Monday, April 15, 2013

All plans are written in Jell-o

The title of this final post is a mantra I learned early in my Outdoor Education career. It's always good to have plans, but things rarely go exactly as planned. Take the final week of my trip, for example.

Be careful what you wish for

My flight out of Douala was at 3:50am. Awkward. For some reason many of the flights in and out of Douala are in that odd time period between sunset and sunrise when you can't quite decide whether to call it "ungodly early" or "really freakin' late." Us travelers are then left with a crucial decision: stay up all night or get up early?

1am? Stay up late. 5am? Get up early. 3:50am? Let's play it by ear...

Bad idea. After a "last" night of fish and beer with Evan, Lisa and Elvis (the new owner of my motorcycle), I realized that I was too tired to stay up all night, so I'd try to take a quick nap before heading to the airport. As can be expected, the next thing I know Evan's standing in the doorway and it's 4am. Oops.

Regardless of the fact that it was well past departure time, I decided to make a run for the airport and try my chances. I believe my thoughts were somewhere between "Well, it's Africa, maybe they run their planes like they run their buses and it won't leave for another hour or two?" (forgetting that it's an international airport), and "Well, it's an international airport, so there's bound to be another flight soon or someone I can talk to to get this cleared up." (forgetting that it's Africa).

Once at the airport, I found it empty of anyone save security guards and sleeping taxi men. All of the airline personnel had left promptly after check-in and would not be returning until Monday, more than 24hrs later. Dejected, I hopped back in a taxi to Evan and Lisa's, tail between my legs. Going off a security guard's suggestion, I tried to visit the downtown airline offices first thing in the morning, only to be reminded that it was still Sunday and they probably wouldn't be coming in, although they might in the afternoon (they didn't, I checked). Without anyone at the office or answering the phone, my next plan was to just show up at the airport again that night and hope it was a daily departure.

More time for science with Mr. Murphy!

Long story less long, there wasn't. All I got was another shortened night of sleep, some more time hanging out in Douala, and another suggestion to go to the downtown offices the next day, where I was charged a ridiculously large fee I'd rather not dwell on and given a new flight for Tuesday morning (5am, thankfully).

When I crossed the river from Congo I said I wished I had more time in this trip to explore Cameroon. This isn't quite what I had planned...

Wedding plans

Om nom

The original idea, with the Sunday departure, was to spend a few days in Morocco visiting my friend Sue (another PCV, but this time one I knew from before) and attending the wedding of her friend. On the plus side, Moroccans apparently also write their plans in Jell-o (couscous?) and the wedding was delayed indefinitely, pending the arrival of the groom. Downside: my 3-day visit with Sue was down to 24hrs.

Even the 24hrs was lucky, though, as Sue lives near Agdz in southern Morocco and my flight was in and out of Casablana. The main route between the two is a 7-hr bus ride over the notorious Tichka pass (buses tend to fall off from time to time), but I got some comfort knowing that I'd be taking the safer, official CTM bus. Wrong again. CTM was sold out, leaving me to wander into the melee of the Gare Routiere to find a souk bus (for those east-coasters reading this, it's similar to opting for Fung Wah over Bolt Bus, but without any real schedule or rules).

In the end, I was able to find a bus, get over the pass and give the finger to the fates who seemed determined to keep Sue and I from hanging out (Anna and I had tried back in December, too).

So after a fourth night in a row of shortened sleep, I got to spend a day eating Tajines and sandwiches, drinking tea and coffee and debriefing long international experiences as only two Outward Bound instructors can. Then, it was back on the night bus to Casablanca for a fifth sleep-deprived night.

The home stretch

I was in the airport a solid 4 hours before my flight left (not making that mistake again), quickly whisked away to Madrid for a short stop (long enough to realize that Spanish is a different language than French and they don't seem to appreciate it if you try to speak bad African French to them), then lobbed across the ocean to JFK, 282 days after I last stepped foot out of the US. Customs was quick and painless (I was expecting interrogation after all the spy accusations in Kazakhstan) and I was soon back with good friends, good food, good coffee and good beer.

Watching the East River from Brooklyn after a hipster-soaked food festival with BJ and John

The end

282 days, 12 countries, 2 continents (ignoring Madrid), countless new friends, cups of tea, shots of vodka, plates of plov, bowls of Ndole, bottles of lager, uncomfortable seats, cold nights, sweaty nights, new experiences and some very worn-out travel clothes. I'll never be able to fully quantify the events of my life since I left home last summer, nor what I have learned, nor how I have changed from it. As Oliver Wendell Holmes once said, "A mind, once stretched by a new idea, can never return to its original dimensions." Mine's been stretched quite a bit over the last year and I'm sure I'll be continuing to learn from this trip for the rest of my life. I'm glad I at least got to share some of it with you all along the way.

So, that brings an end to my publicly-broadcast life of the past 40 weeks. I'll spare you from the details of my American experiences from here on out, although hopefully many of you'll be there to share them with me. Thank you all for your support and friendship during this trip, I couldn't have made a trip around the world alone like this without knowing that I wasn't truly alone in the world. See you soon!

A welcome-home from Kenny and Julia in NYC

1 comment:

  1. While I'm really glad to see you and know you'll be down the hall from me for the next couple months, I'm going to miss your blog. I'm sure it's very bittersweet for you. Hh soon! -wendy