SO, before I rush out tomorrow on another African adventure, I wanted to post about my trip to South Africa! You may have heard it was my first vacation by myself and also read my 10 health and happiness lessons I learned on safari (all my best animal pics are there). But as for the rest… well, internet time is at a premium and instead of having time to break it up into several posts, I have one. One very long one. Not ideal, but sorry I’m not sorry… I do what I can! I am an African blogger, after all. Suckaz.
It is basically all pictures (70?) so you can probably just scroll down really quick and get a pretty complete pictorial idea of my trip. I won’t be offended! : )
Headed out to the junction to wait for my bus at a little barraca and downed some instant coffee until my bus picked me up, where I was promptly handed snacks. I love being handed free food… especially when you paid for it.
About two minutes after my iPod went into my ears, “Ridin’ Solo” came on shuffle. “I’m feelin’ like a star, can’t stop my shine… ridin’ solo” seemed to be the perfect happy soundtrack to kick off my solitary adventure. (Solo travel tip #1: view every single moment as an integral part of your trip, not just a means to an end. Tip #2: have a really good playlist on your iPod, because many of those moments might be boring.)
Upon arriving in Maputo, I got in a cab on the way to a friendly American’s house who often lets us crash at her place in the city (and raid her cereal stash), and my cabbie tried to start a fight with me. When we were alone. In a very sketchy area. Where’s mom? Got there safe, met new USG workers and friends, enjoyed some wine and ice cream and sparkling conversation. And a hot shower. Life will be boring when hot showers aren’t something I look forward to for weeks at a time.
Up early the next morning for another bus into South Africa. And I got the front seat! Yay! Please tell me I am not the only one out there who still gets excited about things like this.
(Tip #3: unless you have a very, very active mind, bring a very long book with you. Gone With the Wind, at 1443 pages, will do nicely.)
At the border, the following conversation happened as I was leaving Mozambique:
Me (to border guard): Bom dia, como está? (Good morning, how are you?)
BG: tudo bem, obrigado. (Everything is well, thanks.)
Me: Também estou bem. (I’m good too.)
BG upon seeing my American passport: Na America todo o mundo fala português fluentemente? (In America, everyone speaks fluent Portuguese?)
Me: ummmm… (Thinking: yes. Obviously. Seeing as I just said seven words to you. Clearly we all are fluent in Portuguese. Okay, maybe I shouldn’t say that out loud.)
Soon we were into South Africa and at a rest stop. Which means snacks and massive sweet bread rolls to devour, and pretty scenery along the way.
I got a ride into Hazyview where I would be staying, which is a gorgeous town full of banana plantations. This bag of… 20-plus cost maybe $1.50.
The place I was staying, Big 5 Backpackers, had a cute little dorm on a hill that I got to rule with an iron fist… as I was the only one staying in it. (Tip #4: if you want to socialize, stay at crowded places. Though I was thrilled, as I was here to chill the heck out.)
The common room was cute and I got to unpack the groceries I grabbed in Nelspruit. For how distracted I am in grocery stores now, I did pretty well: apples, mandarins, two cans of healthy soup, peanut butter, FRESH MILK!, and a magazine (splurge!) in addition to the stuff I brought from home. (Tip #5: buy groceries. You will save a lot of money. Especially if the closest store is an hour walk away.)
The next day I was ready for my SAFARI in kruger national park! Pickup time was 5:30am so we could get into the park right at 6AM when the gates opened.
Pimp my ride.
I was with two sweet French Canadian girls who were also staying at the same place. (Tip #6: if you’re traveling solo, try to make friends with everyone. You will have a better time, and if you’re cool, they will stop wondering if you are weird and/or awkward because you’re by yourself. Although, let’s be honest, they’ll still wonder.)
We stopped at the main camp, Skukuza, to take a break. Ten hours of sitting in an open-air safari vehicle and staring into the bush is surprisingly exhausting.
Always need to try something exciting… this fit the bill. Chocolate honeycomb!
We went to a type of lookout point to see over the park. Cue silly photos.
(Tip #7: always have snacks in your bag. My key items for African travel are instant oatmeal packets and clif bars. Oh, and durable fruit and crackers and peanut butter. You’d be surprised how many days you can live on just those…)
Late afternoon, we were out of the park. Check out my last post for better and bigger animal pictures. Overall it was a great day and we were lucky to see the Big 5! (Buffalo, rhino, elephant, lion, and leopard. The Big 5 were chosen as the five most dangerous animals to approach on the ground. Aka be careful or you’re dinner.)
The next morning got even earlier (4:30am pickup!) for a bush walk. Basically, you watch the sunrise as you walk through the bush with a couple of guides with rifles and you stalk lions and you try to get close to the rhino baby (but not too close).
You also eat a “bush breakfast” of biltong (jerky), chocolate bars, cookies and a bag of Lay’s chips. Pretty. Awesome.
The afternoon was for exploring the neighborhood, running, working out, sponge cake and more Gone With The Wind (um, awesome book. I had no idea.)
(Tip #8: running, or walking, is the best way to explore a new area. Especially when every house has crazy electrical fences holding in dogs who want to eat me for lunch. I never saw more vicious tiny wiener dogs than I did that day!)
(Tip #9: Self and Shape workout cards are ridiculously helpful and portable for working out in a dorm room by yourself.)
That night I got to go on a Sunset Game Drive.
My reoccurring thought was “my camera is crap and how come I can’t take super amazing pictures in the dark, so unfair!” and then I realized “dude, I am on safari, I should just enjoy it and buy some postcards later.” So my pictures are crap but here are a couple. Hyena babies… and mommy…
Here’s a game called “Spot the leopard!”…
Crappy pictures, but you get the gist.
After two full days of checking out the park, I had a third day just to do whatever I wanted. Living in Mozambique aka the bush, I wanted to… shop. Well, explore town is more like it. It was about eight kilometers into Hazyview, and an exceedingly pleasant hike. I then got to spend hours… hours… wandering through grocery stores and a book store (!) and just doing a whole lot of nothing. And it was absolutely wonderful.
Bakeries make pancakes and waffles ready to eat? This was too much for me.
I just bought the essentials—you know, gum, the South African version of gummies that you eat on long runs, crackers, and some sorely expensive dog flea shampoo that mysteriously disappeared between customs and my house. Huh…
I killed as much time in the bookstore as I could without looking TOO suspicious. In the health section, I found a book that was called “Eat Right For Your Type.” Meaning blood type. I am A+, and I learned from the back cover that I should be a vegetarian, engage in gentle exercise such as yoga or golf, and meditate. More accurate would be, “you should do vigorous exercise that makes you totally want to die, hypes you up and then you recover by eating something greasy and choc full of meat.” That book I would have bought.
After walking around for about 5 hours straight, I took advantage of the mini food court with a Nando’s chicken burger that I bulked up with a bowl of “seasonal vegetables” that I bought at the grocery store. (I was very proud of myself for doing this, just FYI. Healthy AND economical! Okay, yay for me, moving on.) Nando’s is a delicious Portuguese-style chicken chain that is all over South Africa, and is apparently now in the States! I actually went for the first time in London. I am hoping it makes it to Cali, but for all I know it already has. Mystery.
This gave me some time to do some actual work (boo)… editing statements of purpose for graduate school applications. Woohoo! I feel like I’ve edited them until my eyes crossed, but wanted to give it one more shot. And then I found soft serve, which totally validated my entire trip to South Africa in the first place. How I have survived for two years without ice cream is COMPLETELY and utterly beyond me.
After my fourth day, it was time to go. I still had a bit of a journey back to Moz and then back home, but I was reluctant yet ready to leave. Taking a trip by myself was an amazing experience and something I just really NEEDED to refresh me and psych me up for my last month and a half or so in Africa. I also learned a lot about traveling alone and how I feel about it.
My three least favorite things about traveling alone:
- Not having a buddy. This should sound like a “duh…” moment but it is just really nice to have someone to talk to all the time, to exclaim with, to discuss with, to have fun with. Obviously traveling on your own is a whole different thing, but I still missed having a buddy.
- Logistically, one can be harder—and pricier. You would think it would be easier, but a lot of activities are 2+ people which means you could end up stranded. Or you could be filling a room with all people who know each other. Or, it could just be awkward when it is three couples and you, them all wondering what you did to end up someplace by yourself. Also, money. Cabs and food are a HECK of a lot more expensive when not shared.
- Busses are much better when you are sitting next to a friend and not next to a creepy man, a giggling teenage girl screaming on her cell phone, or a disaffected mother with her baby SCREAMING in your ear for eight hours and the entire bus is staring and she doesn’t care nor make an effort to stop it. Enough said.
My three favorite things about traveling alone:
- Making all my own decisions. So much of traveling in a group is discussing what to do that day. And in what order to do things. And where to go next. And then where to go eat. And then where to go out. Blah, blah, blah. Traveling alone, I got to just do whatever I wanted and listen to my whims and it was awesome.
- A boost of confidence. It is easy to say, “sure, I’ll do that when…” when I have someone to travel with, when I have more money, when it is a good time, and so on. Taking a week long trip to a different country more or less on a whim was empowering. Especially coming back and everyone saying “You went to South Africa? With who?” and being able to smile and say, “Myself!” with no shame, was an awesome feeling.
- Looking at everything in a new light. Being alone for such a long time (well, at least away from colleagues, friends, roommates etc.) meant that I was doing a lot of thinking and not a lot of talking, and I really got to reflect on my surroundings and take it all in. I wasn’t able to talk it out, but in some ways it was a nice change to just observe and exist and BE.
When all is said and done, I am so glad I went and I can’t wait til I can do it again.
I’m off on another safari adventure this weekend, this time in Moz and with some AMAZING girls, and I’ll be back next week with some posts with substance that aren’t thirteen miles long. Have a wonderful weekend everybody.
What’s the next trip you’re taking?