- Top of mind this week is language. South Africa has 11 official languages (!!!). From what I understand, this is due to multiple waves of colonization from European countries. English is dominant. Language hit me in three ways this week:
- On a tour of Robben Island, we were guided by a 5-year political prisoner of the island. He was imprisoned for protesting against being taught in Afrikaans in high school, along with many others. Afrikaans is historically a white language, heavily influenced by Dutch, and in the 1970s, there was a huge push to forego English teachings and force everyone to learn Afrikaans. To no surprise, many blacks like our guide were not pleased.
- On safari, the guides spoke in drive language to each other. Mostly to keep it a secret from us tourists, they would refer to the animals in a combination of Zulu and Tsonga. It was all part of an effort to not get our hopes up to see certain things.
- Been learning some local words, here are a few:
- Lekker- most simply means good, used to describe awesome things or to show affirmation. ‘Hey, man, that’s lekker!’
- Sundowner- just the way they say sunset, also usually comes with drinks if you ‘go have a sundowner’
- Hectic- they love this word. I asked one of our Uber drivers if hectic was a good thing after he said the traffic was hectic. He said ‘it’s good for me because the rides are longer and I make more money!’ Not sure everyone else would describe traffic as hectic…it does seem to refer to something crazy cool, like in response to describing an exciting day.
- Doss- another word for sleep or nap. Got wished a nice doss.
- Electricity is sparse here. In both Cape Town and especially Johannesburg, power outages are not uncommon. Essentially there’s not enough electricity to power everyone, so they rotate cutting grids off. We had lunch at a restaurant with no power in Joburg, and then proceeded to hit a lot of traffic due to no stoplights.
- According to our Uber driver, “Valentine’s Day is for white people”
- Headed to Muizenberg beach, best known for its surfing and colorful beach huts.
- Walked from there all the way to Kalk Bay where we were greeted by seals along the pier. Had to take some fun photos with them.
- Took a scenic drive back to the city with stunning views of the coast
- Elephant’s Eye hike in the early morning with some Remote Year Citizens. Once you finish a program, you can travel and meet up with other Remote Year groups as you wish. There’s a decent group in Cape Town this month.
- Trailhead in a sketchy area but beautiful hike to a cool cave.
- Trailhead also had no service so started walking down the road when a generous lady picked all 7 of us up in her car. She happened to be going right where we wanted so I rode for 20 minutes in her trunk. Gotta love trail angels.
- Post-hike, 11am, wine tasting at Constantia Groot. If you haven’t noticed yet, Cape Town has some of the best wine and there are vineyards everywherrreee. You’d think I could tell you my favorite types by now, I can’t.
- The Citizens take us to their favorite local joint for cheap eats in the city. It was an unnamed restaurant, no sign or anything. We walked in a random door, up two sets of stairs, into what looked like someone’s home, and ordered ‘chicken and rice’, their specialty. This place was clearly popular among locals because it was a very crowded little dining room and the hours of the restaurant are noon until they run out of food. Best 50 RAND (~$4.50) meal ever. And enough leftovers for another.
- Uber over to the V&A waterfront, a popular destination in Cape Town but mostly just shopping.
- Take a (very rocky) 45 minute ferry ride to Robben Island, the historic prison where Mandela was held for 18 years of his 27 year stint.
- Robben Island went through many phases as a prison. Most recently, from about 1960-1996, it held political prisoners, i.e. people that spoke out against the government. At any given time, there were 500-1,000ish people held captive. Half of the tour was via bus and we learned some crazy facts about South African/apartheid history. Like there was a person named Robert Sobukwe who has his own enclosure on the island. This happened because he was in prison somewhere else and was set to get out, but they didn’t want him out, so they MADE UP A LAW just for him that gave them the right to bring him to Robben Island without a trial. Injustice for people of color was rampant.
- Second part of tour, as mentioned, was led by a former political prisoner. Interesting hearing from him, but when you asked him a question, he sort of glossed over the answer and told you something brief. I asked him why he thought it was important that he protest and he shortly said he just did not want to learn Afrikaans. So very strange, almost like he did not want to relive the experience, or he feared if he said something wrong now it could still affect him.
- Mandela’s cell was cool, plain, pretty crazy to think he later became president.
- Home, work, laundry and pack for Joburg!
- Early morning flight to Johannesburg with some fellow Remotes, slept the entire time, honestly was I even on the plane?
- I knew very little about this city before going, but I can’t say I need to go back. I asked the Uber driver what the best thing to do was and he said “The Mall of Africa”…I was in the wrong place.
- From what we saw, Joburg was all malls, offices, and houses with heavily secured walls/gates. We learned the crime rate is VERY high.
- Had every intention of going to the apartheid museum which I have heard is worth it, but face-planted on the bed for a two hour nap in the AirBnb. We stayed in a neighborhood called Rosebank, definitely on the higher-class end.
- Dinner in Sandton, in a mall, surprise surprise.
Friday- SAFARI DAY 1
- Met the rest of the group at the airport (ten of us total from Remote Year) and took off on 5.5 hour drive to the safari camp, only listened to Africa by Toto three times
- We did our tour through Tydon Safaris. It was not cheap, but included 5 game drives, 3 meals a day, and housing in a tent. Let me clarify, this was glamping to the MAX, there was plumbing in our tent. The first night we were at the Safari camp, the next two nights we stayed in the Bush camp which was actually in the Sabi Sands Game reserve. Highly recommend Bush camp.
- First game drive was in Sabi Sands. It’s a small reserve next to the well-known Kruger National Park that I actually grew to like more than Kruger. Differences between the two: Sabi is all dirt roads, Kruger paved, Sabi you ride in an open air vehicle, Kruger has to be roofed, and Sabi you can off road and get close to animals, Kruger you can’t.
- First thing we saw was a deer, or an impala as they call it. We all got really excited and took pictures but proceeded to see thousands more the whole trip. Like, ‘oh oh an animal! Oh, just a deer’
- Did see first elephants, giraffes, and zebras from a distance
- Fun times: in the middle of an elephant herd, our Land Rover refused to start. We have a priceless picture of us sitting in the middle of the road, hood up, and our guide with his hand over his face. Had to get pushed by another group but then had to stop for sundowners on the steepest incline in case it didn’t start again.
- The sun setting over the reserve was incredible, exactly what you’d picture for an African safari
- Returned for an amazing home cooked braai complete with polenta, fresh meat, a yummy cole slaw, salad, and a gluten free cake dessert. Lemme take a second to highlight that the food was AMAZING all weekend!!! Every meal was freshly made, they always had a fresh gluten free something (bread, cake, muffins), best food we have eaten in South Africa easily and the most carbs I have had at one time in a while.
Saturday- SAFARI DAY 2
- Schedule of the day all weekend: game drive 6-9am, breakfast at 9, lunch at 2, game drive 4-7, dinner upon return (aka: sit, eat, nap, eat, sit, eat, sleep, repeat)
- Game drives this day were in Kruger. Not as much fun because any normal person can drive their car so you know something good is coming when there’s a huge pile up of cars. Also, did you know Kruger is the size of New Jersey??? We obviously only saw a piece.
- First drive: saw a rhino, the cutest family of elephants up close, baby hyenas on the side of the road, and baboons playing all around us in the road.
- Our group had the following communication going with our guide- he would say: Happy? And we replied: Happy, when we were ready to move on from an animal
- Napped to the sound of the rain between rounds
- Second drive: saw hippos in the water on the way into the park, really only their heads because they were fully submerged, stopped to do a little walk down to Panic Lake, see another hippo, saw out first buffalo herd from afar, much different than the buffalo we have in the states and one of the most aggressive animals in the park, and the cutest group of three baby warthogs
- Side note: The Big 5 (hardest animals to hunt and ones you should be lucky to see) are lions, buffalo, leopards, rhinos, and elephants. We saw all but lions.
- Arrive at Bush Camp, about 30 minutes from the other, and as we are getting settled for dinner, hear “one moment, then let’s go see a leopard”
- We clamor into the rover, in the light rain and pitch dark, then rumble through the high bushes and dirt road, spot two hyenas feasting on fresh kill, likely that the leopard made the kill and wasn’t able to bring all of it up the tree away from the hyena. I felt like I was in a Animal Planet show and also was clutching on to the person next to me in fear. I mean this grass was real tall, if there was a leopard, I wouldn’t have seen it until it was 2 feet from my face.
- Dinner was potjie (the other South African typical meal) with chicken, slow roasted veggies and a destarched corn pasta, again super, super delicious
- Made friends with our amazing guide and stayed up late chatting with him, I mean seriously this guy was meant to be a game driver
Sunday- SAFARI DAY 3
- Woke up to leopard prints across the camp, fresh apparently
- Thus began the wild leopard chase. At one point, our guide pulled out a lighter to get the wind direction so we could pick up smells to find it. On our way, we came inches from an elephant, it was beautiful and majestic.
- We then came across a huge herd of zebras that were also quite close to us and beautiful. *cue Marty from Madagascar the movie*
- We then came across a huge herd of buffalo crossing the road. Our guide proceeded to say “they are all going somewhere, we are going too” He drove us around the bend and literally INTO, like buffalo all around rover, the herd. I was a little scared considering any one of them could’ve eaten me whole.
- And thennnnn we got word of the leopard, Nwani meaning moon. We finally find it after whipping around the dirt roads (really, mud roads) and it proceeds to walk RIGHT NEXT TO the rover. We followed it for a while and watched it closely. Absolutely the most amazing experience. At one point, it calmly walked through a herd of impala. The impala were making so many noises and panicking, the leopard walked like a freaking boss. P.S. there were maybe 30 impala to this one leopard. The leopard proceeded to spray its stuff on a bunch of plants to mark its territory again after the rain.
- Hit a new level of boredom between drives and proceeded to do 25 laps around the camp. My back was in a lot of pain still, so walking it was. Also, there were lots of monkeys around the camp.
- Chatted with the women at the camp who were serving us as well. There were three black women that worked in the kitchen and cleaned our rooms. I have to say, I felt extremely uncomfortable being served all weekend. Like really felt way too cared for but in a bad way. I think it was just an example of how low black people are on the social ladder here still. They told me they all had kids but only got to see them on their week off (3 on, 1 off).
- Second game drive: saw some rhinos really, really close, four of them. Learned that they’re called white rhino not because they’re white but because they have wide mouths and “wide rhino” got mixed in translation
- Our guide had us chew on a plant called Magic Warrior that defends itself by drying out the mouths that eat it #thanks. When animal takes a big chunk, the plant reacts by making the rest way bitterer. More impressively, it sends message to the rest of the plants downwind that they need to make a change
- Sundowners with full group and guides, another beautiful sunset that turned to an amazing night sky with stars.
- More late night chats to close the weekend.
Moral of the story: an African safari HAS to be on your bucket list. It was incredible, and I really did almost cry when I saw how beautiful the animals were in their own habitat. I also maybe did not emphasize, we saw SO MANY animals.
That’s enough for now. What a week.