Predeparture: You're planning to keep your organs?

Trip Start Dec 28, 2009
Trip End Jan 12, 2010

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Flag of United States  , North Carolina
Friday, December 25, 2009

I made the promise when I was in no position to do so. It was September, 2007 and my friend Rachel was getting ready to leave for Mozambique on a two-year stint with the Peace Corps.

"Hey," I said, "when you're all done I'll come out and meet you and we'll travel around Morocco or something for a couple weeks."

It seemed like a good idea at the time. Over the years, Rachel and I had become fairly adept at making the most of our hair-brained schemes. We met more than six years ago as housemates at the Coogee Residence, studying abroad at Uni New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. During our five months together we managed to bring a larger-than-accustomed ruckus to a sleepy Australian mountain-town pub, attempted to initiate a rugby riot at the World Cup along with various other chicanery. She was my best friend in that house, and the one person I've managed to maintain steady contact with through all these years. We managed to see each other occasionally, in places like Boston, Chapel Hill, Panama City, Florida and a random rest area in western New Jersey. Tanzania will certainly serve to be the most exotic.

Now, three days before I step on a plane heading toward Africa, its a little unbelievable that this is actually happening. Back when I told Rachel I would meet her when her term of service was up, I was living at home and waiting tables at an Outback Steakhouse in Springfield, New Jersey. I was nowhere near leveling off my bank account from a year spent backpacking the world and all the other expenses involved in reintegrating myself in the real world. But I was still hopelessly obsessed with traveling, and Africa was one of the two continents I had yet to visit. I had come close on that trip. My best friend on the road, an Aussie named Adrian, proposed an out-of-nowhere detour to Morocco, but the logistics never worked. I suppose I still am hopelessly obsessed, but in the two-plus years of working and not traveling, the symptoms have been a little more latent. In those short two years I moved out of New Jersey to Raleigh, North Carolina, to Birmingham, Alabama and then back to New Jersey to work for a web site based out of New York.

Shortly thereafter I took a new job in Charlotte, North Carolina. It was here, nearly two years after hitting the job market and a year-plus since I spoke to Rachel on the phone for the last time, that I was finally capable of backing up my wild ideas. I finally had some money saved up, a job that could at least somewhat fund my travels, and maybe most important, paid vacation. Things were falling into place.

We spent several months working out vague details, when I would come out and general areas we were interested in visiting. When Rachel's plot to stay on to work in Maputo after her terms of service were over fell through, the answer to when became December. Finally, in August, we were able to work out a time to be online at the same time so we could chat online and work out the where of the equation. Our options were Morocco, Tanzania and South Africa.

So at 6 a.m. on a Monday in August -- following a weekend in which I had gone out each night AND worked each morning -- I logged on to facebook and talked to my friend for the first time in almost two years. Her internet was spotty, pretty much what you'd expect, since it sounded like she had to arm herself with a machete and three days of supplies just to get there. At the end of the conversation, which was at roughly 1 p.m. her time, she made reference to needing to leave so she could get back to her village "by nightfall."

Morocco was too far for someone who'd been scrapping by on Peace Corps wages for the last two years. So that was out. While Morocco had been the initial plan, I was sort of relieved. Morocco would've been great, but it's not usually what you think of when you think "Africa." Rachel was planning on going to South Africa in September and being in Mozambique for Thanksgiving, so Tanzania was more convenient for her. I was flexible, so Tanzania it was. And the more I researched it later on, it seemed like Tanzania was the perfect place to get "Africa" if you could only hit one country.

I woke back up around 1 and spent the next several hours before work on a manic search for airfare. I had options going through Rome, Cairo, Addis Abbaba, Dubai, Doha, you name it. I was churning through internet sites left and right. I had travel agents working the phones for me. Finally, I had it down to two. One would be seamless, with next to no layovers. But another one, a cheaper one, had a 24-hour layover in Cairo on the way back. Pyramids anyone? The drawback was a 10.5 hour layover on the way out. I was all set to book, the agent was beginning to draw papers and just needed me to fax a few documents when I got into work. He had the same main JFK-->Cairo-->Dar return flight I had, but his domestic flight from Charlotte to JFK was a little more expensive than what I knew I could do. I was content to spend a little extra and just have everything taken care of at once by a professional. In an attempt to make myself feel better about the extra money I'd be spending, I clicked on the internet offer to see how exorbitant their service fees would be. Instead the flight went down $200. I had my ticket.

Then it was a matter of five months of waiting. And waiting. And then a little more waiting. And procuring a cheap domestic flight from Charlotte to New York. And waiting. And getting my shots and vaccinations. And waiting. And getting my Tanzanian visa. And waiting.

And this week, with Rachel fresh off narrowly surviving a summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, we finally started nailing down the last bits of minutiae of our plan. Our general itinerary looks like this: heading straight from the airport in Dar Es Salaam for the ferry to Zanzibar where we'll spend a few days and celebrate New Year's. Then to Moshi for a day or two to do a trip around the base of Kilimanjaro before skipping over to Arusha to do a 5-day safari around the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater. This would leave just enough time to take a bus to Dar, have one final night and then getting to the airport, spending a day in Cairo and then getting Rachel back to the US for the first time in 2.5 years.

The venture out there will be among the more painful I've been through, and I've done two flights to Down Under, Bangkok-to-Athens with a 12-hour layover in Dubai, a 42-hour train ride in Australia and an overnight smuggling bus from Vientiane to Saigon. I leave JFK on Monday night and arrive in Dar at 5 a.m. Wednesday with a 10-hour layover (probably long enough to go stir crazy, short enough to not be able to do anything) in Cairo. I was relieved when Rachel, and her friend Joy who will be accompanying us, agreed to meet me at the airport.

"That's a good thing," I said. "While I'm sure I'm capable of finding myself to the ferry, my main concern would be getting in a taxi, passing out from jet-lag and waking up in some alley to find my organs have been harvested."

"Wait," Rachel replied, "you're planning to keep your organs throughout this trip? Just hope to get one kidney through New Year's."

Well then. Expectations have been set.
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