Africa, Travel

Blessed by The Mighty Zambezi

In shock, shivering in my wet skin, after a life-frightening battle with the river, I hear the calming tones of our African guide’s voice saying, “You have been blessed by the mighty waters of the Zambezi River. You will journey forward with great fortune in your life.”

We chose the canoeing safari over the pontoon boat ride as our afternoon game viewing activity and sundowner. Two-person inflatable with oars that resemble those for a kayak.

Steve took the rear as captain and I took the front as engineer. Blessed, our guide (yes that’s his name, pronounced bles-sed), gave us all the usual safety instructions including those additional ones for flipping over in rapids. “Don’t panic, hold onto the boat, relax and lay on your back, let your life vest support you and hold your oar up.” Not much was said about a croc or hippo encounter, even though these waters are an abundant source for both, except to keep our arms and legs within the raft. His holstered 44 caliber kind of spoke for itself.

There was not much mention of the rapids either, other than they were so small they didn’t warrant a rating, but then again, we are in Zimbabwe. I think we all assumed this would be more of a leisure paddle downstream from our up river drop — with cocktails waiting at the sundowner endpoint, our traditional day’s ending on safari in Africa.

We paddled through the first of several rapids with ease and short-lived thrills — me riding them with a few smiling shrieks. Blessed said we would be coming up to a series of rapids or did he say a serious rapid? His proper Zimbabwean English at times was indecipherable, and as It turned out, it was both. Three rapids with the second needing some kind of rating. I’ll give it the “serious” rating. Or maybe upgrade that to a “no shit” rating.

We hit this set of rapids hard, taking on waves of water. Quickly, and out of nowhere, we were hit by a wall of white on the left side, immediately flipping the boat and hurling me and Steve out into the Zambezi River. Time, space and memory were erased from my mind bank the moment the wild wave hit and swept me into the river. I must have closed my eyes, just like I do on dreaded roller coaster rides.

Steve managed to hang on to the raft for the duration of the rescue, while I couldn’t seem to for very long. I was quickly sucked under the current. Churned about by the whirlpool of rapids like a solo sock in load of laundry. I struggled to stay above the waterline. I found myself in a panic, disoriented, searching for air and in between gasps, swallowing the river water. I couldn’t find my back to get into that “relaxed” position Blessed had reviewed with us. I thought, “I’m drowning!” I managed to get that thought from my head into my mouth and out to some nearby ears. I had managed to hang on to the oar during the battle, but lost it when I couldn’t lay on my back (relaxed and without panic) and hold that damn oar up above my head.

I could finally hear Blessed over my thoughts of drowning or being thrown against the rocky river banks (thankfully undistracted by thoughts of the river’s resident crocs and hippos). He was coaching me to float on my back. Now, finally through the worst of the rapids, the calmness of his voice pierced all of my thoughts.

“Swim to me and grab my hand.”

Gladly!

Our boat by now had been righted, I didn’t have a clue where anyone else was besides Blessed, including Steve. I didn’t see him. All I could see, as I was being hoisted up and in by Blessed, was the welcomed inside bottom of the boat.

I came out of the water choking and coughing up the mighty waters of the Zambezi.

I can emphatically say, up to this point in my life, I have never had an experience where I actually had the thought that I could die, no less from drowning.

Taking some inventory after the treacherous toss, I managed to still be wearing my Clarke flip flops. My lip gloss was tucked safely in my jungle short’s pocket, with my safari hat floating downriver nearby in the calm waters, soaked, but retrievable, however, my newly purchased prescription sunglasses were goners!

I’ve always had a deep respect for the water, whether oceans, rivers or lakes. Water…It is not our natural habitat on earth as humans. That level of respect has been deepened here in Africa.

And as dramatic as this may sound, I’m left feeling fortunate to be alive, after this wild experience, to live another adventurous day in Africa.

Humbled, and Blessed, by the mighty Zambezi!

Cuba, People/Culture, Travel

The Cubano Connection

Departure day, 6:00 a.m. punto (on the dot.) It’s dark out. I, and mis cuatro compadres, pile onto the bus for our final Cuban ride— to the airport. I nestled into the front seat behind Harlem, our driver for the past nine days; the doors close, wheels now set in motion—it is done. The interior lights are off, it is eerily quiet, no one is talking. A lump forms in my throat, and I can feel the water start to rise over my wider-than-normal eyes, not wanting to blink the dam open.

Water spills over my lid’s edges, warm salty streams trickling their way toward my chin. Swipe, sniff, swipe, sniff. “Wow, what is happening right now?” I ask myself.

Death Valley, Road Trips, Travel

The Power of Two-Words

Wild. Hair. | Flirty. Skirt. | New. Car. | Road. Trip.

I bought a new car on Monday. An unplanned wild hair purchase. My other car, a trusted companion of eight years, nothing wrong really—hence the two-words wild hair. At the same time I had been reading recent news about the “super bloom” happening in Death Valley National Park and projections were that it wouldn’t last long. Thoughts began swirling around inside my wanderlust brain about a quick visit to document it, but then there were those other work commitments.

On Tuesday I viewed an early look at the iMax film “National Parks Adventure” narrated by Robert Redford. Walked away from that film with a much deeper appreciation around the existence of our U.S. National Parks, and that new found sentiment saddled right next to the swirling images in my mind’s eye of yellow blooms on the Death Valley floor.

I returned home from the film which turned into an immediate swooping up of my belongings, including the flirty skirt, bedding and a few food items in preparation for an pre-dawn departure in my new car on Wednesday.

Road trip! [Best two words]

It really can be that easy.

I arrived in Death Valley somewhere around 10 a.m. and made a right turn toward the area named Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America, with an elevation of 282 feet below sea level, and reportedly where the largest concentration of the blooms were to be found. I spent most of my first day in and around this area, weaving through the s-curves delivering a new presentation at every turn of gold desert flower blooms rising up against dramatic landscapes that only Death Valley can offer.

I spent three more days there exploring only some of what this U.S. treasure has to offer—those musings for another day. For now, please enjoy my take-away from my time mingling with the gold, purple and white darlings painting the desert floor. It’s been ten years since the last mega bloom and who knows when it will happen again. So grateful I took the time out of my regularly scheduled life to experience this in person.

I went for the blooms and stayed for the bliss. Sounds like a working title for my next musing…

People/Culture, Travel

That Beach Needs a Raking!

The tourmaline waters and white sandy beaches of New Providence Island, Bahamas—that’s where I was last week having a day by and on the beach. Much of the trip was a bust. Between the unusually cold weather, the (not my style) all-inclusive 70s resort and a Montezuma-esque Revenge bout with something not-good-in-paradise, brought me home early to the opposite phenomena of 90 degree weather happening in San Diego!

BUT, and I use that here to negate the above because there are always brilliant jewels to any journey, if that is the way you choose to view life—right? Right.

I found a sunny spot for the lounge chair which happened to be right next to one of the palapas you reserve for extra money. It was not hard to notice the two resort employees who were beach raking their way from the front of the palapa, dragging the sand up and over a berm, fizzling out near the shoreline. I couldn’t help opening up a conversation with the two of them, about what the heck was going on—it just didn’t make any sense.

Cuba, Travel

Fidel’s Revenge on the Road to Trinidad, Cuba

The night before our long road trek to Trinidad, I succumbed to some “bad ice” in a local all-inclusive resort’s mojito. I made it through dinner but left the table with a good ole fashioned Irish goodbye. I won’t go into details for the rest of the evening…but I will tell you that I have not-so-fondly come to call the 24 hours that ensued—Fidel’s Revenge (inspired by Mexico’s Montezuma.)

Determined not to have this bout turn into trip-interruptus, I willed my way onto the bus at 6:30 a.m. and decided I would lay low in the back for the next 3 hours or so. A planned quick stop in Cienfuegos was on the itinerary, and when the bus came to a stop I lifted my head followed by the rest of me and quickly realized I was going to toss some cookies! I felt my eyes get really big in a panicked thought of “Oh this is going to happen, right now, right here, on the bus!” Thank God a bag was handy and mis compadres,Steve and Hazel, were at the ready holding the bag and my hair…end of that story.

Cuba, Photography, Tips & Tricks: Mobile Phone Cameras

Down-low From the Streets of Old Havana

IMG_2225We hailed a Coco Taxi at the Malécon in Old Havana. Don’t know what I was thinking climbing into the brightly-painted yellow three-wheeled open air “taxi” bubble, but my travel companion insisted!

Open air, by the way, means you are sucking in all of the fumes from the other unregulated exhaust pluming out of the pipes of vintage cars in Cuban abundance.

I decided to make the best of this ride, by dangling my arm and camera outside, upside down* and low as one of those Cuban treasures (’58 Chevy) motored past us.

*To get a different perspective out of your cell phone’s camera [I currently shoot with an iPhone 6s,] turn it upside down and take your shots from there.

Road Trips, Travel

A Woman’s Survival Guide to Peeing Almost Anywhere

The Preamble:

976398_10151442089200741_1339674153_oTHIS, ladies, is my brilliant (if I do say so myself) discovery of how to navigate a road trip, specifically when nature calls and you find yourself—drivin’ down Highway 41, with no rest stop in sight. None. Anywhere. Damn it!

The Checklist:

  1. Flirty skirts (Go commando—sans underwear; essential; can’t stress this enough.)
  2. Flip-flops (There’s a good reason for this, it’s optional, but a really good reason!)
  3. Diaper wipes (They have a dual purpose.)
  4. Camera phones (Optional)

Curious? Read on…

Road Trips, Travel

Road Trip: In the Company of Me

For over ten years I dreamed, rather fantasized, of taking a road trip. You know, the kind where you throw some things in the truck, van or whatever, gas up and hit the highway. Maybe a loose idea of where you are headed, but open to making a right or left turn at the crossroad. At the “Y” choosing this way or that way—and none of that mattering, because the only purpose is to be going somewhere. “Anywhere will get you there,” and in this case, that adage works.

In 2004 I bought a sport utility vehicle. The first thing on the must-have-on-board list, behind the heated seats, was the ability for me to crawl in the back, and make a bed. Just thinking about the road trip fostered the most incredible feelings of freedom. The fantasy of being a gypsy rebel hippie-type felt so right. All of that, saddled with the responsible, level-headed, what-the-hell-are-you-thinking—societally crafted woman. But know this, it might take this Renaissance woman some time to make something happen, but when she does—watch out!

Cuba

A Travel Angel in Cuba: Ana

IMG_3016Anna
Meet Ana

If you ask me about my trip to Cuba, you will most likely be met with a longer than usual pause. It is a multifaceted conversation that is not about the white sands of the playa, or even the dreamed-of-seeing vintage American cars—it is above all about the people. The gracious captive people of Cuba. I came away and back to America with a larger and heavier heart.

Meet Ana. At a stop along the way to Viñales, the mountainous green acres of tobacco plantations, I made my way over to the ever-coveted baño. I say that because if you have travelled almost anywhere but in America, there isn’t a Starbucks, Burger King or MacDonald’s on every corner [thank God] and at the same time I can appreciate that piece about those places.

Ana was the tender of los baños. A shitty job. And yet—this little lady was a beacon of light, her smile wide and wonderful. Her pride showed as she took the 25 centavos for three squares of single ply toilet paper [smallest rolls on the planet] and gestured with a welcome arm into her baño.