good friends. Marcie and Keith from Santa Cruz and Phil, Tom and John from Kentucky (known on board as the Bourbon Boys) will be life-long friends I’m sure, and that is a gift as well.

Treese brought back issues of the Sunday NY Times crosswords for us to conquer together, a ritual that we do most Sundays when at home. (Treese owns a house a few blocks from ours and usually strolls over most Sundays with a batch of home made bread or jam.) She, Scott and I usually participate in the daily trivia on board ship. It’s fun and “interactive” because the winning passengers make up the questions for the next quiz. With our collective knowledge of literature, geography, and science we have won a few rounds so have had to prepare questions for the next quiz. Team 21, a wonderfully nerdy and enthusiastic group of German men, usually won.

Other than the daily trivia, Treese and I play Bananagrams or do crosswords or read so there is a misconception on board that we, team TNT, (Teresa and Teresa) are somewhat brainy. Team 21, the German engineers on board (Nerd Alert, Nerd Alert!) like us lots and are always impressed when we answer their random or obscure questions, (What is the altitude of low earth orbit?)  My niece is very smart. And Scott remembers everything he ever read and is of course my favorite nerd. As I told Mom, I married Mr. Right. Mr. Always Right.

Even without Swizzle Time, it’s difficult at times to stay upright while crossing the Atlantic Ocean at the wrong time of the year. We are a little boat in a big ocean. Trying to sail against the trade winds is no easy task. The swells can be huge. Rocking and rolling is the norm. Mealtimes are a challenge. There have been a few nights when plates, glassware, chairs and people have gone flying. One man’s head broke a chair leg as he flew off his seat when the boat suddenly lurched violently. Other than bruising, he was not hurt. Speaking of bruising, Belinda, the masseuse on board, told me I win the prize for most bruises. “You have them everywhere!” Those who know me know that doorjambs and table edges like to bash into my hips and shoulders. And knees and arms and….
We did have one port of call during the crossing, on Day 14, at Ponta Delgada in the Azores where I managed to collect a few more bruises while walking with sea legs on land. We swayed while sitting or standing still, a very weird sensation. But it felt so good to walk and walk and walk. The weather was perfect, we had a great picnic in a pristine park, and we even found a cat to pet.
So while some aboard are climbing the walls with boredom and eager to disembark for good, we are happy as can be. Almost. If there were a cat or dog on board (or bunny, or duck, or otter, or child...) it would be perfect.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Safari Jema in Audio Book Format!

Exciting news! Safari Jema is now an audio book!
Narrated by the talented Jennifer Groberg, Safari Jema is available on iTunes, and on Amazon!

I hope you enjoy the listen!

-Teresa O'Kane

Saturday, April 16, 2016

How I Saved Louie: Crabs in Bondage

     Zavora Beach Lodge is perched on a dune 17 sandy kilometers off the main road in Mozambique. It sits on what I consider the best piece of coastline in the country. The beach is clean and the waves are consistent. At low tide a perfectly round, crystal clear snorkeling pool appears just steps from the beach. A constant but soft onshore breeze keeps the mozzies at bay and the guests cool. The people are lovely. Sounds perfect, right? But it’s empty.

     Perhaps it’s the steep, sandy, traction-resistant road which leads to the bluff campsite that keeps people away, or that the lodge is mainly known for its scuba center, which caters to groups too tired to stroll the beach after two boat dives a day, but the beach here is practically (beautifully) deserted. I was often the only person walking the beach a kilometer in either direction.

One late afternoon Scott and I made our way down the beach farther than we had gone before. We rounded a bend in the coastline until we came to twenty or more small fishing boats perched higher than high tide on the slope of a dune. Soon we began seeing heavy clumps of fishing net bound up with sand and seaweed. Then we saw a tangled mess that contained not only seaweed and sand, but crabs trapped hopelessly in the web.
     “Oh how sad!” I said bending at a mound with three dead crabs. Up to that point on our walk we had been in blissful, life is perfect moods but now we turned away from the scene with empty sails. We walked only a little further before deciding to turn back to camp. As we passed the lump of sand and net with the three crabs I stopped to lift it to see how much it weighed. Just as I bent down to get a good hold, an eye on one of the crabs went sproing! and locked eyes, rather eye, with mine. I looked closer to see that his other eye was ensnared tightly under a line of netting.
     “Oh Scott, one of these guys is alive! Oh, poor thing. We’ve got to help him.” I carefully took hold of a strand of netting and tried to pull it over his head but the net was too tightly wrapped around the crab’s body, head, and ten legs.
     “This is awful. We can’t just leave him here to die like this. Do you have anything sharp in your pocket?” I asked.
     We tried using the teeth of our car keys to no effect. I looked frantically for something sharper in the sand.
     “Oh Scott," I moaned. "Would you please walk to camp and bring my Swiss Army Knife back with you? It has a little scissor attachment. That will be the perfect tool.”
     After some protest (did I mention we were at least a kilometer from camp?) Scott set off down the beach in a grudgey trudge towards the lodge.
(Photo taken during sunset trudge the previous night)
     I searched the area near the boats for something sharp. I tried a piece of hard black plastic to no avail.
     “Hang on Buddy,” I said aloud. Then “Oh brother. I’m talking to a crab.”  Then, because his eye popped up again when I spoke, I imagined that the crab could understand I was trying to help. I knelt next to his good eye and, channeling Band of Brothers, urged, “Stay with me little guy. Help is coming!” He peered up at me with the trust of the innocent and pure.
     I continued searching for anything sharp enough to cut through sturdy plastic net. I peered into each of the boats looking for a left behind tool or utensil. A few of the boats had small outboards attached so I looked for something I could borrow, uh, detach, okay, yes, break off and use to free the crab, who I had named Louie during my frantic and audible search.
     Finally, I found a broken bottle. Perfect! When I picked up a piece of glass the size of a toddler’s palm a small but dangerously sharp shard miraculously broke off and fell at my feet. Even better!
     “Sorry Louie, but this may be a little uncomfortable,” I said returning to the crab with the piece of glass that was as sharp as a surgical knife, or at least a steak knife. His eye sprang up again. He looked at me as if to say, I’m terrified right now, and you are a little manic, but your salty tears are somewhat refreshing, and it seems that this is hurting you more than it’s hurting me so, go for it!
I started cutting with a sawing motion on the strand that trapped his other eye down in the prone position. Sproing! Now both eyes gazed into mine begging for parole.
     “Okay, now lets free a leg Louie.”
     By the time Scott returned with the Swiss Army Knife I had managed to slice away only two more strands. There were dozens to go.
     “Here,” Scott said somewhat impatiently handing me the tool. But when Louie looked at him with both eyes he softened. “Hey! He doesn’t look like a Cyclops anymore!”
     “Didn’t you bring a camera? I wanted to have a photo of him.”
     “No Tris, I did not bring a camera so you could take a picture of your crab. Sheesh,” he added, impatient once more. “Get a move on. It’s going to be dark soon.
     I used the tiny scissors and painstakingly cut strand after strand from Louie’s body, his legs, his head. I had freed most of Louie from his wet, heavy bondage but he still had two legs entwined in a small piece of net. Suddenly he took off running. Not far though. He stopped, turned, and looked at us as if to say, If you don’t mind, I’ll stick around until you finish the job. I picked him up and turned him over to cut the last few strands from his back legs then returned him to the sand. Now it got weird. He just sat there looking at us.
     “What’s the matter Louie?” I looked up and down the beach around us and noticed many holes where crabs had dug in for the night.
     “Oh! He needs a home! He’s probably so exhausted he can’t even dig.” So, I dug a hole for him. Louie watched while I dug sideways into the sand above the high tide line to create a haven from the crows, dogs and whatever else preys on crabs. It was so weird. He watched and waited and then, when I was done, he scampered over to the hole and moved in to the deepest corner, comfy-cozy.
     “Good night Crab Louie. Be well. And stay away from nets!” We walked back to camp feeling good that something in the world, finally, was a little better for us in.
     Three nights later and many kilometers away, at Bahia Mar Resort where we were splashing out for my birthday, while Scott shook his head in disbelief, I ordered crab ravioli for dinner. 

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Oh Great. The War is Starting and I'm Naked.

Oh Great. The War is Starting and I’m Naked.

     “When you are in the convoy, don’t drive near vehicles carrying soldiers. Don’t get anywhere near the armored personnel carrier either. It’s a good thing you don’t drive a Ford Ranger because they like to shoot at those. That’s the car favored by government officials. Get to the beginning of the convoy early but not too early. If you arrive too early the police will have time to search your car and find something to confiscate or a reason to fine or arrest you.”

     I wonder how long it would take for us to relax in a country where these statements are said to us the same way one might suggest, “Order the lemon herb chicken because the peri peri chicken will give you gas and a runny tummy.”

     We entered Mozambique several weeks ago with a plan to stay at camps along the stunningly beautiful coastline from Maputo to Vilankulos and up to Inhassoro, which folks in South Africa claim is the most breathtaking of them all. Well, the mechanic near the border who filled our almost empty gearbox with fluid and sold us new tires sure raved about it. After Inhassoro, the plan went, we would turn around and drive back the way we came until we could cross the border into Kruger Park. That was the plan. 
     We spent the days swimming in the Indian Ocean and soaking up the sun and Thank God For Ocean Breezes at Xai Xai (Shy Shy), Zavora (best bluff campsite, rescued a crab caught in fishermen net), Inhambane (So-so. Inhamblah), Vilankulos (splash out at Bahia Mar Resort for my birthday, facial, massage, and swim up bar included), Morrungulu (where South Africans next to us who have been coming for 10 years without incident, had their tents slashed and were robbed while they slept) and finally Inhassoro (at the dreamy Dream Catcher Lodge where we sat in the sparkling clean pool until we were pruney all over and watched fisherman lay a five kilometer long net and spend all day pulling it in before dividing it among the community of women who rushed to the beach with buckets or empty maize bags at the end of the day). 
     All of these lodges and or campsites used to be packed to the gills during school holidays and at Easter but these days there are just a handful of guests and minimal staff (except for Bahia Mar which is owned by a Government Minister and has steady occupancy). The drought, the fall of the Rand, and political unrest are to blame for keeping folks away.

     At each stop we asked our hosts about the “troubles” between the Renamo Party in the North and the government party in power. We heard that anyone driving between Rio Save (an hour from Inhassoro) and Muxungwe, about 100 kilometers North, would only be able to proceed in military convoy and that some vehicles had come under attack. This was the main reason for our plan to turn around at Inhassoro, before the Rio Save. I mean we aren’t stupid. A military convoy means that the road runs through an unsafe area, right? While backpacking around the world in 1995, in Laos we hitched a ride with a trucker who was part of a convoy through an area of turmoil and terrorism. What I most remember about that was that we had to wait a long time for the military to arrive and organize the convoy. Also the truck driver needed a shower. So did we. (Unlike this Zig Zag World Tour, our trip in ’95 was The Young and Sweaty with their Two Sweaty Backpacks.)

      When asked why we were turning tail at Inhassoro I explained, “I’ve been in a convoy before and I’m never doing that again. No way, no how. Do I look stupid or something?” But as we drove further and further north, the less we wanted to retrace the same potholed or sandy roads we took to get there. Our ultimate destination was and is Namibia. Driving all the way back to South Africa wouldn’t be nearly as interesting as driving through Zimbabwe and Botswana to get to Namibia.

     We met fishermen from Zimbabwe at Dream Catcher Lodge in Inhassoro who said, “We just came by convoy today! It’s perfectly safe. It was only annoying because they kept stopping so much. The road is bad in places but your Landy can handle that, no problem.”

     “I read in the news this morning that Renamo dug three trenches across the road yesterday to make drivers slow down or stop,”I said.

     “There are big pot holes to be sure but I don’t remember any trenches.”

     I asked our practical, born and bred in Zimbabwe host her opinion.
     “There have been incidences of shootings but a lot of what the media reports is rubbish.” She paused before adding, “Only you can make the decision but I can tell you that I wouldn’t hesitate to go towards Zim by convoy.”

     I posted the question to several Mozambican on-line communities and received a full range of responses from, “Don’t do it! Not worth the risk” to “I did it without incident two weeks ago. Go for it.”

     Scott and I spent two days deciding. On most ballots Scott voted FOR using the convoy to get to Zim. Ninety percent of the time I voted AGAINST mostly because I couldn’t bare thinking about what our families would go through if someone did end up taking a pot shot at us. In the end, on the eve of March 30th, I looked at Scott and said, “We drive an old Landy not a new Ford. Let’s do it.” I spent the next day reading about the convoy and general advice for driving through Mozambique. Mozambique has a lot of rules; “Don’t carry a knife, or machete, or pepper spray. They are deemed weapons and you’ll be arrested. If they search your car they might find a reason to confiscate your alcohol. Hide all your electronics!” Preparing the car (hiding the pepper spray, machete, computer, and the gin for good measure) and all the stress involved with coming to a decision made me kind of constipated so the next night I had peri peri chicken for dinner.

     On April 1st we left camp at 6:30 AM so we would get to the Rio Save in time for the 9AM convoy. We arrived with just a few minutes to spare, just enough time for a few policemen to inquire what we had brought for them. More came to the window, even after I used the usually successful line I borrowed from a woman called Alice during an overland trip from Cairo to Nairobi in 2010 when she was threatened with a fine for breaking a mirror in a pub in Ethiopia, “We are but humble travelers.” Finally a red-flag-bearing woman expressed her impatience for a delay that would result in no reward for her and shouted something in Portuguese at the policeman while waving us on to the bridge with the same motion the “Gentlemen start your engines” guy uses to get the Indy 500 Race started.

     We couldn't tell how many vehicles were in the convoy. But we never saw another tourist vehicle. Overloaded semi-trucks and logging trucks were what took up 99% of the convoy. There were of course armored personnel carriers, pickup trucks filled with fully kitted out soldiers wearing helmets and flak jackets and carrying large ass-kicking weapons. Hot in heavy body armor, thirsty soldiers lined the road in random spots along the route. If the convoy was going slow enough, soldiers asked for water and Scott let them drink from his water bottle. In two areas, there were makeshift army camps along the road.

     The advantage of a convoy in Africa, beside the obvious, is that it turns the road into one-way traffic. For the first time in all our journeys in Ndoto, we didn’t have to worry about oncoming traffic or trucks passing us on a blind curve. All we had to worry about were bathtub sized potholes and watching out for the man-made trenches. There were three trenches and I was glad we knew they were coming because if we had hit one at speed it would have meant the end to an axle.

     Sometimes the convoy spread out and we could barely see the truck in front or behind us but most of the time it was an orderly train of semis and Ndoto. At one point the convoy stopped completely. Soon truckers were climbing down and heading to the side of the road for a wee. I was desperate to do the same. I debated going between Ndoto and the truck in front of us but during a rehearsal Scott said he could see my bottom under the car. So off I went into the bushes with my trusty golf umbrella, which I never leave home without. Truckers threw me thumbs up all around when I returned.

     Finally we arrived at the end of the convoy route. Truckers pulled over to rest and buy cashews from street vendors. We bought cashews too but had no desire to linger. We carried on and six hours after we crossed the Rio Save we arrived at the Shop Rite in Chimoio. We needed supplies and I badly needed to use the facilities. While Scott shopped I asked to use the toilet in my best Portuguese by asking, “Toilet?” with unabashed urgency. Soon a young man whose job was sweeping the aisles led me to double doors that led to the bowels of Shop Rite. He handed me off to a woman who guided me through a maze and upstairs to the ladies room. (Word of advice: If you later want to eat the food you buy at the Shop Rite in Chimoio, do NOT look at what is behind the double doors because the bowels of Shop Rite are literally like the bowels of anything.)

     The ladies room had three loos (with doors!) but none of them had toilet paper. “Toilet paper?” I asked the woman. She answered in rapid Portuguese and made a motion as if she were birthing her eighth child, easy peezy, ‘Well, just go.’

     “Uh, I really need some paper.” I thought, Maybe high school Spanish would help. "Papel?" Or was it El papel? Los papeles?

     Hands on hips, losing patience with me, the mzungu woman who can’t pee without paper, she encouraged me again in Portuguese to just go dammit. By this time, I was near panic and broke into a flop sweat.

     “No pee pee. Big business. Number two, you know?" 

     Blank stare. I pictured myself, dejected and horrified, sinking slowly to the employee restroom floor with acceptance of the inevitable like the bride-to-be with sudden, unstoppable food poisoning while crossing the street in the movie Bridesmaids.
     Portuguese, think of something to say in Portuguese! I said sotto voce. I remembered the time I was in Brazil floating down the Amazon in a small wooden boat. The place where the women prepared our meals was just outside our cabin so every morning I greeted them with, "Bom dia!" which I was sure meant good morning. But every morning after I said it they giggled and blushed. Finally, the captain pulled me aside and told me that my accent was a little "off" and that instead of wishing the cooks good day, I was telling them they had nice bums. 
     "Bom! Bom!," I said motioning to my behind, to the area my gentile Aunt Martha called patootie. Not knowing what language patootie comes from, I threw that in for good measure; "Patootie!!"
     Nothing. By now her impatience was turning to fear.

     “For God’s sake woman! I had peri peri last night!”

     At that, she left and returned with a roll of paper towels.

     An hour later we finally arrived at our camp for the night, Msika, a once hopping resort near the border of Zimbabwe on Lake Chicamba. The regular campsites were overgrown from lack of use so they let us park next to a chalet and gave us a key so we could use the toilet and shower. It was Saturday night but except for a few upper class Mozambicans getting their drink on at the bar there were few guests at the resort and even fewer staying over. The young Mozambican couple let me hold their soft baby, which sent all sorts of warm endorphins coursing through my body. The manager said, “If war doesn’t break out, we are set to have a big fishing competition here at months end”, which sent the cozy vibes crashing.

     I was exhausted, sweaty, and desperate for a shower. I grabbed my towel and toiletry bag and headed to the chalet while Scott unfolded our rooftop tent. I peeled off my sweaty, dusty, anxiety-ridden convoy clothes, tossed them in the corner and padded to the bathroom in my birthday suit. Just as I was about to step into the shower there was a massive explosion that shook the building. My heart stopped. I was glad the peri peri was through my system.

     “Oh great. I’m naked and the war is starting,” I mumbled to myself wearily. Back on went the funky clothes. I opened the door to the chalet just as Scott was about to enter.

     “I forgot to tell you. They are blasting the mountain across from us to get fill for the new highway.”

     The next day we read the news. At 9AM the previous day, at the exact time we crossed the Rio Save and joined the convoy, government troops began bombing the hell out of the Renamo base in Gorongosa National Park, the park once filled with animals that went to fill soldier's bellies during the previous war. 
     This is all very bad, very sad news for Mozambique. In addition, there's a shortage of maize and food prices are soaring. Up north, kids are barefoot and their clothes are in taters. In the South, in the area controlled by the government, children have uniforms, shoes, backpacks, and schoolbooks. But there are a lot of children. If you drive through Vilankulos at noon you'll have to weave your way through a sea of blue uniforms. Hundreds of children, all the same age are leaving school, while hundreds more are arriving for session two. There aren't enough jobs to go around now so it's hard to imagine what these children will do when they graduate.

     Tomorrow we will cross the border into the most beautiful country in Africa, Zimbabwe. First stop, the amazing Musangano Lodge at the gateway to the highlands.