Monday, October 21, 2013

Does a long trip take its toll on our bodies?

Since my husband and I are both in our seventies and the couple we traveled with are in their late sixties, I started thinking about how traveling to far away places – especially Africa – can take its toll on our aging bodies. Here’s the precautions and planning I did to counter any possible adverse affects on what would be the trip of a lifetime.

First I needed to get a series of shots required for traveling to Africa – polio vaccine, hepatitis, tetanus, and yellow fever – the yellow fever injection was painful for quite a while. I also brought along a 25-day supply of malaria prevention pills that I started taking a few days before arriving in Africa and continued for seven days after we left. I brought along the original prescription bottle to avoid any questions at the airport.

What to pack for Africa was another issue. We were told to bring crushable duffle-type bags to Africa with the admonition that that bag and any of our carry on pieces should weigh no more than a total of 33 pounds. Space and weight restrictions on the mini twin-engine planes we had to take to get from place to place in Africa imposed that dictum. However, in hindsight I realized I didn’t pack quite enough. I needed a couple of lightweight sweaters for the cool mornings and a couple more changes of lightweight loose fitting slacks. Since I get an allergic reaction to the sun, I was very concerned about sun-protection clothing. I wore mostly dark colored clothing throughout the trip. Sun block was also essential.

The short flights we took within Africa were exciting – we could actually see wild animals from the plane’s window before we landed – but, the planes are hot, cramped, and a little nerve racking – especially while landing on dirt runways. I felt very relieved when we were finished with those.

Late afternoon during a rainstorm 

       Besides flying, we rode in open four-wheel drive vehicles and very bumpy almost non-existent roads while on safari. Because we mostly kept the plastic side windows rolled up we had to take care to prevent getting sunburned, wind burned, and inundated by the dust wafting in off the roads. I had a good solution – a big cotton knit scarf that I wore many different ways. If the morning was cold I wore it wound around my head and neck, if it was dusty, I used it to cover my mouth. And I wore it to protect my back and hands and arms from too much sun. I wore that scarf constantly. However, our guides were good about rolling down the windows and loaning us ponchos during the few rainstorms we encountered. They really knew how to take care of us.

       Also, the seats in the jeeps were very high off the ground. I had to learn to climb in using a series of narrow steps attached to the sides. I had to use those same steps but going backwards on the way down.
At the Ngorongoro Crater wearing 
my ubiquitous scarf
Dietary constraints were another consideration. Since I can’t eat dairy, gluten, or red meat, I let my tour organizer know of these restrictions well before I left home. I was very grateful that most places we visited were prepared to cater to my needs. However, that didn’t stop me or the others in our little group from having some digestive problems. I think those came from eating fresh vegetables washed in regular, unfiltered, African water. We were warned to drink and use only filtered water while brushing our teeth, but I guess they don’t follow their own warnings when handling food. Even so it’s amazing how even while staying in a tent camp, we took showers with running water, and toilets flushed like the ones at home. The staff just has to keep pouring water into tanks at the back of the tent to miraculously make that happen.

The long flights were also a concern. We had to take two separate flights to London with a long layover in between. And on our way home between Paris and Los Angeles, we took three flights with two layovers. We had luggage problems not just associated with packing, hauling, and checking, we had a mis-marked bag that didn’t arrive home until the day after we did.

And what about jet lag? I had the worst ever after this recent trip. I’d heard we are susceptible to a day of jet lag for every hour we’re out of our normal time zone. Well, at some points during this trip we were twelve hours on the other side of the clock. I finally began to feel normal on my eleventh day at home. During my jet lag phase I missed two appointments, made with the same person. I know I’ll never live that down.

I hope I haven’t turned anyone off from taking a trip like this. Experiencing the wonders of Africa was well worth the effort and occasional hardships. Like I said at the outset, it was a trip of a lifetime. Just be prepared if you decide to go.

       This piece (now slightly edited) was originally published at the Aging Bodies website where I contribute a monthly article.

2 comments:

Carol Bodensteiner said...

Thanks for sharing the learning from your trip. I have friends who are touring in Africa later this year. I'm sharing your post with them.

Madeline Sharples said...

Thanks so much, Carol, for coming by and sharing this. I hope they'll read my five previous posts about our safari adventures too. Wish them happy travels for me.