Traveling to Africa, and getting back
Last week I was in St. Augustine, Florida, at the annual Birding and Photo Fest. I took a lot of pictures of the big birds at the Alligator Farm rookery, and will be sorting through those and sharing a few soon.
But first, I wanted to pass along a few more pictures from our March safari adventure in Botswana. Even though it was only a few weeks ago, it’s hard for me to believe all these animals are really there! So much of the earth has been taken over by humans, and there are only a few places where other animals still live their lives as they did long ago. Africa is really special in that way. It was a joy and a privilege to be there, and I look forward to going again.
However, the air travel to and from was far from pleasurable. To get there, we were scheduled to fly United from Raleigh to Washington to Newark to Cape Town. But our first flight was delayed, and the tight connection in Washington meant we had to change everything. We eventually got from Raleigh to Washington to Munich (overnight, with a ten hour layover in Munich), and then (after another overnight flight) to Cape Town. We were quite fried when we got to Cape Town, but the morning was sunny and mild, and our room at Noah House was charming. We slept for a couple of hours, and then went to find the Red Line bus stop for a little tour of the city.
On the way, we got scammed out of two credit cards. I’d like to think that things would not have unfolded so badly if I’d had my normal wits about me, but anyhow, I didn’t, and they did.
As we walked down the city street, a well-spoken man stopped us and said that they were shooting a movie on the street, and we needed to walk on another street. I’d seen movies being made on the streets of New York, so this didn’t strike me as particularly strange. As we were discussing this, another local man came up, and said he had the same problem. The first man pointed him in the direction he needed to go, and told us we should follow along.
We followed along around the corner and into a convenience store, where the fellow there said we needed to get a document. To do this, we needed to put our credit card in the credit card reader. We hesitated, but another man said there was no charge, and this was a normal requirement.
The credit card reader didn’t seem to be working, and one of the fellows offered to “help.” Then we tried a second card, which disappeared in the machine. Someone said that the machine was slow, and it would come out in a minute. After three minutes, I realized something was definitely wrong. The men in the store were gone.
Then a young woman appeared in the store. She said the men were scam artists, and they made her stay in the back of the store.
We were confused and shaken, but realized that one of the men was skilled at sleight of hand, and had made our cards disappear. Sally urged me to call the banks straight away, and I did. In the few minutes it took to get to the fraud departments, the scammers wracked up almost $40 thousand in charges.
We were not held accountable for the charges, which was good. And once we’d settled down, we were grateful that we hadn’t been held up at gunpoint or physically assaulted. Fortunately, we had one more credit card to use on the trip. Things could have been worse. But it was a rocky start. The one positive I took away was a dose of humility, and more sympathy for others who make big errors of judgment.
Our travel within South Africa and Botswana, by buses, airplanes, and boats, all went smoothly, but returning to the U.S. was brutal. Although I’d picked aisle seats when booking through the Chase travel service, United put us in center seats all the way back. Our route again involved a long layover, this time in Newark, trying to get to Washington, and then, finally, to Raleigh. We waited the better part of an hour at RDU to get our bags. Total door-to-door travel time: 43 hours.
But for all that, I’m so glad we did it, and already starting to think of our next trip there. We learned a lot about the animals, but there’s so much more to learn. Spending time with them also helps our thinking about other dimensions – the communities of big animals, the relationships between communities, their relationships with other forms of life, and our relationships with all of these.