This is when travelling alone is tough: when travelling with friends and staying at a hostel you split a room, but when travelling alone you go into the dorms.
With friends, you meet people at breakfast, in the bar, on the couches, usually when they are ready to be presentable. Alone, you meet in the room with ten other beds. You see all the things strangers would never see, and you prejudge people (it’s hard not to prejudge underwear left on the floor of a ten bed dorm)- you see the unmade beds, the erupted bags, the hanging laundry, the strewn socks, the receipts, the not-so-faint smell, the fan that had been left on to combat said smell, and the underwear.
I haven’t met anyone in my room yet, but when I put my bag under a (hopefully empty so I don’t have some frat guy jump on me in the middle of the night claiming that I’m in his bed) bed, I saw all those things – the only college cliches that were missing were an open can of tuna and a packet of ramen noodles…I immediately thought that I needed to crawl under a rock and pretend it wasn’t happening.
That’s wrong, my first thought was definitely Danny Glover, Lethal Weapon, “I’m too old for this…”
I am so crossing my fingers for cool people…
Additional note: a guy just walked in, ready to claim a bed and was equally disgusted by the underwear, he kicked it away
“These flights are drier than the Sahara” said the flight attendant to the woman behind me, “you must drink a lot of water” in response to her ask for more coffee.
I immediately started questioning my wine.
This was one of those flights where the individual descriptives sound great (if you take out the context of being on a plane), but string them together and you end up with a description that sounds menopausal: dry, hot, Sauvignon Blanc, cold, La La Land, Bridget Jones’ Baby, apple juice, bathroom.
After two months in South Africa, it’s unfortunately time to say goodbye (for now).
I really don’t want go (My flight is in 11 hrs and the contents of my bag are still strewn around my room, all of them in denial that they soon that have to do the march into the bag).
When I arrived here I felt like a kid on the first day of middle school: would I be able to make friends? was my backpack too dorky? (yes, it attaches to my bigger bag, so it matches it in a “I bought matching luggage so I would always be able to find it” kind of way), would I be able to get around JoBurg by myself (all research basically said, “Stay Inside! If you go out, you’ll get robbed! and raped! Maybe just watch TV instead), were my clothes okay? (on the list to now replace – my jeans, I hate the jeans I brought).
It took about a week for me to get my travel legs – I still hadn’t quiet realized what I had done in deciding to take a full break from work, from regular life. Suddenly going from hundreds of work emails a day to none had left me without an identity; I walked around in a bit of brainless haze (but did not get robbed or raped).
But then, I started volunteering, and travelling and meeting people. I was out in the fresh air, my allergies went so berserk that I hacked out multiple lungs, but my body was so happy that it had no problem growing them back quickly (wherever I end up, the one thing I know is that I need nature)
I’m travelling alone, but over nine weeks, I haven’t spent one day alone: when the Overland group was in Lesotho we went stargazing/ tried to see who could count the most shooting stars – 8 of us crammed onto one pretty small rock and chose to sit like sardines in a can instead of spreading out. There are all those famous quotes about how the journey is more than the destination, which are all certainly true, but the journey is really only fun (for me) if you get to share it with people you love. And I have found so many people I love on this trip.
Countries visited: South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland
Injuries: cut above my eye from chopping firewood, bruised ribs from sandboarding, pulled muscle from slip n’ sliding
First Sightings: Black Wildebeest, Springboks, Nyala, Blesbok, Meercats, Jackass Penguins, Cape Mountain Zebras, Waterbucks, bunch of really cool grasshoppers
In French, the song is “The Lion Dies Tonight” (which is why the village is peaceful)
To properly drink Rooibos – add a lot of milk and sugar
You Say Tomato, I say Tomato: a couple of things South African’s say differently – Samosas are Samoosas, and pick-up trucks are bakkies
Walking around barefoot is the best, until you look at the underside of your feet
South African airports are fantastic: food courts have table service where they bring you real pots on tea in real mugs, real silverware and real salt and pepper shakers.
Tonight I leave for New Zealand and I have that same anxious feeling in my stomach – how is it going to measure up to this? I know I will meet some absolutely amazing people, but it is so hard to say goodbye to the amazing people here – to all you guys (around the world), I will wear you on my heart forever. Okay enough cheese, I should brush my teeth and have some tea.
Our Overland Tour has ended: Cape Town to Joburg, 20 days, 4200km, 24 people, 1 truck.
Most of us met in early February at 6:30am in an office in Capetown, there was free coffee and tea, lots of handshakes and “where are you from?”s. Our three guides wore their uniforms and loaded our bags into lockers at the back of the truck, “can I get one for a short person, please?”
We ranged in age from mid 60s – low 20s, came from 7 countries and besides all speaking English pretty well, we didn’t know if we had anything in common.
Over the course of 3 weeks we broke down every barrier (when you willingly surrender your playlist to strangers you know you’ve crossed into territory that has rarely been broached by even serious boyfriends) and did things we wouldn’t want our parents to know about, played like kids on the coolest playground ever (South Africa), and unabashedly acted like fools in a way that wouldn’t even be reserved for our best friends. It was like summer camp from an 80s movie, totally magic and hard to explain to anyone else.
When you get a tour with a group as special as this one, you not-so-secretly wish your life could be like this forever: walking barefoot outside (and in malls), singing terrible songs terribly and very loudly (“Save Tonight”by Eagle Eye Cherry being the highlight), showing everyone your disgusting feet, an endless stream of inside jokes (“Beautiful Views”, “Spoil your eyes, Guys”, “Thankyoooo Ruiiinnn”, waterfights, “Optional Activities”, Brutal Fruit, “Lost? Stick to Your Guide”, “that sweating feeling”, springboks, “The Lion Dies Tonight”), hours learning words in other languages (Krankenwagen, schmetterling, madala, intombazane, umfana), and playing cards while you look out the window to the landscape that almost calls out to you, asking you to stay.
People that you didn’t know 3 weeks ago suddenly accept you for all your faults (lack of rhythm, lack of direction, the need to climb trees and playgrounds, being terrible at playing President, cellulite, having a useless playlist that consists of “Guardians of the Galaxy” soundtrack and Paul Simon’s “Graceland”). You end up feeling more like yourself than you have in years, you can’t stop smiling at yourself and everyone around you.
At the beginning our guides said that we were a travelling family and by the end we all wished we could be some form of a travelling singing band that never got off the truck (no one else should really ride Ramone anyways, he smells of all our sweat and no one would appreciate his leaky roof half as much as we did)
And now it’s over and I’m more than a bit heartbroken, but being heartbroken sometimes is a good thing, because it means that you had something worth being heartbroken over, which so rarely happens.
To everyone who just got off the truck, you are the bestest best and I’m so glad we met – let’s never forget each other, let’s never forget this feeling and let’s stay in touch.
7p: wine tasting starts, we’re given a glass of “first fruit” which does not mean, “please cleanse your palate with some juice first”. Instead it means, enjoy this fruity wine before you enjoy 8 other wines and forget how to get home.
7:15p please continue to enjoy this wine with a small platter of cheese that can be shared amongst ten of you. If you get a piece of cheddar consider yourself satisfied and full until dinner at 9p
7:30p explaination of the history of champagne and something called “lees” which is pronounced like “lice” and is apparently dead yeast. Bubble stuff is poured.
7:35p Sauvignon Blanc time
7:40p time to compare two other white wines. Run out of glasses, start using old champagne glasses and lining everything up to look like a wine cargo train.
7:45p time for some Merlots
“A man is like a red wine, you have to stomp on them and keep them in the basement until they turn into something you like” – everyone applauded when our wine presenter gives this factoid
8p realize that dinner still hasn’t been served and all you have to drink today is four cups of tea, and about eight glasses of wine
HOW CAN YOU HAVE A WINE TASTING WITH 8 GLASSES AND ONLY TWO PIECES OF CHEESE? WHERE IS FOOD???
Sometimes adventure tours get struck with bad weather:
We went to Lesotho (the highest country in the world) and all we got were stamps in our passports.
We went to the Drakensberg Mountains and all we could see was a golf course that looked like it belonged in England.
It rained so many buckets that previously dubious damn levels are now above 100%. (Luckily we made plenty of rain day memories that far outshine any hiking)
And then finally, the rain stopped long enough for us to arrive in Swaziland.
We stayed at Mlilwane, a place where the animals (herbivores) graze freely and move around the kilometers and kilometers of hiking trails.It was real life Jurassic Park without the predators- and it was our playground.
We went mountain biking and broke every rule.
Our guide, now familiar with my lack of coordination and adult-like sensibility sensed possible trouble. He frequently tells me “to hold on, becareful, please don’t climb that tree”. This time he started with “please use the back brake and use both hands on the handle bars” it is unclear whether he really thought I didn’t know how to ride a bike…
Ten minutes in, the three of us, only one in decent shape and none of us experienced bikers decided to take a path marked “Do Not Enter: Steep Inclines”
“What is a steep incline?” Asked my Swedish and Swiss compatriots.
“Something we will probably have to walk the bikes up…” I replied.
Having not had any exercise for the past four days made us eager and foolish….(also, we couldn’t really read the map)
“We made it to the top, but there is a slight problem” said the Swiss compatriot (and the one in decent shape)
(note: made it to the top means that I walked the bike at least halfway)
“Did you say there was a slight problem?”
“we have to climb a fence” (map reading error)
“Okay, let’s take a vote, I’ll go with the majority” pronounced the Swede (Swedes are always fair)
And so it was that we heaved three mountain bikes over a fence, tresspassed onto a private residence, walked into someone’s personal space (an elderly man drinking a beer who looked like a crotchy character from a Hemingway novel) and asked for directions.
And then, at the top of the hill (I really want to say mountain)
“Oh shit, the rain is coming ”
And we booked it down got lost again, booked it down some more (using the back break the whole way, as per instructions and amazingly did not wipe out) and got wet enough to wash away the sweat and tell everyone our story as though we knew what we were doing the whole time.
Absolute pure happiness is getting lost with people you want to get lost with.
PS. This is the same group of people that also got kicked out of the ocean when we were in Durban because the lifeguard didn’t think our version of “body surfing” was plausible as a “safe method of not drowing”
St Lucia, South Africa: estuary town, must enter by bridge
You know that feeling when your parents tell you not to stick your knife in the toaster? While that is good advice, you just keep sticking the knife in anyways – mostly to see what happens.
And so it was that we found ourselves running from a hippo.
Before you get all excited this not a story that requires medical treatment, it’s more a story of cowardice / being sensible.
St. Lucia is a small town that gives way for hippos, mainly because the hippos almost outnumber the people and hippos can be mean suckers. Recently a guy came across one and it chomped off his leg, just cause.
At night, the hippos sometimes roam the town (there are a couple of good restaurants, a grocery and a liquor store of interest) and kind of like that toaster, you’re not supposed to go looking for them, but you can’t help yourself.
Round about 10pm a couple of us, our torches and our flip flops took a walk down past a sign than says “beware of hippos at night” and to the bridge where they cross.
The advice was always, “if you see one, stay far way” obviously, if that could not be helped, we were prepared to run as fast as possible with our flip flops. (Note, hippos can run at about 40kph, far faster than anyone wearing flip flops)
We had gone looking the night before and had not seen a one, so we were a bit cavalier. And then, when we were about a third of way across the bridge, we saw one at the end. Our torches weren’t really good enough and we were unsure of the direction it was headed, so two of us, adrenaline pumping, (and I will claim that I heard someone say “run!”) Started running back the way we came- this is probably terrible advice and while “fight or flight” is a good thing, usually with animals it is dumb. One of us stood in the middle, unsure of what to do because our fourth member actually ran toward the hippo.
This may not be the Marines, but we still leave no man behind (plus, we would be in so much trouble if we returned sans one person) and so we all walked across the bridge and followed the torch light that was headed towards the hippo (now on its way to the water).
“What the F are we doing?” Was definitely the theme of the next five minutes (thoughts on whether my travel insurance covered “went looking for a hippo…”), until we met up with our fourth member who said he had seen the hippo from ten meters.
Ten meters is probably the length of a baseball pitch. It’s nothing (even though I couldn’t throw it)
Obviously if he had survived, we needed in on the action and so we asked him to show us where the hippo went.
He led us to a security guard who had a flood light and we all went down the water to find a hippo that didn’t seem bothered by us at all.
So, just like the toaster, sometimes you use a knife and do something stupid, but it turns out fine anyways.