Having been to Africa in the past I was prepared for what I was about to experience, but only to a point. I was and am a maritime captain and had the experience of delivering a 120-foot crew boat with a five-person crew from Kuwait to Nigeria back in 2008, stopping in the ports of Egypt, Guinea and Lagos, Nigeria. What you discover is all the countries and people of Africa are similar, but each place has its own “flavor,” and such was the case with our Viridian journey. You can’t explain Africa; you have to experience it and its people to fully understand. So the best I can do is try to share my highlights.
Getting there was half the adventure. After a five-hour flight to London, I toured the city on foot with Henri Aymonier and Scott the video guy, had high tea with Sabrina Allard and Jenna Marzullo (which is a little against my nature as an Italian guy from New Jersey), then spent another eight hours in the air to Nairobi. Upon landing we thought, “Is this really an airport?”
We flew another eight hours to Ghana, then rode a bus for three more hours. It was interesting to watch everyone's eyes as they took in the streets of Ghana and realized this isn't Mayberry, USA, but rather a giant peddler’s village. We arrived late in the day, swam in the Atlantic Ocean at the resort, had dinner and drinks with the team and then talked late into the night.
After a quick sleep, we were back on the bus early in the morning and headed off for a five-hour drive to our first stop, entertained en route by our own Johnny LoPresto.
The long drive allowed us time to wonder about what we were seeing. For example, is there actually a finished building anywhere in the country? They all seem to have been started, then abandoned. And what are those giant “rats” they’re selling on the side of the road?
En route we saw a school with about hundred kids playing with a rag soccer ball. We stopped and got out, and Johnny Lo threw a brand new soccer ball to the kids. Instead of fighting over it they stood on the side of the road cheering for us and thanking us. Even the “tough guys” among us had tears in their eyes. And so it began; we started to feel the heart of the people of Africa.
Some random observations:
Who’s the biggest white guy in Ghana? Mike Fallquist took a while to notice, but the little kids were staring at him before they figured it out: “That big guy must be their leader … or their god!”
Mike, Peter Walker and I were in a back room of the library that the team had put together, sweating gallons in the 90-degree heat but laughing and have a blast putting together books for the kids. We know these may be the first books some of these kids will ever read.
Plastic bottles are not garbage here; they are a treasure to the kids to put water from the well in. There’s a lot we Americans take for granted, yet they appreciated so much of what we did that the whole village turned out for a ceremony honoring us. We were only there for a day and a half, but our team accomplished so much in such a short amount of time. It hit us on the last night that all the travel to get here was worth it, as we have changed some lives forever!
We flew back to Nairobi for the safari part of our trip. One of the many highlights was during one of our game drives. In the truck were me, Bob and Pennie Quintana, Henri, Ben the video kid and Brandon our driver, and we were on our way back from the rhino reserve after an awesome day seeing the sights.
We’d seen mountains endless open plains, and more animals than we could imagine. On the way back Ben stopped to interview Bob and Pennie for a video, and we fell behind the other trucks. The sun was starting to set as we again hit the road, and not more than an eighth of a mile from where we were, we came around a bend and there was a full-grown cheetah in the middle of the road; Cool!
What happened next was even cooler, as the cheetah didn’t know which way to go, so he hunched down and started growling at us. He was only about 25 feet away, and we were in an open truck. He made his move and went over a berm into a ditch on the side of the road. In seconds our driver turned into a side road so we could get video of the cat running away down the ditch on the side of the road. Ben had his video camera hanging out the passenger window, and the rest of us were hanging out the side of the truck to try to take a shot at getting a picture. We all stared down the ditch, but there was no cheetah. Then, all of a sudden, Pennie dug her nails into my arm, and Bob, Henri and I let out a couple of colorful adjectives as we looked down: There was the cat crouched right below Ben's camera!
Ben fell back into the truck as he realized the cat was right below him; the cheetah was mixed up, and in the next couple seconds he was either coming through and over the truck or turning and running the other way. Luckily for us he decided to run. After checking our shorts and removing Pennie’s nails from my arm, we were laughing thinking that that was the most awesome thing we had ever seen, until we turned to Brandon, our 30-year veteran driver, and realized he was shaken. In three decades, that's the closest he’d ever been to having a big cat in the truck. Of course we Americans still thought it was cool; after all, we’re from New Jersey.
In all, it was a life-changing adventure. The new goal in the Masiero family is bring my wife Debbie, along with our sons and their wives, back to this wild and awesome place. As I said earlier you can’t explain Africa: you have to experience Africa!
My name is Mike Masiero, and I am Generation V.