Let's start this way.
Was it beautiful in southern Africa?
Did you enjoy yourself?
Would you recommend it to others?
Would you go back?
Last year during our annual hibernation, I can recall eavesdropping on the two women ahead of us on the path that we were hiking in Vietnam. One of them asked the other, "Where did you last travel to?" When her partner shared that it was South Africa, she excitedly asked about her experience. In a flat voice, her friend answered, "I didn't like it; everyone assumed I was white South African and treated me as such."
Heeere's the thing. South Africa is a country that's been no stranger to unrest. Apartheid, which only loosened its legal grip in the 1990's, still lingers in the behaviors and memory of a society that's 10% white, 90% people of color. In the US, we've had several decades since the Civil Rights Movement to try and straighten things out on the road to equality, and it's still a problem. Couple that with economic issues—26.6% of the population is unemployed—an impending water crisis for Cape Town and a host of other ongoing issues and oooooof. Being in South Africa, the pot felt like it was boiling over, while in the international media, it felt like it was portrayed as a harmless simmer whose heat won't burn fun-loving tourists.
And I'll be upfront: were we directly victimized? Were we criminal witnesses? No. We escaped unscathed, but a trickle of fear was omnipresent and oppressive. Could that mean that an inflated fear is skewing my opinion towards the negative? Yep, absolutely. But it doesn't change our perceived experience and the pervasive feeling of exhaustive vigilance. It doesn't change our first morning in Johannesburg, huddled in our hotel room—a hotel, I'll add, that dressed its exterior in barbed wire and electrical fencing—reading about the knifing of an elderly couple on a midday hike the day before, in a party of 9, on a popular hike on Table Mountain. I'll spare you additional examples of what's going on, why are we here, partly because it's a downer & partly because I'm hesitant to even share this much, afraid of an internet attack over my opinions.
It's also important to make the distinction between South Africa vs Lesotho (the teeny, land-locked country inside SA's borders) and Namibia to the northwest. The former was the site of my squeamishness. Both Lesotho and Namibia felt considerably safer, and I harbor fond memories with locals and expats alike.
As for the positives: tell me you don't want to play with miniature penguins?! Where else will you find a strip of settled coastline quite like Camp's Bay? Who wouldn't want to experience a safari in one of the best + biggest wilderness preserves in the world? And the tallest waterfall in Africa, disputed to be the tallest in the world? Undeniably one of the most incredible hikes I've ever undertaken with a view of the falls taken straight from a storybook. We were privy to visits with some incredible wildlife and natural phenomena, and my Instagram was certainly lookin' real pretty for 6 weeks.
First stop: Blyde River Canyon
The largest green canyon in the world + the selling point of SA for me
Kruger National Park
Eric's #1 + the site of our self driving safari
A small, mountainous country landlocked inside South Africa
Drakensberg National Park
Home to Tugela Falls, the highest waterfall in Africa and disputably the first (or at least the second) tallest in the world. Also where I celebrated my 30th birthday.
The next country to the north, we settled in the small German village of Luderitz for a few days with stops in Kimberely and Fish River Canyon on the way
Once the richest city in the world by wealth per capita, now a derelict diamond mining town. Also the place that sold me on Namibia and captivated my imagination.
Hiking, penguins, and seaside drives
Bucket list cheeeeeck + images courtesy of Skydive Cape Town
The Garden Route
Iconic drive along SA's southern coast, comparble to Highway 1
+ That's a wrap! We've since concluded our 5,250 mile road trip and have flown just as many north to Portugal. I'll check in again when the next phase of our itinerary is complete, but in the meantime: tell me if you've been to South Africa + surroundings! Did you love it, hate it, somewhere in between? Are you as conflicted about it as I am? I'd love to hear your thoughts.
Lastly: the travel video!
Check 'er out, it's my new favorite for sure.