It’s been a rough week. My husband, Gary, had to be admitted to the hospital on Monday. He’s been feeling puny for a couple of weeks and finally went for some blood work which landed him in the ER. A short time later, he was in a private room hooked up to machines. There was some good news. His new pacemaker was working well and he was so funny and entertaining, the nurses didn’t want him to go home. And the even better news is that he was released to come home last night.
With the drama of his being in and out of the hospital three times the past four months and my having all kinds of other stresses, I noticed that most nights, I’ve been traveling in my dreams. My mind has taken me on numerous cruises, some via big ships, including one with Captain Tom Hanks who invited me to the bridge but I couldn’t find it. Another was on a small power boat and I was towing Gary in a tiny dinghy behind the boat. And some of my travels were literally up in the air – flying an ultralight along the California coastline and then in Hawaii, even letting go of the aircraft and flying alone over the Maasai Mara Game Preserve in Africa.
Ah, Africa. I’ve been there twice. Ironically, the first time was a visit to Sierra Leone in 1970 while aboard the Semester at Sea ship, s.s. Ryndam. The Semester at Sea was a Chapman University program in those days and I was thrilled to get a scholarship and loan to take the trip, along with my equally delighted cousin and best friend, Dru. We couldn’t believe our good fortune to embark on such a life-changing adventure. Sierra Leone had not yet suffered the horrors of civil war and “blood diamonds” depicted in the film starring Leonardo DiCaprio. It was the first third world country I had ever visited and the learning experience sticks with me today as if I had just been there last week. We students traveled for many hours in rickety buses on mostly red dirt roads, visiting villages where the people had never seen anyone who looked or sounded like us. At a farming school way inland from the port of Freetown where our ship was docked, we stood in a hot, humid, very tiny building with a mud floor and observed the butchering of a hanging cow that made most of us bolt outside to vomit. As kind as the people were, I knew I would not be returning to Sierra Leone. Instead, I dreamed of visiting Kenya or Tanzania someday to see the wild animals and Mt. Kilimanjaro.
My second trip to Africa began with an exotic invitation in a box delivered to my office at Intelligent Electronics in 1995. There were two colorful carved wooden animals in the box from my Maritz Incentive Travel representative, with a card inviting me to bring a guest and join them on “a 10-day executive site adventure” to Kenya. I had planned to be in Hawaii for a party the week of the trip and had already booked plane tickets. It occurred to me this might be my only chance to see those animals I dreamed of photographing, so I sent my regrets to my friends who were going to Hawaii and accepted the Africa trip. It was only six months after the death of my first husband, so I invited my favorite traveling companion, Dru, to join me on the trip of a lifetime.
Our dream trip started in Los Angeles where we boarded British Airways with about six other Maritz guests and staffers. Of course, we were in First Class to London where we had a 12 hour layover, so we were treated to lovely hotel rooms and a tour of London. Then we flew First Class to Nairobi, pinching ourselves as we enjoyed champagne, caviar and hot fudge sundaes. We spent our first night in Nairobi and the next morning took off for Finch Hattons Camp in Tsavo. You may remember Denys Finch Hatton as the character played by Robert Redford in the 1985 film “Out of Africa”. Finch Hatton was the boyfriend of author and farmer Karen Blixen, played in the film by Meryl Streep. When Dru and I arrived at our “tent”, it was not what we expected. We thought we’d be roughing it a bit. But no, we had the most gorgeous “tent cabin” imaginable, complete with a gigantic slate “rain” shower and a mini-bar. A torch-carrying bushman escorted us to and from the dining pavilion each evening so we would not be bothered by the resident hippos in the camp pond, or monkeys and baboons who seemed to be everywhere. Dinner was served on fine china with French wine in crystal glasses on lace tablecloths with chamber music playing, as one might have experienced in Finch Hatton’s day. Dru and I were out of our minds with incredulity.
After a few days of safari rides that included lots of sightings of impala, water bucks, ostriches, orangutans, cheetahs, even a leopard eating lunch up in a tree, and cocktail party surprises overlooking big rivers filled with crocodiles and hippos, our happy group moved on to Governor’s Camp in Maasai Mara where the giraffes, elephants and lions roam along with zebras, hyenas and a gazillion wildebeasts. Another gorgeous “tent” cabin awaited us and the first night a dozen Maasai dancers entertained us after dinner. Early the next morning we took off hot-air ballooning and during the five hour safari drive back to camp, I managed to get dehydrated and suffered a bad bout of sunstroke. Stuck in my fancy tent alone that night, I was comforted by visits from our wonderful steward who brought me hot tea and a lemon-water medicinal concoction, each time greeting me with his soft, “Jambo, Missy. You be okay?” The next morning I felt human again and went back out that afternoon for more elephants and lions.
There’s so much more to remember about that amazing trip to Africa. Watching a line of elephants crossing a river, trunks attached to tails. Soaring in a biplane over a “pink lake” covered with hundreds of thousands of flamingos and listening to the theme from “Out of Africa” on my headset. Sipping a glass of wine on a cliff miles from nowhere, watching the blazing red sun drop behind Mt. Kilimanjaro. Spa day at the Mt. Kenya Safari Club where we stayed our last couple of nights in unparalleled luxury. Sitting in the living room at Giraffe Manor with giraffes sticking their heads in the windows looking for a snack.
I always smile when I think of my second African adventure with Dru. This week, those memories of a phenomenal vacation served to raise me up from fear and sadness. My angels know how much I love to travel to far-off lands, and I believe they sent me those crazy travel dreams to help me sleep and feel rested when I returned to visit my husband in the hospital or stayed up late writing for work projects.
I intend to continue traveling for pleasure the rest of my lifetime, in spite of terrorism, crowded airplanes, delays and grumpy passengers. If and when physical limitations stop me from taking off somewhere, I feel comforted knowing I can always travel in my own mind. Perhaps that’s when I’ll discover I had a farm in Africa.