The Newest Dream – Africa!

Almost exactly one year ago, I was leaving to head to Iran for the trip of a lifetime. But with luck, I’ve got a whole lifetime still ahead of me, so it’s time to start dreaming about the newest journey. Of course I have my bucket list of places still to go, Croatia, Romania, etc., but once again, I am dreaming of a more exotic locale for my next trip.

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That’s right. Queue Toto. Africa!

I started thinking about Africa because a friend of mine is in the Peace Corps in Namibia, a country in Southern Africa, just to the NW of South Africa. Of course, I could go to South Africa, but as you know, I’m always up for something a bit different. So, I’ve decided to focus my goal on Tanzania, on the East Coast of the continent, just south of Kenya.

How did I choose Tanzania?

  1. It was recommended by a friend who has been there and knows me well enough to understand that I’m looking for more than just a pretty place and a relaxing vacation.
  2. The country is a fascinating mix of different cultures including over 120 indigenous groups, Pakistani, Indian, Arab, and European. Should be enough history and culture to keep my brain buzzing.
  3.  Zanzibar (islands off the coast of Tanzania) and beaches. For some reason, ever since my trip to Iran, I’ve been craving turquoise water and palm trees
  4. Multiple National Parks and Preserves make seeing African wildlife easy and more environmentally friendly.

Now that I’ve chosen my country, I need to start narrowing down some other logistics through research and further dreaming.

  • Begin by planning some sort of itinerary. I usually look at guided tours to start, review the most popular destinations, decide what is most interesting to me, and then start looking at things off the beaten path after that.
  • Save the money. This is going to be the hard part for me. Due to rising rent increases in Portland (mine went up over 50% last year), I ended up buying a house. The American Dream, right? Not mine! But here I am, and now I need to balance savings for home emergencies with a travel fund.
  • Save my time off. I’d love to take 3 weeks for a trip like this, so I either need to save all of my time off for the year, or I need to be prepared to not get paid for a few days. Worst case, I only go for 2, but I’m going to set my goal at 3.
  • Stay motivated! Read lots of books set in Tanzania, both travel books, but also histories and historical fictions. Find blogs by other people who have traveled there recently.

Be prepared for more blogs on my planning process, hopefully they’ll be of some help and inspiration for you to explore new places. Don’t know where to start? Let me know, I’d love to help!

 

What to Read Before a Journey

When taking an international trip, I spend a lot of time preparing myself, physically and emotionally, by reading a variety of books about or set in said country. Here are the types of books that I typically read prior to a journey.

Travel Guides
I always begin with travel guides, but the difficult part is deciding which travel guide to choose from. Lonely Planet, National Geographic, Rick Steves, Rough Guides, Frommers and many more! Don’t just buy what’s at your local book store simply because it’s there, you can spend a lot of money on information that is free online or difficult to navigate. After purchasing more than a couple of travel books from a variety of Publishers, here are my top publishers:

Lonely Planet: This is by far my favorite, and it’s the easiest to find in your local book store. I think they do an excellent job of laying out information in an easy to read and interesting manner. My least favorite is by Bradt. I find the information is dense, doesn’t intrigue, and is generally more tedious to read. Before you buy any travel books, be sure to check out your local library. I found the Iran Lonely Planet there, saved myself $20.

In addition to tradition travel guides, keep your eye out for cultural and language guides. I’m currently reading a well written cultural guide to Iran published by Culture Smart Guides. Remember, even if you’re going to an English speaking country, the culture can still be quite different than our own!

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Who has time for work with all of these books?!?

Historical Fiction
Reading fiction stories set in your destination country can help understand a culture and ignite your imagination. Prior to my trip to Turkey, I read a number of entertaining stories by Jason Goodwin, setting the stage of the Ottoman Empire and the age of the Sultans. I read “The Persian Boy” about Alexander the Great’s time in Persia in preparation for my upcoming trip to Iran. To find a good historical fiction set in a particular country, just do some googling (and let me know if you need help!).

Non-Fiction
Non-fiction is an especially good way to understand more about the political situation in a certain country. For Iran, I’ve already read “Jasmine and Stars: Reading More than Lolita in Tehran” as well as “Iran Awakening.” I’m also currently reading a couple of memoirs written by women (modern and not) who have lived and traveled in the Middle East. I’ve learned a lot about the current political setting as well as some history of how we got where we are now. And, I’ve been inspired by the people who have traveled before me. Again, a good Google search will be a great source of suggested books.

Culturally Important Books
Last, but certainly not least, I try to read books or stories that have cultural significance for the locals. Reading books that they love and admire can give you a great window into the culture. For example, in Iran I’m reading the Shahnameh, or Book of Kings. It is the National Epic Story of the Iranian people, detailing the historic (and non-historic) link between the early Zoroastrians and the Muslim conquest and subsequent rule. I’m also reading Hafez, an Iranian poet who is beloved by Iranians. I’ll even be going to his tomb while I’m there.

Reading prior to a trip is a great way of traveling long before your actual trip takes place. It helps mentally gear you up while teaching and entertaining you at the same time.

The Thousand Mile Journey

It takes just one step to start, right? The journey of your dreams, you only get there by taking steps. Sometimes small ones, other times large.

The last couple of years, I’ve had in the back of my head the desire to go to Iran and see Ancient Persia. Maybe it will be this year, maybe it will be in 5 years. It’s hard to say. But it’s important to me to start taking steps on the journey.

Why Iran? You ask. I’m sure it’s not everybody’s dream destination. But for many of us, it embodies everything one could ask for in an adventure:

1. Ancient History, specifically the history of the cradle of civilization. When I was in Graduate School, I had the opportunity to take a class at Harvard on Zoroastrianism. I had previously done some independent study on this ancient religion while in college when I wrote a paper about the effects of Zoroastrian apocalyptic on the Israelites. I dream of seeing the ancient Fire Temples and burial towers. If this isn’t quite your thing, remember that Peresepolis, built in 518 BCE by Darius the Great as the seat of the empire is in Iran.

2. Culture. I’ve always been drawn to cultures that are misunderstood by our own. I see a trip to Iran in some ways as an act of defiance against our perceived notions of Iranians. I say, “Iranians are no more their Government than we are ours here in America.” Remember, when Bush declared Iran part of the so called “Axis of Evil,” many were surprised (even analysts) because the Iranian people are so warm and welcoming.

3. Off the beaten path. When I was in Turkey, another solo traveler said, “when I’m old, it’ll still be easy to go to Europe.” The thought is that while he was young, he should travel to places that aren’t as easy to get around when your knees are creaky and you want a nice bed at night.  He had a really good point.

So what’s my first step? Research. Figure out how much time I’ll need…and more importantly, how much money.

Context Creates Life

My friends and I went to the Oregon Symphony recently and I was extremely pleased that the Conductor explained some of the background and history about the artists. Richard Strauss’ Metamorphosen was suddenly more meaningful when set in the context of WWII and the destruction of the Munich Opera House. It was a nice reminder to me why context matters in everything.

As a Biblical Historian, I know that context is key when reading ancient tests. In order to really understand a text, you have to know as much as you can about the author, the audience, the sociopolitical situation, even the language and its nuances. The text holds more power when read in its correct context.

Context isn’t only relevant to ancient history. Mashable has printed an opinion piece on why context matters when judging images here. An image taken 5 minutes ago and tweeted can easily be taken out of context.

I can’t imagine travelling without understanding at least some of the context of the places I’m visiting. This can happen both prior to and during the trip.

When planning my trip to Turkey, I read news articles, histories, and travel books to understand more about the country.

While I was there, I learned the most from a private guide who I hired for a day in Cappadocia. From him, I learned that the gorgeous geological formations were formed from volcanic activity over a period of about 65 million years. Each of the unique formations and colors were created during a different eruption.

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“Fairy chimneys” were formed when lava covering the tuff (consolidated volcanic ash) gave way along preexisting cracks of sloping areas and became isolated pinnacles. They can attain a height of up to forty meters, have conical shapes and consist of caps of harder rock resting on pillars of softer rock.

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Each layer of rock was created by different volcanic eruptions over time, one on top of another.

Cappadocia was gorgeous, but with this information, it became both gorgeous and interesting. Have you noticed how context has made your life richer?

Call me the Over Planner

You are going to call me crazy. You’re going to say, “what? You’re planning a trip that you’re not even taking for over a year?”.  I am aware. But, hear me out.  Yes, I’m not planning to go to Turkey until May 2013 (in order to save $$ and accrue time off from work), but I’m planning this far ahead for a couple of reasons:

a)  To keep my eye on the prize, to stay excited and focused for this trip which will help me to save my money for it.  It’s easier to save money for something when you’re fully engaged in what you are saving for.

b) Because sometimes you just need a goal to keep your mind focused on. Don’t get me wrong, I have plenty of things I’m thinking about in the “now” moment of my life, but it’s nice to have something big to look forward to.

c) To learn as much about the parts of Turkey I will visit so that I don’t just go as a tourist. I go as an explorer, an academic, and a tourist.

d) To learn some basics of the language before I get there.

I’m hoping this blog will provide the following:

a) A place for me to write down ideas and keep organized with everything I’m learning about and planning before the trip comes. That way, I can look back on my notes when the trip is closer.

b) A place for my friends and people who have been to Turkey to give suggestions.  I was more than shocked to learn how many people I know have been to Turkey, and I’d like to get all of your suggestions- everything from where to stay to what not to eat.  For example, today at Powell’s book store, I was purchasing a book on Istanbul when the clerk told me that when I go to Cappadocia, I should not stay at Gorem but instead should stay at Uchisar.  Something for me to look into, anyways.