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Reflections

by Katie Butler Johnson



It’s not often you come across someone who’s traveled to more than 100 of the countries on the Travelers Century Club list. Glenda Osten is that kind of someone.

Actually Glenda’s been to 104 of those countries; that entitles her to membership in the select TCC - should she ever slow down long enough to apply. Right now, she’s too busy planning her next adventure.


Glenda’s like a geode. She’s quiet on the outside, but, if you get her talking about her travels, she opens up, her eyes sparkle and her stories, garnered from her world travels, are glittering gems. She keeps a diary that I hope one day morphs into a book.

When I saw Glenda at Celebration’s Spot in the Spring 2023, she mentioned she was going to take a circumnavigation cruise around Africa in the Fall. That sounded like quite a feat. I asked if she would let me tell you all about it after she returned. Her response: “Yes.” That was the last I heard from her till December 6th, 2023 at 8:39am when my iPhone beeped and I got this text:


“Katie, I’m in Ghana today traveling northbound along the West African Coastline.

You had asked me to interview for your next article and I am ready to receive you interview questions.”


She’d booked passage on Holland America’s Zuiderdam’s 73 day Circumnavigation of African Continent that began and ended in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. There were about 1500 guests and 781 crew members aboard. The Itinerary concentrated on the African ocean-bordering countries. Glenda originally booked this African trip in 2019 while on a 80 day cruise circumnavigating South America.


A problem surfaced with the Ziuderdam’s 2023 October itinerary; it took them to within 108 miles of the Hamas-Israeli war. The ship was charted to sail right past the Gaza Strip. Glenda said it was: “Scary . . .sitting like a duck overnight waiting for our preassigned entry time into the Suez Canal on October 30th.” Turns out, the Zuiderdam was the last cruise ship allowed through the Suez Canal before it was closed to cruise traffic.


Adjustments had to be made to the original itinerary because of the war. Jordon was omitted and Oman added. Glenda had already visited Jordan, so the addition of Oman just gave her a new country to explore. And they had to skip Sharm El Sheikh, a port in Egypt, where they were scheduled to take on pallets of food to replenish their supply. Those pallets had to be loaded on and delivered by a cargo ship sent to catch up with the cruise ship as it continued on to a safe port. By the time that cargo ship caught up with the Zuiderdam - 5 days later in Oman - the fruits and vegetables were covered in mold and couldn’t be brought onboard. That meant they had to find a new source for fresh food. The Captain of the ship really earned his stripes on this cruise with all the adjustments he had to make.

Of all the ports, South Africa was Glenda’s favorite. She spent five days there. She left the ship in Durban to go on Safari and saw the “big 5.” She visited with a Zulu Chief and his extended family in his home in a rural village. Then she flew to Cape Town and toured Robben Island (where Nelson Mandela was held) with a former prisoner and apartheid protester as her guide.


On her African cruise, Glenda traveled 22,618 nautical miles. She learned about Africa’s history from colonization to independence. Along with Robben Island, she visited James Island and the heart of Alex Haley’s roots - the village of Jufureh.


The ship made a surprise visit to Null Island. Ever hear of it? I hadn’t. It’s a spot in the Gulf of Guinea in international waters in the Atlantic Ocean where the prime meridian and the equator cross. Fascinating fact about Null Island: it doesn’t exist! It’s just a spot marked by a lonely buoy bobbing around.


Glenda didn’t bring any souvenirs home from her African experience; she brought back memories and stories that I hope one day will fill a book. But, that won’t happen till she’s finished traveling and I don’t see that happening in the next decade. Till then, if you see her, ask her about her latest trip and you’ll get to enjoy the treasures she did bring back with her: her stories.

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