There’s a dirty little secret in the world of exotic travel, and most people don’t want to talk about it. No one wants to detract from the glowing descriptions of fabulous adventures and sunny photos of tropical splendor, but I’m always going to tell you guys the truth. Sometimes… travel sucks and I want to go home.
Nowhere in my travels was this more evident than at the beginning of my trip to Uganda and Rwanda in May 2010.
I work until almost midnight the night before I leave- not unusual for a funeral director. We can’t just up and leave when the work isn’t done, vacation or no vacation. I have an hour drive home in the rain and then I still have to do laundry and pack, not having had a day off in weeks before my trip. Again, not unusual for a funeral director.
I wake up still groggy on departure day, but also excited. I’m on vacation! I’m going to Africa. I’m going to see GORILLAS!
My first flight from Orlando to Detroit is delayed. I have tight connection times in Detroit and Amsterdam to begin with, so this doesn’t bode well. I make it to Detroit with literal minutes to spare and run like a crazy woman to my gate. I’m the last one to board before they close the doors. I get sick on the plane. I’m already over this trip.
The flight into Amsterdam was also late and I have to run again. Damn it, I’m wearing flip flops. I get sick on the plane again and spend an hour crying into my scratchy little airplane pillow.
I land in Entebbe, Uganda a few minutes before midnight, a day after I left home. My luggage does not. When I arrive at baggage claim there is a large handwritten sign with the names of 10 or so passengers whose belongings didn’t make the journey with them- mine included. After waiting a small eternity at the lost luggage counter and filling out forms, I’m told my bag will be delivered to my hotel by 10 a.m. tomorrow. After the last 36 hours, I’m not holding my breath.
Wifi isn’t working at the hotel so I have no way to get a message home that I’ve arrived. I feel slightly better after a hot shower, but freak out at the sight of a huge insect crawling on the mosquito netting over my bed. I’m utterly exhausted but wake up every few minutes, groggy and disoriented. I already want to go home. I finally doze off for a few hours, wake up at 9 a.m., still feeling sick. I try to eat something but there are ants crawling all over the outdoor breakfast table. My driver arrives at 9:30 and I explain about the luggage. It’s nearly 1 p.m. before my bag is delivered by an airport employee. I look at the new tag on it and see it has apparently spent the night in Nairobi without me.
My first glimpse of Africa in the daylight
The highlight of the day- I finally reach Kampala and pick up my gorilla tracking permit! This is actually happening.
Downtown Kampala is hectic, dirty, hot, and overcrowded. The traffic is terrifying. My hotel is not exactly the gleaming oasis that the travel guide has made it out to be, but there’s (mostly) hot water and (mostly working) wifi. I take a shower and collapse into bed without eating. That seems like a terrible idea when I wake up ravenous at 10 p.m., just as the hotel restaurant is closing. By the time breakfast is served at 7 a.m., I’m shaking.
Downtown Kampala: utter chaos
You may be wondering at this point if I’m just going to throw in the towel and go home. If I did, could you blame me? This is not shaping up to be a peaceful and relaxing holiday.
Some of you may be reading this and thinking I’m a spoiled brat, whining about a trip some people only dream about taking. Maybe I am. But travel can be difficult and disheartening and I think it’s important to tell the whole story. If you’ve ever found yourself feeling guilty for not having a fantastic time on what’s supposed to be a dream vacation, know you’re not alone. It’s OK to admit when you’re not having a fantastic time.
I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but it does get better. Once I adapt to the time change and get over the motion sickness and adjust to the African way of life, I have a (mostly) fantastic time. Including the most magical experience of my life with a wild mountain gorilla, that still ranks as the highlight of my life to this day. Stay tuned.