'Unbelievable' doesn't have enough synonyms for Juanita Vetter to adequately describe her recent trip to Africa. She was one of 11 Navan area women, most of them in their 70s, who recently returned from a 25-day trip to Tanzania and Zanzibar.
The "trip of a lifetime" began with a conversation between Vetter and fellow Navan resident Everlily Moulding as they walked with their local walking group, the Navan Walkers.
|The Navan group travel on safari in an open vehicle in Tanzania where they saw a number of animals in their natural setting including elephants
Vetter, who this year was inducted onto the Navan Community Builders Wall, shared with Moulding her bucket-list goal of touring the Canadian Arctic on an icebreaker. In turn, Moulding wanted to show Vetter her native Tanzania. Before long the women agreed to travel together to both the Arctic and Tanzania.
As word of the trip spread, other walkers as well as members of Navan's Nifty 50+ Club and the local curling club signed on. By last February they had pinned down an itinerary and began making reservations.
"We were open to anything," Vetter laughs, adding that the group of mostly grandmothers were in "pretty good shape" from their walking and curling.
From the first location they visited, a working farm and lodge in the shadow of Mt. Kilimanjaro, to their final days in the bustling city of Dar es Salaam, their days were jammed packed with new sights and experiences
"We had to come home to get a rest," Vetter laughs, adding they often got up at 5 a.m. and fit in two or three activities a day. Moulding’s connections and knowledge of Africa allowed the group to see more and gain a deeper understanding of the country and its people.
A major highlight of their extensive trip was a five-day guided safari that covered four major national parks, including the Serengeti in Northern Tanzania. That experience almost leaves Vetter speechless as she tries to convey the magnificence and multitude of the animals they saw and how close they were able to get to them.
"You can't believe you are actually seeing them," she says. She describes scenes, such as watching leopards in the trees, feeding their offspring from the carcass of an animal they had just killed.
A personal highlight was making a real "connection" with Stanley Livingston, the Scottish missionary, African explorer and abolitionist. Vetter had known for 50 years that he was a cousin of her Scottish grandmother. But coming upon a stained glass window dedicated to him in a church built on the site of a former slave market, as well as a display about his life at the National Museum, were highly moving experiences.
The group did not travel to Tanzania empty-handed. A fund started with $300 from The Nifty 50+ Club grew to $3,300 with the help of other community groups, local churches, as well as donations from many of the group's grandchildren. Moulding has extended her stay in Tanzania and will use the money to fill urgent needs in her father’s extremely poor native village in Northern Tanzania. On her return, she will make a presentation on the fund's impact.
The most difficult aspect of the trip was simply getting there and back, Vetter says. They saved considerable money by booking early, but the grounding of Boeing 737 MAX aircraft a month later caused cancellations and chaos to their best-laid plans.
Next is to plan the trip to the Arctic.
story was made possible thanks to the generous support of
our local business partners.)