Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Adventures in Africa: The tale of a once-in-a-lifetime experience

By Lorraine Glowczak

When one travels to foreign lands, the thrill and excitement of meeting new people, experiencing a culture different than your own and viewing fresh landscapes, makes it almost impossible not to burst with joy and share the journey with others. Returning from a recent trip to Johannesburg, South Africa, Al and Julia Cheney were more than willing to share their once-in-a-lifetime adventure that will have everlasting impact on their lives.

Julia, although currently a resident of Lyman, is a 1964 Windham High graduate who remains involved in the Windham community. She and her husband, Al, never thought about or made South Africa a bucket-list travel destination. “We never would have gone there, but our son and family had moved to Johannesburg over a year ago and we wanted to visit them,” she explained.

Her son, Don Cheney, works for the NBA (National Basketball Association) and as part of an initiative to encourage more Africans to become involved in that sport, Don moved there to help build up African basketball teams. His wife and two sons moved with him and have made South Africa their home for now.

Julia Cheney being kissed by an elephant as her husband, Al looks on.
Although the major intent for Al and Julia’s travel to the southern tip of the country was to visit their son and his family, the Cheney’s also explored the area from the moment they arrived on October 11 until they left on October 23rd. “We crammed a lot of travel into 12 days,” Julia laughed.

Though it is true they thoroughly enjoyed visiting their son and family, the Cheneys admit that there
was a bit of excitement in exploring the game preserves, national parks, participating in multiple safaris and spending nights in a lodge in the middle of the preserves. Julia shared what it was like to stay and wake up in a natural African environment: “One morning as we were preparing to go on a safari, we opened the door to our lodge and right in front of us was a warthog grazing on grass about 6 feet away. And, one day, we could see elephants outside our window, along the fence of the compound, eating leaves from the trees. The whole experience was beyond imagination.”

Julia holding the lion cub
But the exciting encounters didn’t stop at the lodges. During one of the safari journeys the Cheneys: were charged by a black rhino, waited for 45 minutes as 137 elephants paraded across the road at their leisure, watched a five-month-old elephant huff, grunt and stomp his feet in an effort to intimidate and play with safari participants, saw duiker (a small deer) bound across the land and witnessed amazing African birds fly in the air and hop along the ground, all within close sight.

Seeing was only one portion of the adventure. Julia and Al also had opportunities to touch the animals native to the continent. “While visiting a lion park, I got to hold a lion cub,” Julia exclaimed. “It was the highlight of my trip.” And then she added as if her other highpoints were normal, everyday circumstances. “I also got to pet a full-grown cheetah, feed a giraffe, scratch the ear of an elephant and touch an elephant’s tail. Did you know that the tail of an elephant is much like a bristle brush,” she asked? “That’s exactly what it feels like,” Julia stated, astonished.

The natural environment and animals native to the African habitat were not the only things that made an impact upon the Cheneys. “People live and perceive life a bit differently there than here in Maine – or the U.S” Julia began.

She explained that there is a very distinct difference in economic and social status. “It is true that are economic differences in the U.S. but in South Africa it is distinctly different. You can be in a nice neighborhood, which includes extravagant homes in a gated community and then just a few miles away, you’ll see simple homes made with tin and wood leaning against each other. There is no running water, electricity or indoor toilets.”

The native language where Julia and Al visited is Zulu, “Like many other countries, South Africans are able to speak English. So, we could communicate with others easily. I did try to learn simple Zulu words, but it seemed you had to have the ‘correct’ accent and my Maine accent got in the way of speaking the words with accuracy,” Julia laughed.

Julia advises research and talking with others who have been in the area if South Africa is a future travel destination. As for herself and her husband, they are grateful they had their son and his family to guide them around. “I could never imagine going there by myself. However, it was an adventure of a lifetime and we are both happy to have that experience. We would definitely encourage a trip to Africa if it is an individual’s goal.”

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