Hello everyone! Now that you know how I packed, let's see what I did in South Africa. What a whirl wind three weeks it was! I travelled with Astin and her family, and I admit South Africa had never been on my 'to travel to' list before, but they invited me to join them so I figured I would go along with them to see what it was like.
Not long after that decision, my mind went into full freak out anxiety mode. Thanks Brain, for the months of distress before the trip. I will admit, that with OCD surrounding safety (home break ins, fires, health etc) that travelling to a country that has high crime rates wasn't exactly soothing to my brain.
I flew into Johannesburg directly from Sydney - the flight was about 12.5 hours, which given the time zones you cross seems a lot more friendly than flying to London!
Now, forgive me for saying this Joberg residents, but Johannesburg is the worst city I've ever visited. It was so strange to me to be in a place with giant, architecturally impressive shopping malls, crazy road works, traffic lights that don't work because people steal the cables for the copper, intense poverty and the wealthy, suburbs full of walls and electric fences and barbed wire, and knowing I couldn't even leave my hotel and cross the road to walk to the shopping mall on my own. It didn't help that the city decided to put on a spectacular display of cold rain while we were there. The hotel we stayed in was hilarious. Clean, functional, great buffet breakfast (what were they putting in their hot chocolates?!) but with the service lifts out of order, and rather than repairing them, they instead put a box around them and had people paint the box, with a sign saying that if you didn't like the colour to contact management quickly haha. Then the hot water ran out one morning. We quickly adopted a humorous response to these sorts of things: Only in Africa.
I spent five days initially in Johannesburg, seeing family members and friends, being dazzled by how cheap food and alcohol was for us on our Aussie dollar, exploring Monte Casino, Sandton Mall and Mall of Africa (look, it's big, but it was, at the end of the day, an oddly laid out shopping centre), touring around Soweto (that breaks your heart!), and going for a drive out to a Lion Park, Lesedi Village and the Elephant Sanctuary. I admit, the Lion Park was... a mistake I wouldn't recommend. For all it painted itself as a conservation effort, keeping groups of lions in small fenced areas where they can't hunt was simply depressing, and I felt like I was experiencing 'canned lion'. These lions are bred in such a way they could never be introduced into the wild. These majestic creatures deserve a life free to hunt and roam, and I promise seeing them on a game lodge is a far more valuable experience all round. The elephant sanctuary was a different experience for me, and I was thrilled to pat an elephant. Elephants are one of my favourite animals, and I was amazed to feel their hide and tail hair, and walk with them.
Soweto was an eye-opening experience, and we were lucky enough to have a local guide. He was a great guy, and answered our questions as comprehensively as he could. I was impressed that he spoke six of the 11 official languages of South Africa! I can't even begin to express how sad it is to see shanty towns, and know how rife poverty is, and hear about the struggles during apartheid. For all this is a new nation, it is one still scarred by the past. It was a place I didn't feel comfortable taking photos either, like I was looking at the way people lived for entertainment, so I left my phone in my bag and took it in instead.
We then travelled onto Cape Town, and what a beautiful place Cape Town is! Table Mountain rising above the city bowl - one particular day we saw the fog rolling in from the ocean over the city from the heights of Table Mountain, and the cloud table cloth, whisping off the sides of this flat topped mountain. I went to the top on the cableway and had to laugh at the Dussies stealing food at the top and even trying to eat cigarette butts. I walked around Lion's head, the smaller peak near the mountain, and spent a few minutes in the gorgeous Bo-Kaap, originally known as the Malay Quarter in Cape Town at the bottom of Signal Hill. It's brightly coloured houses and multicultural feel I absolutely loved, and wished I could have spent longer there.
We took a drive out to Cape Point too, and what a spectacular national park space. We were delighted to see a tortoise on the road, and then a family of baboons crossing. So sweet to visit this time of year and see all the baby animals, especially the baby baboons. They're so small. The alpha male waited for everyone to cross safely before he did. What a good dad! We also stopped at Boulders Beach to swim with the penguins, what posers they are!
We travelled a lot out to the wine region of Stellenbosch, for the wedding we attended, as well as lunches with friends of the family. Boschendal was the location of the wedding, and this beautiful old wine farm was the perfect location, what with the rolling green lawns bordered by mountains, and a beautiful function hall where we dined under fairy lights. They also make a good Shiraz and Merlot *coughs* (Brought some back duty free!) It was lovely to take a dip in the pool, eating passionfruit fallen on the ground, consuming pizza under the oak trees of an evening, see the sun dip behind the mountains of a sunset and chat with such different and interesting people. We had brunch on the lawn of Rhone Homestead, the oldest remaining building on the property (1795!) and a beautiful example of Cape Dutch architecture.
We also had a delightful lunch and enjoyable afternoon with the owners of Rozendal Vinegar and Guest Farm. We sampled their delightful vinegar range, and I loved patting Truffle the pig and playing with the dogs and feeding the greedy alpacas haha. I couldn't resist taking some vinegar home in my luggage.
Lunch at DeMorgenzon in Stellenbosch was quite an experience as we dined with owners in their gorgeous home. I was in love with their two Jack Russells (who reminded me of my own little pup who I was desperately missing) and enjoyed the behind the scene tour of their wine production. The smell of all those grapes being pressed was insane!
The highlight of this trip for me was definitely the game lodge. I stayed at a smaller lodge which meant the likelihood of seeing the animals was higher, and boy did we hit the jackpot! I was thrilled to see giraffes, zebra (with their babies!), a tonne of different buck, hippos, elephants (including some that pulled down a tree in front of us to eat), rhinos, cheetahs and lions. The lions are so magnificent, but slightly terrifying as you're in an open vehicle! We drove right past the male sitting by the road with the kill and it gave me quite a shock... Before you ask, I will explain the open vehicle. In the Lion Park, the lions associate vehicles with food because they don't hunt and food is brought by humans, where at the game park where these lions hunt for themselves they don't see vehicles as food bringers, just one large car-fume-smelling noisy animal, so they're unlikely to try you out if you're sensible and keep your distance and don't get out of the car or stand up! We also visited a nearby park for a cheetah interaction, and had the hilarity of seeing meerkat antics too. A stray cat had placed her babies in their enclosure and the rangers had to rescue the kittens before the female meerkat killed them. The cheetahs were amazing, purring from pats and very sweet, but it did make me sad to see them in an enclosure too, and raced for exercise (what they mean is entertainment).
I also indulged in a massage at the game lodge spa which was bliss. So nice to get to rest and relax, which I also did by the pool, drinking cocktails and dozing. The 4.50am wake up calls for the drives were a challenge after all! Unfortunately I picked up a stomach bug on the second last day so I did have to spend a ridiculous amount of time in the bathroom after that and felt pretty rotten from it, as you can see in the pic with the cheetah.
So, was it safe? Well, I will admit I rarely felt safe. Some places we avoided stopping in while driving, or travelled as a big group so were a less likely target for crime. I certainly didn't feel a stroll around the suburbs was an option, nor that I could go off on my own and just explore, something about travel I really enjoy. It was insane to sleep in places with iron gates across the bedroom section of the house so no one could get in, and all the gates and walls and electric fences, and it's just confronting to be somewhere you need that. The term gilded cage was mentioned to me, and I felt that. While nothing happened to us, thank heavens, while there a family member was attacked. The reality is, Cape Town and Johannesburg aren't that safe, no matter how you want to paint it and how many walls and security guards you have.
All in all, I tell people it was an interesting trip, and I am very thankful to have seen all of the wonderful things I did, and meet so many fabulous people. But, I'm also glad to be home again, and to appreciate the benefits of living so comfortably and safely as I do.
Love WTP x