Thomas Jefferson

High School | Home of the Spartans

76 Days

Posted 12/08/2023 by Magnolia McLain

I used the app “been” to track my epic travels across Africa and the Middle East this summer. photo by Magnolia McLain

Over the summer, I spent 76 days in 10 different countries with my parents and my three siblings.

This summer, my parents took me and my siblings on the greatest trip of our lives. The trip lasted 76 days, the local currency changed nine  times, I took 11 flights, drove over 5,000 miles, swam in five different oceans and seas, took six boat rides, and rode on one overnight train.

We started in Morocco, which was one of my favorite places because the landscape was so diverse and we experienced many different things all in one country. We were on the coast, in the desert, and in the mountains, and all of it was stunning. My favorite city there, Chefchaouen, is nicknamed “the blue pearl of Morocco” because of the blue tint on the majority of the houses. Chefchaouen was a small city, but remarkably, there was not a time I looked around outside and did not see a cat. Sometimes, rather large litters of kittens were resting near buildings. This trip was the first time a cat had ever begged me for food and within minutes of sitting down at an outside restaurant, it became a problem how many cats surrounded us. We also spent a few days in Morocco’s Sahara Desert where we had one of our most memorable experiences of the whole trip. We went on a camel ride into the desert and found ourselves in the middle of a sandstorm. None of us were very concerned until the camels started slipping and our guide started yelling at the handlers to go back. In that moment, I was slightly worried and we were all in pain from the sand pelting at us. We agreed that it felt like shards of glass but also agreed that the sandstorm made the camel ride so much more memorable than it would have been otherwise. We then shook sand out of our hair for the next several days. Morocco is such a beautiful country and it was an amazing way to start the trip.

We flew out of Marrakech to New Cairo in Egypt where we stayed at the nicest hotel of the whole trip. Our entire experience in Egypt was sightseeing and I got to explore things I thought were off-limits to tourists. For instance, my family went through a tunnel underground and back up into the corridors of one of the Great Pyramids of Giza. We stood in the room in the center of the pyramid; a small square room with a sand floor and replica sarcophagus, which was a lot emptier than I was expecting. On the same day, we saw the Great Sphinx which had been recently covered up to the neck in sand. We saw so many temples and monuments in Egypt but my favorite thing we saw was the Valley of the Kings. The Valley of the Kings is made up of  several mountainsides and hills filled with once-hidden trails to the burials of late Egyptian kings. We were able to walk through some of the passages and see the stories of their lives displayed in pictures and their carved and painted tombs and sarcophagi. We got to go into the tomb of King Tutenkhamen and view his mummified body dating back to 1323 B.C. While Egypt was mostly wonderful, the worst part was the average 104 degree days.

After we left Egypt, we went to Jordan, which is a beautiful country in the Middle East. The best parts of Jordan were Petra and the Red Sea. Petra is a city made up entirely of buildings carved into the natural stone, built in the third century BC by the Nabataeans. The rooms were hollowed out and pillars were carved around the entry ways along with elaborate architectural designs. While we were in the city of Petra, we hiked to a montessori on the top of a mountain where we ate lunch and were surrounded by more kittens. The Red Sea is where we got to snorkel around a sunken ship and were able to see scuba divers inside.

We then drove to Tel Aviv, Israel, where we spent our first day at the beach. It was quite crowded with pairs of people playing a game with two paddles and a rubber ball. We spent the rest of our time in Israel visiting churches and religious monuments. We went to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem where Jesus is said to have been born and walked the stages of the cross. We also saw a replica of the Upper Room where the last supper would have taken place. We went to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre where Jesus was crucified, his body anointed, and placed in his tomb. There was a line to touch the rock on which Jesus was crucified and anointed and then a substantial line to enter the room where the tomb of Jesus is held. Visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was such a significant experience because I was able to associate the stories I have been told and have read about throughout my life with a physical place that I have now been to. During our time in Israel, we visited a Palestinian territory surrounded by a concrete wall. The particular community we were in is considered the most tear-gassed place in the world. We walked through it and talked with community members as well as looked at the protest artwork and graffiti covering the wall. Israel was such an amazing place and my heart goes out to everyone in Israel and Palestine affected by war.

After our time spent in Israel, we flew to Kenya and stayed in Nairobi where we worked with the hotel staff to recover our bags which were lost on the way there. We got them back the next day, but they were mostly damp from being left in the rain at some point during their journey to Nairobi. Kenya is where we met up with our tour group and got settled into our overland truck. For roughly the next month, we drove almost 2,500 miles from Kenya to South Africa and stayed in Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Malawi, camping the whole time. We woke up at about 5:30 am on average while riding the overland truck. We would then take down our tents, eat and clean up breakfast, pack lunch, and drive to our next campsite. Our longest drives were around 10 to 11 hours, which made waking up so early necessary. On one day in particular, we were stuck at the Zambia border for over five hours because of the status of one of our fellow traveler’s passports. The longest we stayed in any one campsite was two nights and the highlights of this part of our trip were the six game drives we went on. A game drive is just a safari, which we took through various national parks, deserts, and craters. On game drives, we saw all sorts of animals, from giraffes and zebras to warthogs and hyenas, but I most enjoyed watching elephants and lions (especially the calves and cubs). One particular night in the Serengeti, we could hear lions roaring while we were trying to sleep and the following morning an almost four-foot tall bird followed me to breakfast. Though it was rather timid, I was still a bit scared by the giant bird approaching me.

Another aspect of our overland trek that made the trip so memorable for me was the people we met along the way. On a beach in Tanzania, my siblings and I taught a group of around 15 children how to chicken fight by getting on each other’s shoulders and trying to knock down another pair. In Malawi, we walked through the village and when our guide wasn’t talking to us about the community, we spoke with young native people about our lives and they answered our questions about growing up in Malawi. The woman I spoke to, Jenny, was 19 and told me about her experience with malaria as a kid and its prevalence in their community. As we made our way through the community, children would come up to us and walk with us. The children were especially interested in holding my sister’s hand and wearing our hair ties on their wrists. After our tour guide led us back to our campsite, Jenny taught me how to play the Malwai Bao game, which is similar to mancala.  One man, who told my mom his name was Mr. Flavor, carved us wooden paddles to play the game we had seen in Tel Aviv. The community we met in Malawi was so kind and I still think about them frequently. 

After all of our time camping, visiting small communities, and taking safaris, we ended our trip by flying to South Africa. We stayed in Johannesburg, which for the most part, felt very similar to being in Denver. We had a calm last couple of days and then we flew back to the U.S. We took a fifteen-hour flight to New York, had a three-hour layover, and then got on a five-hour flight to Denver. Immediately after we got home, it felt strange to stay in the same place after switching campsites and hotels after a couple nights for over two months.

This trip was the most impactful experience of my life. I loved spending every day with my family especially before my two oldest siblings left for/returned to college and as much as being away from everyone except for the five of them was difficult, there is nothing I would change if I got the chance to do it again. I am so thankful that I got to start traveling so early in my life and for gaining such valuable experiences. I truly miss the time I was able to spend with my family this summer.