About Me

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Author of Safari Jema, A Journey of Love and Adventure from Casablanca to Cape Town http://tinyurl.com/owdwvrp I write about travel and adventure from my home in California and from Africa. I've sailed a catamaran from California to Hawaii, trekked in the Himalayas, worked as a construction manager on a bridge project in Zambia, hiked 500 miles of the Camino de Santiago, (http://bootsbedouinsandabridge.blogspot.com/) and traveled in over 100 countries and all seven continents. Indie Book Award Winner for Best Memoir of 2012, New York Book Festival Honorable Mention for Non-Fiction, San Francisco Book Festival Honorable Mention for Non-Fiction, Travelers Tales Solas Award for Best Travel Writing Honorable Mention for My Gambian Husband. Indie Book Award Finalist - Best Travel Book 2013. BOTYA Honorable Mention 2013 - Travel Essay. Member of The Explorers Club since 2013 You can follow my current 2013-2014 expedition across Africa, this time in a 1973 Land Rover Series III 109 on http://teresaokane.blogspot.com/ and on facebook https://www.facebook.com/safarijema

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Embracing Simplicity - 38 Days on the Camino de Santiago

For more than 1,000 years, pilgrims from as far away as Zagreb, Budapest and Bergen have made their way to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Spain to stand in the church that holds the relics of St. James and pay homage. For many, the walk on the Camino de Santiago (The Way of St. James) alone is reason enough for the journey. Today’s pilgrims embrace the Camino trek not only as a time for self- reflection but also for a way to embrace a simpler way of life.
The Way of St. James is one of the great pilgrimages of the world. The entire Route of Santiago de Compostela is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and that, alone, inspires many to explore it on foot.

Beginning in Pamplona

Traditionally, the pilgrimage would begin from your front stoop and it might take years before the pilgrim reached Santiago. These days, most pilgrims fly to France and begin their hike on one of the more popular routes, the Camino Francés.
The charming town of St. Jean Pied de Port, at the base of the Pyrénées, is the traditional starting point for the Camino Francés. Due to time constraints, my husband Scott and I began our pilgrimage in Pamplona, Spain, 40 miles from St. Jean.
An occasional hangout for the late Ernest Hemingway, Pamplona is dotted with signs proclaiming, “Hemingway wrote here” or “Hemingway slept here” along with random shops each simply called “The Hemingway.”
We would have loved to stay at the Gran Hotel La Perla, where Hemingway slept after he took in a bullfight at the municipal ring nearby, but rooms started at $500. However, if you travel on a budget, as we do, you won’t have to wait long before a friendly Spaniard will direct you to the nearest albergue, or refugio.
As we stood in La Perla’s lobby soaking in the ambiance, a hotel employee, noting our hiking apparel, asked, “Are you peregrinos (pilgrims)? You must stay at the refugio!” He walked us there pointing out places where Hemingway had a cigar or took a lover along the way.
Refugios, or albergues, are where most pilgrims on the Camino rest their heads each night. In Pamplona, for €6 (around $9) apiece, we were assigned a bunk in the beautifully designed 100-bed dormitory Municipal Albergue (Church of Jesus and Maria, C/ Compañía 4), located in what had previously been a 17th-century church.
We were able to buy our Camino credenciales, or Pilgrim Records (pilgrim passports), at the same time we checked in. These passports are required in order to stay in the refugios along the Camino and must be presented each day to be stamped as proof that you are making the pilgrimage.
At the credential office in Santiago your passport will be carefully examined before you are awarded your Compostela, a beautiful certificate that proclaims your accomplishment.
Provided you have enough room in your passport or have bought a supplement with extra pages, you may acquire as many stamps as you would like each day. Sometimes shopkeepers or villagers hosting informal way stations have made up their own unique stamps, and they will offer to add theirs to your passport. Historic churches along The Way have particularly beautiful stamps.
Most refugios on the Camino have between 10 and 30 beds in one room. “Sounds smelly!” you might be thinking, and in the old days you would have been right.
Hundreds of years ago, a monk or priest would walk through the refugio swinging a smoking incense ball to dull the odiferous funk of the pilgrims as they slept. Fortunately, modern-day refugios have hot showers, laundry machines, Internet access and kitchens. I had a hot shower on each of my 38 days on the Camino.

The search for simplicity

It is said that one’s pilgrimage on the Camino should be a spiritual journey, but there are as many reasons to do the Camino as there are people on it. It could be a cultural quest, a physical challenge, a meditative walk for nature lovers or a time to get to know your spouse or partner a little better.
More often than not, it is undertaken as a search for an answer to the age-old question, “Who am I?”
For me, it was a walk of gratitude. I woke up every day feeling grateful — for my husband, for my family and for good friends and, especially, for my parents. Someone once said that the greatest gift one can give another is a happy childhood, and I’m really grateful for the one my parents gave me. Walking the Camino seemed a good way to say ‘Thank you.’
Whatever the reason for making the almost-500-mile trek (and they all are perfectly acceptable), it provides a rare opportunity to slow down life’s hectic pace to a rhythmic three kilometers per hour and ponder the basics of living simply.
For five weeks, the biggest decisions one has to make on the Camino each day are ‘Where will I eat,?’ ‘How far will I walk?’ and ‘Where will I sleep?’ Eat, walk, sleep. Simple. There is something revitalizing about embracing this simplicity.
Add to that what I call the blessings of the Camino — the people you meet from all walks of life and from all over the world — and you have an experience that is hard to duplicate anywhere else.
Doctors, lawyers, students, teachers, actors, widows, newlyweds, inspiring couples in their 80s, cancer survivors (some who were still undergoing treatment) and even the homeless are just some of the people we met on the Camino. But while on the pilgrimage, we all became a community of people with one common goal.


You absolutely don’t need a guide for this journey, but if you prefer a guided option or like to stay in hotels every night, there are tour companies that can show you the way and book your hotel rooms ahead of time. For the independent traveler, numerous books, blogs and online forums where you can find all you need to know about the Camino are available. We arrived without a guide book but once we located the first yellow arrow to point us on our way, the rest was easy.
Except during the summer months, when the Camino is at its busiest, finding a place to sleep each night is not difficult. Ask for a list of refugios where you start your walk or refer to your guidebook for recommendations, but there are always signs pointing to accommodation in each town or village. There are often at least two albergues from which to choose. The usual cost is €5-€8 per person.
We began our trek on Easter Sunday in April of 2010 and had no difficulty obtaining a bed for all but one night out of 38. (We ended up that night up in a private room in an annex — it might have even been the albergue owner’s home — so it was fine by us that the dorm was full.)
The newer albergues on the Camino are purpose built and well insulated. Many others are in stone buildings, old drafty monasteries or farmhouses. Occasionally, the floors were so icy that we could keep our morning yogurt chilled by placing the container on the tile under the bed overnight.
To help keep pilgrims warm and cozy at night, there was often a stack of heavy wool blankets available. Usually, these were free of charge.
To save on carrying too much weight, some pilgrims forgo toting a sleeping bag and rely on there being blankets and pillows available at the refugios. I concluded this was too risky and was very glad I had brought my own down sleeping bag, camp pillow and earplugs. (Bring plenty of earplugs!)
Each year, more and more hotels are cropping up on the Camino, but 40 straight nights in hotels can get expensive. Besides, staying in an albergue is part of the peregrino experience — sharing the day’s events with new friends.
One rainy evening, Tia from Finland sat on a top bunk in a crowded dorm room tending to her many blisters. A Frenchman in the bunk across from her who seemed to know everything there was to know about blisters began offering advice. Then an Italian girl crossed the room, putting in her two cents while gesturing passionately toward Tia’s foot.
Soon, Tia was the center of an animated debate in Spanish, French, German, Finnish, Slovenian, Korean, Italian and English. (I listened intently to the advice, since I had a large blister the size of a cherry tomato brewing on my own big toe.)
It was usually perfectly comfortable — and always entertaining — staying in what the Spanish call a dormitorio, but occasionally, if available, we asked for a matrimonio, the quaint term for a double room, or un cuarto con dos camas solamente, a small room with only two beds.

Is it difficult?

Anyone can walk the Camino. Each pilgrim walks at his or her own pace, soon developing a unique rhythm. We discovered that our packs were too big and too heavy. (I had a 25-pound backpack and my husband carried 35 pounds.) Though we still managed to walk 12 to 15 miles each day, I would recommend much smaller packs. This can be achieved by taking efficient, lightweight clothing and a compressible sleeping bag.
It’s 778 kilometers from St. Jean Pied de Port to Santiago on the Camino Francés, so unless you are a speed walker it will take a month to six weeks to complete. You will never regret traveling as lightly as possible. Anything you have forgotten at home can be bought at shops along the way or done without.
We did zero training for this walk, something I would not recommend, as you will ache less if you train more, yet it took us only two days to adopt a comfortable pace. We walked fast enough to get to the next albergue before dark but slow enough to stop to pet a dog or cat or calf along the way.
The landscape and scenery varied by the hour and no two days were alike. One day we trod up and down gentle rolling hills of newly planted wheat fields so green, they looked like jade rivers swirling through the valley. The next morning a vineyard kept us company for a while and then an olive grove. After lunch there might have been a steep climb to dense forest. The day after, perhaps a visit to a Romanesque church and a nap in the sun.
One day we walked on a straight-as-an-arrow Roman road, the Vía Trajana, with not one tree in sight for 12 kilometers. Sometimes we had to walk on concrete next to a main road, and those were our least favorite days because, while it was flat, the pavement turned our feet to mush.
We moved from village to village on country roads, but more often we walked on muddy, rocky or cobbled footpaths, just the way pilgrims did 1,000 years ago — except we were powered more by café con leche and chocolate croissants than by gruel.
Our daily walk took us six to eight hours per day, depending on the terrain and how frequently we stopped for coffee or how long we lingered over our picnic lunch.

A typical day

When staying in an albergue, it is considerate to follow Camino etiquette. There is an understanding that everyone must clear out of the albergue by 8 a.m. There is also an informal “no stirring before 6 a.m.” rule, which is routinely ignored. Most of the early birds — those walking 30 kilometers or more a day — are chomping at the bit to be out the door by 5:30 each morning, so rustling usually begins well before dawn.
At 7 a.m., those still asleep (an incredible feat!) are jolted into consciousness with a recording of Gregorian chants, traditional pilgrim songs or, in one case, Bob Marley tunes. Soon the room is vibrating with steady conversation.
Shoes are usually neatly stacked on shelves near the front door for airing overnight, so it can be a tight squeeze in the entryway as everyone laces up their boots.
Occasionally, the albergue will offer a breakfast of bread, jam and coffee or orange juice, and sometimes a pilgrim meal will be provided at night. In the teeny village of San Juan de Ortega, the community served us surprisingly delicious garlic soup after evening Mass.
If the refugio hasn’t provided breakfast and you don’t have your own supply of bananas or yogurt, you’ll start the trail on an empty stomach. Cafés are few and far between and they don’t open before 9:30 a.m., so it is a good idea to have purchased something the day before for the morning.
As you walk out of the albergue, look for the yellow arrow, usually painted on the road or on a building, which indicates the way to go. Kilometer after kilometer, you follow the symbols of the Camino: scallop shells, which are imbedded in the walkways like crumbs dropped by Hansel, or yellow arrows that appear on trees, benches, stop signs, buildings, overpasses or dedicated Camino steles.
Some people prefer to walk alone, solitario, while others walk in community. Other permitted modes of travel are bicycle, horse and donkey.
By 10 a.m. it was time for a croissant or a coffee break with new friends.
If lucky, the first town you come to might have a shop where you can buy supplies for a picnic lunch. Everything closes in the middle of the day, so you have to time this carefully or you can go the day without eating.
The daily walk was broken every three, six or 13 kilometers by another village with a church — always a church — and a bar or café. Bars serve coffee, croissants, beer and sandwiches in smoke-filled environments, but they’re the best places for a cup of coffee in the morning or a cold San Miguel for an afternoon pick-me-up.
In almost every town, an enormous stork nest or two topped the towers of tall churches. Long before we could see them, we could hear the storks clacking their beaks as they built their nests. This became our favorite symbol of the Camino.
Some days, frogs serenaded us, sounding just like the tribbles from “Star Trek,” and it seemed there was never a single moment without birdsong. We loved that part.
The villages were so charming and the clouds so exceptionally fluffy and white that we usually forgot all about our inflamed blisters, sore feet, aching backs, screaming calves, burning thighs, noisy knees and tight shoulders until we lay down for the night.
An advantage of a springtime trek over a summer one was that there was more color in nature. Sometimes the scenery was so vivid, it felt as if we were walking through an image that had been enhanced in Photoshop.
We drank lots of water throughout the day. Refills were available from spouts in the villages’ main plazas or we could always refill at a café. A few peregrinos experienced diarrhea from suspect water sources, but the tap water in the albergues was always reliable.
By 3 o’clock in the afternoon we were ready to stop for the day — our feet were killing us and I was ready to throw my pack into a ditch — but usually there wasn’t a church steeple in sight, so we would have to keep going.
This was the time of day that I became most “spiritual.” I would pray for soft soil and no steep ascents (or any change in elevation at all) before getting to our destination for the day. It didn’t matter if we walked 13 kilometers or 22, the last four kilometers were always the hardest.
Finally, we would reach a village and follow the yellow arrows to the albergue.
At 7:30 or 8 p.m. a “pilgrim meal” would be served, usually at the one bar or restaurant in town or sometimes at the albergue. There was usually a first course of soup, salad or paella, then a second course of stew, pork, fish, rabbit, octopus or chicken, ending with a dessert. Every meal came with water, bread and a bottle of wine, all for €8-€10. I loved the pilgrim menu.
All in and lights out in the al­bergue was usually at 10 p.m.

Cruz de Ferro

About 200 kilometers from Santiago we climbed to the highest elevation on the route. Here, a major milestone on the Camino, La Cruz de Ferro, a small iron cross, is affixed to the top of a tall wooden pole.
It is tradition to bring a stone or pebble from home and carry it with you on your pilgrimage as a symbol of any heaviness in your heart. Into the stone you put all your sorrows, disappointments and regrets. When you get to Cruz de Ferro, you are supposed to leave the stone — and all your sorrows — behind. For some, the time there is even more meaningful than arriving at Santiago.
I didn’t know about the custom of bringing a rock from home. A German woman told me, “Just pick one up along the way!” I did but promptly lost it down a sink drain while doing laundry one night. On Cruz de Ferro day, I found a small red rock and laid it at the base of the cross as a prayer for Africa.

The journey is the goal

After 38 days and almost 500 miles we arrived at Santiago de Compostela. My one desire was that the sun would be shining when we arrived at the cathedral. I got my wish. After a week of hiking in dreary rain, heavy fog and even snow, the sun shone brightly.
Unlike in other cities along the Camino, once a pilgrim enters the city limits of Santiago, there is no stopping for café con leche or a beer or even to empty boots of pebbles that have settled uncomfortably between toes. After loading my backpack from a top bunk one last time, lacing up my boots and crossing one last Roman bridge, I had a strong drive to just get there.
There was a conspicuous sense of urgency amongst our fellow pilgrims. Few stopped for a break on the way to the goal line that day.
When we finally arrived in the city of Santiago, the route to the cathedral was perfect, winding up and down and around, the cathedral spires hidden from view until we were practically standing beneath them.
Serendipity was with us that day in Santiago. We took a wrong turn near the cathedral and ended up at a little-used entrance. No backpacks are allowed inside, so I said to Scott, “Why don’t you go in first while I watch the bags.” After a few moments he hurried back out, saying, “You have to see this!”
I walked in to find the Botafumeiro, the huge incense burner, flying just over the heads of the congregation and continuing through the entire transept. Whoosh! The sound as the burner passed just feet from me was incredible.
Historically, the Botafumeiro, which hangs from ropes and an elaborate pulley system near the ceiling 150 feet above, was used to exterminate the aromas produced by all the heavily clothed pilgrims, some of whom had taken a year to reach Santiago. Seeing the incense burner in action and feeling it as it flew by moved me to tears.
For those who hike the Camino in a Holy Year, as we did (the next will be 2021), the Catholic Church awards pilgrims an indulgence, meaning, in the eyes of the Church, all sins are forgiven. Raised as a Catholic, I would be leaving Santiago with a “clean slate,” so to speak.
At the pilgrims’ office adjoining the cathedral, one of 10 officials checked our credentials, carefully examining the many stamps we received along the way, and issued us Compostela certificates. Our certificates are different. My husband, a history buff, had decided to earn a “cultural” certificate. No indulgence for him!
“How was your journey?” asked the church official as she filled in my name in Latin. “It was wonderful,” I replied, wiping my tears, “and we arrived at the cathedral in time to see the Botafumeiro fly.
“You are very fortunate!” she said. “The Botafumeiro only makes an appearance during special Feast Days or if a group has made a large donation.”
I walked out feeling like one lucky pilgrim.
To top it off, as we walked away from the cathedral, a jazz musician sitting in the square began to play “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” the song played at my mom’s funeral. Mom had been gone over two years, but she had been with me every day on the Camino. It was a perfect end to a perfect journey. Our celebratory dinner consisted of things that reminded us of the Camino: potato chips, (picnics) champagne (joy), and chocolate (sweetness).

Camino resources:
General information: The Confraternity of St. James, London; phone +44 (0) 20 7928 9988

Online forum: www.caminodesantiago.me

Animals along the way.
One day, we hiked in snow.
Blessings along the Camino.
Always enough to share.
Pulpo! Octopus
Pilgrim Meal

Monday, May 7, 2012

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          Safari Jema


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            Giveaway ends August 20, 2012.

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Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Reviews are In!

 Safari Jema, A Journey of Love and Adventure From Casablanca to Cape Town  is available in book, and e-book format on Amazon.com. Click here to order:

Here's what readers are saying about Safari Jema...

Armchair Travel at its Best, May 2, 2012
By Gail -
This review is from: Safari Jema: A Journey of Love and Adventure from Casablanca to Cape Town (Paperback)
O'Kane paints a truly fascinating picture of Africa's landscape and people, while adding color about her upbringing, and the cast of characters she meets along her journey. This is a great book for those who want to experience Africa through the eyes of a brave, smart, funny, and sensitive adventurer. By the end of the book, you'll have a greater sense of the beauty of Africa in its many forms, and also gain an understanding of the daily struggles many Africans endure. The author and her husband traverse Africa in many different ways, from an overland truck, to bush taxis, ferries, buses, planes, and automobiles. From each experience a fascinating story ensues, and you find yourself wishing you were there, and not there, all at the same time. Since I am an armchair traveler, I look forward to taking another amazing journey with the author someday, from the comfort of my living room.

Safari Jema is a Gem, March 24, 2012
This review is from: Safari Jema: A Journey of Love and Adventure from Casablanca to Cape Town (Paperback)

Move over Peter Mayle and make room for Africa's version of A Year In Provence. Covering a year of travel in Africa with her husband Scott, Teresa O’Kane is blessed with the rare gift of observation that entrenches you in the moment, as she delights her readers with the lore of cultural contrast as told through her well adjusted parochial school eyes and wit.
For those just interested in the pros and cons of visiting the exotic places chronicled, you won't be disappointed. But what makes Safari Jema special is O’Kane's brutal honesty in recounting her hilarious reactions to events that would jar even the most seasoned traveler. This is what comes when fear, and an unquenchable desire for adventure, collides in the personage of a natural born raconteur, who also happens to be the proverbial catholic girl next door.
Where else can you find tales of a girl’s shoes not polished enough to be "almond worthy" and learn about the Ethiopian Ark of The Covenant, in the same paragraph! Who else is rating countries on a Donkey scale, to assess the treatment of their beasts of burden? And if that's too boring, O’Kane can also recount the sexual habits of her overland truck mates, as well as wild African life in equal detail. Such is the power of her unique curiosity, always retold with a genuine dose of humanity.
You surely will not fall in love with some of O’Kane's African journey, but you can't help but fall in love with the diarist and this story.
Africa the way few people get to experience it, March 22, 2012
This review is from: Safari Jema: A Journey of Love and Adventure from Casablanca to Cape Town (Paperback)
This is the ultimate in armchair travel. I don't think I'd have the courage or fortitude to travel through Africa the way the author and her husband did, so it's a real treat to get to read about their journey without running the personal risk of being eaten by an irritated hippo. Almost as much as the wonderfully up-close-and-personal experiences, I really admire the author's sense of adventure and fun, her desire to get to know the people she meets on her travels, her respect for her surroundings, and her "take things as they come" flexibility. I'll be on the lookout for future adventures!

Wonderful book, amazing stories, March 11, 2012
This review is from: Safari Jema: A Journey of Love and Adventure from Casablanca to Cape Town (Paperback)
Safari Jema is a wonderful book, not only for those who love Africa and/or hope to travel there, but for anyone who loves a good book. Through Teresa's stories of her travels we learn about her and she is charming. She is a wonderful storyteller and her stories are inspiring, heartbreaking, hilarious and compelling. I love this book and will continue to follow Teresa's adventures on her blog.

Safari Jema: A journey of Love and Adventure from Casablanca to Capetown, March 9, 2012
By Brent Nielsen (Columbus Ga.) -
This review is from: Safari Jema: A Journey of Love and Adventure from Casablanca to Cape Town (Paperback)
I am definitely not into travelogues but Safari Jema has been a charming and delightful exception. The author's tale of she and her husband's experiences in Africa are warm, vibrant and so wonderfully descriptive I felt the heat, the rain, the smells, the frustrations, and delights Ms O’Kane relates. Like E. G. Burroughs' Tarzan adventures, when it rains in her story, I feet wet! Her prose is absolutely riveting, and as no amateur traveler myself, so very detailed I felt as though I were sitting in the truck, right next to Tris and Scott, as they experienced the trek of a lifetime. Absolutely required reading for anyone contemplating a similar experience, it will delight and astound the armchair adventurer as well. I found myself sneaking a read when I was supposed to be doing something else! I highly recommend this warm and at times heartbreaking story to readers of all ages and gender!

 Africa.........the hard way, March 3, 2012
By Ross
This review is from: Safari Jema: A Journey of Love and Adventure from Casablanca to Cape Town (Paperback)
Teresa O'Kane has a great story to tell about the journey she and her husband took from one end of Africa to the other. It is an adventure story that she tells superbly. Teresa and Scott eschewed the up-scale luxury safari system and chose trucks and buses and bush taxis; in doing so they experienced a fascinating connection with the people and the land. She uses words wonderfully. More than once I came across a sentence or a paragraph that did its job so perfectly that I had to stop to reread and savor the image conjured. Read the book and you will find yourself admiring the courage and spirit of adventure of these two travelers.

Love love love this book!, February 16, 2012
By R. Amooi 
This review is from: Safari Jema: A Journey of Love and Adventure from Casablanca to Cape Town (Paperback)
Africa is very high on my list of places that I want to travel with my wife. I love to hear stories from others to learn more about the culture and the country. This is such a great book in so many ways. Teresa O'Kane is a great storyteller but what makes it even better is that she and her husband took the less-touristy route to see THE REAL Africa. Her stories are amazing and some SO funny. It's the perfect blend of adventure and humor. Of course, there are some sad things I read and some things that just blew my mind. But we all know that the country has many problems. I especially like how she gives the reader tips on how to do the same trip or a trip that's more scaled down, if you don't have 10 months to travel. A pure joy to read. Form what I can tell, she hasn't written anything else but I hope she does. I would love to read about another wild adventure like that.

The Broad Canvas of Africa, February 7, 2012
This review is from: Safari Jema: A Journey of Love and Adventure from Casablanca to Cape Town (Paperback)
Books about Africa are legion. Good books about Africa are much rarer. Many writers lose themselves on this broad canvas. Teresa O'Kane succeeds in blending the personal, physical and spiritual journey she and her husband Scott underwent on an extraordinary expedition from Casablanca to Cape Town. It is a highly personal and impressionistic account, but Ms. O'Kane never loses either her objectivity nor her openness. Her descriptions are vivid and the characters memorable, from "the Mechanic" a crazed Aussie, with whom they start their overland journey in Morocco, to John, their instructor at Game Ranger school in South Africa.

Her central character, however, is always Africa; Africa in all her multifaceted, contradictory splendor; Africa with her complex tapestry of peoples and cultures; the daily struggle for survival and sheer exuberant joy living. Ms. O'Kane brings to life moments of wonder, adventure, hope and tragedy, while avoiding the pitfalls of colonial condescension, blithe optimism or hopeless hand wringing.

There are travel tips to be gleaned from her account, but what Ms. O'Kane succeeds most of all in doing is writing a book that describes not what to see in Africa, but how to immerse yourself in Africa, if as she says, you have to will to do it.

Excellent, fun read, January 21, 2012
By Judy
This review is from: Safari Jema: A Journey of Love and Adventure from Casablanca to Cape Town (Paperback)
If you like personal stories about adventure travel in Africa, if you like the sense of getting to know the author, if you enjoy a good laugh, I recommend Safari Jema. Teresa O'Kane is a wonderful raconteur (raconteuse?) who includes interesting details without tiring the reader, and who presents the land and people of Africa in a positive yet realistic manner. A lot of good tips are woven in, but even if you are not planning a trip to Africa, this book is very entertaining.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Sample chapter from Safari Jema, A Journey of Love and Adventure from Casablanca to Cape Town

Meat is Meat

Victoria Falls roared nearby while Scott watched a tourist leap
from the bridge between Zimbabwe and Zambia and disappear
into the abyss over the Zambezi River. He couldn’t bring himself to actually lean over the railing because he has a fear of heights. Just standing on the bridge was enough to make his knees buckle. While he waited for the next bungee jumper to vanish from sight, he became an instant trillionaire when he bought a stack of Zimbabwean one hundred billion dollar notes from a man on the bridge. A trillion Zimbabwe dollars didn’t buy much. Inflation had topped 500 million percent and a single one-hundred-billion dollar note would buy little more than a loaf of bread or a few eggs. But the billion-dollar notes had become a commodity. While President Mugabe continued to ruin an entire country, he had inadvertently created a market for Zimbabwe
dollars on eBay. Unfortunately many months later, in Thailand, our backpack was relieved of eight hundred billion dollars along with our beloved Swiss Army Knife. The knife wasn’t your run-of-the-mill gadget with a blade and screwdriver. It was one I had purchased direct from the source in Switzerland. It was called The Superchamp and it had dozens of tools incased within its only-available-in-Switzerland black body. Not
only that, engraved on its side was a personalized mushy dedication to Scott. More than a portable toolbox, its knife and corkscrew alone represented romantic picnics in the Alps and glasses of Riesling along the Rhine. Somehow I think I would have mourned the loss a little less if the Superchamp were being put to use building a bridge in Africa instead of opening a can of beans in some communal kitchen of a backpacker hostel in Thailand.

Billion dollar notes aside, it was tragic what was going on in Zimbabwe. People desperately waited for something to change. There were fuel shortages, grocery store shelves were empty, and farms sat derelict. Those who were able would cross the border into Zambia each day to work—or to sell stacks of Zimbabwe dollars to travelers— before returning at night to a ruined Zimbabwe. Most Zimbabweans seemed to accept their lot with something closer to pragmatism than bitterness. We asked a taxi driver waiting for fares near the bridge how he felt about what was happening in his country and if he thought Mugabe should step down or be thrown out. He answered with a resigned shrug, “It’s better to have the devil we know than one we don’t.”
It wasn’t always like that in Zimbabwe. Until recently it was our favorite African nation. It is a physically beautiful country and we had always admired the resourcefulness of her people. As recently as 1999, Zimbabwe was still considered a breadbasket of Africa, the economy was relatively healthy, and inflation was not yet a major headline. On two previous visits we had been able to travel anywhere in the country in relative comfort and security.

During one such trip we noticed a billboard advertising “Business Days, Zimbabwe Trade Zone,” from our seats on a crowded long-distance bus. As we entered the colonial city of Bulawayo, we decided it might be interesting to see how a trade show in Zimbabwe might differ from one in Silicon Valley and we made a plan to attend. I am sure we were the only tourists there. When we arrived at the entrance they couldn’t decide under what category to admit us. Finally someone handed us badges that read, “Foreign Guest,” and we entered the trade show floor. Salesmen hawked furniture, crafts, and import-export opportunities from within hundreds of tents and booths. In lesser number were agents representing safari and game lodges. One lodge, located in Hwange National Park, offered trade show attendees a full board package including game drives at a place called Ganda Lodge for a price almost too good to believe. Scott gave me a look that said, “What have we got to lose?” We purchased two nights and received an official-looking voucher.

The next day we took another bus to Hwange National Park where we met Happiness, Cuthbert, Fortunate, and Boniface, all part of the Ganda Lodge staff. I wondered who they thought we were because we received the royal treatment. Soon we learned we were the first guests they had had in weeks and that we would have Ganda Lodge to ourselves. After a welcome drink of something orange and cool, we were shown a selection of two-story cottages to pick from. We quickly chose one fronting both the water hole and the swimming pool. This in turn overlooked a grassy savannah shaded by acacia and mahogany trees. In a branch of a thorn tree overhanging a second-story viewing platform, a lilac-breasted roller came to rest not two feet from where we sat. The spectacularly colored bird preened its feathers like an actress preparing for a close-up. It was
the dry season at Hwange and most of the water in the holes had evaporated. Fortunately there was still water in the pond near our cottage and that was what brought thirsty animals practically to our front door.
After we settled in, the head ranger David took us on a game drive. We stopped briefly to watch zebra and giraffe grazing near the lodge, and then headed out into the bush. One hour into the game drive we stopped near a herd of some two hundred elephants. One juvenile elephant immediately performed an impressive mock charge, running at our vehicle with his ears flared out and his little trunk flailing wildly. Then while I held my breath, another young female elephant walked directly over to where I sat in the backseat of our open-topped Land Cruiser and calmly draped her trunk over my shoulder. My heart was beating so hard I thought it would leap from my chest. I sat like a statue even though my insides tingled with excitement. There was nothing I could do to stop the happy tears that ran down my cheeks.
After a few minutes of close-encounter bliss, we continued through the game park stopping again to watch a group of slow-moving impala and giraffe. The air was so hot and parched that the grasses crackled under the hooves of the animals. I felt nearly on the verge of heatstroke.I’ve never been one to handle the heat well anyway, and the temperature out on the savannah was pushing me to my limit. Evidently it showed
because David glanced at my clammy, flushed face and asked, “Would you like to go back now?” As much as I wanted to have another close encounter with an elephant, I knew that driving around in one-hundred-
degree heat in an open-top vehicle might do me in. Reluctantly I nodded at David and said, “Yes, please.”

Back at the lodge we changed into swimsuits and chilled down in the icy cold pool. As we hung on to the pool’s edge feeling our body temperature return to normal, we watched zebra come to the water hole and drink. Boniface brought us cold beers. It was heaven. Though attending a trade show is not something most travelers usually do, it paid off big for us. The price for the all-inclusive stay at Ganda Lodge was only fourteen dollars per person, per night. Total. For everything. At lunch a tall and dapper African named Cuthbert whose every move conveyed style and grace served us a plentiful meal and more cold drinks on a covered terrace. Watching Cuthbert move around the terrace, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the elegant giraffe we had encountered during our game drive that morning. When we finished eating, he cleared the table so effortlessly that it was as if he had just waved his hand over it and made the dishes disappear. He smiled at us more like we were guests in his home than visitors to a game lodge. “Which meat would like to have for dinner?” he asked.
“You mean we get to pick?” I asked. “What are our choices?”
“Chicken, or beef, or pork,” replied Cuthbert.
“Well, chicken sounds good. We’ll have the chicken,” Scott answered for both of us. Cuthbert seemed a little disappointed at our choice.

After lunch David drove us back to a water hole located about forty minutes from the lodge. During our game drive we had noticed a ladder leading to an enclosed platform in a tall tree near the water and asked if we could spend the afternoon alone there. David parked the vehicle directly under the tree so that we could
safely and quickly climb to the platform. Before leaving, he handed us a small box of cold drinks and said, “Be careful, and try not to become overheated.” We climbed the ladder and spent the next three hours
well hidden in the leafy tree spying on elephant and antelope as they came to the water to drink.

Game viewing that afternoon was a vastly more rewarding experience because the animals were completely unaware of our presence. Perhaps they were under the influence of the heat as well, but I have never seen African animals so relaxed. Some even napped. Without half a dozen safari vehicles filled with excited tourists destroying the calmness of nature (“Marge! Did you see that? Look over there. No, over there! Oh, you missed it! He’s gone now.”), we were able to see antelope just being antelope. It was just Scott, the African bush, and me. Because it was so hot and dry at Hwange, animals naturally gravitated to the water hole so it bustled with activity. Some animals drank from the water’s edge then rested in shade nearby before returning for another drink. Adult elephants stood in the pool and cooled their bodies with showers of water from their trunks while baby elephants rolled in the mud or playfully charged one another. The one behavior all the animals had in common was that they seemed reluctant to leave.
So were we. When Happiness and Fortunate arrived to take us back to the lodge, it struck me that their names expressed our emotions of the day perfectly.

At 7:00 p.m, we were called to dinner . Again it was a buffet with copious amounts of food, way too much for just the two of us. And there was plenty of chicken. I said to Cuthbert, “There’s so much
food!” and he responded, “If you eat more, you worry less.” It didn’t take too long for us to realize that the staff of Ganda Lodge and their families would be eating what we couldn’t finish. We also understood
that when there are no guests at the lodge, there are no leftovers to eat. We took small but sufficient portions of food to our table and ate while the staff watched at a distance.
From the terrace we could see impala, warthog, and giraffe come to drink. Gesturing towards the animals at the water hole, I remarked to Cuthbert, “It’s so beautiful! It would be wonderful to have a meal closer to the water hole.”
From the comfort of our bed the next morning, we watched more than eight hundred buffalo cross the savannah before we headed to the terrace for breakfast. Cuthbert met us at the step and swept his arm
around until it pointed down to the water hole. There on the bank was a table for two beautifully set with white linen, china, and a small vase of wildflowers. “Today, you will eat breakfast at the water hole.”
I burst into tears. To this day it is the most spectacular place I have ever dined.
As we finished our eggs, Cuthbert came to our table and asked,
“Which meat would you like for lunch today?”
“Which meat do you recommend, Cuthbert?” Scott asked.
“Well,” he said slowly. “Meat is meat.” He shrugged as if it did not matter which meat was chosen. “But,” he added quickly, “I don’t think you care much for the chicken. I think you prefer the beef.”
Scott looked over at me and smiled. “I think we prefer the beef too,” he said to Cuthbert.
And that is what we all had for lunch that afternoon. There was enough beef on the luncheon buffet table to feed twenty.

After lunch Cuthbert again approached us with, “Which meat
would you like for dinner?”
We smiled at him and asked, “Do we still like the beef?”
Cuthbert smiled back. “Yes, I think you like the beef most of all.”
Two days later when we left Hwange, we stopped back in Bulawayo
and traded facemasks and snorkels (I honestly can’t remember why in
the world we had facemasks and snorkels with us) and a little money
for a graceful wooden giraffe. Almost six feet tall and hand carved by
the seller, I named him Cuthbert.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Safari Jema , A Journey of Love and Adventure From Casablanca to Cape Town

 Safari Jema, A Journey of Love and Adventure From Casablanca to Cape Town, is now available on Amazon.com. 


I wrote it for Scott. He loved it and encouraged me to share it with everyone who said, "You should write a book about this!" I hope you enjoy reading about our ten month overland adventure in Africa.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Embracing Simplicity - 38 Days on the Camino de Santiago

For all of you who can't get enough of the Camino de Santiago (I know I can't!) here is an article I wrote about our pilgrimage there last year. It appears in this month's International Travel News Magazine. To my surprise, it was the feature article.


Also, look for the Martin Sheen/ Emilio Estevez film, The Way, coming soon to a theater near you. The Sheens are big fans of the Camino and decided to make a movie about hiking the Camino Frances. 

Thursday, July 28, 2011