One Summer in Africa with Grandad
A tale of the blind leading the blind through sub-Sahara Africa.
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 believe 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. It is almost impossible fathoming a sky like that. 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, a 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 his service, 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. Upon a hill. Where the whole night sky was exposed.
Vast wide-openness; a pitch-black painting. With millions of splattered white specks. That all 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. His forgetfulness comes with old age. He would be entering the back end of his eighth decade of life at 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 lifelong memories without even remembering their names — it all added to my inspiration.
Chasing this 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. And thus, beginning a life across the world with no motive to come home in the future.
I began traveling the world. While, simultaneously, growing roots on a small European island. Malta became a home for me in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea.
While there, I realized that with my travel experiences growing, I still had to cross one trip off my list.
I’d always had the intention of traveling with Grandad. If you asked either of us, we’d agree that it was a long time coming.
Still, the opportunity had never presented itself. We both had extensive United States travel experience and dabbled in international travels, as well. But he was slowing down just as my journey was starting.
“Those at the end of their journeys embraced ours,” — Franz Wisner
It had been weighing on my mind; Grandad wasn’t getting any younger. Soon, he wouldn’t be up for such a long and unknown road trip.
I had to force the opportunity sooner or later. So, one morning in the early Spring of 2018, 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 Africa. And their protection — particularly the elephants. I could have booked a ticket before I even asked him.
I knew he wouldn’t need any convincing had I asked him to backpack 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.
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. The next several months were spent 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, though. We were “preparing” for months while, largely, nothing of which became of use to us.
We knew only 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, my travels had lost the zest that they once provided. I figured my ability to connect was at fault.
It felt like I was going through the motions everywhere I went, with everyone I met, and with everything I did. I needed a new perspective. A fresh perspective; motivation to recapture the impact traveling used to have on me.
Compelled to document our entire journey, I started writing as a way to become a more knowledgeable, well-versed traveler.
My Grandad was always the curious traveler. We had never traveled together, but I gathered this from his stories. He was always interested in everything there is an opportunity to learn from.
He was a master conversationalist in that he could drag common ground out of anyone he met. He 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 and woman he met. He had time to give. That time was 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 they needed to.
He had a way of conveying a message without ever saying a word.
His intentions were straight-forward. The way he looked at you and asked questions with such sincerity became admirable. Especially as multi-tasking grows 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 he started to laugh. 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 positioned himself. The questions he asked. The way he grabbed someone’s attention. 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 myself and my travels. It seems like it should have been the opposite. But, I couldn’t help it.
The more world experience you get, the more stories you rack-up. You find yourself always having a similar story as the person sitting across from you. I was always 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 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 bring to my world of travel.
I couldn’t wait to be knee-deep in conversations with strangers from across the world with the guy who could provoke a rock to tell its best life story.
Please note: This is an introduction to a memoir I’ve just completed.
The summer came and passed and the stories were too crazy not to write about.
Through the ups and the downs, the long drives and the bumpy rides; from hospital stays to sleeping in a rented sedan; from making meals of plain bread to the glamorous home-cooked, carnivorous safari dinners. . . It’s all too much for one article. One really needs to read the book to get the whole story.
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** This article was originally published at www.adamcheshier.com **