Tuesday, December 9, 2014

"I Want a Hippopotamus For Christmas" (Destination... Africa!)

If there is anything that I hope our children learn during our time abroad, it is to not only live outside their comfort zone, but to also embrace it.  In everyday life and on vacation, life is about new experiences.  For us, in this moment, never is there a more challenging way to be outside our comfort zone than...Africa. Yes, Africa.

After a failed attempt to go to South Africa last year where the travel agent laughed away our meager budget thinking somehow that we had $50,000 to drop (yes that is what she came back with despite us giving her a budget significantly far below this number), we have become much wiser and have done our due diligence so that this year it's within our (more reasonable) budget and so we have decided to go for it. 

There are a number of reasons to be apprehensive about this trip. The long flight for one - 9 hours, thankfully direct. But for someone who hates to fly, this is a big deal for me as I try to reserve that long flight for our once a year trip home. Malaria for another thing. We had to get vaccinations in advance of the trip and will take malaria pills the entire trip as well as for a week after we return.  Just the idea that we need to get special vaccinations to go on vacation reminds me that we are not in Kansas any more. And of course, it's the great unknown. I know of a small handful of people who have been adventurous enough to vacation in Africa. Though Aidan's best friend just moved there as well, so who knows, perhaps there is more than one trip in our future. 

And that's just one of the many reasons why this is a good, no great, opportunity to seize this adventure. Unblemished terrain. Wild animals (though admittedly a little nervous about the kids on safari which, yes, we will be doing).  Some of the most beautiful, unspoiled beaches in the world.  A chance to see a part of the world where many others are often afraid to venture. Admittedly we aren't hiking into the Congo here and for those concerned, we will be on the other side of the continent from the ebola outbreak. We are heading to much more tourist friendly Tanzania.

How did we end up here?  Well, with Josh's knee injury, a ski vacation is out of the question this holiday season (much to my sadness ... ok, not sad about that as I don't like to ski but Josh and the kids do) and since we are now living in a colder climate we want to get away from the cold.  We thought about a trip home to Boston for Christmas but Josh's parents will be away and my parents don't really do the holidays and with our house rented, it just didn't feel like a good time.  We thought about visiting Josh's parents as they will be somewhere warm - but the flights were costly and it would take us at least 3 flights and more than 16 hours to get there.  I started to look at google maps to see what options were available.  Barcelona was out as the kids friends will all be away and so we're saving that for early next year. And while Barcelona is nice in the winter, it's not a beach / warm weather destination at Christmas.

Greece?  Surprisingly not much warmer than Barcelona according to what I researched.  We could go to the Caribbean.  But if we go to the Caribbean we'd be talking 10 hours or more on a plane and again, the flights were on the expensive side.  I started to look east towards Thailand.  But again a long flight. I started to look south into Africa.  Africa intimidates me (so does Asia for that matter).  It's the great unknown.  It lacks in infrastructure.  There are a million preconceived notions that I have, many of which are probably true and many of which are a result of probably a little too much influence from TV and the news.

I randomly started to plug in flights to different places near the coast into search engines.  Tanzania came up as a very reasonable flight for the dates we wanted to go.  I started to dig more.  And oddly some things started to sound familiar.  When we first contacted the travel agent last year it was because I had received an email that had intrigued me about a place called the Tides and a safari.  Our inquiry to her was to see if we could do the trip they had advertised.  Unfortunately everything had been booked for our dates and so she started to look at South Africa and the ensuing $50,000 trip that never happened.  But when I started to look at Tanzania it all came back to me - this is where we had originally wanted to go last year before it all went array.

And so here we are, getting ready to go to Africa.  So our plan is to stay in Dar es Salaam our first night (we arrive late at night) and then go to the Saadani National Park where we will stay for 2 nights and do our 2 1/2 days of safaris which also includes a river safari (hence the hippo reference).  It's not a Big 5 reserve, but we expect to see a number of animals in their natural habitat including elephants, giraffe, zebra and a few more and since it wasn't the original reason we were taking this trip (it was for the warmth and beach) we figure whatever we get to see will be a super cool experience no matter what. We'll be staying by the water in both locations and it will be our first experience with swimming (and seeing) the Indian Ocean! After 2 nights in our first location where we will also do our safaris, we'll head over to the the next part of our trip for 6 days of swimming, snorkeling and relaxing by the water! We are so excited!

And so we're off to the great unknown (at least to us) for the adventure of a lifetime this weekend.  Stay tuned as there will be many entries coming about the experiences we have on this trip, all of which I have no doubt will be nothing like anything we've ever experienced before!!


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