The picture that started it all, from a Rothschild Safaris itinerary cover

What is THE inspiration that fuels your journeys, Sole Sisters?

Is it a favorite song or music video, a colorful postcard or unforgettable scene from a movie or perhaps a quest for the yummiest dish on the planet or maybe The Meaning of It All?

Welcome to the newest series on Sole Sisters: Inspired Travel Thursdays where we feature trips that were sparked by a book, snatches from a poem, lyrics from a song or even a person!

Last week, we featured Pauline Apilado's inspiration to summit the second highest mountain in the Philippines. This week, we're sharing New York attorney and globetrotter Jane Okpala's motivation to climb the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania and what it's like to see it for herself.

The Beginning of Wanderlust

I got my first passport when I was in elementary school – for my first family trip to Nigeria. Initially, I wasn’t completely on board with taking this trip. I was a good student, and I LOVED school, so I was loath to miss out on the sure-to-be-exciting lessons that my teachers would be sharing while I was gone. I protested so much, in fact, that my parents agreed that, if I really did not want to go, they would find someone I could stay with during my family’s absence. But the thought of being separated from my family (as well as the sneaking suspicion that my siblings would be having cool experiences while I would be left behind) blew my plans, and I grudgingly agreed to go.

Graceful crowned cranes

The experience was life-changing.

I got to meet several distant relatives and longtime family friends for the first time. I was able to see where my parents grew up and hear new stories from their childhood. For the first time, I truly appreciated the material advantages conferred upon me and my siblings simply because we had been born in the United States.

From then on, I have suffered from an incurable malady that has many names: restlessness, dromomania – wanderlust. I voraciously consumed Spanish lessons, travel books, and television shows featuring exotic places. My love of school had resulted in a full college scholarship that included, amongst other things, FREE travel twice a year. During college, I spent a few months living, working, and having the time of my life in Madrid. I also passed shorter stints studying and volunteering in Central and South America, Europe, the Caribbean, and even Antarctica!

The picture that started it all, from a Rothschild Safaris itinerary
The picture that started it all- from a Rothschild Safari itinerary

Snapshot That Started it All

I know the exact date when I decided to take this trip: February 27, 2010. It was my second trip to one of my favorite events of the year: The New York Times Travel Show. I was checking out the exhibitors in the Africa section, flipping through safari brochures. I stopped when I reached a picture of the Ngorongoro Crater. A panoramic sweep of sunny blue sky stretched down into a vast valley, carpeted in green. Red-pink flowers assertively announced themselves in the foreground. In the center, clouds cast floating shadows onto the verdant plain below. The background was dominated by a limpid, cornflower-hued lake, the shores of which swept up and disappeared into the distant rim of the crater. The image did more than just engrave itself in my memory.

It reached into my chest, grabbed my wanderlust by the tail and shook it fully awake. I HAD to go.

Paradise for a camera-toting tourist

I spent the rest of the day talking to various trip operators and then spent the next few months doing a ridiculous amount of research. After many additional months of thinking and planning my trip finally crystallized. I would spend two weeks on safari in Tanzania to experience the Ngorongoro Crater for myself and Kenya  to see the Masai Mara, leaving me with two more weeks of vacation time. I had been itching to get to South Africa, so I figured, why not tack on some backpacking in Johannesburg and Cape Town?

Warthog skedaddling towards its underground den

Into Africa

The big day finally came. I rose early, ate breakfast, and dressed. By the time I was done, I was running late, so I frantically made my way out of my apartment building, onto the subway, and over to JFK to catch my flight to Nairobi, via Dubai. A few short hours later, I was in my customary window seat, awaiting take-off.

Instead of excitement or joy, I felt that old, familiar feeling: fear. Planning the trip, although time-consuming, had not been difficult—I had extensive travel experience, so I knew how to get time off, get organized, and get packed. However, all of this know-how never quite rids me of those knots in my stomach that appear every time that I take a solo trip.

Lounging hippos

What was I thinking? Will I be lonely? Will I regret this? Can I do this?

Before I was halfway to Dubai, I had calmed down. When I reached Nairobi, my airport pick-up went smoothly. When I got to my hotel, I met my tour leader. It was a relief to know that for the next two weeks, all of the logistics were going to be someone else’s responsibility. It left me the sole task of showing up at the appointed places at the appropriate times. I met the other members of my group. And though I was shy at first, I soon became close with them. I cracked jokes and laughed heartily in turn, and any reservations about loneliness quickly evaporated. We bonded so quickly that we all celebrated my birthday in Nairobi in Arusha. By the time we finally made it to our last lodge, I was ready. Two years earlier, a picture of the Ngorongoro Crater had kick-started my safari dreams.

Now, I was about to see the crater for myself.

Beautiful landscapes of Tanzania

The inside of our lodge was absolutely beautiful, but it paled in comparison to the crater itself. Each of our rooms had spectacular, clear views across and down into the crater. The landscape was less green than I had imagined, given that I was visiting during the dry season. But the relative absence of flora meant that I was rewarded with spectacular views across and down into the crater.

I could clearly make out a soda lake that had dried somewhat and had pulled back from its normal, rainy season boundaries. There were few clouds in the sky, unlike the photo that I had stored in my brain, I could observe the floor of the crater without the obstruction of shadows, taking in all of the available sights from rim to rim. As the sunset flushed orange-red, I sat back on my lodge’s veranda, sipping a sundowner and drinking in the last of the day’s views.

Later that evening, after dinner and before climbing into bed, I snuck back onto the veranda, alone, to try to capture the star-filled night sky over the crater. After many attempts, I admitted abject failure and put my camera away. Instead, I just sat there, still, listening to the buzzing of insects and looking out. A smile tugged at my lips as I began to anticipate the adventures that the next day’s game drive down into the crater would bring.

Jane Okpala is an NYC-based lawyer, globetrotter and fitness buff. She loves to laugh and is always looking for her next great adventure. In 2012, she hopes to travel to Papua New Guinea, Ethiopia, or India. In the meantime, for more details on the trip described here and other awesome adventures, ou can read her blog Passport Addict and follow her on Twitter.

Would you like to contribute to the Inspired Travel Thursdays Series? Whatever or whoever inspires you to just go, do let us know! Send us an email at solesisters(dot)weare(at)gmail(dot)com.
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2 Responses so far.

  1. Dave Curada says:

    Very cool post! Positive energy. Excited for more! ;)

  2. Patrick Murren says:

    Those safari shots look very wonderful. Having those kinds of photos as souvenirs just makes your trip more amazing.

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