“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only a page.” — St. Augustine
Never have I felt so far from home, so detached from my own life. Paris and South Africa did that to me. Here’s why…
We need less than we think we need. Long ago, I learned to travel light. To take less and to make do. During my recent trip, that point was brought home to me when on the second day of our adventure, my wallet was stolen from out of a side pocket in my cargo shorts after Mass at Notre Dame Cathedral. Day two. No identification (though thankfully my passport was in an un-pickpocketed pocket), no money, no credit cards, no bank card. All gone.
Be prepared. Way, way, way long ago, I started using a program called eWallet from Iliumsoft. Various versions have traveled through time with me on Palm Pilots, Pocket PCs, Blackberries, iPhones… all the way to my present day iPad. Within it, I store passwords, account information, credit card and bank card details, everything. It’s password protected and Iliumsoft tells me that my data is strong 256-bit AES encrypted. I don’t know what that means, but I believe them that it’s a good thing.
Being able to get back to my hotel room and immediately contact the registry of motor vehicles, banks, credit card companies, etc. went a long way to the recovery mentioned above.
If you don’t have a solution like this, I recommend that you get one.
My camera decision was exactly right. Before I left, I mentioned that I’d be bringing two cameras: the Fujifilm X100s for close work (and specifically for walking around Paris) and a Nikon D7100 with the Nikon 70-300VR lens (for safari work).
I was delighted with this combo as the Nikon gear stayed in the Paris hotel safe and then was used with great success on safari. I was very happy to have the X100s on safari too as a lot happens up close. I’d never change lenses on such a trip not only due to my own disdain for having to frequently do so, but also because the dusty conditions on safari make it risky.
I rented the D7100 kit from Borrowlenses.com. They were, in word, outstanding. Very professional and super responsive. The equipment was in perfect working order, though if I had had any problems, I’m certain they would have hopped to and made it right and pronto. Recommended.
Look around and experiment. I’m primarily a landscape photographer so I tend to see and think in that manner. During both the Paris and South Africa portions of this trip, I sought to experiment. I shot street scenes, still lifes, environmental portraits. I drank wines I never tend to. I ate impala. And there you have it.
Don’t futz with gear choices. I went back and forth on trying to decide which camera(s) to bring. 2 Guys Photo followers know about that as many probably rolled their eyes during my rants. While I am very happy with the gear I brought, I saw outstanding images from other guests, including those taken on big zoom bridge cameras, point and shoots and even cellphones. Truthfully, I would have brought back some good stuff whatever I brought… and I’m almost a bit embarrassed now that I spent so much time wringing my hands over this before I left.
It’s about the people. The scenery, the wildlife, the pure visual bombardment was amazing and life-changing. But what I’ll remember most of all were the people we met. Chris and Jeannie who taught us how to choose better wine, Laura and Fernando from Barcelona who stayed with us as we left Versailles and headed to the Louvre, Sue and Fred who experienced an African safari though the eyes and with the bodies of long retired grandparents, Jacques our guide who spends 30 day blocks of time away from his family to lead safari tours, and many, many more.
Be careful. Danger abounds and in many ways. Pickpocketers, large and irritated animals, small and infected insects, poverty stricken people who see tourists as easy targets. I tend to be overly casual about such threats but I’m determined to be more serious and better prepared going forward.
Be grateful. I’ve had some recent health problems… which almost prompted me to have to cancel this trip. Truth be told, I was probably feeling a bit sorry for myself. Having seen the small villages and difficult living conditions in Africa, I was inspired to be more grateful for all of my abundant blessings.
iPads are amazing. What a great travel companion. I watched movies on mine, downloaded photos and used it as a back-up device, read books during long flights, stored my valuable eWallet information, checked in on my kids via email and Skype, wasted time on solitaire, and on and on. It’s like my American Express card: I never leave home without it. Then again, that card is now gone so what do I know?
Nature is beautiful. Giraffes fight for the affection of females by slamming their horns into the necks and bellies of foes through an elaborate and seemingly choreographed battle sequence. It’s amazing to watch. Hippos gracefully ascend to the surface to grab some oxygen about every 30 minutes or so, then slowly drop back down below the waterline. Colorful birds adorn the dry thorny bushes that fill the landscape. A baby rhino follows his mother, seemingly more annoyed by the observers than she. It’s beautiful.
Nature is scary. Predators abound. Poachers threaten to remove the last living rhinos off our planet in our lifetimes. Large, sharp aloe plants scar unsuspecting passersby (yes, I can vouch for that). Irritated elephants prepare to charge. Africa leaves you with a heightened sense of vulnerability.
Delight in surprises. When you go to Disney, you know you’ll have a chance to ride Space Mountain. In Aruba, you’re going to get sunny weather. You’ll have your breath taken from you in front of the Grand Canyon.
In Africa, there are no such guarantees. We knew there were several lion prides in Phinda Private Game Reserve but had heard from some others that they had spent half a day unsuccessfully trying to locate one of them. As such, our expectations were held in check during the morning of our trip to Phinda. But then there they were: one adult male, two females and four cubs. There they were.
Live. I recall becoming closer to my Uncle Ezio in the years before he died. Previously, he had seemed only gruff, disinterested. Then one day, I asked him about his Nikon camera and we immediately had something in common. I was a just a child and having had no children of his own, I now know he simply didn’t understand the task of connecting with a 10 year old. He carefully and meticulously described the workings of a camera and I became hooked.
Uncle Ezio always lived for his own retirement, to be able to spend more time at his beloved lake cottage. He tinkered, started projects and rarely finished them. The half completed second floor was testimony to that fact. By day, he fixed large trucks; I assume his position was more specific than that description but I don’t know any more about it. I do know that he was not fond of any of it. The lake house filled his daydreams. Someday, someday he thought. And on occasion, he would tell the ten year old boy who he suddenly felt connected to because of a Nikon SLR camera.
Finally, the day came. He retired.
Within a few weeks, while tinkering at the cottage, Uncle Ezio fell off a foot ladder and experienced a stroke. Within days, he was gone.