Earth Traveler

Did I Ever Tell You about My Trip to Africa Pt.1

Posted May 6th, 2010

Truly one of the greatest and worst (grorst?) experiences of my life was a trip I took to Africa in 1998. I spent three weeks traveling to Africa (via Europe) for adventure, sight-seeing and safari. I went with my then-fiancée and her two brothers. To keep their identities secret, we’ll call her Deva, and her brothers Mick and Seth.

This one is quite long, so you may want to read it in short, controlled bursts. Or if you want to get in the same frame of mind I was in at the time, you should start reading this around midnight and just power through.

In order to bring these events to you, I will be relying on my somewhat vague recollections, since there are no accurate records available. To keep things organic, I will refrain from using the Internet or consulting co-travelers to verify any of the details of where we went or how we got there. There’s actually a bunch of photos from this trip out there somewhere, but every single one with me in it was destroyed, for reasons that will become quite clear.

“Why Africa?” You might ask. Deva’s family was Danish. They may still be. I don’t know because she’s not my fiancée anymore. Apparently her family had frequently traveled to Africa. I wasn’t that excited about the trip for a few reasons: 1. I am a white guy and most white guys don’t really think about traveling halfway around the world to visit Africa. 2. I have a visceral fear of malaria because it is incurable. And 3. Most significantly, Deva and I weren’t really getting along well.

But the trip was free and that trumped my other concerns. I’ve always firmly believed that free is good. And who knew? Maybe this trip was the sort of thing that would get Deva and me back on track and she would fall in love with me all over again.

And so I agreed to go along to Africa, more specifically Zimbabwe, for an adventure that still makes me smile over a decade later.

Pre-flight

Taking a trip to Zimbabwe, or any other third world country, requires a great deal of planning and coordination. Immunizations, passports, airlines, ground transportation, hotels, activities for everyone – and in our case we were meeting up with Deva’s grandmother along the way. I was put in charge of booking the airline tickets (not paying, just booking).

There’s no direct flight from Los Angeles to Zimbabwe, so the one that seemed to make the most sense in terms of flight length and cost was on Air France. With a connection in Paris I suggested we could even do a quick sightseeing stop for Deva and her brothers. I’d already been to Paris and it is a must-visit (though the people of Paris are a must-avoid).

Deva’s grandmother wound up just booking all the travel through a travel agent with a connection in Amsterdam, not Paris. But, and this is the difference between being rich and being poor, Deva’s grandmother heard that Mick had been excited at the prospect of seeing the Mona Lisa at The Louvre in Paris. So our connecting flight in Amsterdam to South Africa was now a flight from Amsterdam to Paris and then back to Amsterdam and THEN off to South Africa.

We were now going to spend a few days in Paris because one of the boys casually mentioned it would be neat to see the Mona Lisa. It’s good to be rich.

With our travel booked, we went to get our immunization shots that were required for travel into Zimbabwe. I don’t mind getting shots and since these were to prevent contracting horrible and/or fatal diseases, it wasn’t a big deal. In addition to the shots, we had to start taking malaria pills.

Let’s talk about malaria for a second. Malaria is one of the scariest diseases on this planet. To me anyway. Once you get it, you’ve got it forever. There is no cure and all you can do is try to treat the symptoms – forever. And I don’t mean forever like when Deva told me she was going to love me forever. I mean for reals forever (for-realsver?).

But here’s the part that really messes me up: you get malaria from mosquitoes. Problems: 1. Mosquitoes have traditionally loved to suck my sweet, sweet blood. 2. It’s not fair to get a disease like that from something so small.

Of course, of the four of us that got immunizations, I was the only one that had a bad reaction to the shots. Fever and nausea for three days. But only three days and not forever or for-dead.

I mentioned this was an all expense paid trip, right? Including spending money, food money and even souvenir money. Pretty cool. It’s good to be rich.

However, there was some problem with the wire transfer of our “spending money” and the bank kept saying it would be available by “tomorrow.” But tomorrow kept coming and going without any money. I had some cash available (more on this later) but not enough to cover four people traveling halfway around the world for three weeks.

On the day we were leaving, we were told by the bank that the money was definitely in the account and we could get it. So on our way to the airport we stopped by the bank and, of course, the money wasn’t available. Awesome. But again, we’re talking about a rich family, so we arranged for Deva’s step-dad to take a bunch of money out of his account and meet us at the airport.

My good friend Mike (actual name) was kind enough to drive us to the airport and we were pretty much on schedule. Until…

Deva let us all know that we needed to stop at Banana Republic in Beverly Hills to get a very specific jacket she had to have for the trip. And by “had to have,” of course, I mean that in no way was it necessary. She had a closet full of these things and she had days before the flight to work out getting this life-altering garment. But we went to get the jacket because it was really her trip and honestly I was more than a little bit whipped by her at that point.

So D-mike, Deva’s brothers and I waited in the car outside the store. By the time Deva came out of the store with her disease-curing mega jacket, we were definitely late.

We busted ass to the airport – violating as many traffic laws as we could. As we waited in line to check our baggage, the step dad showed up and gave us an envelope with a bunch of cash. So that part of the plan worked. Yay.

Flying to Europe

Because we were so late, Deva was not able to get us four seats together (or so she said). This is long before online check-ins and all that high-tech mumbo jumbo. Deva was able to get three seats together and one about 15 rows back. I gallantly offered to take the single seat so Deva could sit with her young brothers.

I wound up sitting in a middle seat for a 13-hour flight to Amsterdam. On either side of me were girls who were flying alone and I’m sure we could have worked out some sort of seat trade so that I wasn’t flying alone. But Deva didn’t come back to see me once during the flight. And only one of her brothers stopped by. And I think he was just going to the bathroom. What can I say? I was beloved.

One of the girls I was sitting next to was an American that was living in Denmark and didn’t have anything nice to say about either country. Needless to say, we hit it off. The other girl was traveling to Europe and meeting up with a Christian choir or marching band or dance team or something.

As the plane began its descent into Amsterdam, I began to realize that Deva hadn’t come by to say hello or see how I was doing. But then I also realized that I didn’t even care and I hadn’t bothered to go up to see her. And not only that, I had actually just enjoyed a 13-hour flight in a middle seat.

We all met up at the arrival gate in Amsterdam. And, OF COURSE, I was almost immediately reprimanded for not going up to see Deva and her brothers during the flight. Sadly it wasn’t until much later that I realized that this was the true nature of our relationship. Sure I knew there were problems, but I always figured that love conquers all. But it doesn’t conquer the other person not actually loving you back. I was essentially just a live-in stalker for this girl.

The Amsterdam airport is the longest airport I’ve ever been in. And we needed to get from one end to the other in order to catch our small commuter flight to Paris. The flight was over-booked but our seats were secured. Deva and I thought about accepting the generous cash offer from the airline to sell our seats. I tried to push the “it would be an adventure” angle but we agreed it would be rude (even by my standards) to try to profit off of a trip someone else had paid for.

We were off to Paris for a few days. Yes, to see the Mona Lisa at the Louvre. For some reason I don’t remember the seating arrangement on the shuttle flight there or even back to Amsterdam. Maybe I was sitting next to Deva and I’ve just blocked it from my memory.

Arriving in Paris

When we arrived in Paris it was around dinnertime – or as the French call it Au Bon Pain. We had done some research on the world wide Internet about the hotels we were staying at in Zimbabwe and all of them were top of the line, five-star hotels and resorts. But we hadn’t bothered to check on the Paris hotel. But we were sure it could only be one of the finest hotels since that’s the way this family traveled.

We took one of those van rides into the city with a few other people. Deva was very pleased that we had saved about $10 dollars by not taking a cab. Unfortunately, our hotel was the last on the route. I think I made the “We should have paid the extra $10” joke only twice. We wound up with a very scenic tour of the city, stopping at four other hotels along the way – four very nice hotels located in the nicest parts of the city.

And then there was our hotel: Le Petit Merde. A very low-end hotel on the outskirts of the city. The only thing stopping me from calling it a crack house was not knowing how to say crack in French.

Deva and I had one room and her brothers had another. The beds were tiny. Is there a size that’s smaller than a single? That’s the size of these beds. And with almost no support whatsoever. Quality stuff.

But it was all free and we were only going to be there three nights, so we all had a laugh and just rolled with it. We decided to find someplace to eat nearby and we wound up at an Italian restaurant about a block away. I tried to speak to the waiter with the very limited French that I know. But he looked at me like I had just raped his language.

Sorry to bother you and your fellow Parisians with my attempt to communicate in your language. So back to English for me and the smallest tip imaginable for him.

When we got back to the hotel, Deva and I pushed our beds together. I’m pretty sure we wound up having sex – not out of any sense of romance or passion, but more out of obligation. After all, we were in Paris.

Paris Tourism Day 1

The next morning we set out to get as much sight seeing done as we could in the short time we had. I had been to Paris before and I was still pretty familiar with getting around by foot and by subway. On day one we banged out the Louvre, Notre Dame, the Eiffel tower and a boat tour on the Seine River.

And while a lot of this should have been terribly romantic, Deva and I just didn’t seem to be connecting in that way. Most of the time she seemed to just regard me as a stowaway on her family trip. Or a servant.

Conversely I was tragically in love with her. She had a delicious sense of humor and I still think she was one of the prettiest girls I’d ever seen. She definitely didn’t feel the same way about me – though we did wind up staying together for over four years. I just kept holding out hope that that beautiful, delightful girl would show up someday.

She never showed up in Paris. In fact, on our second night, back in the hotel, we got into a pretty nasty fight. I’m not really sure what started it. At that point it didn’t take much. But I know I was upset at being treated like shit. Towards the end of the argument I threatened to take a cab to the airport that night and just fly home. (Before I left the U.S. I made sure I had the resources to do just that – you know, just in case.)

I would later find out that she had been working on another dude back in LA. So that may have had something to do with the tension between us.

Anyway, she wanted me to stay, probably just to avoid the embarrassment of having me leave her behind. I decided to stay because how often do you get a free trip all over the world? I decided I would just assume that we weren’t together and then I’d stop feeling like shit every time she scowled at me.

Paris Tourism Day 2

The next day we took the train down to Versailles. That was neat. And the photos from that day were hilarious. Deva looked gorgeous and bright in every picture that I was not in. The ones we were in together, she looked like a hostage.

Back in Paris for dinner and we were all sick of European food so we went to Planet Hollywood. That might be the best cheeseburger I’ve ever had in my life.

After dinner we got in the taxi line to head back to the hotel. It was really cold that night and even though I was wearing pants I was very, very cold – which turned out to be the beginnings of what I would later call “The Sickness.”

When our taxi pulled up he wouldn’t let all four of us in at first (they had a “limit” of three people) but since two were small boys and I kept saying “big tip, big tip,” he let us all in and drove us back to Le Petit Merde.

From this point until we arrived in Amsterdam the next day is a bit of blur. I don’t drink alcohol so I will blame the blur on The Sickness.

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