EPISODE 006 – I did not want to go to Africa
Episode 006 is where I discuss my trip to Africa and how my life was changed forever.
I did not want to go to Africa. Let me rephrase that. I did not want to go to Africa until I retired because I wanted to spend months exploring each country. However, in 2013, my godson joined the Peace Corps and was stationed in Lesotho, which is an independent country within the South Africa border.
You see my godson takes after me with his traveling. So when he told me about the Peace Corps, I said, do you want me to tell your parents? And he said, no, I’ll tell them. I just want you to be there to be the calming influence. I said, okay.
We sat down. He told his parents that he was going to Africa for two years. And a gasp was expelled by both parents, my best friends. And the first thing that I said was now it’s time to get that passport because you’re not going to let your only son go to Africa and you can’t get to him. So we got the passports for them and they went to Africa before I did. My godson went to the Peace Corps in July 2013 and they went that following December 2013, right after Nelson Mandela had died.
So after I got his parents and youngest sister over there for their Christmas vacation, I took the opportunity to visit him for his birthday month in April 2014 and do a little exploring around South Africa and some neighboring countries.
The preparation for me:
1. Finding the right tour operator. I like boutique or small independent operators. And I found one in Tydon Safaris. They had a 12-day Kruger Park, Victoria Falls, and Cape Town Experience tour package, which included three days/two nights safari in Kruger, one full day/two nights in Johannesburg, three nights in Zimbabwe, three nights in Cape Town. One whole day was going to be for traveling between Victoria Falls all the way down to Cape Town.
So, of course, I ultimately extended that 12-day into a 21-day vacation for myself.
2. The other preparations were of course the required immunization shots: yellow fever, Typhoid, and Hepatitis A. I got those in March of 2014 at a Travel Clinic in the Fredericksburg Virginia area.
The CDC website has all the required and recommended immunizations for each country. So that information was easily accessible. And of course, the Travel Clinic has all that information, but you might as well be prepared in advance because it’s going to cost you if you need all those different shots.
3. The third part of the preparation was the visas. South Africa did not require a visa. Botswana did not require a visa, but Zimbabwe required a visa.
So since I was going to be entering Botswana from Zimbabwe, I needed a multiple entry visa. Therefore I sent my passport to the Zimbabwean Embassy in Washington, DC. I was just in Virginia, just down the road in February of 2014, but when I did not get my passport back in mid-March, I started calling. They would look for it, I was promised, and call me back.
That never happened. I call and I kept being told to be patient, but it was almost the end of March. And I was leaving on April 2nd, so I didn’t have that much time. On March 24th. When I called and started screaming, they finally said, okay, it’s. We don’t know where it is. So I had to expedite to get a new one, costing me a small fortune. I would have rather spend that money on fabrics and food and gifts for family and friends, but, oh, well… of course, I cursed them under my bed. I did find out however that I could get the multiple entry visa at the border crossing or at the airport.
Then the Saturday before I left – so I was leaving on April 2nd, which was a Wednesday – the Saturday before I left, I’m sitting at my desk. I hear someone pull up near my house. A couple of seconds later, close my mailbox. Then the car pulls up. Curious, because the mail had already been delivered that morning, but you know, sometimes mail gets mixed up and your neighbors will come by and drop off your mail in your mailbox.
So I went out to the mailbox and what do I find in my mailbox? My passport with the visa from Zimbabwe. So they found my passport – I don’t know when – but they didn’t bother to call me back to say anything. They dropped it off three days before I was leaving. And it wasn’t even in the envelope. So it was just there. My passport was just there and an empty mailbox. Anybody could come by and just like, you know, had my information. So of course I was so upset. I was so mad because I think that expedited passport costs me like $400 – $500 at that time.
So yeah, I was not happy about it. And I called the U.S. Passport Office and several other federal government offices to report them. I wanted to use my old passport because it had all my previous stamps in it. But I was told that since it was reported lost, I should absolutely not use it as it is invalid in the system and I could be detained. I didn’t want that to happen either. Thankfully, none of the countries required that my passport be at least six months old, or I would have been denied entrance.
Anyway, I made it. The flight from Dulles to Dakar, Senegal stopped for an hour to let off a few passengers and pick up some new ones. Then we departed for Johannesburg. I believe the flight before Dulles and Virginia to Dakar, Senegal was eight hours and then an hour stop. And then I believe the Dakar Senegal to Johannesburg was seven hours.
My godson met me at the airport and we stayed three days and two nights in Pretoria.
We hired a driver to take us around Johannesburg and the Soweto area. We did the apartheid museum. I knew that the tour, as part of the package, would also take me to the apartheid museum and Soweto, but it was all based on timing. And so, because me and my godson were doing this, we wanted to take our time. We wanted to take all day if we needed to, to go through the Soweto neighborhood and the apartheid museum. And I did take several hours in the apartheid museum. we also went to Johannesburg to meet his friend and we visited the Capitol buildings in Pretoria and a mall and did some shopping and just had a really good time.
Then Tydon Safaris picked me up in Pretoria at my hotel in a Jeep, and we drove even stopping to get groceries from a huge farmer’s market on the way to Kruger National Park. There the tented camp that I was staying in, which was absolutely stunning; it wasn’t high luxury, but I wasn’t missing a thing. It was fantastic and it was right outside the Sabi Sands gate. Sabi Sands is a game reserve inside of Kruger National Park. So it’s a certain area of Kruger National Park. So that was three days and two nights of safaris.
So you had morning drives and you had evening drives. There’s no sense in trying to go on an afternoon drive. Because of course it’s too hot and the animals are sleeping or hiding or doing whatever it is they need to do and not bothered with being visible. So in the afternoon, you come back to camp.
What I did was I looked at all my pictures. I downloaded my pictures, but you had the opportunity to take a swim because it was a nice pool. you could go to take a nap because you’re getting up early in the morning, you’re in the Jeep before six o’clock. You come back and you have breakfast, you do any activities and things like that on the camp.
And then you have lunch and do whatever it is you need to do. And then you’re going on an evening drive. So three days, two nights of that was just, it was fantastic. On the drive back to Johannesburg, you do the panoramic route, which is a different route than we took to the tented camp in Sabi Sands.
So the panoramic route, you stopped by God’s window, the Lisbon falls, just some amazing stops to view nature. We didn’t see God’s window was too foggy, which I think is ironic, but, that was just fantastic. So, I spent a night in Johannesburg; so did my driver and they had someone to pick up the next morning to do the same thing that I did.
And so I had a city tour again, the city tour was the apartheid museum Selecto and the old jail and constitution hall. So, again, all of that was timing. And so you did not get to spend as much time as I wanted. And that’s why me and my godson did it earlier, while we were in Pretoria.
Zimbabwe & Botswana
So the next stop was Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. I purchased my multiple entry visa at the airport. No problem. I danced with the Zulus at the airport. I was driven to the hotel, checked in, laughed at the warning that you get to please close your shutters on your balcony. Or at least use the screen so that the wild animals, the monkeys basically, and the birds wouldn’t get in and destroy your room while you were away. So that’s something that you needed to remember?
That evening I had a sunset cruise on the Zambezi River, which was lovely. You got to see the elephants playing cooling off from the sun. It was actually fantastic. You could hear the water going over the falls and we were about half a mile or maybe more away. They don’t allow you to go close during the month of April, because April has the largest capacity of water going over the falls. That month is the best month. If you want to get sprayed, want to get wet down. That’s the month to go. But when you’re taking a cruise on the Zambezi River, because the current is so strong, they only allow you to go so far down into the mouth.
So it was amazing. It really was amazing to see the animals at play nearby and actually, the food and the drink on the cruise was pretty good. The next day I had booked the walking path at Victoria Falls.
And again, as I said, the water capacity is at its highest. And I had two raincoats on, I had my camera in a waterproof bag, but even my underwear was drenched. It was that much. It was fantastic. Anyway, I had to run back, grab lunch, but of course, change clothes because my next tour was the flight over Victoria Falls in a helicopter. I just have a thing for helicopters and I just love that particular view.
The next day I had booked a land safari and Chobe river cruise safari in Chobe, Botswana. And I had also booked an overnight at the lodge. So in the morning, we did the Chobe River cruise safari. We had lunch at the lodge and then we went on a land part of the safari.
I thought that after going to Kruger National Park for three days; that I wouldn’t have my fill… but I can never get my fill of seeing animals living free as they were meant to be. Botswana had different species of birds that I couldn’t see in South Africa in Kruger National Park. Plenty of elephants and I got to see warthogs in Botswana. I did not see them in South Africa. The next day, I took another river safari cruise, and then I was taken back to the border crossing, picked up at the gate, and taken back to my hotel where I just rested and relaxed for the evening.
And the next day it was a full day of flying: Victoria Falls, back to Johannesburg, and then down to Cape Town.
South Africa again
Cape Town. What can I say that hasn’t already been said about Cape Town? This is a spectacular city. Plenty to do. Plenty to see. You have the Cape Winelands on one side, you have Cape Hermanus where you can see the whales. You can see penguins and seals on the other side. You can climb Table Mountain or you can take the cable car up to Table Mountain. It’s just a spectacular, really spectacular city.
Going on tours in Cape Town. You can do a full-day wine tour, or you go see the penguin colony and you go to Cape Point, which is the Southernmost point on the continent. And you can do a tour that takes you through the Bo-Kaap neighborhood.
But there’s also a tour where it’s called the District Six. It will take you through that neighborhood. And you understand that it’s just like Tulsa, Oklahoma. It was in an affluent neighborhood for the Blacks in Cape Town. And of course, whatever is coveted by the colonizers, everything will be destroyed. And so they had built a ghetto, a neighborhood to push the blacks into because they wanted their streets in Cape Town to be “whitewashed”, basically.
And so they burned everything. Took stores, killed people, moved all the black people out of their houses and everything else, by force, and pushed them into these shacks and shanties. That is a remarkable tour.
Get a guide. Hire a guide and a driver in Soweto Johannesburg as well. So you will experience the real deal. Take these tours that will link you to your history. Good or bad. You need to see it. You need to hear it. Reading about it is one thing, but experiencing it is another. So when you go to the continent, don’t just go to the beaches, but also learn about your history.
And I’m going to say this: if I ever get diagnosed and the prognosis is you got six months to live, I’m spending my last six months in Cape Town, South Africa. So just know, family, just know that if I book a one-way trip, that’s where I’m going to die… for real, for real.
Anyway, after Cape town, I went to Durban. I had a coworker who was from South Africa, in Durban, in particular, and his family was still there. So I went to Durban for a couple of days and, you know, met his family. And got some beach time in.
Anyway, I flew back home, after those 21 days.
Going to Africa, specifically, South Africa changed me forever.
The apartheid museum, because Mandela had just died, it had a special building in tribute to him. And his presidency and his life, and of course Winnie, and the struggle and the fight. Don’t go on a tour, just have someone drive you there, just hire a driver and just go there and spend as much time as you want. The pictures that were allowed to be captured… It is life-changing.
And for me, going on safaris and seeing elephants, lions, and leopards living free and running wild; surviving on their own and dying as a part of the circle of life; not in cages or confined living spaces and being fed with pitchforks; changed my perspective on wildlife, period. I stopped going to zoos, which was something that I absolutely loved doing.
Moving from Pittsburgh and going to school in Indiana and moving to Washington, DC was a huge impact on my life. South Africa had that same or bigger impact because we’re talking about an entire country. Apartheid had just ended 20 years prior and it was booming and it was progressive and they were trying to right wrongs.
One of the sayings posted on the front of the apartheid museum or inside… says something to the effect of “if you don’t acknowledge your past history, you’re bound to repeat it”. That was so profound. So profound, at least to me.
You can’t call yourself a queen if you’ve never ruled – and that means finding your purpose, finding your passion, knowing when that epiphany comes, or that light in your brain turns on.
What makes you tick? What makes you go forward? What are you going to stand in line? What are you going to stand up for?
Going to Africa made me realize how black I truly am. And I mean that from the inside out. Growing up in Pittsburgh, living in the hood, being taught by white people. Okay. Going to school in Indiana, probably the worst mistake I ever made. Not going to an HBCU, not being surrounded by my black people… But moving to Washington DC was a great stroke, a wonderful thing for my psyche, and going to South Africa, Africa period, but specifically South Africa is what turned that light on inside of me.
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