I find it a bit odd that I can’t remember the exact moment that we decided to do this. I’m constantly impressing Scott with my uncanny ability to recall exact details about obscure events, like what I wore on our third date or how much our electrical bill was back in March, yet as I wrack my brain to come up with the definitive tipping point of this trip, I draw a blank. Did we just wake up one morning, look at each other and say, “Let’s go!”? Did we carefully weigh the pros and cons of various destinations, deciding finally on this one? Did we scribble down where we most wanted to go, fold it up, and on the count of three, lo, we both wanted to go to Africa? I can’t remember.
There was always an assumption that once we finished school (or in my case, gave up) we’d get jobs, make some money, suit ourselves up like a North Face ad and set off for New Zealand or Western Europe or some such place. It’s what twenty-somethings with liberal arts educations, crappy customer service jobs, and a yearning for more do – they go abroad, meet like-minded fellow-travelers, get drunk on hostel-sponsored pub crawls, and supposedly find themselves. It sounds like a good time, but we eventually decided that it wasn’t for us. If we were going to spend our life’s savings (not much) on a trip across the world, then damned straight, we were going to do it right.
One of the major catalysts for me was a growing desire to escape. A year and a half in the so-called Real World had given me a rather disdainful attitude toward conventional adulthood in North America. I hated the 8 to 5, the 40 hour work week, the daily commute, consumerism, television, celebrity culture, Swedish furniture, apartment rent. And two weeks annual vacation? Puh-leeze! It’s a big world out there, and two weeks isn’t nearly enough time for me to see it, meet it, eat it, and get up close and personal with it. The economy is in the toilet, everyone’s on anti-depressants, and the view from my cubicle? Particle board. Asylum blue. A calendar marked up with things like Tax Seminar and Boss’s Day. There’s so much more to the world than what I can see from here.
So why Africa, then? Because we want to discover another planet located on Earth. The one we know is nice enough – mountains and ocean and skyscrapers and sushi spots – but we crave change. We want something that’s going to smack us in the face, offend us, challenge us, inspire us, ask tough questions, demand real answers, not give us an easy ride. A friend described Africa as “the Holy Grail of travel” and until recently I agreed with her that it was something you worked towards as a traveler, testing the waters first with jaunts to Germany and Costa Rica, gradually adding to your experience, heading for Indonesia or Ukraine, India or Peru. Then and only then, with a well-worn backpack and a sun-creased face, did you attempt Africa.
But we're throwing caution to the wind because 'gradual' isn't really our style . It’s not that we don’t want to see those other places – we do – it’s that we’d much rather do the ‘hard traveling’ now, and save the cushier destinations for our golden years. It seems that with age, you become accustomed to certain luxuries that you are less and less willing to give up. At 22 and 23, the luxuries we're giving up are few, and we’re happy to do so in the name of adventure and thriftiness. We figure Africa is a good destination for people with limited funds, open minds, and agile bodies. The French Riviera, on the other hand, is arguably better visited with a thicker wad of cash, a sophisticated mind, and what’s the difference if you’re agile or not when your main activity is sunning yourself on the balcony with a glass of Pinot Noir? It just makes sense: Africa is for now, beyond that comes later.
So your question then? Pourquoi Africa? The best answer I can give you is this: We want to see the world, and we've decided to make Africa our first stop.
That, and there's penguins at the beach.