Iceland has a lot of rocks. I suppose it doesn’t really have more rocks than other places; it just seems that way because Iceland’s rocks are so visible, unadorned by trees and shrubs. The lichens and tundra and, on this day of the summer solstice, the stands of lupine, only seem to emphasize the jagged heaps of dark basalt.
We changed our plans just a couple of weeks ago, tacking another five days onto a five-month journey through Africa, so we could visit Karel’s family first. His father was hospitalized with pneumonia, and we need to make the most of every opportunity to spend time with loved ones. But the change meant five days less to pack and prepare for the longest and, in some ways, most complicated trip we’ve ever done. Nevertheless, we were packed and ready to go on time on the morning of the 19th—or so we thought.
Maybe you’re asking, What’s complicated about Africa? We’ve never been there, but based on what we’ve read from other travelers there, you can’t always count on finding the products you use on a daily basis. And in much of Africa, the use of sunblocks and insect repellents are no joke. The larger cities and airports will have the usual toiletries, but we’ll be far from those civilized outlets for weeks or even months at a time. The 3 oz. carry-on allotments for toothpaste and moisturizer just aren’t going to cut it.
It can also be difficult to find medicine in Africa. Even the larger city stores may be stocked with unreliable fakes when it comes to over-the-counter remedies, or so I’ve read. I’ve been knocked out by head colds and stomach flu while traveling, and procuring the most ordinary of medicines can be a real challenge, even in Paris or Berlin. I wanted to be sure we had at least a couple of days supply of whatever we might need to get us through an emergency. Add to that five months’ worth of malaria prophylaxis and doctor-recommended supplements, and some basic first aid supplies, and you’ve got a fairly hefty medicine cabinet.
If you’re going to Africa, you’re going to want to take pictures, and you’re going to want the best equipment you can afford in order to capture spectacles such as the great migration and Victoria Falls. Karel purchased a camera and telephoto lens that, we hope, will enable him to get some excellent wildlife shots. I’ll be carrying the “old” camera and general-purpose lens for taking landscapes. Then we have an assortment of smaller cameras that can do things and go places the bigger cameras cannot. To support all this gear in the rugged conditions we’ll encounter, we’ve got two tripods, a monopod, remote switches, filters, rain and dust covers, etc. Then, we have to bring a couple of notebook computers to process and upload the images and, of course, write the blog entries. Add to that all the batteries, cables, chargers, and power supplies.
Our trip will span the globe from Reykjavik to Cape Hope. It may be summer in Europe, where we start, but that doesn’t mean it’s warm. It was in the fifties (F) for most of our overnight in Iceland. We’ll have both warm and cool days in the Netherlands and while biking in Germany and Austria, and almost definitely some rain. It’s winter in Africa. We’ll be near the equator, but also at high altitude at times, then in the Kalahari and western deserts, and the high latitudes of South Africa. It will be late November when we return to Europe. All of which means we need clothing for a huge range of temperatures and conditions, from sandals and shorts to sweaters and down jackets. We also brought along gear for special activities such as swimming, biking, boating, and hiking.
We don’t often travel directly from the US to the Netherlands, so this was a rare opportunity to bring gifts from family in America to family in Europe —an entire suitcase- full, in spite of all efforts to keep things small and light. Then throw in a hundred pencils and two bundles of sidewalk chalk for children we may encounter in Africa.
After several days of collecting and culling, I realized I was never going to be able to cram it all into my trusty old carry-on bag. We both decided to go with larger bags that will have to be checked in. Even then, it’s a tight squeeze, but we thought it would all be manageable.
How wrong can you be?! After a Fathers’-Day-two-birthdays-Bon-voyage lunch party with family, my sister, Suzanne, got us to the airport in plenty of time to check in and go through security. Good thing. Both our checked bags were over the weight limit. Not only that, but Karel’s carry-on was also over the weight limit. We still had another check-in bag allowance, but there was no way we were going to turn all that heavy, expensive camera gear over to the tender mercies of the baggage handlers. Instead, we had to resort to the many pockets of our safari vests, loading them up with lenses and batteries. After 15 minutes of re-packing, our bags squeaked in under the limit, and we proceeded, pockets bulging, to security.
After a long wait in line, followed by undressing and unloading into a dozen or so bins, my carry-on was flagged for a hand check. Two TSA agents carefully unpacked each compartment of the camera pouch, catch-all pockets, and laptop sleeve, and then struggled hopelessly to fit everything back in. I have to admit, it’s like one of those 3D puzzle cubes.
At last, that ordeal was over. We could only hope that we managed to collect all our scattered items, and continue our journey.
The next phase went as well as could be hoped. Both Karel and I managed to catch a few winks during the 6-1/2 hour flight to Reykjavik. Somewhere in the middle I woke up and raised the window shade to check the view. At first, it was hard to make sense of what I saw. The sky was light above, and dark below, something I had never seen before. To the south, a brilliant, full moon, floating just above the cusp of darkness, was reflected in a landscape of water and ice. From the north, dark red rays of sunlight slipped through narrow gaps in the window covers. At last, I figured it out. The airliner was riding the northern boundary between day and night at midsummer. The land and sea below were in the shadow of the curve of the earth, while the Arctic sky was bathed in the light of the midnight sun.
At Reykjavik we had a choice of a 10-hour stopover, or a 24-hour layover before continuing on to Amsterdam. We had opted for the 24-hour plan, which allowed us to relax at the Blue Lagoon thermal pools, followed by a shower and whatever sleep we could get at a house not far from the airport that Karel found on Airbnb. This was less expensive than staying overnight in Amsterdam, and it allowed us to sleep in a bed 14 hours sooner, which would help tremendously with jet lag.
On the short ride to the Blue Lagoon, we marveled at the blue lupine wild flowers and the volcanic landscape. It took a few minutes to gather what we needed to bring in with us, but the weather was chilly and rainy and we didn’t take the time, there in the parking lot, to re-organize what had become disorganized during check-in. Karel was wearing his many-pocket pants, which was still loaded up with camera paraphernalia. Karel bent over to take something out, and that’s when it happened; our brand new Sony camera came tumbling out of a pocket and landed on that dark basalt. It fell less than three feet and had no visible damage at all, but it was kaput.This entry was posted in Vacation 2016: East/South Africa