With eight vaccination shots in my ass and a Lonely Planet book of East Africa in my hand, I boarded a flight for Kilimanjaro Airport in Arusha.
Day 2 of the journey brought me face to face with a lone male buffalo in the brush of a national forest. Lesson 1: If you meet a buffalo in the woods while your pants are dropped around your ankles, lie down and play dead. It's much less likely that you'll be impaled.
On day 4, I hiked 20 hours to meet a woman who poured me a brew of valarian root and quinine for my back injury. Along the way, I passed a grass hut flooded by screams of a girl who was undergoing a ceremonial initiation. Lesson 2: what some people call ceremonial initiation, others call genital mutilation.
Day 7, in the Serengeti, I watched a lion destroy my tent. Fortunately, I was not inside. Lesson 3: do not leave food in your tent, even if it's just a lemon.
Day 10 took me to the base of a mountain that the local villagers never climbed because they thought the smoke coming from the top was evidence that gods lived there. We climbed it, poli poli (translation: slowly, slowly), slipping on skree near the top. At its highest point, the surface flattened and crumbled when we walked across it, almost like the crusty top of a brownie when broken in half. Lesson 4: smoke might not be evidence of gods, but it could indicate an active volcano.
Our vehicle was stuck on day 12 trying to cross a flooded road, so we set up camp. At night, Hippos swarmed our tents. Lesson 5: make sure neighboring tents touch so that the formation looks like one large structure. Wild animals are less likely to attack a big structure than a small one.
The highlight of day 13 was ducking poisoned arrows. Lesson 6: don't travel past villagers who've had their cattle stolen by a rival village. If caught by a surprise attack, hit the decks because negotiation is not an option. (See lesson one)
On day 30, I stepped on a sea urchin off the island of Zanzibar, making walking impossible and pain unbearable. Lesson 7: sea urchin spikes are poisonous. Do not, I repeat, do not try to cut them out of your foot. Instead, cut a baby papaya and rub the juice over the wound. You'll be walking in no time.