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From Manhattan to Mud Hut

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The Upper Zambezi Valley in summer is parched and dry, the ground cracked like burnt leather, wishing for rain to plump it back into shape.

As the sun falls and campfires provide the only light and heat, women head off to fetch water, balancing large colored plastic containers on their heads, singing, swaying, seemingly without a care in the world. I trip along behind, huffing and puffing and dragging my empty container inelegantly behind me.

We fill up and each woman lifts the heavy weight onto her head, nestling it comfortably on a folded bandanna. I can’t even budge mine, let alone lift it.

By now they’re halfway up the hill while I’m still at the river’s edge wondering how my water will climb itself to the village. I give up and fill a small plastic gourd with enough water for either coffee or boiling water for rice. I won’t have enough for both.

I go to bed hungry, listening to the sounds of the savannah, hoping the rusty barrel I’ve placed across the entrance to my rondavel will keep away whatever is out there.

African hut

I love living simply when I travel, in village accommodation like this hut. I also like comfort and luxury. Depends when, depends where, and depends why.

I’m here for a week, on assignment for my newspaper, The Earth Times. I live in the most elementary of circumstances, at the narrow edge of survival, and I love it.

But unlike the women who gather by the river every evening, I can choose to leave. A car will whisk me to a town, then a city, then an airport from which I’ll fly to a promised land of buffet breakfasts, pulsating hot showers and downy white bathrobes hanging on metal hooks. The Upper Zambezi Valley will be far behind me, coming back to life only when I flip through my notes to write my story.

So what is my travel style?

Defining my travel style leaves me a bit mystified.

I love spending time in the developing world, slowing to the rhythm of daily village life and simplifying existence to its most basic: food, water, shelter. I enjoy getting to know the individuals around me, especially the women, like everywhere in the world underappreciated, overworked, and optimistic.

I like trying new foods (within reason – no bugs, please) and listening to music born centuries ago. I love the twitters of nature, the loud, live environment that has somehow escaped the timber barons and resource raiders.

This is my backpacking persona, owning little, needing even less, and following life where it leads me.

And then there’s the other Woman on the Road, the one who prays for upgrades to Business Class, who loves evening springtime walks in Paris, New York, Madrid, who thrills at the sight of a Tempur mattress or a platter of fresh lobster.

Trying to lock my travel style into a definition makes me squirm as my mind jumps from one perfect style to another.

And that’s the problem. I am ALL travelers. I love to rough it yet I’ve slept at the George V (and would do it again – best bed I’ve ever slept in). I’ll hitchhike on trucks across Mozambique but accept a private jet ride to Beirut. With equal fervor I’ll share an injera with villagers in Eritrea and savor a five-course kobe beef feast right after karaoke in Kyoto. I want to hike, lounge, explore, view, give, experience, sense, befriend, taste, share, learn and expand.

From Manhattan to a mud hut, everything holds a secret for me.

I want to travel. And frankly, I don’t give a damn how I do it.

This post is Day 3 of the #Indie30 challenge – 30 Days of Indie Travel, by Bootsnall. 

1 Comment

  1. […] was heading off into the big wide world of Africa for six months but being bad at math I would be gone more than three […]

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