The sun was just about to rise as Patti Meier got up to go for a walk in the African desert. Daylight stirred as she walked through the local village along side people making their way to work. Linguistically, she didn’t speak their language yet words weren’t necessary to communicate.

She’d felt the spirit of the country and its people that are so captivating to visitors.
She and her husband Joel had come on the Waterfalls and Wildlife trip to tour by motorcycle but it was the opportunity to feel the pulse of the people that enticed them most. To them, motorcycling is just another adventuresome opportunity to get out, enjoy nature, and discover the world.

Patti and Joel celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary camping in the Okavango Delta, sitting around the campfire and drinking champagne, while elephants stood off in the distance and other wildlife called in the dark. They log about 20,000 miles a year and have traveled extensively around the world, camping whenever possible. Both retired, Patti worked as a Dental consultant serving Native Americans on reservations. Joel was a professor of outdoor recreation leadership.

Traveling to Africa aligned with Patti’s love of history and culture. For twenty-five years, she’s been a docent (trained volunteer guide) at various art museums, including the Indiana University Art Museum, known for its terrific African Art Collection. She’d studied it and had always wanted to experience the people, music, and customs that make the people so great. To observe the intricate masks depicting cultural traditions, beautiful clothes dyed with centuries-old methods, and exquisite coiffures one usually sees only in books or documentaries was remarkable.

Patti and Joel had been looking forward to the wild life viewing but when their trip was over, they were equally pleased with the wonderful cultural experiences and gaining an understanding of local lifestyles.

“We had no idea what to expect,” says Joel. “We’d ride by these little communities and see small rock abodes with thatched roofs, home to families living a primitive lifestyle where their water source could be six miles away. It reminded us of lands like Nepal. In both places, people were so warm and friendly, especially the kids who’d come running to greet us when they heard our motorcycles approaching.”

Topping their experiences was the optional van trip out of Zimbabwe’s Victoria Falls to visit families in their native environment. Over and above the humble homes they were welcomed into, they visited a school, and health clinic. They even got to visit an agricultural experimental station where locals are taught horticultural techniques. But it was the retired professor and dental consultant that came away with the richest educational experience.

“The school brings tears to your eyes,” says Joel. “They’re desperate for classroom resources. One or two teachers manage the school in a rural area with low employment where most families live on the crops and animals they raise. It was eye-opening to see how basic and primitive their lifestyle was, and to realize they are doing what they can do.”

A single nurse at the health clinic, the only medical facility within 100 miles, does what she can to deal with routine illnesses, pregnancies, deliveries, and AIDS.

“It’s always very grounding to experience those kinds of situations,” Joel and Patti concur. “We’ve been exposed to that in our travels throughout our married life, including in Indian Health Services in the western U.S. It brings you back to reality and makes you realize how privileged most of us are to enjoy the lifestyles we do.”

“By the time the trip was over,” says Joel, “I felt comfortable planning a trip on my own. It was safer than downtown Denver. Even so, we’ll probably take another trip with Rene and schedule time on our own afterward. It’s an ideal way to experience the heart of the country.”

Photo credits: Joel and Patti Meier