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Let’s Go! Why travel to Africa with Mom now …

Let’s Go, Mom!

The first time I traveled with my Mom was in the late 90s. We joined a research project in Ecuador and Peru with Earthwatch where we lived in jungle research camp with no running water or electricity.  We spent our days tromping around the rainforest catching butterflies and tagging them for a study. 

It was a life-changing trip that opened my eyes to real travel – with all the great stories that continue to thrive years after in the retelling without any need for embellishment.   But mostly that trip opened my eyes to the fact that my mother was not just the mother seen through the eyes of a child.  I realized that my Mom had some gumption.

In Ecuador we climbed on the roof of the chicken bus when there was no room and it was too hot inside, heeding yells from the front to duck when the power lines or tree branches hung too low.  We waded through mud up to our knees in search of elusive plants that fed our butterflies by day, and stood the same pants in the corner after the mud dried overnight.  We joined the rest of our Earthwatch group hungrily eyeing the skinny live rooster tied up by the leg in front of the cookhouse – ready for a change from the rice and beans and wondering how much chicken we were going to get from that skinny bird.

Before the first Mom trip, I had just ended one phase of my life and was finding my way into the next.  After years of work-a-holic tendencies successfully navigating the high-stress yet so self-important political world in Washington, DC, I had fled to the West Coast and different life.  And I was diligently perfecting the art of working intensely for a few months followed by travel and living till the money was out … and learning to love the freedom.

I’d started out traveling young.  At sixteen I joined a national 4-H delegation to England and spent several weeks living on farms with families around the country.  In college, rather than joining the semester abroad program, I opted for Semester at Sea – an onboard classroom that sailed around the world with college classes on the ship and faculty lead learning in 10 ports of call.  This wet the appetite for more. My Mom helped enable both of these opportunities … figuring out how to make the knee-jerk reaction of NO to travel beyond the safe confines of Eastern North Carolina into a yes with the funding and support necessary.

So when I joined my Mom in Ecuador, neither of us quite knew what to expect traveling together.  But after Ecuador, we made a point of a trip a year together and often did volunteer projects as we ventured to Kenya, Morocco, Antartica, Thailand and Cambodia.

Over time our lives and travel wants diverged.  I took up more bike travel and scuba diving.  Mom joined many of her friends cruising or on more senior-focused trips that were easier on her physically.

But we had always talked about going to Southern Africa.  And after my breast cancer diagnosis in 2011 my life shifted again … with a new urgency to live now.  And after my mother celebrated her 73rd birthday,  I sent her a guide book on South Africa for Christmas with the note that simply said, “Let’s Go.”

So, today we are going.  Because neither of us is arrogant enough to assume there will be a next time..  We are going Now.  Living Now.  Celebrating life and embracing it Now.  And this trip seems important.

She has given me permission to write about her in this blog.  I am hoping she will contribute a few posts herself.  Mostly I am grateful to have the chance to travel with her again.

My mother declares this will either be the Mother/Daughter bonding trip or the Mother/Daughter divorce trip.  We are gambling on the former, expecting the predictable cranky moments along the way.   But generally neither of us has ever regretted saying “Let’s Go”.  Or shied away from an experience once there.

Leigh Pate
Leigh Pate lives in Seattle, WA. She is a two time cancer patient and cancer research advocate, a communications specialist and writer, a nature lover and fan of beaches, mountains and big trees in the Pacific Northwest.