Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Progress on both fronts

I've always said that once you book a safari (or any package tour, I now know) there isn't much to do but wait.  I'm in that position again for both of my big trips.

On the Cuba front, I found my own airfare that would get me from Boston to Miami and back on American Airlines.  OAT offered to book it for me for $500.  But I found it for $250 and got to pick my own seats.  Why wouldn't I do that?  I also just made my last payment on the trip, so we're about 95 days out from departure now.  I have nothing left to do on that front but read.  I have some fiction and some highly recommended non-fiction to get me ready for this.

On the safari front, I found out that I do need a typhoid booster.  It really cracks me up that most people never need a typhoid vaccine, or if they do, they only need one.  And here I am getting a booster.  Ah well.  So I've scheduled the appointment for the travel clinic in August and will see if there's anything I need for Cuba at the same time.

I also picked up some hiking gear at an Eastern Mountain Sports summer sale.  This was fortuitous since finding summer gear around here in December or January would be near to impossible.  So I now have a rain jacket, hiking socks, gaiters and breathable, long-sleeved summer weight t-shirts.  I may still get a new pair of hiking boots, but that remains to be seen.  And I need a good pair of gloves, as I've been warned about stinging nettles.  Best of all, Mom footed the bill for all this at the register saying this is my birthday gift!  So score all the way around.

I paid all the deposits for safari 2017 and got the airfare from Rwanda to Kenya.  So now, in terms of that too, it's all over but the waiting and the final payments later this year.  I've been losing myself in trip reports from Rwanda, which always fascinate me with wonderful (and close!) photographs of the gorillas.  I just can't believe that will be me!

All considered, I realize how lucky I am to be taking these "bucket list" trips (for the lack of a better word).  There are still so many places I want to get to, but I've started taking them in order of "better do it while I'm young and spry".  I'll save the US and easier European trips for when I start to slow down.

But the mere mention of a bucket list today cannot pass without mentioning Turkey.  I've been so troubled lately by all of the violence: the bombings in the historic quarter, attacks on tourists and even a recent attack at a concert given there by a US band.  But the bombing at the airport really takes it to a whole different level.  We spent a day there in Istanbul on a layover last year and both of us vowed we'd go back.  It was a fascinating time spent with some wonderful food and friendly people.  Unfortunately the violence is keeping us away.  I'm at the point now where I don't know if I'll ever be comfortable enough to go there in the foreseeable future.  And that makes me sad.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

You didn't think it would take me this long, did you?

I've been quiet for a while, but that doesn't mean that I haven't been busy booking travel.

After my return from safari, I became a bit bitter, hostile even, about what transpired in the Mara portion of my safari.  For a while, I swore off Africa forever.  Between my safari planner, the safari operator who still, for reasons that remain unknown to me, won't tell me why he hijacked my safari with his own vehicle and driver, the he-said/she-said got a bit much.  In all of that, I got lost.  It became more about their saving face than what they can do to make me feel better.  Even an "I'm sorry" would have worked.  I got none of that.

So in early March, on a day fraught with typical New England Winter, I booked Cuba.  Yes, that's right.  A country that was on the bucket list, but pretty far down, got promoted.  Given that Obama managed to reestablish civilized relations with them fairly recently, I decided I wanted to get there before I could buy a Starbucks mug and Hard Rock CafĂ© t-shirt.  So I'm going in October.  Yes, that's the earliest I could get there on the itinerary I want.  I'm going with Overseas Adventure Travel and have a full docket of cultural activities booked with them, as going and hanging out while drinking mojitos still isn't allowed, no matter what Obama does or says.  I booked it all in a day, which is pretty easy to do when all you have to do is get yourself to Miami and hand over a credit card.

But then, Africa started to call again.  I woke many a night with the need to "do it over".  My last Mara experience felt like a highway robbery.  It started in April and got stronger as the month wore on.  At first I contemplated not returning to Kenya at all, and just ("just"???) going gorilla trekking in Uganda.  But then I played the "well, while I'm there" game, and now it's 5 days in Rwanda (including a city tour of Kigali, golden monkey trekking and two days of gorilla trekking) and then off to my beloved Mara back in Kenya.  We have enough time in Rwanda to see the city (including the original Hotel Rwanda and the genocide memorial) and then the gorilla monkey trekking to acclimate to the altitude and learn how to use the camera in rainforest conditions, then two days of gorilla trekking.  I'm beyond excited.  It is 264 days between booking and execution. My China/First Safari Friend Kim is going with me this time, which will be fun.  But now it's all booked and the waiting begins.

This time, instead of leaving it up to safari planner to totally botch up my vacation, I booked directly with the operators on the ground.  Access2Tanzania, with whom we went to Tanzania on Safari #1, now operates Treks2Rwanda, so I booked the Rwanda portion with them.  I booked our camp in the Mara directly with the camp itself, and they're handling our transfer, airfare from Nairobi to the Mara and back.  And we get 6 nights in the Mara.  Heaven.  I cannot wait.

I've already called the travel clinic to see what I need for vaccinations for both destinations.  Hopefully I can kill two birds with one stone and only go once.  If I remember correctly, they said my typhoid vaccination would expire in June of this year, so I'll likely need that again.  Who would have thought I'd have to re-up my typhoid???

Let the countdowns begin...