A blogger friend asked his teenage grandson, just back from 6 weeks in China and a veteran of other international adventures, what made him such a good candidate for future studies in international relations.
“I like people and accept them,” Sam replied. “I like to encounter ideas. I enjoy new foods. It’s fun to solve travel puzzles.”
Sam is a teenager after my own heart. Right now, as I prepare for my next sally into the heart of Africa accompanied by three friends, it is the “travel puzzles” that are on my mind. What a good phrase. I see some relation to my obsession with the New York Times crossword. Traveling to and within DR Congo is like solving the Saturday.
This week, for example, I had to deal with another flight-cancellation-without-notification. Air France dropped a Thursday return flight and silently rebooked us on a Tuesday. Which we would not be able make because we will at that moment be in a part of the country from which planes fly back to the capital only on Wednesdays and Saturdays. The pieces don’t fit.
The no-extra-cost alternative for returning home on the scheduled day switches us to Air Kenya and KLM and adds 9 travel hours and an extra stop, in Nairobi. Oh well. None of us has ever been to Nairobi (though we won’t get out of the airport), and is 29 hours really so much worse than 20? (Extreme flexibility is another essential quality for the internationalist.)
But yes, 29 hours is worse than 20. One piece of the travel puzzle I’ve been trying to solve is how to sleep on planes.
I’ve tried the inflatable neck pillow (nah) and a device called the Turtle, which is like an extreme turtleneck that lets you doze upright with a slight, supported tilt of the head.
That helped but it’s a bit chokey and I really don’t like to sleep upright. My preferred position is face down on a stack of purse and pillows on the tray table. But that doesn’t work very well either. That’s why I was intrigued by an ad for this inflatable fellow, which I promptly ordered. You’re supposed to put him on your tray and your face in the hole. I’m not sure how that will work, but there are half a dozen other ways to use him as well. He’ll be good for some laughs from my fellow passengers, no doubt. I call him “Buddy.”
After my old carry-on broke, I bought a lightweight suitcase that can go carry-on or extend six inches and go check-in. It has 3 small organizing bags you fill with your clothes for different parts of the trip. I’ve already filled one of those with the African glad rags I will wear down country, where long skirts are still the norm. (Not so much in Kinshasa). Packing right is a great puzzle.
So is finding room for all the stuff you need to take for other people. So is arranging for them to pick it up. Our party of four is going to do big-time mule duty on this trip.
It is good to have wonderful, very competent friends in Congo who are handling many of the puzzling logistics, like getting us around the city to visit literacy classes and cloth shops, buying tickets to fly down country and being picked up at the guesthouse at 5 am to do so, getting to do a little tourism, and many other arrangements, foreseen and unforeseen. Solving travel puzzles is a communal activity.
I like the phrase “travel puzzles” because it reveals that, although I may complain about the difficulties, secretly I enjoy the challenge.