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Dear Meredyth,
I just returned home again after two weeks, but its bittersweet to be here again. My past absences from home have been due to long, boring, stressful trainings, during which I am craving the peaceful solitude of my little house in my little village. This time I am returning from my first vacation, and all I want is to continue traveling and exploring Africa with my friends. Term is about to begin again, so I am struggling to get my mind to focus more on my goals of service and less on my next adventures. The difficulty is that I saw and did so many new things that I feel so changed now, the world has never seemed more like my oyster than right now and I want to keep opening it further.
I will refrain from recounting every detail of the trip, just my top favorite firsts!
  1. My first camping trip. My Peace Corps friends were a bit amazed that I hadn’t been camping before. I didn’t see what was so great about doing this as a kid, sleeping outside on the ground has never really been my priority before. We stayed at a lodge in Maun that accommodates low budget travelers with a camping ground and an outdoor kitchen. Upon arrival I helped to build the tent. Becky & Yami are both experienced campers and showed me how to hammer in pegs and do the tent raising business. Camping is so awesome! Sleeping in nature rules. That night we met two traveling Australians who had just been to Victoria Falls, hearing them talk about it made me so happy that Perry & Robby are coming soon! They also mentioned to us that they were going to take a scenic flight over the Okavongo Delta the next day and asked if we’d like to come to. Me, in a tiny plane, in Africa, circling over miles of uninhabited landscape, on my budget? I thought not. I don’t know what made me say “f*ck it, I’ll do that”. Maybe it was their enthusiasm or the wine or their weird accents; whatever changed my mind was a great decision.
  2. My first adventure by air: a scenic flight over the Delta. The best $90 I ever spent. After a morning of talking environment, economy, and engineering with our new Australian friends, we set off for the airport (slight tragedy at the airport; Cait & Becky didn’t have passports so they were refused by airport security. Always, no matter what bring your passport! Mike & Hayley took their spots instead.) I lost Rock, Paper, Scissors for shotgun in the plane but the back was ok, if we crashed at least I’d die last. The flight was an hour, it was gorgeous (photos soon!)  Remember when mom used to vice grip on the sweet spot just above your knee when she was nervous or wanted to make us jump? I probably did that 40 times to my poor new friend who was stuck next to me. That tiny plane jumped and turned so much I nearly chunda-ed (‘chunda’ is Australian for throw up, comes from “watch under”. Weirdos).
  3. Sunset boat cruise: not my first boating experience I guess but a wonderful way to end the first day of vacation, first boat “safari” if you will. The waters of the Okavongo are so gorgeous it’s not possible to take a bad picture. In one day I had explored by air, land and water.
  4. Game drive! This was definitely a first, a safari game drive into Moremi National Park (Lonely Planet describes Moremi as one of the most beautiful places on earth). After a quite unpleasant ride to the park (safari truck with no windows + 100km drive to the park + very cold morning air = bummer) we had a picnic breakfast, warmed up with coffee, and got really excited to see some animals! In the morning we saw some giraffes and zebras hanging around, drinking water and just being cool animals. We were just pulling up to out lunch spot when a whole herd of elephants crossed our path heading to a large watering hole. We sat eating lunch about 20 yards away from the herd. After lunch we were pumped to see more, crossing our fingers for lions! No big cats but we did see a very rare sight, a hippo out of the water. He was just standing eating some food, when he noticed us he glared us down and slowly trudged back in the water.
  5. Spear fishing! A few days later we met some more travelers passing through the lodge, an architect from New Zealand  now living in Joburg on his first Botswana vacation. He invited us to come to a river spot with his friend to go spear fishing. Me? Swimming in Croc infested water? With a spear gun? Sure why not. Beck and I weren’t so successful at snorkeling so we let them handle that while we swam and talked dreamily about traveling through Australia one day. When they had caught four fish (3 tilapias and 1 pike) we went back to camp. The Batswana kitchen staff was kind enough to show me how to descale, gut and clean the fishes. After that I built a fire (another first) and cooked those bad boys up. It was a very biblical moment, me with four small fish, sharing with my 16 Peace Corps friends. Somehow it managed to feed us all.

I must tell you, I now have The Wanderlust. I feel pulled to seeing this world, and I am no longer afraid that anything could block me from doing just that. I do miss home, my family and friends, all the comfort that comes from the familiar things in America, but I feel compelled to making traveling a top life priority. I can’t wait to start doing some it with you.
Love always,
Julia

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