Wow. If we talk about baby boomers with active lifestyles, this one is hard to beat: the author of the novel “Time Is the Longest Distance,” Janet Clare, went to Africa. And she came back with dreams fulfilled.
I went to Africa alone. No companion, no tour, just an American woman of a certain age on her own. I had read Isak Dinesen and Beryl Markham in high school and, like so many others, I wanted to be Jane Goodall; I was completely enthralled with the idea of this mysterious continent and the women who made it their home.
Friends and family were incredulous at the audacity of my plan, thinking that either I’d lost my mind or I was extraordinarily brave. Neither was true. I still had most of my marbles and I’d never been a risk taker. I considered myself cautiously adventuresome. I had limits. I didn’t mind getting dirty during the day, but I definitely wanted a hot shower at the end of it, and maybe a cocktail.
I politely discouraged anyone who suggested they might join me. This trip was too important and I had no desire to be accommodating; there’d be no waiting around while someone let her nails dry and her hair curl. My husband would also be sitting this one out. His choice, but he understood. Two years earlier I’d survived a life-threatening illness and going to Africa was a dream, but it was my dream. During my nearly six months of planning, he encouraged me, then nervously wished me love and luck as I started on my 14,000-mile journey.
It was three weeks of heaven-on-earth traveling through South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Botswana. A few days in Capetown, then on to a photo safari: Kruger, Victoria Falls, the Kalahari Desert — and the incredible Makgadikgadi Pan — ending with an elephant-back safari in the Okavango Delta. I was astounded to be so far away and to feel comforted from the first moment. Maybe it had to do with being in the cradle of civilization where we all began, but for me, it was like coming home. Enraptured by the land, the huge sky, the incredible animals and, not least, the people. I felt comforted and safe.
Black or white, the people in Africa never fail to look you in the eye. Disarming and genuine, they respect the land and everything on it and, because you’ve come to see their country, because you care, they respect you and thank you with their knowledge and attention.
Before I left for Africa, I expressed some hesitation to a friend who had traveled there many times.
“Don’t worry,” he said. “Africa will take care of you.”
He was right.