Chuck and Pat Radtke are the kind of people who will never stop learning through their travels.
“We like to travel, not just to see sights, but to explore different cultures,” says Chuck, “and meet people from all over the world.” And that is exactly what he and his wife, Pat, have been doing for years. They have journeyed through Central and South America, the Galapagos Islands, New Zealand, much of Europe and all of North America. The latest stamps in their passports bear the exotic names of African nations: Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa. Lasting more than a month in duration, their visit to Africa last fall was the trip of a lifetime, a journey that took them from sleeping in tents in the wilderness to the vineyards, posh restaurants and elegant lodgings of Cape Town in South Africa. Along the way, as they do on every journey, they learned about the world and its people-and themselves.
That fondness for learning seems appropriate, considering that both, now retired, spent their careers encouraging others to pursue knowledge. Chuck was assistant superintendant for the School District of Rhinelander and principal at James Williams Middle School, while Pat served as an assistant director of a federal program that encourages kids to pursue higher education.
In their Three Lakes home, they recently shared the highlights of their African adventure. “I thought about Africa for a long time,” Pat says, “but thought it was out of our budget.” After some research, she and Chuck realized that traveling Africa on an “overland safari” was surprisingly within reach. Overland trips are generally operated by smaller companies, too small to market to American travel agents. Consequently, the Radtkes encountered few Americans on their African journey. Pat notes that she and Chuck tend to travel “unconventionally”-that is, avoiding group tours with luxury accommodations-which proves to be easier on their travel budget as well as allowing for a more personal experience. Planning a trip, which they admit they enjoy as much as traveling itself, provides a great opportunity for learning. Both enjoy studying about the places they’ll be visiting, and they like to plan their own itineraries.
Chuck and Pat chose October as their African departure date specifically because they knew there would be less rain, temperatures wouldn’t be as hot as at other times of the year and mosquitoes wouldn’t be a problem. They also knew animals would be easier to spot because at that time of year, it’s spring in the southern hemisphere and foliage in southern Africa isn’t as lush as it is in the summer. The overland package the Radtkes chose offered a 20-day excursion that began in Zambia and continued on through Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia, and ended in Cape Town, South Africa.
Bearing an impressively minimal amount of baggage (as veteran travelers, they are also expert packers), the couple flew to Johannesburg, South Africa, and then traveled to Zimbabwe, where they met the guide who would lead them on their camping trip.
And what a trip it was. Rather than flying from one point to another, the Radtkes and the small group of which they were a part saw Africa up close, traveling in a large, specially equipped truck and camping at night. By traveling this way, “We met people we wouldn’t have met otherwise,” says Chuck, who felt that traveling overland really let them experience the people, sights, smells and sounds that only a road trip can provide. The group of travelers helped each other set up their tents, pitched in to do chores, dined together every day and had many opportunities to discuss world concerns. The group members formed a close bond, and the Radtkes plan to meet up with several of these traveling companions on an upcoming family reunion in Germany that Pat is planning.
With their new friends, Chuck and Pat saw many places and sights they’ll never forget as they rolled across southern Africa, among them Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe; the Okavango Delta, Chobe National Park and the Great Salt Pans of Namibia. Also in Namibia, they saw members of the Himba tribe, beautiful people who cover their hair and bodies in ochre and manage with virtually no water in their diet and hygiene.
In the Okavango Delta, the largest inland delta in the world and probably the most expensive place to visit in all Africa, the group were guests of the Batwanans, who used mokoros, dugout canoes, to transport tham to islands and act as guides and cooks, a whole village endeavor.
“Rather than paying exorbitant prices for a lodge in the delta owned by outsiders, we actually established relationships with the native population and contributed directly to their economy,’ says Chuck, who found himself dancing with the locals during the group’s three-day stay.
Group members soon learned that even though the residents live on the water, most don’t know how to swim, and neither did Rimson, the Zimbabwean cook who accompanied the Radtkes and their companions on their journey through Africa. The travelers decided that Chuck, a former competitive swimmer, should teach Rimson how to swim during the hot afternoons in the delta. As he did so, local residents who were watching soon began asking if Chuck would also teach them. Chuck, Pat and their fellow travelers found the Africans’ joy in learning to swim and their gratitude very touching.
When the camping portion of the trip ended in Cape Town, South Africa, Pat and Chuck stayed for an additional eight days and explored the city at the bottom of the world on their own. There, instead of camping in tents, they stayed at lavish yet reasonably priced bed and breakfasts, where they met people from all over the globe. With its beaches, mountains, wineries and wildlife, South Africa was as scenic and fascinating as the other places they had seen. But, says Pat, “It was totally different. Luxurious, inexpensive by our standards.”
Africa, Pat says, is “a continent of extremes.” Africans note that political corruption is widespread and the continent’s biggest problem. In Cape Town and in other places they visited, the Radtkes saw fine hotels and homes juxtaposed with shantytowns, illustrations of the stark contrasts between those who have much and those who have nothing.
Still, the Radtkes’ pleasure in having explored such a fascinating part of the world is undimmed, and for those considering visiting this vast continent themselves, Chuck has simple advice: “Do your homework.”
“Push your comfort zone,” Pat adds, and both agree that traveling light is the way to go.
No matter how extensive one’s education is, nothing compares to actual travel for learning about the world and one’s self.
“It just sort of humbles you to realize how large this world is and how diverse,” Pat says. Traveling, she explains, reminds her of how much she has at home. Northern Wisconsin, she says, “is just comfortable. I always come back appreciating more what I have here and realizing we could all get by with much less.”