This voyage feels like I’m flying through the pages of the National Geographic Atlas. I love it.
Every other day we move many inches across the map, jetting away from one intricate landscape of the Earth, soaring high overhead, taking in the scenes of mountains and rivers and sea below and then coming back down to another page of planet Earth.
I realize that we are not simply traveling around the world by private jet—we are exploring the world from the air. Every amazing stop along the way may be highlights of this expedition, but it’s the way we connect the dots that contributes to the stupendous travel experience that this is.
As we fly around the world, our pilot identifies the features below us. Already in the past week, I have witnessed the summit of Mount Everest, I have seen Burma’s Irrawaddy River and as we left India, I caught the bright blue Arabian Sea below us, bluer than any color ever printed on a map.
To experience the globe firsthand, by air, is a true personal highlight of this trip. Now I can never see a map of Somalia and not remember how we flew along the coastline, so that I could identify that shore below as a country I knew only by name and reputation. Now I have a personal memory in my mind.
As we began our descent into Tanzania, I witnessed the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, poking up through the fluffy white haze as if giving all of us a private showing of this, the highest mountain in Africa. Standing at 19,341 ft. (5,895 m.), the cratered promontory of Kilimanjaro stood out from among the horizon of cotton ball clouds and I felt a happy surge in my chest, as if being introduced to a celebrity crush.
Kilimanjaro looked so close I felt as if I could touch it from my airplane window. Our obliging pilot took us around the peak in big swooping circles, then past Mount Meru (14,977 ft.; 4,565 m.)—another impressive Tanzanian volcano at the edge of Africa’s Great Rift Valley.
My geography lesson on Africa continued in a bush plane, as we flew from Arush towards the faded khaki grasslands of the Serengeti, where we flew over some astonishing volcanic landscapes. Almost cartoonish with its shapely grey cone and smoky rim, Ol Doinyo Langai (“Mountain of God” in Maasai) is the world’s only active natrocarbonite volcano. As with every one of the amazing places we are visiting on this trip, National Geographic covered the volcano in the magazine, calling it the strangest volcano on Earth.
As strange and rare as it may be, I have already grown accustomed to sighting such unique geographical phenomenon on this expedition.
This is why we are here — to experience the world, one map at a time, and to connect all the dots, one destination at a time, so that in the end, the world is no longer strange, but familiar.