It’s true. I vanished from the blogging world. I have no logical answer as to why. Writing nagged at the back of my mind since my last post back in 2017. For those who were tracking with me, I left you hanging. I disappeared with no ending. And I am sorry. The best explanation I have is, I got lost.
Lost. Not in the physical sense but in the emotional sense. I guess I expected more from my trip. I just expected it to be a stepping stone that it would lead me to the next “big thing.” Instead, it lead me back to where I started with seemingly no new direction of life.
Have you ever felt that way? Have you ever felt like you have spent a lot of time, effort and possibly money on something that felt really big just to be left with an anticlimactic ending? What do we do in those times? Where do our thought processes go? I can tell you where mine went…to frustration and depression.
I can honestly say that for the past year or two I have turned inward and battled emotions that I have not seen for over ten years. A well-traveled friend warned me, “There is an emotional cycle that comes with big travel experiences. First when you arrive home, you are readjusting to “old life” by getting reacquainted with family, friends and surroundings. Watch out for the two week, two month and six month markers. Disappointment and depression seem to show up unexpectedly.” How right she was.
At week two, I felt it. Since our conversation was still fresh in my mind I was able to draw from it, reminding myself that these feelings were simply part of the cycle. At two months, I felt it. My friend asked me how long it I had been home from backpacking and reminded me of the two month mark which allowed me to wait it out by drawing on the idea that again, this was simply part of the cycle. At six month, I felt it. Looking back, I got lost in internal panic.
I think all of us have common tendencies in our “internal panic.” As my wise mother would say, we have “well-worn cow paths of thought that take us quickly down a path without having to consciously think about it” until we wind up in a mental mess and really are not sure how we got there. One of my reoccurring thoughts (or well-worn cow paths) is “there has got to be more to life than this.” I am a very goal oriented person and if I am unable to figure out what the next step is, I panic. I scramble. I get internally lost. The result is making choices that do not line up with who I am and what I know I am called to.
I am not going to bore you with the details of what this last year or so has looked like in my panic mode. I do not have all the details of where this is headed but I am reclaiming the dream, picking up the torch of risk and going back to the world where I am called to be. I invite you to join me again we continue to discover what an amazing world this is.
“If you are intent on chasing a deep seeded dream God has planted in your life, chase with everything you have. If you get lost like I did, He has the ability and is faithful to bring you back on track.”
Have you ever been spent time at a place of complete wonder? A special place touches the awe-inspired parts of your soul? A sight where you turn in circles mesmerized by the design that could not have been created by any human but only in the artistic imagination of God? That was my experience in Antelope Canyon.
Antelope Canyon is a “slot” canyon located on a Navajo Reservation near Page, Arizona. Slot canyons are found all over the world but usually in areas that receive low rainfall. When Page has excessive rainfall in a short period of time, it creates flash floods. The excessive water cuts through the rock. In this case, the rock is made of Navajo Sandstone. Over time, a hole or “slot” is created in the top of the rock, falling deep into the canyon below.
Slot canyons often go unnoticed because the small entrance hole is misleading to what lies beneath. One of the signifying markers is the opening “slot” at the top of the rock is smaller than the canyon depth. The opening could be just a few feet wide but then plunge hundreds of feet to the canyon floor.
Imagine the water of a flash flood cascading down through a narrow opening and filling the canyon from the bottom up. The pressure from the fast rising water presses and sloshes against the sides of the sandstone walls causing erosion in the most unusual and colorful wave patterns. A photographer’s dream.
The canyon floor moves vertically depending on how much water has come in. The more rain, the more erosion causing more sand to be pulled from the walls and deposited on the ground, thus raising the floor level. The danger of drowning is serious during these storms since they can come with little warning and drop high levels of water in a short amount of time.
None-the-less, the results of mother nature are beyond breathtaking. The colors inside the canyon change as the sun moves through the sky giving each visitor a unique and special experience.
Antelope Canyon can be also be accessed by boat from Lake Powell. As you cruise the beautifully clear, turquoise water through the narrow cliff walls, you can only imagine what canyon paths remain hidden just beyond the rock surface.
Whether you visit by land or by sea, Antelope Canyon deserves the extra time and attention. You may just never be the same afterwards.
“The LORD is my rock, my fortress, and my savior;
my God is my rock, in whom I find protection.
He is my shield, the power that saves me,
and my place of safety.
I called on the LORD, who is worthy of praise,
and he saved me from my enemies.” Psalm 18:2-3
We grew up in the same town. We went to the same elementary, middle and high school. We did not run in the same crowds or have the same circle of friends. Thinking back, our paths really only crossed through the time commitment abyss of high school marching band and concert band. We graduated one year apart. The last time we remember being in the same place at the same time was when we were nineteen years old at a mutual friend’s wedding. And then we fell out of touch.
Nearly half-way through my backpacking journey, I happen to receive a Facebook friend request from Adam. I thought, “Oh how nice! It has been so long, I wonder how Adam is doing and what he is up to.” I had no idea Adam would become such a valuable person in this journey and now in my life.
Adam began to consistently follow me through my blog and Facebook. He liked nearly every photo and commented on most posts. He was always enthusiastic and encouraging no matter what the topic or destination. Eventually we chatted via private messenger, connecting as adults through our passion for travel.
When I decided to visit Phoenix, I sent Adam a message to let him know I was going to be in town and to see if he was available for coffee or dinner to catch up in person. Not only did he agree, he said, “We want you to come stay with us. We have plenty of space. If it is for one day or five days, you are welcome here!” Oh, if Adam and Paul only knew what was coming…
At the point when Adam offered, I did not have my arrangements figured out yet. I was still working on all of those fine details that comes with schedule coordination. The main reason I decided to visit Phoenix was for the number of family and friends who reside in the area. I also have a couple of friends who recently moved to Phoenix in the past year or so. I was excited to have the time and opportunity to visit with many relationships in addition to seeing the sights of Arizona.
Let’s be honest, texting and messaging conversations about adventures are one thing but what is it like to stay with an acquaintance friend that I have not seen in fifteen years? How many nights are considered appropriate? What if our lifestyles do not compliment each other? What if it is awkward or difficult? What if I am a burden instead of a blessing? What are their expectations from me? All of these questions swirled around in my brain following Adam’s hospitality offer. I had no answers for any of them.
As my schedule appeared to start smoothing out, Adam and I arranged for me to stay with him and Paul for a few days closer to the end of my time in Arizona. Adam was already getting started in planning some sights and adventures to take me on. We ended our conversation with Adam saying, “If anything changes and you need a place to stay, our door is open!” Thanks Adam, but I think I have it all sorted out…and shortly thereafter, MY plans started to unravel.
The day before I left for Phoenix, my first night’s accommodation fell through. Not knowing what else to do, I called Adam. “I know this is really short notice but could I stay with you tomorrow night? My plan fell through. It will only be for this first night.” Without hesitating, Adam said, “Absolutely! We are excited for you to come!” And so I did.
Adam and Paul welcomed me in with wide open arms. After hugs, introductions and dinner, we sat outside on the back patio. The weather was perfectly comfortable for shorts and a tank top. No mosquitos or gnats to bite us and no humidity to give that Wisconsin cold sweat at night. It was a beautiful night for chatter, laughter and a lovely glass of wine.
At one point, Paul decided it was late enough and time for bed. He said his “good nights” and retreated inside the house. Adam and I stayed outside talking and talking, never an awkward silence. Finally, one of us looked at the clock to notice it was four o’clock in the morning! Adam and I had stayed up all night talking like old friends.
Practicing with selfie stick with Adam
Paul helping me learn my new phone
Paul and Adam with new phone features
Lots of laughter with Adam and Paul
My intention was to head out the next day. But little by little, my accommodation plan continued to unravel. A great number of details I thought I had worked out, fell apart. And every time a plan fell, Adam said, “Good thing you are staying here with us. We love having you. You can stay here for as long as you want to.”
What is it about a person that causes them to generously open their door to a “seemingly” stranger and treat them like a treasured guest? After the first couple of days, they gave me a spare key to their home and said, “It is your home while you are here. Come and go as you want until you leave Arizona. Eat what you want. Lounge around as you want. We have no expectations but for you to enjoy staying with us.”
Adam had a few days off of work. Instead of staying home to relax, he and I took a road trip, heading south toward the old mining town of Bisbee. Along the way, we stopped at the beautiful Spanish Catholic Mission San Xavier del Bac.
Standing as the oldest European structure in all of Arizona, Mission San Xavier del Bac’s current building was completed in 1797 when Spain owned the land that is now called Arizona (the United States acquired the land in 1853 in the Gadsden Purchase). This building has seen its fair share of history changes over the years with Native American raids, Mexico acquiring the land when they were granted independence, United States acquiring the land from Mexico to Arizona breaking away from New Mexico to becoming a state of its own. All the while, this structure has continued to operate as a place of outreach and providing for the spiritual needs of its parishioners. I highly recommend stopping by for an hour to gaze at the Spanish Colonial exterior and to soak in the gorgeous artwork inside the church.
Curious to learn more? Follow the link to learn more information. http://www.sanxaviermission.org/Index.html
We continued heading south to Tombstone, Arizona. Back in the 1880’s, Tombstone was a silver mining boomtown crawling with miners, cowboys, bandits and all sorts of wild west shenanigans. Although the discovery of silver is what originally put the town on the map, it has gone down in history for the gunfight near the O.K. Corral involving Doc Holliday, Wyatt Earp, Virgil Earp, Morgan Earp and some renegade cowboys. For Hollywood’s recall of the story, watch the 1993 movie, Tombstone, starring Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer. Then I urge you to read some historical compilations for more accurate details surrounding the event.
As with many mining towns, once the town was purged of its natural resources, it nearly dried up into a ghost town. However, the historic district of Tombstone has been preserved as an example of a great American western frontier town. Visitors can walk the dirt streets along the wooden sidewalks or take a horse drawn wagon ride around the town. A number of the original buildings have been preserved and maintained as museums or operating businesses to give visitors a feel of historic Tombstone. Adam and I took in a reenactment of the famous gunfight which was comical and encouraged audience participation while providing historical details of the event.
Not knowing exactly what we were in for, Adam booked our one overnight at Tombstone Monument Guest Ranch. You guys, if you want a ranch experience, this is the place to go! The property mimics a street from historic Tombstone and is located just a few minutes outside of the town itself. The accommodations are hidden behind the false front doors of the jail, courthouse or trading post giving each room a personality all its own. They are beautifully decorated with elegant décor of the time period. The property offers a wide range of “ranch experiences” from horse riding to archery to various western card games. While we did not have time to take part in these activities, Adam and I had a great time looking at all the buildings, taking photos on the property, shooting some very poor games of pool in the saloon and simply enjoying the experience. The next morning, we savored a Cowboy breakfast at the chuck wagon which wound up being a fantastic spread of warm food made over an open campfire. This is one place I am excited to venture back to for a longer say. If this peaks your interest, take a look at the Tombstone Monument Guest Ranch’s website: http://www.tombstonemonumentranch.com/
When we reached our goal destination of Bisbee, Arizona, we were delighted to find far more than we anticipated.
Similar to Tombstone, the town of Bisbee struck gold, silver, lead and copper in the 1880’s which brought a flood of people to the area looking for work. In fact, the city became home to over 20,000 people which made it one of the largest and most culturally diverse cities between San Francisco and St. Louis at the time. Over nearly a century, Bisbee experienced a fluctuating population correlating with the ups and downs of the mining industry. As the mining era came to a close during the 1970’s, mining families left the town in search of stable work and free-spirited artists began to move in. Thanks to the hilly terrain, preserved homes and rustic feel, Bisbee has starred in a number of motions pictures. Most interestingly, it also has been used in films to depict early years in San Francisco. Today, the town has taken great care to preserve and restore the downtown buildings in order to maintain the historical integrity of the mining town while filling them with the newer wave of artistry and boutique style shops. Adam and I were delighted that the we took the time to visit Bisbee. Our only regret was not having close toed shoes along to be able to take the tour of Copper Queen Mine.
In my previous post, I talked about what I learned from my friend Becky, who was spontaneous to say, “How long will you be there? I am coming.” And she did.
On the flip side, I also learned a new depth in the heart of generosity from Adam and Paul who opened up their home. They did not think about how they could be put out. They did not get upset as my plans kept falling through. They gave me a spare key and said, “Come. Stay. You are always welcome here.” Hospitality at its finest.
You see, that is the kind of friend I want to be. I want to be the one who says, “How long are you there? I am coming.” I also want to be the friend who says, “Come and stay with me. My door is always open to you.”
My time with Adam and Paul was blessed. They had no idea my plans would be changing so drastically when they offered for me to stay at their house. But God knew. He knew the right people for me in the right moment. I feel blessed to have had the unexpected opportunity to spend with them. In two and a half weeks, we went from seemingly strangers to acquaintances to friends to the feeling of family.
Interested in travel blogs? Adam and Paul also travel around the globe. They claim to “live boring at home so they can take grand adventures!” Adam includes his beautiful photography with the blog. Visit the website for the photos, stay for the story at http://www.asldestinations.com.
Look for opportunity to bless someone, even if it does not seem “ideal”. Who do you appreciate more, the one who blesses out of their abundance or the one who blesses out of all that they have? In any given opportunity, we get to be either of those people! Sometimes we have abundance and sometimes we have just enough but when we have generous hearts, blessings will return to us because we gave anyway.
“The end of the world is coming soon. Therefore, be earnest and disciplined in your prayers. Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins. Cheerfully share your home with those who need a meal or a place to stay.” I Peter 4:7-9
I learned that trekking with little planning takes more effort for me than following a pre-set path for a couple of reasons. First, the constant details. I am more of what I would call, a big picture person. Fine details become an overwhelming annoyance. When the details do not work out in the way I hope, my emotion can turn to frustration. Second, I was living in the past, present and future, all at the same time…And it was a struggle. I was processing the big picture of the most recent leg of the journey, trying to enjoy engaging in the present experiences and attempting to plan the details of my future steps. It was a difficult balance.
Much of my time in Africa was spent in the continuous thought of “Where or what comes next?” With the limited Wi-Fi, I researched locations, looked up a variety of destinations and browsed more tour options. Before leaving on the camping tour to Namibia, Botswana and Victoria Falls, I had decided to try to make it to Madagascar. I am intrigued by Madagascar – the Baobab trees look like something from a Dr. Seuss book, the variety of exotic animals only found there and the vast fusion of immigrants in the twentieth century has led to a uniquely diverse culture all their own.
As I researched, I could not find consistent information regarding safety of solo travel. I could not find consistent information regarding road condition quality. I could not find consistent information regarding cost and security of hostels versus hotels. Eventually, I decided to look into joining a tour group. I found a great tour that looked like everything I wanted and it appeared to be in my price range. I sent a request for additional information and final cost breakdown. After several weeks of back and forth emailing with the tour representative, the price came back nearly double what had been advertised due to hidden costs. I was now at the crossroads of decision.
Side Note: If you plan to travel with a tour group, make sure you understand what is included in the quoted price. Some companies try to get away with advertising an activity but do not include the admission fee in their pricing. Basically, they offer the transportation to the activity but if you want to go inside, now you have to pay out of your pocket. Solo travelers will almost always pay a higher price because they are not sharing the cost of a room. This is not, I repeat NOT a punishment to the solo traveler, it is simply the savings for splitting the room cost. Most advertised prices you see with tour companies are based on two people sharing a room. Make sure you ask A LOT of questions before making your decision.
The day after finding out about the doubled cost, I was crabby. My camping tour was going on a game drive that day and I was in no mood for it. I wound up sleeping the majority of the time to curb my inner turmoil. I did not want anyone in my group to take the brunt of my frustration as I battled through making this decision. I certainly had the time to visit Madagascar. I had the money but the amount they were asking would have taken a large chunk out of my savings. Plus, additional spending always occurs on tours for food, snacks, drinks, extra excursions and so on. And I still had to pay for flights to get to the starting point. Madagascar has been on my “bucket list” for a number of years, this could be a once in a lifetime opportunity. I had to ask myself a series of questions. Is visiting Madagascar worth going into debt if I had to? If I do not go to Madagascar, where will I go? What is the responsible risk in this situation?
I decided I did not want to wind up in debt at the end of this entire journey. I decided I had worked too hard to save money ahead of time. I did not want to have to work just as hard to catch up after returning home, especially when I did not know how long it would be until I started receiving a paycheck again. I felt like I had exhausted Africa for now and to start an entirely new adventure was going to be costly. In emotional agony, I decided to return to the United States with money to float for a little bit if need be so I did not have to financially start over from scratch.
Side note: It is my personal opinion that travel and adventure is worth every penny spent. However, travel is a luxury. It is a reward for hard work. It is completely worth saving money in advance to enjoy the fullness of a vacation. It is never worth going into debt for. In a society of “I want it now, I’ll pay for it later,” it is not worth the weight of the aftermath. We all have places we can cut back in our spending in order to save ahead. The trip is far more enjoyable you are not trying to pay if off five years later.
When I was looking at returning to the United States, I browsed around some options of things to visit before going home. I decided I wanted warm weather and a sandy beach for a week. I figured the beach would be a great place to recuperate from jet lag, emotional lag and mental lag before being overwhelmed by friends and family. After investigating a few different locations, I settled on Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
I want to give a huge shout out to my parents. Since I was limited on internet access, they willingly helped me find a hotel just north of Fort Lauderdale. Plus, my dad gave me his built up hotel points to get a much reduced rate AND they offered to pay half of the remaining amount which allowed me to enjoy an affordable accommodation only a block from the Deerfield Beach. Thank you Dad and Mom for your generosity to me in Florida and several other areas of my journey.
If you plan to take an extended trip away from the United States, I recommend building in some intentional time to re-enter the country. Enough studies have been done on “reverse culture shock” that I do not feel the need to go into it. I am not an expert but it is real. I think we all experience it differently depending on how much time away, where we visited (Think Ireland vs Somalia) and our own unique personalities.
For me, the grocery store was overwhelming. Do not get me wrong, I am not a fan of grocery shopping anyway but our grocery stores have SO MANY options. Not only do we have many options for flavors but we have to choose from multiple brands as well. Now, I do not drink Kool-Aid but during my first visit to the grocery store in Florida, I stood in the Kool-Aid aisle simply staring at the rows upon rows of little colored packets. No other country I have visited has as many options as we do in the United States.
Aside from the grocery store experience, Deerfield Beach was a great place to get re-acquainted to the United States. Since South Africa is seven hours ahead of the East Coast, I found myself getting tired somewhere between 2:00 and 3:00 in the afternoon due to jet lag. By being intentional about setting aside this time in Florida for getting over such things, I did not have to push through those tired stages. I could simply take a nap. Within three or four days, I was adapted to the new time schedule.
When my dear friend from home found out I was in Florida, she texted to ask how long I would be there. When I told her I only had about five days left, she said, “Okay, I am going to look into tickets. I will send you my flight schedule when it is finalized.” And she did. Becky flew down to spend a day and a half with me. We had a great time touring the museum and swimming at the International Swimming Hall of Fame, laying on the beach, eating seafood, people watching, talking and laughing.
I learned a lot from Becky in this experience. Contrary to how it may look, I struggle to be spontaneous. I like planned spontaneity. I like time set aside to be spontaneous. My mind has a difficult time transitioning away from what is already “planned,” especially when it comes to time and/or money. Here is what I learned from Becky: Never miss a great opportunity to be responsibly spontaneous. She and I have been close friends for a number of years. She did not debate whether it would be worth meeting up with me. She did not care that the time spent would be short. She did not choose to save her few hundred dollars for some other day. She simply said, “How long will you be there? I am coming.” That is the kind of friend I want to be. I want to be someone who is willing to spontaneously drop everything and say, “I am coming.” Thank you Becky. I love and value your friendship more than you know.
Laying on the beach, enjoying sunshine and warm water in Deerfield Beach, Florida.
Museum and lap swimming at the International Swimming Hall of Fame in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
My time in Florida was short. I did not galavant around looking for crazy adventure. I used the opportunity to adjust to the time zones and American culture. And of course to have long awaited chips and salsa.
Generous: characterized by a noble or kindly spirit; liberal in giving; marked by abundance or ample proportions
Abundance: an ample quality; affluence, wealth; relative degree of plentifulness
(Definitions from Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary)
One of the most unexpected conversations I found myself repeatedly having throughout this backpacking journey is the generosity of the United States of America. One of the common outside perspectives about Americans is our love of money, wealth, greed and fame. Considering most of the world only knows the United States by what is represented by Hollywood, the viewpoint is not too far-fetched. But what I was able to proudly share is the immense financial generosity that also flows from her citizens.
It is not uncommon to hear of fundraisers being organized to financially help an individual or family in need. Americans are quick to sign up for a 5k race if the proceeds go towards a charity. When a natural disaster strikes, money pours in from all around the country to assist in offsetting the various costs. Consumers are more willing to buy an overpriced pair of canvas shoes because the company will donate a pair to a child in a lesser developed country with each purchase. And the list goes on and on. When we Americans have strong feelings toward a person, organization or cause, we often look for ways to financially get involved and support them.
Truth be told, I have always loved gifts. I love receiving gifts and I love giving gifts. When I was a child, my view was more focused on the receiving part and a less on the giving. As an adult, I care very little for receiving but intensely love to give.
A number of years ago, I thought about this idea of generosity coupled with the joy of giving. I was able to spot opportunities to help others and I really wanted to but I “didn’t have the money”. I used the same tired line of “someday when I have less bills or more money” to explain why I could not generously give. One day, after some serious thought, I decided I wanted to make blessing others a priority.
I started by attacking my debt and bills with an aggressive payback schedule. The less I HAVE to pay to a lender, the more I get to donate to worthy people causes. I am sure most of you have heard of Dave Ramsey by now. I actually bought his books and adopted the beginner concepts to pay my debt down. While it took a little bit of time in the beginning, it paid off later as the debt started to disappear. However, it took sacrifice. It took sacrificing impulse purchases. It took delaying instant gratification. It took going without, in order to get out from under. And looking back, I cannot think of one thing I feel cheated from not being able to have. That means none of my painful sacrifice was long term, except in the moment of walking away.
Once I had a handle and made progress on my debt load, I opened a new bank account labeled, “Blessings.” I intentionally dedicated a small percentage of my paycheck to the account and started keeping my eyes open for opportunity. As debt fell off, freeing up more money, I was slowly able to raise the percentage being put into the blessings account. It is a curious thing, the more I looked forward to blessing other people, the less interest I had of spending money on myself. I also noticed that no matter how much money I freely and excitedly gave away, the account never ran dry.
Did you know God actually promises this outcome? “And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others. As the Scriptures say, ‘They share freely and give generously to the poor. Their good deeds will be remembered forever.’ For God is the one who provides seed for the farmer and then bread to eat. In the same way, he will provide and increase your resources and then produce a great harvest of generosity in you. Yes, you will always be enriched in every way so that you can always be generous” (2 Corinthians 9:8-11a). Seriously, how crazy is that?!? When we choose to be generous with what we have, God promises to provide for us and also provide for our generosity, enabling us to give even more. AND, the verses go on to talk about receiving joy in our giving. As we choose to give, we lose our self-centered focus and receive joy. How awesome! I enjoy being joyful!
So what does all of this money jabber have to do with this backpacking trip? When I left home, I still had money in the blessings account. I decided my personal theme for this journey was to “Bless and be blessed.” I kept my eyes and ears open for needs among the people I met along the way. Some people expressed financial hardship. Some people did not verbally express a need but I noticed an opportunity. Some needs were very simple like buying a meal. Some required far more time and effort like stopping at a number of government buildings to help sort out financial issues. And with each blessing I was able to participate in, I was blessed in the process.
I received a great number of new, blessed friendships along the path. Friends and family who I met up with along the way blessed me by surprising me with accommodation or other travel needs. Friends offered to assist me with this blog site. People unrelated to the previous blessing opened their homes to me. Some who have been following my journey sent financial donations which enabled me to continue blessing others. I was provided with transportation. I was provided with safety. I was provided with food and meals. And the list carries on throughout the entire trip.
In my experience, I can honestly say that when I made the sacrifice resolve my debt and then start blessing, the blessings came back to me tenfold. It is worth the front-end struggle to receive the back-end reward. When we can prove ourselves trustworthy with the little that is given to us, then we are trusted with more.
What would it look like if we purposefully stopped struggling with finances to start blessing and taking care of each other? I do not just want to be bold in chasing dreams, I want to be bold in generously blessing others. I want to freely and responsibly give from what I already have with little regard to how it will pain me. I want more of the joy that comes from giving and less of the pains of “not having enough.” That is what I want to be known for – bold dreaming, adventure chasing and joyful generosity.
A huge thank you to those of you who blessed me throughout this journey. You have not only made a difference in my life but in the lives of others as well. You are a cherished joy. May your lives continue to be richly blessed in your sacrifice.
“Give freely and become more wealthy; be stingy and lose everything.
The generous will prosper; those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed.” Proverbs 11:25-26
On November 16, 1855, David Livingstone stumbled upon Mosi-oa-Tunya (Tonga for “The Smoke that Thunders”). Like any good European explorer, he renamed the falls after Queen Victoria of Britain. Although the World Heritage List recognizes both names, most people are familiar with the English name, “Victoria Falls.”
David Livingstone’s original goal was never to be an explorer. Even as a child, he was fascinated by the relationship between religion and science. As time and curiosity continued, he enrolled in a college focused on science and technology, then entered medical school. His goal to become a medical missionary is what brought him to Africa. This journey to Southern Africa opened up a heart for not just medical missions but also to help end the vast slave trade. As his interests persisted, he ventured to undeveloped areas of current day Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambia which encouraged his urges of exploration. Today, he is regarded as a great explorer but it all began with his love for God and science.
Livingstone’s life story is one of passionate risk-taking. As I read through the “CliffsNotes” version (For those of you youngsters who have no idea what CliffsNotes are, please look it up), I see a man who took some amazing chances with the goal of making a difference in the world. He did not always get it right. At one time, those looking on from Europe called him a failure, a disaster, a waste of money and effort. And yet today, he is regarded as a hero of his time. Why? Because he had big dreams, chased them despite the dangers and impacted lives. What legacy will you leave behind?
“The Smoke that Thunders” is a brilliantly beautiful description for Victoria Falls. As the water crashes down the cliff edge to the gorge below sounding like thunder, it causes mist to shoot back up the narrow crevice creating “smoke.” Beyond that, I really do not have words to describe the way my chest pounded in sync with the water hitting the bottom or how it felt to stand near the edge of the cliff as the mist was so thick it came down like rain, soaking us to the core. I cannot adequately detail the green, leafy trees intertwined with vibrant ivy that lined the walk path to the viewing spots. But what I can tell you is how my life was changed.
Fifteen years ago I stood in this very spot. I walked the same paved path. I observed a rainbow from the same view-point. I experienced the thundering water in my chest. I felt the mist soak my clothes and skin. And I hardly appreciated it.
I was a much different person back then. I was angry about anything and everything. I had unrealistic expectation of circumstances that lead to major disappointment. I felt slighted by situations which by my perspective, did not play out in my favor. I was stubborn and moody. I wanted things my way, even when I did not know what I wanted. My main life theme was “I hate people.” I often wanted to be left alone. In reality, I had very little self-worth or self-esteem. Looking back, I have wondered how miserable I made my family while we were on this vacation.
Then, just over ten years ago I found myself at the “end of my rope.” My life felt like it was in ruin. I did not know who I was. I did not know what I liked. I did not know what I was worth. I did not like who I had become. I came to a crossroads and thought to myself, “Maybe life does not have to be this way. I am tired. I am tired of being angry. I am tired of hating everything. I am tired of hating myself. Maybe that can change.” And so started the journey of trying to figure out who I really am, why am I here and what is my purpose.
During that transition period, I looked back at my time in Africa and wished for a chance to redo the experience. I wondered how it would be different if I could see it through the eyes of the person I am today. I wondered what I missed out on by being crabby, upset or selfish. I wondered if I would ever get the opportunity to do it all over again.
As I stood before Victoria Falls for a second time in my life, I realized my wish…or maybe it was my prayer, was happening. It was really happening. God heard me and cared enough to bring personal restoration by providing the opportunity to return to this specific place. He is in the business of restoring those who believe in Him and choose to follow His lead in life. Anger, fear, self-lies, self-doubt, despair, disappointment, failure, pride and arrogance robbed me ten years ago. Yet He says I matter. I am worth the time, money and effort. I am not a burden but a blessing. I am not an annoyance but a joy. I am not a convenience but a priority.
God says you matter. You are worth the time, money and effort. You are not a burden but a blessing. You are not an annoyance but a joy. You are not a convenience but a priority. Restoration awaits you if you choose to believe Him and follow His lead in life. He promises it in His Word. And He never fails to keep His Word.
“Instead of shame and dishonor, you will enjoy a double share of honor.
You will possess a double portion of prosperity in your land,
and everlasting joy will be yours.
For I, the LORD, love justice. I hate robbery and wrongdoing.
I will faithfully reward my people for their suffering
and make an everlasting covenant with them.” Isaiah 61:7-8
Even though David Livingstone was labeled a disappointment and a failure, he pressed on after the dream because he had hope of what was to come. I found that very hope ten years ago and it led me on a very unexpected, enjoyable and rewarding journey so far. The same hope is available to you. What are you waiting for?
In addition to protecting animals, Botswana also has taken measures to protect the landscape as well. Within the past couple of years, the Okavango Delta has been recognized as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Africa. It achieved the 1000th site to be labeled a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
With nowhere else to flow to, the Okavango River empties into a swampy marsh area known as the Okavango Delta. During the rainy season, the river can overpower the Delta causing it to flood. During the dry season, the Delta remains considerably low but provides enough water to sustain the delicate balance of wildlife and plant survival. Of course the details are far more involved by providing a delicate chemical balance and specific nutrients to the area which makes this place completely unique to the rest of the world but I am not an environmental biologist in any way so I will leave those details to the experts. Check out this website if you are interested in further information: http://www.okavangodelta.com.
Picked up from our campsite by a large, open truck, we bumped our way for a good hour or more along unmarked, pitted, dirt roads. Colorful birds flew between the lush trees lining either side of our path. Small, smiling children ran to the fence to wave as we passed by the quaint villages. Eventually we came to a shoreline with tiny canoe-type boats called “mokoros,” waiting for us.
Village hut along the drive
Attributed only to the Okavango Delta, mokoros are used to navigate through the relatively shallow water and high reeds by using a large bamboo pole. The “poler” stands at the rear of the boat and pushes off the ground bottom with the pole to move the boat forward. As easy as it looks, it is actually a tough skill to master.
Hauling overnight bags, gear and kitchen supplies, we rode over an hour through the Delta toward the campsite. The scenery was beyond beautiful. Blue skies, tall reeds, green lily pads and blooming lotus flowers lined the path. How the polers knew where to guide the boats is still a mystery to me as they carved a path through the wetlands.
Mokoro ride through the reeds
Reeds, lily pads and lotus flowers
View from the campsite of the Okavango Delta
Our campsite was already set up and waiting for us when we arrived. Each tent had a front door and a back door. The back door led to a private, outdoor bathroom consisting of a drop toilet, hand wash station and bucket shower. We all cheered when we saw the “stretchers” or cots waiting for us in the rooms. Sometimes, it is small things like a night of not sleeping on the ground to bring joy to an adventure.
The area was completely peaceful. No traffic. No city noise. No construction. No hustle or bustle. No Wi-Fi. No television. Just green trees, tall reeds, birds singing and frogs croaking. The air was clean and fresh with the occasional slight breeze. My heart and mind were able to simply “be still.”
We enjoyed a visit to the swimming hole, went on nature walks, took poling lessons and just relaxed. We were blessed with a gorgeous, colorful sunset, complete with elephant silhouettes walking in the distance. After dinner, our local guides and crew members entertained us with games and songs of the Delta around a campfire. The next morning, we packed up our belongings and headed on the hour mokoro ride back to civilization. Look for these unique experiences. They challenge your comfort, they challenge your mind, they challenge your emotions but in the end, the rewards are so much greater than the challenges.
At the swimming hole
Nature hike through the Okavango Delta
Elephants in the distance
Animal dung gives clues to possible nearby wildlife
Huge termite mounds occupy the Okavango Delta
Please do not settle for only seeing the touristy places everyone seems to want to visit. This world has nooks and crannies of rare treasure waiting to be discovered. By all means, go see the Eiffel Tower. Then, go find the diamond in the proverbial rough. It is waiting just for you to uncover it.
Following my much-loved time in Namibia, our tour continued east to next door, Botswana. Take a look at the map. Botswana is the yellow, landlocked country in the south central part of Africa. Unlike some of the neighboring countries, Botswana is an economically stable and thriving country with interest in protecting its environmental resources. Before we get too deep into all of that, let me give you a very brief history about the country.
In response to uprising violence and the threat of war in the mid-to-late 1800’s, the leaders of Botswana requested protection assistance from Great Britain. The country remained under Great Britain’s umbrella for over eighty years until 1966 when the country was granted independence and transitioned somewhat smoothly to a democratic nation.
Within a few short years after Botswana received independence, diamonds were discovered. Mining began in 1972 and today, Botswana is one of the world’s leading distributors of diamonds and other precious metals, like uranium. The discovery of diamonds so quickly after gaining independence helped stabilize the country’s economy. While Botswana’s population is comparable to Namibia’s with approximately 2.2 million residents, it remains in the top ten countries in Africa for lowest unemployment rates. The government has continued to encourage job growth and economic stimulation throughout the country.
You know, I always thought the United States of America was the “melting pot” of cultures. However, the African countries have blown my mind in the way their very different cultures have learned to survive together. Some of them are not in peaceful survival but they have survived nonetheless. How does a country survive with tribal Bushman living along side European westernized cultures as well as those who still happily live in bamboo huts? Now that is really a melting pot.
Obviously Botswana has far more history than I am able to know or provide. I encourage you to do a little Google browsing to learn more about their past. When you do, also check out the story of current president, Ian Khama. His journey is quite fascinating from living in exile to breaking racial barriers to wildlife protection. Although many of his decisions have been met with controversy and some have viewed his policies as extremely harsh, he continues to maintain a firm stance with serious repercussions for law violators.
One of the many things that makes Botswana so wonderful is their goal to protect the environment. I am not going to get into the politics behind the anti-poaching laws and other environmental protection efforts because as I mentioned, some of President Ian Khama’s laws have been viewed as controversially too harsh. I will let you make a researched decision for yourself. But what the ordinances have created is an environmental “safe haven” for animals, especially elephants and rhinoceros.
Several of the surrounding countries have tried to take protective widlife measures by bringing the animals into large and small nature reserves protected by fences. Botswana has chosen a different approach by allowing the animals to roam in their wild, natural habitat. It is not uncommon to see elephant or giraffe on either side of the road while traveling along the highway. Drivers may have to slow down or even stop to give the animals the right of way as they cross from one side to the other.
We had the great opportunity to stay at a facility called Elephant Sands which offers tent camping sites as well as stilted safari tent accommodations. With the goal to have an up-close encounter with nature, the campsites and safari tents surround a watering hole where wild animals can wander in and out at will. From our beds, we were able to hear the lions calling to each other in a deep, grunting growl. A couple of elephants came to drink from the watering hole and walked right into our group’s campsite. Nothing separates visitors from these magnificent animals, not even a fence. Can you imagine a more exhilarating encounter?
Chobe (pronounced “Cho-Bee”) National Park is also home to abundant wildlife, especially elephants. According to the park’s website, over 120,000 elephants roam the land. The park is bordered by the Chobe River which offers unique, day trip cruises to see water animals like hippopotamus and crocodile but also land animals as they come to drink fresh water and bathe. Again, we were able to get close as the animals just do what they do.
I was thinking about these animals and the controversial approach Botswana has taken to protect them. I have this uncanny knack to compare various concepts to my own life and as I started pondering, I realized I want what these animals have. I want to be free to roam about – eating, playing, and basically doing my day-to-day life while being protected, without even being aware.
Chobe River Cruise
Chobe River Cruise
I get weary from protecting myself. I get exhausted from gathering my emotions and running from potential danger. I get tired from having to constantly be on watch for threats. I get discouraged from being fenced in a small, sheltered environment. I want to be loved and cared for so deeply that my protector will stop at nothing to keep me safe as I live life to its fullest. Ultimately, that is what I want. I want to live life to its fullest.
When I was in South Africa, I happen to notice this scripture reference on the back of a car. Out of curiosity, I looked it up. It has become one of my favorite chapters simply because it describes the protection and care my heart longs for. Check this out:
“Those who live in the shelter of the Most High will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty. This I declare about the LORD:
He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; He is my God, and I trust him.
For he will rescue you from every trap and protect you from every disease.
He will cover you with his feathers.
He will shelter you with his wings.
His faithful promises are your armor and protection.
Do not be afraid of the terrors that stalks in darkness,
nor the disaster that strikes at midday.
Though a thousand fall at your side, though ten thousand are dying around you,
these evils will not touch you.
Just open your eyes, and see how the wicked are punished.
If you make the LORD your refuge, if you make the Most High your shelter, no evil will conquer you; no plague will come near your home.
For he will order his angels to protect you wherever you go.
They will hold you up with their hands so you won’t even hurt your foot against a stone.
You will trample upon lions and cobras;
you will crush fierce lions and serpents under your feet.
The LORD says, “I will rescue those who love me.
I will protect those who trust in my name.
When they call on me, I will answer;
I will be with them in trouble. I will rescue and honor them.
I will reward them with a long life and give them my salvation.” Psalm 91 (NLT)
Take a minute to sit back and imagine the scenario Psalm 91 just described. Put yourself in the shoes of the character being described here. I do not really care if you believe in God or not. Feel free to be skeptical but just for a moment, let that go and put yourself in the shoes of the one who gets to trample on lions and snakes without fear. My friends, this is why we love super hero movies. Besides getting to wear a fashionable cape, we either want a hero looking out for us or we want to be a hero. When I read this passage, I see the opportunity for both at the same time. We get live outside the mundane fences to have an adventurously close encounter with the wild and fearlessly be victorious. Now that is living life to the fullest!
To the left, a single cloud of rain pounded on the earth below. To the right, the sun was in the process of rising from its slumber when we drove into Namib-Naukluft National Park. As we made our way down the path, I was mesmerized by the sheer size of the dark orange sand piling up on either side of the road. This particular section of the Namib Desert is known for some of the tallest dunes in the world reaching heights of 980 feet tall. Can you imagine a wall of loose sand so high? That is nearly the same size height as the Eiffel Tower. Whoa!
We turned toward Dune 45, creatively named by its kilometer distance from the park entrance gate (45th kilometer). Dune 45 is a common hiking dune where visitors can climb the 280 feet to the top ridge for panoramic views of the vast sea of dunes. It is encouraged to climb in the morning before the sun turns the sand to scorching coals. Since the dunes are made of fine, loose sand, much like you would find on a good beach, it is also recommended to climb without shoes – either barefoot or in socks for easier grip.
The climb was more difficult than it first appeared. It took a moment to get used to the sinking sand, plus the hike was far more steep than the optical illusion offered from the ground. The threat of falling was always pending even though the reality of falling on the soft, cushy sand was far less scary than the fear would have me believe. By the time I reached the top, my calves burned, my breathing labored and I was sweaty. But the reward was worth every ounce of effort.
On top of Dune 45. Photo credit: Pierre Engelbrecht
The deep color of sand is a direct link to the high iron content and oxidation process. The older dunes tend to be a more intense color of red. Dune 45 is estimated to be five million years old which is relatively young when compared to the age of the desert as a whole. Scientists believe the Namib Desert is between 55 and 80 million years old, making it one of the oldest deserts in the entire world.
View from Dune 45 of the vast sea of dunes below.
View of the road below from Dune 45.
After a series of selfies, panoramic and group photos, I made my way back down the dune. I stayed to the shadow side of the ridge because after only an hour or so of exposure, the sand facing the sun was now capable of burning the bottoms of my feet. The foot tracks of a bright green locust crossed my path, its body a stark contrast to the sand. At the bottom, a couple of crooked, bare trees stood tall, offering to be a lookout point for crows or vultures. In every direction, something special waited for our attention.
Crooked trees in the desert
We left Dune 45 and headed further in to Namib-Naukluft National Park to visit Sossusvlei. In writing this blog, I racked my brain on how to properly explain the geology of Sossusvlei. In the end, I think their website, www.sossusvlei.org, does a much better job than I could have. Here is how they describe this amazing location:
“…Sossusvlei is possibly Namibia’s most spectacular and best-known attraction. Characterised by the large red dunes that surround it, Sossusvlei is a large, white, salt and clay pan and is a great destination all year round.
“…Sossusvlei literally translates to “dead-end marsh”, as it is the place where the dunes come together preventing the Tsauchab River to flow any further, some 60km east of the Atlantic Ocean. However, due to the dry conditions in the Namib Desert the River seldom flows this far and the pan remains bone-dry most years. During an exceptional rainy season the Tsauchab fills the pan, drawing visitors from all over the world to witness this spectacular site.”
Now, in part of Sossusvlei stands Deadvlei. Deadvlei was once an oasis where a group of camel thorn trees flourished. At some point when the river stopped flowing through Deadvlei, the ground dried up leaving a white, salt pan. With no water and extreme heat, the trees died, standing barren but preserved in the salt and clay. The images left behind are a photographers dream, a surreal landscape of beauty only one can imagine. This easily became one of my favorite sceneries of all time.
The white, crackled floor with high, red dunes in the back drop moving up to the clear blue sky is beautiful enough on its own. Then add the black, barren trees in the center of all those colors and the results are incredibly gorgeous.
Deadvlei’s Camel Thorn Trees
Deadvlei’s Camel Thorn Trees
Then, leaving Sossusvlei behind, we headed north, never leaving the Namib Desert.
The Namib Desert expands 1200 miles, covering the entire eastern edge of Namibia along the Atlantic coastline. On the drive, the sand slowly faded from the deep orange to beige but still maintained its loose grains. As we neared the city of Walvis Bay, we physically saw the desert meet the ocean like the world’s largest sandy beach. Out at sea, the anchored cargo ships lined the coastal waters, welcoming us as we drove on. An entirely different dune adventure awaited our arrival in Swakopmund.
Namib desert along the Atlantic Ocean
Desert meets Atlantic. Ships in the distance.
Again, thanks to my sister, her experiences and her photos of Namibia, I have wanted to sandboard (sledding on sand) for a long time. I finally had the opportunity in Swakopmund so I jumped at the chance, along with quad biking. Originally I really had no interest in the quad biking, but when it was offered as a combo with sandboarding, I decided to try it. I am so glad I did.
Quad biking was far more exciting than I anticipated. We zigged and zagged our way through the dunes. We went up high, we went almost straight down and drove in circles across the sand. After about an hour or so, we stopped near the top of a tall dune to get ready for sandboarding. As we looked around, all that could be seen was dunes, dunes and more dunes. Sand as far as the eye could see.
Sand dunes as far as the eye can see.
Sand dunes as far as the eye can see.
Stopping for sandboarding. Photo credit: Stu Subotic
Our guide had carried pieces of plywood on the back of his quad bike for the boarding part of the day. When we parked and unloaded, he waxed the wood just as you would wax a surfboard. After he covered the wax with sand, we were ready to go.
Waxing the wood for sandboarding
Covering the waxed wood with sand
We were instructed to lay on our stomach, hang on to the front of the board with elbows out and down the dunes we went! Check out the videos below:
In some ways, we were able to be kids again, if just for a moment. The climb back up was difficult. Some of us ate dirt on the way down. Some of us had to pour out our own sand dunes from inside our shoes. We all laughed. We all cheered for each other. In the end, we were all thrilled with the experience. We packed up, hopped back on the quads for another hour of riding. We worked our way to a point where we could view the Atlantic Ocean from our quad bikes. As the sun was working towards setting, we all took the moment just to sit and watch the sea, sand and sun in all her beauty.
After sandboarding, ready to take off again. Photo credit: Quad biking guide
View of the Atlantic Ocean from the Namib Desert.
View of the Atlantic Ocean from the Namib Desert. Photo credit: Quad biking guide
I do not know where this life is going to take me. I do not know where this life is going to take you. At some points, it is worth stopping just to breathe. Stop just to laugh. Stop just to act like a kid again. It is not too late. Be intentional. Dream. Plan. Persevere. Execute. Take photos. Write it down. Remember. This is the good stuff life is made of .
“I, the LORD, define the ocean’s sandy shoreline as an everlasting boundary that the waters cannot cross. The waves may toss and roar, but they can never pass the boundaries I set.” Jeremiah 5:22b
Ever since I heard stories and looked at photos of my sister sandboarding in the desert dunes from fifteen years ago, I have wanted to see Namibia. Coming from snow country, who ever heard of boarding on sand? That is crazy! But it stuck with me.
If you remember back to a couple posts ago, I mentioned my excitement to ride in the overland camping truck which is one of the reasons I signed up for the camping tour. While that is true, my main reason for looking for a tour in the first place, was to see Namibia. I wanted to see the places my sister told me about so long ago.
If you are not familiar with the location of Namibia, here is the map again to get your bearings. It is situated northwest of South Africa along the Atlantic coastline.
For the sake of size comparison, let’s look at Namibia in relation to the state of Texas. Namibia covers just over 318,000 square miles and has only 2.3 million residents. Texas, on the other hand, stretches just shy of 270,000 square miles but is home to 27 million inhabitants. Wow! What a major difference! Considering how much land and how few residents Namibia has, plus the fact that 16% of the land is sandy desert, I am sure you can imagine how empty and desolate this country can feel when you travel for hours between towns. But that my friends, is where the beauty of Namibia comes alive.
First, let me give you some very brief history and information about Namibia. History can be traced back to the 14th century when several different African tribal groups occupied the land. In the 19th century, a German Empire was established in Namibia which is still evident in architecture when you visit the larger towns like Swakopmund and Windhoek. Following World War I, South Africa took control of Namibia and remained in power until Namibia achieved independence in 1990. It is still viewed as one of the youngest countries in the world. Upon receiving independence, Namibia adopted its current flag design. Namibia has seen its fair share of oppression and devastation over the years. But in their independence, as a nation, they have worked hard to combat segregation and corruption. The country is clean, the people seem kind and the landscape is extraordinary.
We entered Namibia from the south where the flat, brown earth scattered with scrub brush stretched to the mesas in the distance. From that point on, the dramatic scenery of Namibia was ever-changing with each passing mile.
With windows open to the hot whipping wind, I was captivated as the scrub brush grew to larger tree shrubs, brown mesas transitioned to green, pointed peaks emerged from the flat mountain tops, smooth slopes turned rocky, and tan earth suddenly became red. All the while, my only job was to watch and remember to breathe.
In the midst of passing through the desert, we happened upon an area known as the “Moon Landscapes.” This very unique and peculiar area of land is speculated to have once been a high mountain range but over the course of time, erosion and the effects of the Swakop River, it is reduced to a barren wasteland of visibly defined rock layers as far as the eye can see. Its location seems out-of-place as it shows up in the middle of a desert. Because of the unique characteristics of the “Moon Landscapes,” it has provided an intense backdrop for a number of movies.
We also had the opportunity to visit Fish River Canyon and walk along the rim at sunset which presented some beautiful views that my pictures cannot do justice. It is the largest canyon in all of Africa and the second most visited attraction in Namibia. It reaches 1,800 feet deep, 100 miles long and 18 miles wide. Fish River winds its way through the very base of the canyon. During the summer months, the river often floods but during the rest of the year, it tends to be a stream, connecting pools of water.
Fish River Canyon
Fish River Canyon at sunset where the river bends
On the opposite side of the landscape spectrum in Namibia is Etosha National Park. According the Park’s website, “Loosely translated, Etosha means ‘Great White Place’ in the Ovambo language.” It is the reference to the seemingly endless salt pan which makes up much of the park. When it was dedicated as a national game reserve in 1907, it was easily the largest reserve in the world. But as with most other plots of land, the boundary lines were negotiated, changed, pushed and taken. While Etosha is only about a fifth of its original land size now, it is still the number one attraction in all of Namibia.
The landscape is made up mostly of grasslands, the salt pan and watering holes. Visitors can take a drive through the park at leisure looking for animals. As you reach the edge of the white salt pan, keep a close eye out for the “Great White Ghosts,” or elephants who use the salt for protection from the sun, turning their skin white in color.
Grasslands of Etosha National Park
We happen to be in the park at an unfortunate time for whatever reason as our sightings were fewer than desired and some off in the far distance. However, the park itself is beautiful and well worth the visit.
God’s vast creativity of terrain in this country is simply incredible. If you are looking for a place of incomparable scenic beauty, this is it. Namibia’s desolate, ever-changing landscape is far more than I can describe. Go soak it in for yourself.
And we have not even started to talk about the desert sand dunes yet.
God said to me, “I have brought you here to see because I know you. And when you see these things, you automatically see me. I love that about you. You are worth every penny for this moment.”