26 days, 23 hours, 58 minutes and 36 seconds until AFRICA! (or maybe not – we’ll see)

Well, it’s been quite a crazy few weeks. I spent an entire weekend a while ago dusting off my old travel blog from our RTW trip so I could do our upcoming Africa trip justice with a blog. I had good intentions of hauling out my old notebooks and photos and finishing off some backdated blogging that never got done so I’d be all caught up prior to this trip. Then life kinda fell apart and I haven’t had a chance!

At this point, we’re not even sure we are going to be on that plane to Cape Town. Sure, all the planning is done. FIVE weeks of vacation approved with two reluctant bosses, plane tickets purchased, new camera gear bought and tested, clothes purchased, itinerary nailed down, car rented, tours booked, immunizations updated, and $20,000 or so worth of deposits paid to various hotels, safari companies, etc. There are a few details remaining, but, for the most part the planning is in the bag! However we have had a few teeny hurdles…

Hurdle number one is an insurance problem. AFTER putting an initial deposit down on the tour and purchasing non-refundable plane tickets, I did the sensible thing and called to purchase trip insurance. It was early January and I had made a large deposit already, but there were still more to come. I asked the guy how that worked and if I should just estimate how much my deposits might eventually total because I hadn’t finished planning yet. I had a rough idea of cost, but not definite yet. He said – no problem – here’s what you do: buy only what you need now, and call back later and increase the amount as you add more deposits. Brilliant idea, I thought – only purchase the insurance you need! Sweet! So I did precisely as he had suggested. Grant’s back had been stable since his two major surgeries a year prior, so we were in the clear for the 90 day pre-existing condition clause.

Then Grant a) hurt his back again at work and b) discovered a hernia. After many anxious specialist appointments, WCB claims,  and weeks of waiting his back recovered (somewhat) and we (miraculously and after begging to get him into an out of town hospital) FINALLY had a hernia surgery scheduled for May 15. This was a giant relief because the average wait time in Calgary was 6-9 months. I had seriously considered paying $15,000 to fly him to Vancouver for a private operation. But a May 15th date would give him enough time for him to recover and still (hopefully) be able to sit comfortably.

May 1, however, was the final date to make another deposit on the tour. I made another $9,000 payment online and called the insurance company to up the amount. Problem. Grant’s NEW back issue AND the hernia would be considered pre-existing conditions if we effectively changed the date of insurance by upping the amount. Not cool – the two most likely things to keep us home and we would not be insured for those issues. We decided that we would keep the $16,000 of insurance that we DID have and leave the $9,000 uninsured. After all, we had until May 20 to cancel the tour and get 75% of our money back. This meant we’d have five days post surgery to gauge his recovery. Not ideal, but it was something.

Meanwhile, since January, the Canadian dollar has been doing a spectacular nosedive and effectively costing us thousands upon thousands of extra dollars in exchange rates. The reason for this nosedive? Why, the low oil price. Wonderful – the Calgary job market goes into a death spiral right alongside the Canadian dollar. My company begins to make major budget cuts and slashes all new positions budgeted for hire in 2015. Rumors of layoffs internally and news of layoffs all over downtown are constant. Who knows if I’ll have a job when I come back? Also, Grant is taking weeks off of work left right and centre  – and he’s not getting paid for most of it! More $$$$ down the drain! (and an annoyed boss at all this time off – and the five weeks scheduled)

Then my tour agent sends me an update from the South African government. Effective June 1, all minors must travel with a long-format birth certificate. No problem, I think, and dig Jessica’s out to make sure I have it handy. Uh-oh. Problem. Grant had his full name on Jessica’s birth certificate and only his middle name (Grant) on both his driver’s license and passport. Too late to get a new passport and it would be touch and go to get a new birth certificate issued. To get a new one, I have to present an official piece of ID dated PRIOR to her birth with the other name on it. The only official ID he has that pre-dates the birth certificate all has his full legal name on it. After many frantic phone calls and emails, we discover that we can (in theory) bring a notarized copy of our marriage certificate – which, thankfully – has his full name. It has also been suggested that we have notarized letters of permission completed just in case one of us ends up crossing a border alone with Jess. Good plan, I think. This reminds me, I need to get those letters and a notary public scheduled!

I drove Grant to the hospital in High River on May 15th to have his surgery. Everything went swimmingly and he took the following week off work to recover. His back was on the mend and we’d just fixed his stomach – life was looking up! General sighs of relief all round. We make the final call on May 20th not to cancel the trip. We all quite desperately need a vacation. If I lose my job, we’ll dip into savings to bridge the gap. We’re going and that’s that.

Friday, May 22 Grant’s mom had a stroke and was rushed to Foothills emergency. The next few days were a bit of a blur as we worked our way through the medical system. Finally, on Wednesday, May 27th they released her into a rehabilitation centre. She has regained a great deal of mobility and comprehension, however, her speech remains severely impacted. We are relieved and excited at her progress (largely due to her ardent desire to GET OUT of the hospital for a cigarette and a drink dammit!) but can’t get a straight answer out of anyone as to how long she might be in the centre for. We have a meeting scheduled for June 10th to discuss her release plan.

I called the tour agent to see if we could push the trip to next year. No luck – too close to the date. I haven’t called the insurance company to see if we could still claim the portion that is insured, but I suspect we won’t be able to. She is medically stable, and well taken care of. I doubt they would pay. It’s one helluva dilemma. Most of her family is in the UK. Grant, Jessica, and I are all she has here. My parents are willing to help out, but they live an hour and a half away and they work full time. That’s hardly fair. Grant’s brother is no longer speaking to her and doesn’t wish to be involved. She has one friend and two friendly neighbours that could help a bit. She is unable to receive outpatient rehabilitation or support services in her home because of the extreme levels of smoke. (I can last MAYBE five minutes in there)

I am terrified that they will send her home during the five weeks we are away! I can’t ask my asthmatic mother to help her move home! There is no time to move her to a more accessible apartment in terms of stairs and smoke damage. So. We’ve decided to wait and see what they say on June 10th. If they are going to release her, I can’t see how we can possibly leave the country and leave her essentially stranded with only a couple kindly neighbours helping. If she is going to stay in the rehabilitation centre…. I don’t see how we can possibly leave her in that awful place and not visit her for five weeks! I also don’t want to take a $20,000 bath on this vacation, nor do I want to be in the office while our company works through the latest cutback agonies. Everyone is encouraging us to go, but it feels pretty damn selfish!


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