Full Immersion, No Contact: What It’s Like Without a Computer for Three Weeks
When I got up this morning in Antanavario, Madagascar at 3 am (I admit, I had to go to bed at 6:30 last night I was so tired) it was almost an alien experience to turn my Chromebook on. Not only that, the experience of actually flipping a switch and having electricity, rather than stumbling around a sandy campsite with my headlamp spearing the darkness was a near-miracle.
Not only that, the almost sinful joy of being able to take a shower, a real shower, with hot water, as opposed to using the warm, slightly dirty channel water that we’d had to hike in using big yellow water containers. The spigots had broken, nothing worked. The local manager had walked off the job at our site, and we were on our own. Showers consisted of soaping down, and using a blue plastic cup to douse ourselves. The soap got sand in it as well.
I loved every single minute of it.
Yesterday afternoon I pulled some wet wipes out of my backpack and gave them a shot, which resulted in an embarrassing amount of grime being swiped off my person (that I had thought was relatively clean, given the number of soapings I’d been doing). I was filthy.
And happy, frankly.
I got to Africa, landing in Dar es Salaam some weeks ago. Promptly joined a team and hiked to the top of Mt. Kenya (more on this later), which was wicked damned hard, much harder than Kilimanjaro, which I had done at sixty five years ago. This is one tough mountain, and I was exhausted. I then flew to Madagascar, where I was to go horseback riding.
In between, I landed in a decent little hotel in Nairobi, where I struggled for hours to get on line. I did, only long enough to be reminded that America is buried in the throes of holiday season, which seemed a million miles away.
It was, blessedly. I boarded a plane at 5 am and forgot about it again. The incessant, blaring noise of social media promptly receded into the background.
For the last week, it’s been in the high eighties, low nineties. Dense humidity. My guide’s operation drove us eight long hours (everything is remote here) to this tiny seaside village where we set up camp. We’ve ridden four hours each day, then returned with plenty of time to just sit.
In the now-defunct comic strip Pogo, which I grew up with in Florida in my youth, the main character, a lovable possum, declares at one point,
Sometimes I sits and thinks.
Sometimes I just sits.
The village where we were situated ran out of fruit. I have no idea how a tropical village does that, but they did. Each day that passed we ran out of something else, something else broke down, some other convenience (what we usually consider a necessity) went by the wayside.
You just learn to deal with it. The poor do this every single day. In the West, most of us have absolutely no clue what this is like. It’s a superb lesson in patience, humility, and grace.
We had power- sort of. Tiny iPad-sized photovoltaic cells set in the blazing sun on a chair all day. That powered my guide’s phone and my Kindle. Most of the time, however, I just sat.
As I sat, the Malagasy villagers would walk by in the intense sun, often staring at the only white person for miles, and we would wave and holler “Bonjour!” at each other. Kids especially. People love an anomaly.
Off the eastern coast the ocean pounded in, bands of turquoise and green hammering the hot sand. Villagers brought their cows to graze. Two local dogs- nameless and skinny- adopted me for my time there. One so much so that she took to sleeping next to my head at night to protect her investment (after all, she got my leftovers). I sat for hours, contemplating the sea from the shade of our thatched roof, struggling to recall my high school French so that I could talk to our cook, Cici. She gave me a flea or two (the dog, not the cook). Small price to pay for so much affection and gratitude.
No Internet. No social media. Nada. My god, it was heavenly.
We took to riding at 5:30 am, largely because I was willing, the staff loved the early hours, and by 6 am the sun was already so hot that the horses were in a lather. We had the best part of the day, breathed in the lanquid, liquid perfumes of tropical flowers, and let the drewdrops from the forest wet our shirts.
No Internet. No social media.
It wasn’t just the foaming surf that was so lovely, the warm sand, the friendly people. It was the silence. Without the invasive blare of buy this!!! Buy THAT! Black Friday this that and other,I could simply remember what it’s like to be in the moment. Time stretched out like salt water taffy.
This morning, my two big bags of adventure gear have been disgorged onto the dining room floor of the very nice apartment in the capital city. Today Jean, my guide, will drive me to the airport. I have seven hours before beginning the exhausting trip home, back to snow, cold, and the endless thrum of Christmas music and exhortations to take advantage of this or that holiday deal.
A part of me wants to revolt. As much as I enjoy being in the West, another part of me treasures the blessed peace of long, quiet days by the ocean with little more to do than feed and pet a dog that has only known starvation and a kick. If I could, I’d have brought her home. It was very hard to leave her. Just as it’s increasingly hard to find places in the world where you can just sit.
Sometimes I sits and thinks.
Sometimes I just sits.
Increasingly, each generation after me has little experience of what this feels like. The gift of intense quiet. The ability to turn everything off, and be inside the halls of your own mind, hold in your hands the raw emotions and quicksilver thoughts that appear unbidden like so many phantoms. It’s a unique universe, one worth exploring. One reason I travel like this is to remind myself of that very universe. To stand atop a magnificent mountain, share the company of excellent people from all over the world, touch places inside me that I didn’t know existed.
Then just sit. And consider. Stripped of a hundred hundred largely unnecessary “conveniences,” learn to live simply, beautifully, and in the moment.
Three weeks without a computer. By any measure, that’s what I call paradise.