Happy Hippos (Togetho)
I am spoiled by summer. It is as miracle-embraced for me now as it was for most of us when we were six and had our first long, uninterrupted break from school; a break we’d previously been living but never fully appreciated until Kindergarten sounded the alarm and gave us a Monday-to-Friday routine. As a teacher, I still get that luxurious stretch of time. But now, instead of spending hours climbing trees, I’m climbing planes and getting the absolute thrill of seeing a different part of the world each year.
This summer we went back to Africa. JD and I had been back to South Africa once for a wonderful wedding since we moved away. He’d been back more often for work and family. This was purely vacation. Taking along four very special friends from Vietnam, and one extra special American mom, we convened at the ever-friendly Lawrence Lodge. Justin’s mom was a host of note, complete with gourmet meals she would come to prepare even when hyenas attacked most of our coolers somewhere east of Middle-of-Nowhere. The rest of the Lawrence clan would also rise to the occasion and beyond, making me damn proud to be marrying into such a herd.
Armed with one SUV, one over-sized van, 15 passengers and a whole heap-o-biltong we set sail into the bush for an epic two-week road trip across four African countries. We saved a baby hippo (or did that croc get ‘im?), dislodged a sleeping crocodile on foot, pushed the van through roads the rental insurance surely did not cover and feasted on African sunsets that took New England fall colors and threw them at the sky with aggression. We even managed to have our first getting-married celebration aboard a houseboat dangling somewhere between Zimbabwe and Zambia. Africa spoiled us rotten.
When I first visited Africa, almost ten years ago, I didn’t quite get it. The animals were amazing, sure, but once I’d seen the Big Five I figured I could check it off my list. It was JD’s shared passion with seemingly every other African I met that made me pause. They spoke in Yoda-like phrases about dirt and sun. The all-revered “bush” could cause a moment of hush in any situation. For me the bush was dry, but then at some point, somewhere for some unknown reason it started to make sense. Although I am no true African, Africa’s charm unveiled itself. There is something to those addictive clichés you hear in Amarula commercials. African wildlife – plants and sky and waterholes and game – have their own way and rhythm that seems so unconsciously graceful, effortless and simultaneously back-breakingly hard. It demands respect.
Africa cannot ever be understood or, worse, “done” by a LonelyPlanet tourist (and I am still a tourist). It can only be appreciated. This summer Africa proved that she has nothing to prove; she is timeless, and will never explain herself. All you can do is love her.