This is excerpts from the first two chapters of my self-published memoir “This Is Africa: Tales from a Summer with Grandad“. With stories from our South African village experience, our road trip through Sub-Sahara Africa, an unforgettable encounter with the wild African bush animals, and a true look at why is Africa under developed. For more, you can sign up for my newsletter on this page!
I had always looked up to the man that taught me everything I know about a simplistic lifestyle. He was the one who introduced me to believing in experiences. He was the first one to tell me a story that inspired me to travel the world. I was young at the time. He told me one day I would see the Milky Way. I was too young at that age to know that it was a far-fetched dream. We live in a world so over-polluted and smogged-out that it is almost impossible fathoming a sky in which a yellow, glittering band of stars light up a golden river through the sky. But he told me the story anyway.
“I was in Guatemala at the time. It was a real gung-ho place to up and travel, you see. I’m talking real travel. There was none of this souped-up internet-reliance ‘travel’ you kids do today.”
It was the mid-Seventies at the transition of a political turning-point in the country. It was a long-time before I would be born– Not until two decades later, matter of fact. My Grandad, Chuck, was in his mid-thirties and running around the world – part of the time he was ducking the Vietnam War as a part of the United States Navy. After that, he was living out his own travel bug kismet in Central America – trying to avoid society’s jazzed-up American dream.
He had met a local man during the day who promised to take him to a place he couldn’t find in any travel guide that night.
At midnight, they met back up and the man took him to the edge of the jungle up on a hill where the whole night sky was exposed to vast wide-openness; a pitch black painting with millions upon millions of drops of splattered white twinkles that lit the sky and made up the most vivid galaxy he’d ever witnessed. This type of scene would never be seen in my generation.
Grandad told me this story several times – partially because of his forgetfulness that comes with old age; he would be entering the back end of his eighth decade of life come the end of 2017 which is when we headed out on our adventure.
That story – the idea of missing beauty that would never exist again; the idea of running away from something and meeting strangers who you create life long memories with without even remembering their names – it all added to my inspiration in what became my life after I graduated with a degree in marketing at the end of 2016.
I up and moved continents not more than two weeks after graduating, beginning a life across the world with no motive to come home in the future.
I began traveling the world while growing roots simultaneously on a small European island that became a home for me in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. While in Malta, I realized that with my travel experiences growing, I still had to cross one trip off my list.
I’d always had the intentions of traveling with Grandad. If you asked either of us at the time, I think we’d agree that it was a long time coming, but the opportunity had never presented itself. We both had extensive United States travel experience and dabbled in international travels, as well.
It had been weighing on my mind; I knew Grandad wasn’t getting any younger and soon he wouldn’t be up for such a long and unknown roadtrip. I had to force the opportunity sooner or later. So, one morning in the early Spring of 2017, I woke up in my island home and messaged my Grandad across the world:
“What’s one place in this world you’ve never got to travel that you had always wanted to?”
A simple text message. One sentence. And I received the answer I had whole-heartedly expected.
Grandad was obsessed with the animals of Sub-Sahara and their protection from extinction – particularly the elephants. I could have booked a ticket before I even asked him.
I knew he probably wouldn’t need any convincing had I asked him if he wanted to backpack it with me, but I had always wanted to pay him back for what he had done for me to get me through school debt-free and allow me to begin my young career on the road like I had dreamed for so long.
It only made sense how to repay him for what he did for me; a flight to meet me in southern Africa. I presented the idea to him later that morning and it didn’t take long for him to tell me he was all-in.
We booked our trip for the southern hemisphere’s summer of 2017-18 and spent the next several months sending long emails back and forth in preparation. I’d have to go back through those emails to tell you exactly what we were planning, because we were “preparing” for months while preparing largely nothing of which became of use to us.
We knew, for the most part, two things by the time departure day had arrived.
1. We would backpack three countries in Sub-Sahara Africa for 58 days.
2. We didn’t know anything of relevance.
When I first started traveling, I was drawn to people. I still am drawn to people. People are what make traveling so crazy and unforgettable. When it’s all said and done, I might have pictures of the Seven Wonders of the World, but it will be the ones I see the wonders with that will make all the difference.
However, I had lost my touch to connect with people from different cultures. As hard as it is for me to admit and as easy as it is for me to diagnose that as the problem, my travels had lost the zest that they once provided.
It started to feel like I was going through the motions everywhere I went, with everyone I met, and everything I did. I needed a new perspective; a fresh perspective; a liveliness that motivated me to recapture the impact traveling used to have on me.
Compelled to document our entire journey, it started out as a way for me to become a more knowledgeable, well-versed traveler. My Grandad was always the curious traveler, and although we had never traveled together before this, I gathered from his stories that he was always interested in everything there is an opportunity to learn from.
He was a master conversationalist in that he could drag a topic and common ground out of anyone he met. My Grandad had an untouchable smile that could get through to even the most immune people. He brought joy and laughter and lightheartedness to the spirits’ of every man, woman, and mostly child he had the time to give time to. And he had time for anyone. It didn’t matter if it was the hostel housekeeping lady, a twelve-year-old African boy who could hardly speak English, or a man from the East of Europe with completely opposite conservative views. He’d let anyone tell him what needed to be told.
My Grandad always had a way of conveying a message without saying a word and I knew exactly what he was trying to tell me or the person opposite the table from him. He had a way of stealing the attention of a room without ever focusing the attention on himself. He was calm and let people tell him what they wanted to.
His his intentions were straight-forward. The way he looked at you and asked questions with such sincerity became admirable as I grew older and multi-tasking ever so prevalent in today’s society. And that laugh. Oh, man; that laugh. He had the best laugh in the world. You could never be sure if he’d run out of air by the way his face turned a deep red – almost purple – and he’d start a cough from deep down in his stomach to the point of wheezing. You could have certain faith he’d either pass out or hack up a lung when you really got him going. I’ll tell you, it certainly was the best laugh in the world.
I watched my Grandad and focused on his habits when he talked to people. I tried to mimic what he did in my own conversations. The way he looked. The questions he asked. The way he could grab someone’s attention and focused it all on themselves without them even noticing. I listened to him when he spoke to me and others; the advice he had to offer.
During my own travels, as I met gobs of people, I tried to carry myself as he did. I just couldn’t. I was never any good at it. As I grew as a traveler, my focus drifted from the people I was meeting to focusing on myself and my own personal travel tales. I couldn’t help it. The more world experience you get, the more stories you build-up and the more you find yourself always having a similar story as the person sitting across from you. I was always matching and stacking myself and my experiences up with others.
This isn’t in the heart of a real traveler. I had gotten away from it all and I needed to be set back on track. I wanted to school myself in how my Grandad did it. Besides long-desiring to travel side-by-side my Grandad, I wanted to learn from him. He’s a traveler at the soul. I wanted to find it in me.
I had traveled the world, but was only a rookie when stacked to his veteran-ship. He was going to teach me the art of conversation and the beauty it could put in the world of travel. I couldn’t wait to be knee-deep in conversations with strangers from across the world through all walks of life with the guy who could provoke a rock to tell its best life story. I couldn’t wait to see the extra dimension it added to the trip.
The summer came and passed and the stories were too crazy not to write about. I’ve wrote a memoir of the occurrences that contain most stories from the trip. This is only an introduction to it.
Through the ups and the downs, the long drives and the bumpy rides; from hospital stays to sleeping in a rented sedan; from eating bread for dinner to the glamorous home-cooked meaty dinners – I learned far too much for one blog post. You really need to read the book to get the whole story.