Saturday, March 29, 2008

Bye from Sky

Wow, I can't believe it's been 4 1/2 months since I joined the trip. What a great reunion with the family and one helluva journey!! I don't think I could say it any better than Dad when he says traveling through West Africa is "Complete sensory OVERLOAD." The trip has not by any means been EASY, although it can certainly be rewarding if you're trying to lose weight. Introducing, the new, and improved, Watkinstravel Weight Loss Program! "Lose 30 lbs in 4 months!!" Trust me it works.. I'm a living example.. and no I'm not happy about this! But hey, it's a small sacrifice to be able to see and do cool things like ride in an open iron ore car on the longest train in the world through the Saharan Desert of Mauritania, or taking a cargo ship up the Niger River to Timbuktu. Seeing the remains of the formerly colonized Portuguese capital city of Guinea-Bissau was also a highlight. So was hiking the 16km up and through the canyons of Douki, Guinea, by the means of improvised bridges and ladders made from clusters of random sticks and bamboo.
Traveling through three very recently war torn countries without an M-16 was a little different for me, but was also a good experience nonetheless.
The wildlife was great: Camels, Hippos, vultures, monkeys, baboons, chimps, 10 ft crocodiles, antelope, parrots, tons of different lizards, flying fish, dolphins, huge spiders, warthogs, and I even spotted a wild lioness. The list goes on...

I can't not mention the fact that the majority of the big cities are filthy, overpopulated, and generally very unpleasant to be in with all the scams, hassles, and straight up abuse (by North American standards) as a white "rich" foreigner. I'm sorry to say, but anyone who thinks that's messed up for me to say that hasn't been where we have or you're either an African local, not Caucasian, or never been to North America. I can't tell you how many times either Ammon, Dad, or I have lost our minds, ready to beat someone to death for either blatantly lying, cheating, taking us for complete idiots, pickpocketing, or physically harassing the girls. Some countries and cities are worse than others.

On the other hand, we've met and stayed with some very hospitable and amazing hosts (Morocco, Mauritania, Mali, The Gambia, Sierra Leone, Liberia) and I take my hat off to them because without them I'm sure my opinion of West Africa would be different. Thank you so much, I'll miss you! Small towns and villages in the bush have some of the friendliest human beings I've ever met who would give the clothes off their backs to see that you were comfortable. And it's funny to see the children (and even some adults) react to their first time seeing white skin and hairy arms.

I will never forget the children or the local volunteers we visited at the orphanage outside of Monrovia, Liberia. We are in the process of sending help. I wish we could all do more. Thanks again to the LDS church members and missionaries for rescuing us upon our arrival to Liberia! Yikes.

I fly back home in a few days, but really hope I can rejoin the group again soon. I love and will miss my family so much and hate to leave them to the wolves without me, but luckily they are extremely tough so it'll be alright. For now I'm just excited to get my life started again back in Vancouver after being away in the U.S. military for the last five years. I encourage others to join if you can, just keep in mind it can really be something else!

Bye for now,



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