Hey everyone! Happy Friday!
So with spring break coming up in a couple of weeks and with that, my vacation with my family, I was reminiscing about our previous summer trip to South Africa. It was probably one of the most memorable trips we have taken in my 18 years of life. And that’s saying a lot, seeing as I’ve been to some other really amazing countries. The memories have not faded away yet, the trip really stuck with me and gave me a lot of food for thought. We have a bunch of pictures from when we were there and I thought I’d share them with you lovely people, along with my experience. Some experiences are worth sharing 🙂 even if I haven’t shared them until like 8 months later.
To start off with, My family and I left the second to last week of june and came back about three weeks later. My family values traveling more than buying designer clothes or fancy cars and dinners. which means we save money for the stuff that counts. my dad is big on finding the cheapest ways to travel. He is an expert planner. I don’t mean like in an overly planned itinerary way, but in the save money yet stay in cool hotels/apartments/villas and go to amazing countries/states, way. We started with a drive down to Miami, where we stayed about 3 days and went to the beach, looked around the shops and found some great restaurants. Then we flew out on Qatar airlines to Dubai. Qatar by the way was one of the nicest airlines I have ever been on. They are rated amongst the top list of luxury airlines, one that is fairly new and very expensive- we would never have gotten to fly on it if it weren’t for my dad who found that the airline was giving a huge discount because of the addition of Miami to their destinations.
Oh Dubai, you were a city that we never actually saw… well past the boundaries of the airport. When we arrived it was late afternoon and our next flight was not until the next morning. The culture was very prominent in the airport- there were many prayer rooms and it was definitely different to feel like the minority- being the few white americans amongst many middle easterners. My dad told us that when he was in the bathroom, men were washing their head and feet in the sink before going to pray in one of the prayer rooms. Unfortunately it was not easy to acquire a visitor’s visa which meant instead of finding accommodations in the city, we had to make the airport home sweet home. So, by getting there around 4pm, we had about 14 hours to kill, including trying to get some sleep.And this was just after getting off a 15 hour plane ride. This brings me to our sleeping arrangements. There were “quiet rooms”, as there are in most international airports,but since this was Dubai, the rooms were separated for women and men. I don’t think I can properly explain how bad it was sleeping there. Thank god my mom had the idea to take the blankets given to us on the plane, because the room was freezing and I was the only one who had a blanket and my sister Taylor was the only one with the pillow. So here we are laying on the floor, which was not carpet, trying to fit our bodies under stolen blankets with the words Qatar airlines scrawled on them and trying to fit our heads on our stolen mini pillows given to us as well, when my dad comes in because my sister Riley had his phone. Well that caused a little disorder in the women’s quiet room; a few of the women were scolding my dad as he tiptoed through the huddled masses, most in burqas, to get his phone. He left but for the rest of the night, it was kind of like scarlet letter 2.0, disgraceful americans shunned by the masses. There was one sweet point in the evening when my sister Riley woke up to find a little boy curled up against my mom on the floor fast asleep -she was the one with the pillow, which was probably what drew the tired little guy to her. And then at 6 am we got up, grabbed our bags and headed onto Qatar airlines again and to our first official destination Johannesburg, SA.
We flew into JoBurg (the World Cup was going on when we arrived by the way, which meant that wherever there were tvs, the world cup was on- always.) , and stayed two days at a hotel to adjust to the time change and recover a little from jet lag before heading to our first actual destination. Driving in south africa, let me tell you, is something else. People drive crazy first of all- there are cars flying around other cars on opposite sides of the road and the many potholes dotting the road are not covered or being fixed but are kindly pointed out with signs reading “pothole”. Helpful right? So we headed out on the road after two days, in a rented car, with my dad driving us. He loves driving in foreign places even though my mom comes close to having a heart attack every time he drives us. Our destination was Pondoro Lodge, a lodge situated on part of Kruger National Park. It was about 8 hours away.
This was the coolest place ever. It was absolutely beautiful and peaceful. The staff was so friendly- Many were from different parts of africa and the two owners were husband and wife. There were chalets spread throughout the area and my sisters and I stayed in one and my parents and I stayed in the other. They fed us breakfast, snack, lunch, tea/cake, dinner, dessert. All freshly made and mostly authentic african dishes- Riley and I opted for the vegetarian options but still were beyond pleased with the quality. The most memorable part of this stay at Pondoro was the daily safaris. We had one morning and one night, every day, and these weren’t zoo safaris. We were taken out into the bush and each vehicle had a driver and a tracker. The tracker would constantly be looking for tracks to follow in search of an animal. There were no set paths or routes. It was incredible. We got to see everything -african sunrises over the vast bush that led to sunlight pouring over vibrant colored birds in the trees and zebras and giraffes grazing, and lion cubs following their mother down a path. Then the african sunset began with orange, red, pink, orange and purple settling slowly over elephants roaming and cheetahs racing and a leopard lazing around in a tree. I can’t think of anything more beautiful than those sunrises and sunsets. Because we were out in the bush, in the middle of no where, the pollution and noise that comes with cities does not exist,so the sky was the clearest blue with the sun almost visible as round glowing ball. The animals were incredible as well. Just seeing them in their complete natural environment and being right there with them, sometimes close enough that you could basically reach out and touch one, left me awestruck. We spent a week there and I was close to tears leaving. Pondoro was a lodge unlike any others and I would love to go back someday if I got the chance.
After Kruger, we flew into cape town, where we stayed in a house we rented for a week and a half. It was a gorgeous house with three stories- I have never been in a three-story house before so it was pretty cool. And the views were gorgeous, seeing as the house sat up on the mountain with other houses in the community. We could walk down to the little town by the community and the beach which had a trail that led you all the way to downtown cape town, about a 45 minute walk. My dad and two sisters went on a shark dive- SA is THE spot for Great Whites and part of the dive profits goes to shark research and conservation. My dad ended up getting so sick on the boat that he couldn’t go in and the one who wanted to do it the least, Taylor, was the only one to actually go in the cage. We also went to the V&A waterfront quite a few times and looked around. One of my highlights of Cape Town though, was hiking Table Mountain. I got the idea while in Cape town and told my dad we should do it together, so he picked a trail and we went. Apparently he picked the gorge trail that went literally up the side of the mountain. It was the fastest way up but the hardest. I try to block out the actual events of hiking/climbing the mountain.I thought I was on my deathbed halfway up or that I was on a stairmaster that just kept going up and never stopped to get flat. My dad took some lovely videos of me along the way and many of them I’m cursing this decision or telling him I hate him. But the views when we finally got to the top were incredible and I knew, as soon as I stepped foot on the top and looked out at the vast land before us, that the numbness in my legs and the pain in my chest was worth it.
The other highlight of Cape Town was bike riding through one of the shantytowns. We went with a guide, a person living in the community who started this bike tour business as a way to earn money and then give back to his community. So basically we were just donating money, which felt better than knowing it was just for personal profit. It was a learning experience, going around the shanty town. We stopped at their “preschool/daycare”, a two room little house painted peach with makeshift curtains. The school was in session when we walked in and the kids came running towards us. They were little kids and also a few babies, and wow, they were beyond excited to see us. It was so neat to be able to interact with them and feel such love from these tiny adorable kids. They loved taking pictures with us and constantly wanted us to make faces with them and take photos. They also sang us their national anthem and a couple of songs with dances they made up. We were able to sit with them on the floor when it was coloring time and color with them and read to them. After the schoolhouse, we went and saw some of the shops set up by people in the community and had lunch with a family in their hut. The conditions in the shantytown were definitely very crude; many of their living spaces were aluminum shacks and their water source was not very clean but they were happy and very welcoming. This was definitely a real learning experience.
All in all, my summer trip to SA was full of surprises, culture, gratifying moments, crying at the sight of flat ground and lots of xanax and Benadryl. I highly recommend South Africa and these following places if you ever get a chance to go:
– Pondoro Game Lodge (not for hunting)- http://www.pondoro.co.za/
– Apartheid Museum in JoBurg- http://www.apartheidmuseum.org/
– V&A waterfront in Cape Town
– Shark diving- Shark Expeditions Apex, Cape Town- http://www.apexpredators.com/
– Table Mountain
– Simon town, Cape Town
– Kruger National Park