Reflections from an African Safari
We set out for the east coast of Africa on the most epic adventure we could think of. We were to spend two weeks exploring all that Tanzania has to offer; a multi-day safari, a night spent with the Masai tribe, climbing to the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro, and kayaking off the coast of Zanzibar while staying in a private beach bungalow. It was sure to be amazing, but it ended up being so much more than that!
To get a feel for the intensity of the trip and the impact it had on our lives, read the testimonial below from Greg, a client
who took the biggest adventure of his life!
Dennis: What were your main reasons for going on the trip?
Greg: I decided to take this trip to Africa primarily because I needed to experience some adventure in my life. I am the least well-traveled person I know, before this trip having only been briefly to Canada and Mexico (like a day or two in each) and rarely leaving the U.S.
I had been making the promise to myself for years to do some traveling and see the world, but I always managed to put it off until "later on", when finances were more abundant, circumstances permitted, etc. Needless to say, that type of mindset is what led to my procrastination. But when Dennis told me about this trip and invited me to come, I knew somewhere deep inside that this was my time to take the leap. Carpe diem. I also knew that I would probably never get this opportunity again, and it was now or likely never. So I committed to it.
At first, I was thinking to myself, "It's fine. I've sent in some money for a deposit to hold my spot, but I can always pull out of I need to or if I don't think I'll be able to afford it." That safety mechanism was always there in the background of my mind, doing whatever it could to keep me in my comfort zone and away from the risk of taking a chance. But as the time grew closer and closer, and I had to begin training physically for the experience, I knew that the time was drawing near when I would need to shit or get off the pot. And I still remember the moment when I sent in the rest of the money to complete my financial commitment--it was scary (particularly for me, since I do not currently have abundant financial resources) but at the same time liberating. This was it! I was finally taking action and investing heavily in myself and my personal growth. And moreover, I knew the experience would be one I would never forget (for better or for worse)!
Dennis: How would you describe your experience on the African adventure?
Greg: Magical. Like stepping out of my own boring day-to-day life and into some exotic wormhole of adventure, mystery, intrigue, and discovery. It was everything I could have hoped for, and more! The experience of going somewhere completely new, somewhere that is so different from what I am used to, was an invaluable growth experience for me. In retrospect, I surprised myself at how easily and effortlessly I was able to just let go of all of my comfort-oriented day-to-day routines and embrace the unknown. Seeing how people live in Tanzania was amazing--it's so different from the U.S., yet in some ways very much the same. The landscape was absolutely gorgeous, the people were amazingly friendly and good-natured, and there was a whisper in the air everywhere we went of the untamed, wild nature of Africa. Whether it was the cows, goats, and sheep that seemed to be walking along the side of the road wherever you went, or the amazing views of lions, giraffes, zebras, gazelles, impalas, elephants, hippos, and hyenas on the safari, the sense of the rawness of life in all its splendor was always palpable. What a welcome change from the hyper-sanitized, done-for-you atmosphere of the U.S.! Here was the homeland of homo sapiens, and it was a lot like it might have been hundreds of thousands of years ago.
Nowhere was this more apparent than our night with the Masai, where these nomadic pastoralists lived in huts made of cow dung and sticks and drank raw cow's blood for dinner (alongside a nice serving of beef, I presume). Their way of life was almost incomprehensible to me--no job? No 401 K? No Facebook page to maintain and superficial persona to convey to their 4,971 "friends"? Nope. Just take the cows out to graze, bring 'em back, milk 'em, graze 'em again, more milking, mark some ears, and then slaughter one for dinner. This was life. And yet it was so satisfying. They were truly happy. No neurotic worries or ruminating on recent events. They were here and now and that was all that mattered. The lived in harmony with Mother Nature and with each other. They sang and danced and told stories instead of pecking away at their cell phones or stagnating on the couch in front of the dull glow of the television. They didn't seem to care that there were flies EVERYWHERE, invading our noses and ears and eyes and every exposed piece of skin. In fact, our guide told us that a lot of flies meant good luck for them...makes sense if the cow is your source of sustenance and your livelihood. Flies and cows go together like...well, like sticks and cow dung!
The Masai children were thrilled to see us--they held our hands as we strolled through the village, myself stepping ever so carefully to avoid meeting the fresh piles of cow shit with the bottom of my boot. One especially friendly Masai child began rubbing my hand against his face as if I were some cherished saint, smelling me with his nose pressed up against the outside of my hand as if I exuded some exotic and unfamiliar scent. At that moment, I couldn't help thinking about the hand sanitizer waiting for me in my hiking pack. A final vestige of my "Western sensibilities". Which meant absolutely nothing in the face of this sheer, unfiltered blast of natural living. The question was could I fully embrace it? I dare say I tried my utmost to do so, but still had difficulty shaking years of conditioning around hygienic environments, social conventions, and swatting away flies. A futile endeavor here! We camped that night under the stars (I couldn't bring myself to spend the night in the traditional Masai cow dung hut, which actually didn't smell that bad but was amazingly hot and stagnant inside). The next day the Masai sang and danced for us, and we even got to join them! We then had the opportunity to buy some of their handmade jewelry, which was beautiful, and I must say that they negotiate prices better than any Westerner I've met.
And then there was the mountain... That massive behemoth of a mountain that towered over Tanzania with its snow-capped peak appearing like a phantasm in the humid heat of the African plain. The true peak wasn't visible from the ground (and not even until we were nearly to the top), but it was impressive just the same. The hike was a source of both excitement and fear for me. I had never been high-altitude hiking before (much less a week-long hike), so I was concerned about my overall fitness level, altitude sickness, wild dogs, food poisoning, and a million other things. But the fear was a gift...it made the experience significant. It meant something to me because it was so challenging. The hike itself was challenging, but totally amazing--seeing all the different types of climate zones on the mountain was breathtaking. From the rainforest at the base, up to the moorland and alpine desert, to the rock and ice sheets of the peak, it was like walking through many different parts of the world all in a week. And the view was beyond words. After the second day or so, you are able to peer off the side of the mountain and see clouds below you. It was a surreal experience...difficult to describe. Awe-inspiring probably comes closest. It makes you realize how small and insignificant your life is. Compared to this mountain, I was like a rain drop falling from the sky. Such a short independent existence that you can barely say it existed at all. But for me I found comfort in it. I tend to make things in my life seem more important than they really are. And finally this mountain was able to remind me of that--nay, it shoved it in my face. It was much-needed and much-appreciated.
Some days on the mountain were harder than others, but all of them tested me in one way or another. I was able to find a new depth of strength and resolve within myself, and this is what drove me up the mountain and to the summit. For once, I was really present. My focus was entirely on just taking the next step. I didn't look more than 5 or 6 feet in front of me. Glancing up would only make things harder--seeing the massive incline in front of me on the seemingly unending journey to the top. Every time we reached camp at the end of the day it was like Christmas morning!
I honestly didn't think I would make it to Uhuru Peak. I thought for sure that the altitude would get to me, I'd physically tire and decline to go any further, etc. But somehow...just putting one foot in front of the other...one step at a time...the journey up to 5,895 meters above sea level was completed. I still can't believe that I did it. But in fact, that's inaccurate to say...."I" didn't do it. Not the "I" that is writing these words and reflecting on the experience. Some "thing" else carried me up that mountain. There was a force of some sort...a momentum that was impersonal and ever-present that I connected with. Not sure if it was heat exhaustion, dehydration, altitude, or all of the above--but at a certain point on the way to the top, I knew on the most fundamental level that "I" was a dream. Not in the sense of being insignificant, but in the sense that "I" was actually something that was constructed moment-by-moment. Being born anew every second, the little voice in my head that I feel to be a separate being in control of this body and mind was actually like a self-conscious little ripple on the surface of the ocean that forgot it's only borrowing its existence from a much more massive body of water. It's difficult to describe in words, but perhaps the gist comes across. That realization has forever changed me. For one, it makes me acknowledge that I can do great things if the "ripple" steps aside to let the "ocean" exert its power. And second, it's somehow comforting to know that when everything about this separate "me" is totally spent, exhausted, liquidated, or purged of concepts, habits, thoughts, or comforting identities or sensations to cling to.....something else comes forth. Something else, but not separate...not separate from me.
And after the glorious journey up and down the mountain, there was the celebration in Zanzbar. It's like a little island paradise with delicious spices. Going from the freezing cold ice sheet of Uhuru Peak to the warm waters of the Indian Ocean within 48 hours was the starkest of contrasts. But it was beautiful. I had never seen such blue ocean water..not even in pictures or an artist's portrait could it be recreated. We stayed in a idyllic little beach bungalow, sleeping under mosquito nets while hearing the waves of the ocean lap up on shore. We kayaked in the Indian Ocean and ate a delicious meal of fresh fish prepared by our host's wife.
The next day we lounged around in the morning, enjoying the beautiful sun and taking a walk on the beach. We then visited a local spice farm for a tour. It was the perfect ending to an amazing trip. Being an aficionado of edible plants, I was thrilled to try and "guess the spice" as our tour guide handed us freshly cut and crumpled leaves to sniff from various plants throughout the garden. The scents of pepper, cinnamon, cardamom, lemongrass, and ylang ylang tickled my nostrils in quick succession. And then we feasted on the most delicious and ripe local fruit--sevilla oranges, grapefruit, bananas, pineapple, and mandarins. I capped off my journey by buying some delicious spiced teas and flower-scented oils to bring home with me. It was by far the most amazing and impactful trip I have ever taken.
"It was by far the most amazing and impactful trip I have ever taken."
Dennis: What did you gain from the trip?
Greg: I gained perspective. I was able to see something very important upon returning from that trip. This realization I consider to be the mountain's gift to me for treading across her rocky body all the way up to the top. The realization is this--I always believed that I had to "do" something in order to find my inner peace and serenity. Clearing way negative thoughts, focusing on the positive, planning for the future, doing, doing, doing.... But going on this trip I had all of those things cut off. The typical "doing" that was done in order to maintain peace and positivity (or so I thought) ceased on this trip. Why? Part of it was being completely removed from all the things I associate with my identity (job, friends, hobbies, etc). Another part of it was engaging in such a challenging hiking experience that I had no energy left to do anything other than take the next step. Whatever the reason, I could see that when all those things are removed--my inner dialogue, the mental scripts that play constantly to give us a sense of identity, the familiar environments to which we've developed conditioned behaviors to give our lives meaning and purpose (job, home, hangout spots), the sense of "knowing" where you are, what you're doing, and where you're headed--when those things go, what's left IS peace, serenity, bliss. Our natural state IS the very thing which I've been running to get to. And because I've been running towards it, I've never reached it. But when all efforts are dropped, and all accumulated objects of the mind and body are relinquished, then you're there. Where you've always been! You just couldn't see it because there was too much other crap in the way! This is a paradigm shift for me. My original nature IS the very source of happiness, peace, and joy. Just remaining in it is all I need. For someone who's been driven their entire life to succeed, achieve, accumulate, become, more...more...more.....this is like flipping gravity on its head. Don't become more! Give away more! Give it ALL AWAY. Then you're left with what's real and true and meaningful.
When I got back from the Africa trip, I was speaking with Dennis. He asked me "What was the most important thing when you were on the adventure?" Without thinking, I spontaneously responded: "Nothing. No thing was important. There was only the experience that mattered. Moment after moment. It's like when we were riding in the safari vehicle taking in all the beautiful sites. I didn't really care about what 'thing' I was looking at. Sometimes it was a lion, or sometimes it was a giraffe, or sometimes it was a tree or plant, or sometimes it was just dirt and sky. But it didn't really matter what thing was there. What was important was just constantly arriving at the next moment. Just drinking in each and every moment with a fresh attitude of 'Wow! I wonder what happens next?' And I didn't cling to things that came and went. Here comes a lion...wow! So cool! And there he goes walking off. That's so awesome! And now here's a baobab tree. Amazing!" I can't remember the last time I experienced life that way. It was like being a child again. Seeing life with fresh and innocent eyes. Now that I've been back in my typical environment and engaging in my typical day-to-day activities of job, friends, leisure, etc., the clarity of seeing life in that way fades in and out. Sometimes it's apparent, and sometimes it gets covered up. But the thing that never disappears is the remembrance of this realization. And when I'm feeling like I need to "do" something to feel better or to be happy or find peace, I remember that what I'm seeking is my original state...and I consciously focus on RELAXING all drive to do anything and SURRENDERING all thoughts/beliefs/feelings that place value outside on things bound by time and space (events, achievements, experiences, etc.). It works. I trust that this process leads me back home, and the more I trust in it the better it works. Trust, relax, trust, relax, trust, relax...I am so grateful for this.
Dennis: How was Coach Dennis a unique asset to your experience?
Greg: Dennis has an uncanny ability to be positive and open in most every situation. This energy helped me to be positive and open during times when I would have rather become negative and closed off. He was excellent company on the trip and especially during the mountain trek. We had the most deep and meaningful conversations throughout the experience. I wish all of my friends viewed life from a similar perspective! He was also extremely helpful when it came to aspects of hiking with which I was unfamiliar (like how to properly use trekking poles, how to properly prepare for the trip, what equipment to buy, etc.). He also took amazing pictures and video which he made available to me to share with my friends and family. And he was kind enough to give me my first paracord, which was incredibly helpful in allowing me to carry my box lunch the first day of the hike when I couldn't fit it in my over-stuffed day pack! And importantly, his connections facilitated our use of the beach bungalow in Zanzibar free of charge! Otherwise we would have surely had to pay for a hotel, which probably wouldn't have been as nice and as much fun. I am much indebted to him for his generosity and his months of planning this amazing African excursion. And for putting up with my snoring in the tent. :)
Dennis: What would you say to someone considering joining a STRIVENT adventure?
Greg: Do it! It will end up being more beneficial than you would think at the outset. My own experience has proved that to me. I am now planning to take future adventures, the next of which will probably be to Peru and the Amazon rainforest. I would have never opened up to this side of myself if I hadn't taken the plunge and gone to Africa. It has been one of the most beneficial experiences of my life. Adventures are not meant to be your standard vacation...it's not all about relaxation, fun, and gluttony. But that is why they are so critical. It's about growth. It's about challenging yourself and doing more than you thought you could. It's about getting away from all the habits and behaviors you've constructed in your day-to-day life to keep you safely in that comfort zone, where you end up stagnating and feeling empty inside. It's about facing the discomfort, the pain, and rising up to enjoy the experience with those aspects included. It's about discovery, both within yourself and with the world. It's the hero's journey. This is why we are here. This is what mankind was meant to do. Climb that mountain, explore that jungle, leap from the top of that waterfall...because who knows what you will find along the way? Who knows what you will become along the path? That is the ultimate mystery and the ultimate adventure.
Founder and Chief Adventure Coach @ STRIVENT
"See life as an adventure!"