Some years ago a former roommate of mine went to Chile for several months to join her father, who was on sabbatical from his university teaching position. Commenting on the time she spent there, she said: “You could always tell who the Americans were because, without fail, they were the ones wearing Tevas.” Her observation has always stuck with me, becoming even more noticeable in my life lately as I go about with the packing preparations for our trip.
There is one thing I have learned and that is not to dress uncomfortably, in styles which hurt: Winklepicker shoes that cripple your feet and tight pants that squash your balls.
We face both size and weight luggage restrictions on our bush plane flight from Johannesburg to Elephant Plains; which, in essence, means that we can only pack for the whole trip what we are allowed to take for the Elephant Plains leg. We’ve also been told to pack at least one day’s clothing in our carry-on, if not several, because of Johannesburg’s notorious habit of losing checked luggage. Then there’s the variable African weather – hot days and potentially cold nights, with the temperature swinging up to forty degrees Farenheit or more in-between, and rain possible. That, along with spending our days at Antelope Park chopping, cutting, mending, rending, and generally trying to avoid being used as scratching posts by the lions there, necessitates clothing choices that maximize several things.
They need to be lightweight so they can be easily packed into small spaces. They need to be able to dry out quickly when wet, or otherwise evaporate sweat quickly. They need to offer some UPF protection from the sun. And because of the weather swings, as well as the need for full length protection in the mornings and evenings from mosquitos and other insects, they need to be able to quickly convert from long to short; which also ties in with the need to maximize what little packing room we have to begin with. Neutral/natural colors, so as not to agitate the lions. No camouflage patterns, so as not to agitate the government.
Given all that, I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve purchased several pairs of REI-style bland, highly functional, outdoor “tech” pants (actually, they’re made by Columbia), whose legs zip off to easily become shorts. Why am I embarrassed? Because, generally, I’m a black t-shirt and black pants kinda guy; someone who takes pleasure mocking the fleece vest, socks-in-Teva-sandals wearing, “just look at how many zippered pockets these pants have!” REI crowd. Embarrassed because every picture that will be taken of me and the lions will also include said zip-off pants. Embarrassed because I have been forced into zip-off pants by circumstance and not by choice (at least, that’s what I keep consoling myself with). Embarrassed because wherever I go in Africa people are going to, rightly, laugh and comment: “You can always tell who the Americans are because they’re the ones wearing those ridiculous outdoor tech zip-off pants!”
But, what can I do? Not a lot (at least, that’s what I keep consoling myself with). However, upon my return (assuming we don’t get eaten by lions) I plan on burning the zip-off pants in the garden out back and enjoying the experience – mightily. And what have I learned from this? To not mock others by their clothing choices. At least, to not mock them while I’m in possession of similar clothing.