You may have noticed I haven’t written up very many of our vacations here on the blog. I was thinking they wouldn’t fit since the blog is is supposed to be mainly about Congo. I’m starting to change my mind, though, as we’ve taken a lot of our vacations in various parts of Africa, which is kind of relevant, plus we’ve learned a lot about our host country through the eyes of its neighbors. Tomorrow we’re heading to Lesotho (geography quiz, anyone?), after good friends recommended it to us. We’ll be hiking for six days, camping overnight in different caves, and sharing a hut with a local Basotho family. The rest of the two weeks we’ll try pony-trekking, dinosaur footprint-hunting, and abseiling/rappelling the world’s longest commercial drop if we can keep our nerves together… it should be an adventure!
I do intend to share these stories at some point, and I have started on a few past trips… but wow, it’s turned out to be a lot of work! It requires reviewing sometimes thousands of photos taken from three different cameras, scrutinizing the piles of notes and scraps of paper collected along the way, plus the expense records and the souvenirs that made it home, all to try and reconstruct the events and remember the things that didn’t get written down. We’ve often found that immersing ourselves in yet another foreign culture has a way of turning our memories hazy and dreamlike. There’s just so much to soak up; sometimes that sponge is full. Once we get home and back in the swing of things, everyday life has a way of interrupting this sort of slow reflection.
But I also worry that vacation stories can be rather boring to read, unless you’re also planning to go there or have been there. Remember suffering through those old-fashioned slide presentations of someone’s family vacation way back when? Maybe it was the badly focused white-washed photos, or the neverending poses of the entire family in front of the RV, or maybe just the whirr of the slide machine itself, but those presentations were often a complete snoozefest. Seb tells me every time I’m tempted to buy a gift abroad for someone that actually, no one really likes getting a souvenir of someone else’s vacation. I hope he’s wrong and I still do it sometimes; I remember treasuring the figurines my Grandma brought me from her trips in Europe when I was a kid. But I do worry that talking in great detail about our vacations would be interesting to exactly no one but us.
Or we may have the opposite problem. Maybe talking about our trips would come off like bragging. Who wants to hear me drone on about yet another one of our super-fantastic vacations? Annoying, plus exhausting.
Well, if I may brag for a second — it is true that we travel frequently, almost two months per year. And cheaply, too, since the company gives us additional money meant exclusively for traveling. But, before you roll your eyes too much, let me remind you that we live in pretty meager conditions in exchange for such benefits! Seb works 70 hours a week while I’m basically on house arrest, with the sorts of “amenities”… all right, all right, I won’t go into that again. But we definitely gave up a lot to come here: friends, family, independence, Starbucks. Throwing some money and time off at us is the least they can do if they expect to keep us here. Hey… come to think of it, we could use a little more!
The other thing that may put your mind at ease about our bragging? You may have noticed, we tend to spend a lot of our time in, shall we say, shitholes. Places other people don’t put very high on their list. Like very poor countries (Ethiopia, Zimbabwe), countries with a perceived higher risk of terrorism (Oman, Zanzibar), or former genocide or war zones (Uganda, Vietnam). With the occasional trip to Monaco or Sweden thrown in for balance. Not that I’m criticizing these places… on the contrary, I think we’re starting to fall in love with shitholes. They can be so surprising!
So, if you wish, I’ll do my best when we return home to bring some of these surprises to you as vividly as I possibly can. But if it’s not your thing to suffer through our family vacation stories, I don’t blame you at all. I do go into some detail in my writing; news to no one, probably. This is partly because our memories stink, and if it’s not written down, we will forget. I also go into some detail for the sake of future travelers who might be searching for info. I use travel blogs frequently when planning mine, and rarely is detail unwelcome. And finally, the detail is there because I’m traveling there again, in my mind. If I can make it seem real again to me, chances are better it will seem real to you.
Or you can skip all that and just look at the pretty pictures. Either way, bon voyage!
P.S. Of course, we probably enjoy traveling to shitholes because we live in one of the biggest ones of them all. So everything else seems like an improvement in comparison. Source: To Hellholes and Back, by Chuck Thompson, 2009. His four hellholes (the places he was most afraid to travel, and therefore did) were the Democratic Republic of Congo, India, Mexico City, and Walt Disney World. All places I happen to love, incidentally. A fun read.