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Post-pandemic plans

Flash back, dream forward

By CECILIA LICAUCO, The Philippine STAR Published Apr 11, 2021 5:00 am

There has not been a day in this year of COVID exile that I don’t think of flying out, away from this “senior” prison defined by this treacherous disease.

Japan, France, Italy are countries I miss so much. I devour any Netflix movie or YouTube video about them — no matter how shallow and touristic.

I miss the frenzied food stalls in the basements of Tokyo department stores, the steamy onsens of Oita, the moss-covered forest paths of Nakasendo.

I miss Paris in the spring, when I can see stems sprout leaves overnight and buds turn to flowers each day that I pass by. I miss the Paris Metro, no matter how much the stench of pisse (in French, means exactly the same in English) assaults the nostrils. I miss the sound of the French speaking French.

In Rome, I miss the cafe latte (no equal anywhere) and Rosetta bread, the seagulls joining us for breakfast and the cobblestones, whose crevices are laced with lipstick-smudged cigarette butts no dental floss can remove.

 Paris is a well-coiffed beauty, a head turner at every corner. In the spring, especially, she wears her flowers like jewelry.
 The Église Saint Germain de Prés, Paris, founded in the 6th century, was restored in 2012. The rich colors of this beautiful gothic church have reappeared under many years of soot.

There are even more daydreamable places I would love to revisit — and they are all in Africa. One visit to Morocco does not seem enough. While Marrakech and Fez dazzle with colors of spices and hypnotic sounds of snake charmers, we were told that the 15th century fortress town, Chefchaouen, with its blue houses on the Rif mountains is worth a visit.

If our knees will allow us and a good tour guide will lead us, the Sahara Desert of Lawrence of Arabia fame is part of the list. There are more souks to visit, alleys to explore, soothing skin potions and balms to try, carpets to choose and ship home.

 A view of Fez, the oldest of Morocco’s imperial cities. Leather tanneries put their dyes in large vats. Carpet shops have floor-to-ceiling displays — a feast for the eyes and a happy threat to one’s credit card.

Botswana is magic. It is a natural wonderland for the adventure-seeker. It is always an exciting ride on a Land Cruiser, driven by skilled drivers through swamps and roadless roads.

Maybe the next time, I will be brave enough to sleep on a cot under starlit skies on the endless Makgadikgadi Pans (ah, and to walk a few meters away in the dark night to go to the loo — alone!) and experience dawn in its purity.

Varied rock landscapes (55 million years old) are a graphic, humbling reminder that these have been there before us and will still be there when we are gone.

Photos and words are not enough to describe the joy of seeing wild animals gathered peacefully around a watering hole and the adrenaline-producing anticipation and thrill of a kill. After a day’s search for hippos and hyenas, it feels good to enjoy the comfort of tented camps and sunset cocktails by a campfire.

  Beautiful Botswana at sunset

A future wish would be to see Rwanda and visit the gorillas, but we hear it is a long jungle trek. We have aged and lost a year (and still counting) to COVID, so this could remain just a wish and a dream.

 The Hoanib Valley Camp in Namibia counts Prince William as one of their guests.

Namibia, too, just because it is so beautiful, because it is as old as time — just because. Cloudless blue skies rest on a 360-degree horizon of the Namib Desert, continuously shifting with the wind.

Zipping on quad bikes through magnificent dunes is an experience worth repeating. The sun setting and the moon rising across the same panoramic screen. Varied rock landscapes (55 million years old) — shaped by ever-present coastal fog, often-absent rivers, ragged, untouched by humans — are a graphic, humbling reminder that these have been there before us and will still be there when we are gone.

 Namibia’s rugged terrain. It has been here before us and will still be here long after we are gone.

Etosha National Park and the area where the 60-ton Hoba meteorite fell are other places to visit in Namibia, but there are more.

And, after an unforgettable African adventure, Capetown is a welcome site for some R&R (Retail & Restaurants). One can stay in wonderful hotels and eat great meals much more reasonably than in Europe.

Shopping for local products is a treat: ostrich, alligator, snakeskin bags and wallets, art pieces that make one’s mouth water (how do we ship to Manila?), crafts and wovenware so sophisticated.

A repeat of Capetown is always a pleasure. There are so many restaurants and cuisines to try, so little time.

Travel creates the sweetest memories, but these need to be revived soon, with even more experiences, before they fade from this already very senior brain.