December 2006 Business Travel Africa - Limited ArticulationPosted in Features on December 1, 2006
As we've mentioned before, we log a lot of frequent flier miles on our job. But there is travel, and then there is travel. As in, 20 hours in the air. On three different planes. To Africa. Recently, we had the rare opportunity to go four wheeling in this most distant and exotic of locations, testdriving the new Jeep Wrangler JK, and it's our pleasure to share our experiences with you this month.
Never having been to the Third World before, we prepped ourselves as best we could-we got our vaccinations, did some research on the local culture, even learned a few phrases of wooden Swahili. But no amount of advance work can prepare you for your first drive into the bush, surrounded by primordial creatures of all colors and shapes, most of which could kill you with one blow. Or waking up in the middle of the night and finding a two-ton hippo peering into your cabin window, as happened to our own Sean Holman. Or losing your footing on a late-night hike, and realizing you're sliding down a riverbank into water infested with crocodiles (yours truly, blushing but unbitten).
Africa, in short, is like no place you've ever been in this life. It's like stepping back in time a million years, to a place beyond the consciousness of modern man. Time passes very slowly here, if at all, and the seasons seem to be measured more in millennia than in months. On first arrival, there's something utterly foreign about the place to the visitor, yet there also seems to be some indescribable, unconscious sense of connection one feels-call it a primitive deja vu-that seduces you with an otherworldly feeling of belonging and place, of being as close to an original state of nature as you're likely to find on the planet anymore. And after three days of 'wheeling the Zambian countryside, we'd forgotten about our jobs, our homes, even our families (sorry, mom): hakuna matata, indeed! We'd succumbed to the lure of the Motherland, and if our gracious hosts hadn't reminded us that we needed to catch a plane, we might be there still.
One thing we definitely weren't prepared for was the generous nature of the Africans themselves. We'll admit, we had some trepidations about this trip, given the current state of global geopolitics. We weren't scared of terrorist attacks per se as much as we wondered how we rich Americans would be greeted in a part of the world where anti-Western sentiment is a growing concern. Yet everywhere we went, we were greeted by smiles, handshakes, and the ubiquitous "Jambo!" Even in the poorest mud-hut villages, locals would come out to meet us, shake our hands, inspect our Jeeps and welcome us to their country. And everywhere, there were kids-running and scampering and laughing in their camps, using our Jeeps as props for impromptu games of hide-and-seek. How they, and their parents, could keep their sunny dispositions amid such grim living conditions-per capita income is $400 a year, average life expectancy is barely 40, and one in seven persons has HIV-we couldn't say, but it certainly was a reality check for us. Like the old R&B song says, "be glad for what you've got-because somewhere, there are a lot of folks who are getting by, and enjoying life, with a lot less."
OK, enough of the travelogue. How was the 'wheeling, you ask, and how are the new Jeeps? In a nut, the four wheeling was awesome, and you can read all about it-and our impressions of the new Wranglers-starting on page 28. And, oh yes, we also have a little thing called Top Truck Challenge we're covering this month. Turn to page 38 for expanded coverage of this year's 4x4 bash-a-thon.