Deciding to do it….
It’s 4:30 am as I start typing this post (note: I started this post three weeks ago). No, I have not been on a self-righteous New Year’s inspired binge of early morning rising…. I just have major jet lag. And two children with major jet lag.
It’s been not quite a year since we spent spring 2015 in Ethiopia, a trip that was wonderful and challenging. We have plans to go again this summer, but in the meantime it seemed right that we should just, you know, throw in another trip to East Africa complete with long flights and time changes. So this January we went to Tanzania.
Tanzania and the Serengeti have long loomed large in my imagination. In college I read No Hurry to Get Home, a collection of essays by Emily Hahn, a woman traveler from an era when women did not travel alone much and especially not to places like Lake Victoria and Dar es Salaam. She wrote of expats and gin and tonics in grand hotels, of heat and overland travel and the Indian Ocean. And then I watched Out of Africa with Meryl Streep (set in Kenya, but whatever, it’s only one country over). And then I heard the song Africa by Toto. And more recently Taylor Swift’s video of her song Wildest Dreams. Sufficient to say I’ve been awash in various pop culture versions of East Africa safari land for some time. So when Sanne, a work friend of Travis’, invited us to come and stay with his family at their home on the coffee plantation he manages near Moshi, Tanzania, I jumped at the chance.
And I am glad that I did. I have some precious memories and experiences. I think my jaw dropped slightly when I saw Mt. Kilimanjaro through jet-lagged and bleary eyes. Watching James and our friends’ little girls Sena and Luanna jump naked on a trampoline with palm trees all around, or play in a large cooler (yup, a “cool-box” as they call them makes a surprisingly good outdoor tub) under the African sky made me smile like a child. Nicolette’s food was an inspiration, and while we grated a huge box of coconut together I was re-inspired to get back to the heart of food. Homemade granola. Lamb stock. Fresh fruit juices every morning. Inspiring!
When we made our way off the plantation, I was intrigued by the similarities and differences between Tanzania and Ethiopia. I fell in love with the eco-lodge / farm we stayed at and vowed to make something similar one day at Stannard Farm (lacking, of course, the climbable avocado trees). I gazed in wonder at the stars of the southern hemisphere when I got out of our tent in the middle of the night to pee. My first sighting of a zebra in the wild took my breath away. And I might have shrieked (in a dignified way of course) when I saw my first giraffe. Baby baboons sliding down a tree at Arusha National Park made me giggle. James making his way through the park in Spiderman pajamas just made me shake my head. And the flock of flamingos flying low over a lake are seared in my memory.
Yeah, we did it, but….
I love looking through these photos. But there are things that they don’t show. The hiking carrier that didn’t make it on safari because it got stuck at the Istanbul airport for an extra day. James pretty much refusing to eat anything but meat and yogurt. Lytle requiring nursing ALL the time. Subsequent spousal fight at 3:00am in a tent when she’s crying and I’m resisting (I worked so hard to wean her from nighttime nursings!). The look on my face when I learned I would be flying alone back to the states with the two kiddos (planning debacle outside of anyone’s control). The two hours spent waiting for our flight to Istanbul at 1:00am at the Kilimanjaro airport, exhorting James to lower his voice and chasing Lytle around to keep her from throwing her cheerios and then eating them off the floor. Me losing my voice on the flights back. Me spanking James in an airport bathroom (yes, he was warned three times, and no, I will not engage in a discussion about spanking in this particular post).
Some of these memories are tinged with the absurd and have become humorous. Midnight picnics of black licorice and cheerios while reading Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle out loud. James almost falling out of the safari jeep several times. James learning the dangers of army ants the hard way (okay, not humorous, but memorable and now army ants have become a villain of choice in his imaginary battles).
And yet. But. On the other hand. This trip was hard. Some hardness is unavoidable with travel, and is therefore worth it because the option of not traveling is not an option for us. But some of the hardness was certainly avoidable. And while I have what one friend termed an “adventurous spirit”, paired with an amazing capacity for travel amnesia, I reached my travel limits on this trip and baby, I took notes.
For future reference….
- If you are in any kind of weaning process with a child, consider avoiding big trips. If you are thinking of starting weaning, delay until after a trip — newly weaned children are not really travel ready.
- A trip to East Africa (read: any long trip) and its subsequent jet lag may not be worth it if you stay less than 3 weeks.
- Avoid trips that result in 11 hour time differences until your children are old enough to be tired without catastrophically melting down. There are cool experiences closer to home.
- And if the trip is just too good to pass up (and this one was!), discuss a plan of attack with your partner so there aren’t middle of the night spousal fights about dealing with said jet-lagged children.
- Make sure your travel plans are clear and amenable to all before you depart.
- Choose your infant mobility device wisely. James, and then Lytle, lived in our Ergo carrier on the Ethiopia trips. But this time I wanted our hiking carrier for two reasons: 1) it can contain Lytle even when I’m not wearing it/her so I could set her down at the airport without worrying that she’d wander onto a plane going to Amsterdam and 2) there was a chance we’d be hiking on safari. But, we had to gate-check the carrier because it was too big to carry-on, and then it made it to Tanzania a day and a half after we did. In retrospect I should have just brought the Ergo again. And strollers are not developing country friendly, even if super-useful at the airport. Some airports will actually have them for use!
- And speaking of airports, some are simply better than others. I love the view of Istanbul flying in but oh I hate the airport itself, even if they do have huge quantities of Turkish Delight on hand. The Dubai airport is my favorite for kid-friendliness, there is an amazing kid hangout center with a movie on at all times, things to climb and jump on. They have strollers. Route through Dubai if you can.
- And just as all airports are not created equal, all airlines are not created equal. My favorite for international travel with children? So far, it’s Emirates. Conveniently, they route through Dubai airport:)
- If you have a lap infant, request a bassinet aisle on the airplane (there are now bassinets that, after take-off and before landing, can be bolted to the wall of certain aisles). We’ve had the luck or good planning on someone’s part to end up in bassinet aisles on many of our airplane rides. But it didn’t occur to me that you could actually request that when making your seat selections and special requests at ticket purchase time. If you want a bassinet aisle ask for one! I assumed I would have one on the 13.5 hours flight from Istanbul to San Francisco. You know what they say about assuming things. This is a memory that may not make it to the humorous stage.
Would I do it again?
Given the chance, would I do it again? Probably. I did say I have travel amnesia, right? I find it hard to pass up travel of any kind. And I remain devoted to the belief that it will serve my children well in the long-run, even when Ly cries her eyes out in a tent because I won’t nurse her, or James gets spanked in an airport bathroom. Lytle is starting to talk, and I am certain that the Dutch, Amharic, and Kiswahili that she has heard in her short life are somehow imprinted on her brain. And when James builds Mt. Kilimanjaro with his blocks, or tells me the army ants are coming and I have to jump up on the couch, my heart fills with gratitude for the opportunities we’ve had. So yes, I’ll take that next travel opportunity that comes my way. But I’ll look over my notes first.