A few final thoughts from home…

We’ve been home for a couple of days now and are finally getting over the effects of jet lag… although Marie still has a wicked head cold and we’ve both been feeling like we got run over by a very large truck… but given the number of people hacking and coughing on our flights home, it’s no surprise one of us got sick… in fact I’m actually a little shocked we didn’t bring home the plague or something. Marie was actually the energizer bunny on Saturday, doing most of our laundry, getting groceries and taking Bear for a walk while I basically slept the whole day (definitely the worst I’ve ever felt after a trip). But the tables have turned now and she’s dragging her feet around a little while I’m bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and raring to go… at 3AM…

We’re also a little surprised we made it home at all considering the Air Canada flight attendant on our flight home had a) no idea what city we were taking off from, b) no idea what city we were flying to, c) what aircraft we were flying in or d) how long our flight time would be… If preflight announcements are supposed to reassure passengers, hers was a complete disaster. And to continue the bash Air Canada theme, why did it not come as any surprise that we could fly more than 20,000km on multiple flights with Ethiopian Airlines with no difficulties at all and that Ethiopian Airlines was capable of shepherding our bags through the chaos of Addis Ababa airport but Air Canada couldn’t make sure that all our bags made it from Toronto to Vancouver… I know that bashing Air Canada is almost a national pastime in Canada but it’s hard not to bash them when you see what other airlines – including those in Air Canada’s service levels – are offering. Ethiopian Airlines provided hot meals, blankets, headphones and pillows on every flight and even managed to keep our luggage on the same flights as us… The same cannot be said of Air Canada…

Okay… enough complaining… let’s talk about some positives…

First, a huge shoutout to our friends Karen and Michael who met us at the ferry and gave us a ride home at the end of our trip… and thoughtfully brought homemade soup and a bag of groceries to tide us over in case we weren’t feeling up to cooking (we definitely weren’t). And to our neighbours Philip and Marya who provided a warm welcome home and a delicious blueberry-apple pie! And to our dog/house sitter Ricardo who kept Bear well-exercised and who seems to have thoroughly detailed Marie’s car while we were away… her tires have never been so shiny! and who kept the house absolutely  immaculate. Often times, the best part of traveling is being reminded of what you have back home and this trip was no exception. Marie and I are truly blessed to have the life we have…

Next, Insight Global Education and Craig in particular deserve all kinds of praise and gratitude for making this trip happen and making it happen as seamlessly as it did. Our accommodation choices were excellent (sure some didn’t have hot water at times and the power went out at some but that’s Africa and certainly wasn’t Insight’s responsibility… and to be honest it added to the overall feel of the trip). No one got sick from what we ate or drank. We ended up in the places we were supposed to be when we were supposed to be there. We saw lions! And we were provided with valuable insight and knowledge about the places and things we were seeing… In short, Craig was a fantastic tour guide and handled the logistics with aplomb… I have never had less to do on a trip and Patrick was a fount of knowledge about Uganda and Rwanda and was just plain awesome. Insight runs a great student travel program and I’m already starting to think about the next trip we’ll run with them! Fuji? Ecuador? Costa Rica? Maybe their new Balkans or Southeast Asia destinations?

Finally, East Africa… or at least Uganda and Rwanda. One of the purposes of Insight’s programming is to change people’s (especially students’) perceptions of East Africa. In particular to shift people away from the constant negative images of Africa as violent, poverty-ridden, starving and to be able to see Africa in a different light…  Well that certainly happened for us.

There are aspects of Uganda and Rwanda that are not wholly positive. There is poverty. There is a heavy security presence and there are a lot of machine guns in the hands of police, soldiers and security guards all over the place. There is corruption. The traffic is stifling in places and you need to keep your wits about you in markets and in crowded areas. Driving is downright dangerous in and out of the cities. Rwanda and Uganda do not have democratically elected governments nor do their citizens enjoy universal human rights that we in the West take for granted. You don’t want to drink the water. Or swim in most of the lakes. Sometimes the power goes out. And there’s not always hot water. And you are well-advised to make sure your vaccinations are up-to-date and that you take your anti-malarials.

But there is corruption in many countries that are popular tourist destinations. Heavy security is the new reality for most cities throughout Europe. Traffic and driving are a nightmare in many countries (been to Vancouver lately…). Keeping your wits about you in markets and crowded spaces is a necessity everywhere you travel to unless you like losing your stuff or getting scammed. And poverty is not confined to Africa (again, been to Vancouver lately…).

On the plus side, we found the people in Uganda and Rwanda to be genuinely friendly and welcoming. The prices are pretty awesome for food and shopping and accommodation. Beer costs about a dollar. Sodas cost less than that. Bottled water is readily available everywhere you go. Getting a SIM card for your phone will take you less than 20 minutes and data plans are cheap, cheap, cheap. WiFi is spotty but you’ll find decent cell coverage almost everywhere. We were not swarmed by mosquitoes (I did not get bit once and did not use bug repellent for the last 5 days of the trip but some of the kids definitely got a few bites despite using high concentration DEET bug repellents). Most rooms will have fans. Those that don’t will be hot but that just means your freshly washed clothes will dry faster. Marie thought the mattresses were a bit hard but she’s a bit of a wimp when it comes to that… The food isn’t super amazing (matoke is a bit of an acquired taste and the meat tends to be a bit tough) but it’s cheap and plentiful and you can get every type of cuisine imaginable… Service tends to be a bit slow and sometimes you don’t always get what you ordered but that’s part of the charm. And when you get out of the cities and into the countryside, the scenery is pretty spectacular. And they have lions. And zebras. And elephants…

Basically, traveling to Uganda and Rwanda was not all that different than traveling to Thailand or Cambodia or Turkey or Morocco… Lots of positives and a few things you need to watch out for. And that was the point of the trip to a large extent. To show the students – and Marie and I – that Africa is not really all that different than many of the places people travel to. Yes, you’ll want to hire a car and driver. Yes, it will be hot and dusty and noisy and chaotic in places… and serene and beautiful in others…

I guess the most telling fact of all is that we’re already thinking of going back to East Africa… Caitlin says Zanzibar is absolutely beautiful and her pictures certainly confirm that. Doing a gorilla trek has been on Marie’s bucket list for as long as I’ve known her and apparently the Serengeti safari experience is out of this world…

One thought on “A few final thoughts from home…

  1. Glad to hear you have recovered Kirk and hope that Marie is soon feeling better too. Thanks for the koodos – was thoughtful of you. This last blog was a nice wind-up for your trip.

    Your write-ups have certainly educated me – thank you.

    Cheers, Karen

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