As published in The Huffington Post
Over 10 years ago, I decided I wanted to go to South Africa to see Cape Town, travel around the Cape of Good Hope, get up close and personal with the big five animals in the wild, embrace the beauty of the Indian Ocean, fall in love with the flora and fauna of this gorgeous land and feel the energy and rhythms of South Africa and its people.
Even though South Africa is a country so far away from where I live in California that the thought of 24 hours of travel one way made me think I had lost my mind, I never got over Meryl Streep in “Out of Africa.” She was me and I was her and we were both Karen Blixen.
On a personal note, the past 10 years was about the joys of working as a yoga and meditation teacher at UCLA and saving for my journey to South Africa. I was also the coupon queen, the bargain hunter, the resource person for inexpensive trips to Africa (to know avail because there are no cheap tours to Africa — South or otherwise). I combed travel agencies in the U.S., the U.K., Australia, and Canada. There were so many options and visuals that I got dizzy. What to do, where to go, how to accomplish all that I wished to see and do. More than anything, I wanted to ride an elephant. Isn’t that what all beatnik boomers want to do? Silly me.
One night at dinner of tapas and many wine parings with my two dear friends — yoga students for the past 12 years and marathon runners — we were ruminating about climbing Kilimanjaro and why it wasn’t going to happen even though we had started a hiking/conditioning program. Dave’s knee, my breathing issues in extreme altitudes and Phil’s lack of enthusiasm all added up to a non-starter. I mumbled about really wanting to go to Africa before I hit 70, and my buddies chimed in with enthusiasm.
“Yeah, my dad wants to do that trip, too,” Dave said.
“I like that,” Phil proffered. “Sounds pretty good to me.”
“I’ve saved American Airlines miles for 10 years for this trip. I finally have enough. It’s my dream trip. Let’s go!”
Dave and Phil have been to so many places on this earth that I was surprised to hear that South Africa wasn’t checked off. Excitement began to build.
Dave is the go-to research guy on all planned trips and his boss at UCLA is South African so I felt I was in great hands with his suggestions. And I had a few resources up my sleeve with tour agencies and friends who have been to Africa more times than I could imagine. We threw our resources in a hat and came up with a trip that suited us.
We decided to see as much of South Africa in two weeks. We’d lose a day each way because of travel time, but we were ready to ignore sleep depravation and jet lag in both directions. Despite the fact we took separate airlines, we landed in South Africa and departed Johannesburg without hours of each other. Riding high on the wings of a perfect trip, we indulged in a perfect sushi meal at the Johannesburg airport and capped off a year of planning and execution to South Africa. It all worked like magic.
I’ve just returned from my dream trip (with airline miles left over) feeling so blessed to have fulfilled the travel journey of my life and to have ridden an elephant — the most awesome animal in the universe. Besides finding the land and the people so beautiful, I discovered the joy and pleasure of traveling with friends as well as with strangers who fast became friends.
The 11 of us on our South African trip included a couple from Ireland, a couple from England around Cambridge area, three ladies from Wales celebrating their 60th birthdays and their friend who now lives in New Zealand. Dave, Phil and me rounded out the eleven. We bounded so fast that we didn’t even have time to understand our personal connection except that everyone of us were travelers who found adventure to be important and learning new things to be the thrill of living life to the fullest.
As I got to know the idiosyncrasies of each traveler, the married dynamics of the couples, the sardonic quips of the ladies from Wales, the wit of my new friend from New Zealand and the nuanced friendship of my tried and true yoga students from LA, I settled into a rhythm that felt like home. I was ensconced in a comfort zone that resembled the ebb and flow of what life would be like in a perfect world. Of course, there were no worries or thoughts of impending disaster and anything that was urgent was pushed back into the redundant regions of our brains. No time for anything other than experiencing the present moment.
I finally had time to clear my mind and find my balance as I began the second year of my 70s. No longer hinged to a teaching or work schedule for the first time in my life, I began to find that relaxation is really fun. And most importantly, the resistance that arises out of fear was not a part of my processing the next day, or month or year. As inner peace became a constant during my days of travel, I found I was letting go and surrendering to the moment as inner peace embraced me.
Travel is a most profound channel to collect clear thoughts, establish priorities and stay the course of practicing present consciousness because travel is alive with vibrant colors and resonant sounds and exceptional visual landscapes. Travel moments are filled with the joy of taking a fellow traveler’s hand and walking together in silence into a world where stillness can be heard.