An audio and video podcast of my trip hitchhiking around the world by sea.
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Wrong Turn

I’ll admit I didn’t know much about Africa before arriving, but I did know a few things. For example, there are lions-bad ace cats that fear nothing and eat everything. In addition, you’ll find other animals with large teeth, tusks and razor sharp claws, such as rhinos, elephants, leopards, etc. At home we like to say things like, “Their more afraid of you than you are of them.” Well that doesn’t quite work in Africa. Here the animals are quite happy to see you. To see and eat you.

The plan was to visit a wildlife reserve and I was ready to see first hand some Discovery Channel action. The problem was we kind of got a late start. Not rare for Africa, but not exactly beneficial for visiting wildlife reserves. From the backseat, I watched as a different world went by. Baobab trees sat like overweight giants in the on the side of the road. Acacias stretched their flat thorny arms over flowing khaki grass. Mothers with baskets balanced on their heads. Men with machetes swinging at their sides.

The car slowed. Now one might think that three years in Africa would be enough to know your way around, and I probably shouldn’t judge, but the sun was slowly falling. Merin rolled down the window offered a Swahili greeting and asked one man on his bike if this direction were correct. Repeating a couple key words he nodded and pointed down the road. Pavement became dirt and the further we drove the more I saw the real Africa. Mud huts covered with thatch. Sugarcane walled the road. The clothes got dirtier. The staring got longer.

This was the Africa I wanted to know. The villages. The people. The goats and cattle migrating through the streets. I was happy to see it but there were more things to see. Things that could, say eat you. I don’t know if it was from the road getting less and less drivable or the more and more villagers that stared, but somehow I knew we were in the wrong place. Merin soon agreed and we retraced the mismanaged road as villagers got to observe the strange visitors one more time. The sun grew larger as it continued to fall. After two or three more u-turns we found a sign. Then as the sun shed its final light we arrived.

With a peanut butter and jelly bribe we convinced the guard to open the gates that closed at sundown. “You just missed the giraffes, they were here in the road 15 minutes ago.” Now that’s what I’m talking about! Goats in the road are cool. Giraffes are friggin’ awesome. I scanned the bush ready for the lion that was sure to be feasting at its fresh kill. I scanned, and scanned…and scanned. At last we saw a couple zebras, but I’m afraid that as close as we’d get to a giraffe or blood stained lion. Finally we dropped our guard and guide at the fence and turned home… or not.

Another thing I learned is how different Africa looks at night. “Isn’t that road we came down?” asked Mandi as we worked our way through a maze of sugarcane, each road looking terribly similar. “Uhm…I don’t think so,” answered Merin. “But I think there’s lots of roads out.” “I don’t think” and “I think” are not exactly terms of confidence. I can tell you what I thought—“Sure would be nice if someone their way out of this place.” Whether we saw them or not there had to be were lions out here. At the very least I saw an awful lot of sharp machetes swinging.

Out of the darkness, a man appeared. We slowed. Merin rolled down the window and offered the same Swahili greeting as before. Then asked which direction the main road was. Only this time, the man who at first looked confused, proceeded to tell us of his work. Clear we were miscommunicating, Merin thanked the man and left. At first I tried to remember which direction the sun had set, knowing that was the direction of the road. Then I began to scan the cane fields for a place to pull off and camouflage our car until the safety of the sun returned. Then finally hope. Taillights.

We all naively agreed they were probably headed toward the main road and followed. Eventually I recognized a familiar turn- probably the one we originally took. The at last we hit pavement. An hour later we reached home. Nothing terrible happened-no lions, no machetes. Just a couple of wrong turns. Some more promising than others.


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