First we got the bomb, and that was good…

While catching up on the blog entries from when I was gone, I ran across Julia‘s second-hand link to a flash version of Tom Lehrer’s The Elements song and I thought I’d pass it along as well.

I discovered Tom Lehrer when I was nine years old and in the fourth grade, which sound incredibly strange to me now but didn’t seem so strange at the time. My best friend at the time, Tom Kraines, got the LP of That Was the Year That Was from God knows where and he made a tape of it for me. I would have to say that 90% of the humor of the album went completely over my head (I had no idea was genuflecting was, to say the least, or nearly any of the political references) but we thought the songs were hilarious nonetheless. From there, of course, we went on to An Evening Wasted With Tom Lehrer and the rest was history. (The Oedipus Rex song still cracks me the hell up.)

The funny part of it all is that many things that I learned about from Tom Lehrer’s songs made no sense to me until some random point later in my life. The Elements and the last bit of Clementine were just funny bits to me until I discovered Gilbert and Sullivan in high school. And I was totally shocked when I got to Yale and first heard my new alma mater (Bright College Years) and The Whiffenpoof Song, realizing finally what the old Harvard man was lampooning in Bright College Days. (Now I know where the “tables down at Mory’s” are…)

Anyway, it’s one of those cherish bits of flotsam and jetsam from childhood, so…

Back from vacation

Just wanted to post a quick note and say that I made it back from vacation! At this point, I’m still not all here – Kenya and Tanzania are 11 time zones away from Seattle, so there’s a bit of jet lag involved – and I’ve got a lot to catch up on, so it’s going to be a little while before I get back into the swing of things.

With a trip as long and as varied as the one we took, it’s hard to succinctly talk about how it went, but I will say that the trip was wonderful! From start to finish, I’d have to say it was one of the most unique experiences I’ve ever had in my life and one that I could heartily recommend. East Africa is a facinating place both from a cultural perspective as well as a natural perspective. The wildlife was quite amazing and unique, and the people were just great. When all the pictures come back, I’ll see what I can do about putting some representative shots up.

Some thoughts on travel:

  • It is a sad fact of travel that you never know what you need (and how little you’ll need) until after the trip is over. Thankfully, we did not forget to take anything important – a fact that I attribute solely to the foresight of my wife, Andrea – but we did take a few things that were completely superfluous. This would have been less of a big deal if we hadn’t been travelling so much and for so long.
  • As a corrolary to the previous point, it’s amazing how much use you can get out of a good pair of safari pants without needing to wash them.

Some thoughts on the trip:

  • When they found out that my wife lived in Kenya as a child, many Kenyans that we talked to apologized for the state that their country was in relative to the time she lived there. This was one of the saddest parts of our trip, especially given that the Kenyans we met, by and large, were incredibly nice, open and optimistic people. So to hear them say this about their own country was really heartbreaking. (With the recent change in the government, though, many people were hopeful that this situation is starting to turn around.)
  • Although I’ve long been intellectually aware of how incredibly wealthy the First World is relative to the Third World, this intellectual knowledge is nothing compared to actually experiencing it firsthand. Even experiencing it firsthand, it was sometimes hard to grasp.

Some recommendations:

  • If you’re looking for a luxury safari experience, you should definitely check out the Lewa Safari Camp. The tents are very comfortable, the food is amazing, the staff is great and the wildlife is spectacular. Yeah, if you’re going to Kenya or Tanzania, you really should head to the Serengeti/Masai Mara and see that too, but there is no question that Lewa was our favorite of the safari places that we went.
  • If you’re looking for a place to relax, you should definitely check out Loldia House. We stopped off there near the end of our trip, and it was one of the most restful places to stay I’ve ever been to. Beautiful scenery, wonderful food and just a great experience.

(I would just add – as great as Lewa Downs and Loldia House were, they’re only the tip of the iceberg. There are lots of great places to go and things to do in East Africa.)

  • I brought both a pair of tennis shoes and a pair of Lands’ End Men’s High Waterproof Lightweight Hikers boots. I shouldn’t have bothered with the tennis shoes – the boots were so comfortable, I just wore them everywhere.
  • And, finally, I can heartily recommend our travel company, Global Adrenaline. Our trip was very well organized and went off without a hitch, and they were extremely helpful in organizing our custom itinerary. It was a great experience working with them!

The final comment that I’d make is that it was interesting to see how my worries about travel to East Africa measured up to the reality. In the travel packet that we got from Global Adrenaline right before we left, they included a section that should have been called “Why This Trip Is A Very Bad Idea” or, alternatively, “Make Sure Your Will Is Current.” In it, they call out all the stuff that could go wrong on a trip like this – the current terrorism alerts for Kenya, a list of fun tropical diseases you can catch, and problems with petty theft, armed carjackings and the like. For a careful guy like me, this section made me extremely nervous. (I also made the fatal mistake of rereading them on the plane ride there. My advice: once you’re headed on your way, either you’re ready or you’re not, so don’t obsess about it.)

What was interesting, though, was how relative all that stuff turned out to be. The “high risk” of terrorism, disease and crime is really relative to the US, where the chance of any of these things happening (despite media scare tactics) are incredibly low. In other words, a “high risk” of something bad happening really means something like a 15% chance of something bad happening rather than a 0.5% chance of something bad happening. And if you take relatively simple precautions (avoid certain hotels, get correct vacinations and medications, watch your possessions, avoid walking in certain places at night), the chance of anything bad happening goes way down.

All this would be pretty academic if the East African economies weren’t so dependent on tourism. All these issues have had a real and material impact on the fortunes of the places we visited, which is a real shame. Without my wife’s adventurous spirit, I doubt I ever would have overcome my fears and gone on the trip, but now that I’m back, I’m really glad I did it!

So, in summary: The trip was great, it’s wonderful to be home, and there’s more to come…

This is it…

As you can imagine, preparing for an extended trip involves an amazing amount of organization aside from packing. Although we were pretty on top of things, nonetheless midnight last night found us madly scrubbing the kitchen counter so that our house sitter doesn’t have to contend with a filthy counter. Very romantic New Year’s Eve, no?

Anyway, it’s all done and we’re off today on our adventure. If I find random internet access that’s reasonable, I’ll post some entries on the road. Otherwise, see you all in February!

Have a happy New Year!