Photo by Gary Rothstein © - A break in the weather made an impromptu trip up Table Mountain irresistible on the first day of 'Africa 2000'
Derrick Brooks' well-chronicled 'Africa 2000' trip departed on Saturday for South Africa with 20 young men and women in tow, but an entire traveling party of 39 people. That group includes a writer, photographer and videographer, and their presence will allow Buccaneers.com and other media sources to have detailed updates on the trip. The first of those updates, provided by writer Charlie Nobles, is below.
CAPE TOWN, S. Africa - When it came, after a journey of about 7,000 miles, the plane's landing Sunday morning drew wild applause. It took a plane change and an overnight 14 1/2-hour flight from Atlanta, but Brooks' Bunch was ready to begin realizing a dream.
"This is just unbelievable," said Fulani Daniel, 17, a senior-to-be at Tampa Robinson High, upon gazing at the lush greenery and majestic mountains surrounding the airport.
By now, many know that Brooks' Bunch is the brainchild of Derrick Brooks, the Tampa Bay Bucs' Pro Bowl linebacker, who is in his fourth year of rewarding deserving underprivileged kids with an annual trip. Yet there has been nothing to rival this one: 11 full days of touring South Africa, including a safari and a possible meeting with former South African President Nelson Mandela.
Besides Brooks, the traveling party of 39 includes 20 teenagers, all from the Tampa area except for three from Orlando and one from Pensacola; 10 chaperones; five more Bucs employees, including Coach Tony Dungy, who also brought his wife Lauren; and three media to chronicle the group's adventures.
No two people were any happier to finally land than Michael Sales, a 15-year-old budding sophomore at Tampa Blake High, and chaperone Ricky Gallon. Sales simply has a palpable fear of flying. "I just don't like planes," he said matter-of-factly. For Gallon, a former University of Louisville basketball player, it was mainly a matter of where to put his legs. He's 6 feet 11.
"Things could have been a lot worse," Gallon said, relieved that he was mercifully moved to an "Exit" row with more leg room.
Brooks' Bunch received its first break when it was soon bathed in brilliant sunshine. That ended a streak of five rain-filled days here, and the group's new guide was so giddy about it that he passionately requested that an unplanned trip to Table Mountain was too irresistible to pass up.
"We can't be sure when we'll get a day like this again," he said, noting that the rainy season here lasts through August.
Soon the group was on a gondola for the nearly 11/2-mile journey atop Table Mountain, where one has a wonderful panorama of the area. There also is a point nearby where the Indian and Atlantic oceans, with their markedly contrasting temperatures, collide.
Photo-taking became the overriding popular pursuit. De'Nedra Nieves, a 16-year-old who attends Tampa Blake High, went through two rolls of film in the first 15 minutes on the mountain.
"Where's the film guy?" she asked her chaperone, after running out. Then a moment later she chuckled softly at the idea of using so much film so fast.
"I guess I'm picture-happy," she said.
Nearby, Cyndi Bailey, 14, of Tampa Sligh Middle School, and Tampa Riverview High's Arnold Hopson, who turned 16 last Friday, were busy interviewing each other with a camcorder on what they'd just learned.
Alas, with the much higher altitude came much chillier winds. Brooks quickly found himself second-guessing his decision not to wear a jacket. Dungy, his coach, playfully reminded him of his error.
Dungy was asked how Brooks could maintain his conditioning - Bucs camp commences July 23 - while he is touring Africa.
"I'm keeping an eye on him," the coach said, smiling. "I've got him doing pushups at night."
In reality, both Brooks and Dungy are keeping their eyes full-time on these 20 teenagers. On the flight over, rather than being tucked away comfortably in first class, each sat near the back of the plane with the kids, with the interaction coming easy and often.
"Derrick just does such a terrific job," Dungy said. "I'd like to help him any way I can."
Brooks has given each youngster hundreds of dollars in luggage, clothing and footwear and will distribute $500 in cash to each scholar during the trip. The first one-third of the money came Sunday, along with a watch, as everybody toured a waterfront mall after lunch at the Sports Café, and then capped the night with dinner at the African Cafe.
All the while, a serious-looking cadre of security people also watch over the youngsters. They have been entrusted to Brooks, and it's clear from his demeanor that he's not about to let anybody down.
Backing up the security force, if mostly in spirit, are the imposing Gallon and the two charges he is chaperoning - LaBrawn Saffold, 13, of Tampa Burns Middle School, and Silas Taylor, 16, of Tampa Hillsborough High. The threesome always goes last when the group moves from place to place.
"We're the bodyguards," Saffold said. Told that he really does look like a bodyguard, the student council president of his school said, "You think they have any job openings?"
On Monday, the group will go from tourists to participants. They'll take a mountain bike ride that is expected to last at least an hour.