Well, it’s been a bit over a year since my trip to South Africa, and I still haven’t written about it. It’s time, isn’t it?
Back in fall of 2015, at our mutual birthday party, my sister brought up that she was going to South Africa and was looking for a companion. Turns out that her South African boyfriend Francois had run out of a US work visa and was back home, and she was planning on visiting him and his family in January 2016. They said she could bring a guest, and I lucked out, because her best friend couldn’t go. I was next in line!
I put the whole trip on my credit card, having just been to Greece a few months before. But nearly $2000 in debt later, I still consider it the best trip of my life!
She got there a few days before I did. I wanted to give her and Francois some privacy (in his parents’ house…) and also, honestly, I was scared about flying with my only sibling, for my parents’ sake. I got a flight on Lufthansa, which is the best airline I’ve ever taken. They gave me so much wine I couldn’t have stood if I wanted to, and when I woke up, I was in Munich with a long layover! I immediately took the train out to Marienplatz.
New Town Hall
Streets of Marienplatz, Munich
From my research, it sounded like Marienplatz was pretty hipster, or kind of the Logan Square of Munich, so that’s where I went because I figured it’d feel like home. I got a sandwich and fries and a beer at a local pub. Then I got back on the eternal flight.
From the airport in Johannesburg, I immediately pulled out onto the freeway in a rental car, from the right side of the car but on the left side of the four-lane freeway. It was the most terrifying drive of my life. I’m not sure how I made it to Francois’ family’s house in Eloff, but after many a pot-hole-ridden dirt road, I saw my sister again. We had a nice evening in Francois’ sister’s hot tub, and we spent the night there.
Driving on the wrong side
South African countryside
The next morning I had a long drive out to Hazyview, outside Kruger National Park. I was staying at a hostel in Hazyview and then going on a safari in the park the next day. It was a four-hour drive (again, on the left) over winding roads through the mountains of South Africa. I was cruising and playing glam rock on my phone and enjoying the scenery. Eventually I got to the town of Nelspruit as it was getting dark, and my phone had just died, so I decided to pull over and look for the charger.
And it was gone. I was in a grocery store parking lot, digging under the seats anxiously, as people started to move closer and closer, circling my car. I was an easy target. I couldn’t stay there, so I kept driving as best I could based on the map I’d printed out. It took me into the woods, and I ended up in a vacant lot. By this point it was pitch black, and I was certain I was going to die. I was about to get murdered in the woods of the South African countryside. I drove in aimless circles through the woods, crying like a maniac, trying to come up with any idea to save myself.
Then I remembered: I drove past a tiny hospital in Nelspruit. If I could remember how to get back there, that was my best option for a safe place to find the charger and charge my phone.
Even luckier, though, was that along the way I saw a light in the distance and found a restaurant. The parking lot was lit up brightly, so I felt safe enough to get out of my car and keep digging for the charger. And I found it! But this was Francois’ South African charger, and it turned out it wasn’t very compatible with my American phone. It zapped about 1% battery life into my phone, and then it wouldn’t charge anymore. That 1% had to get me directions to my hostel in a hurry.
By some miracle I got there. The room was full of bugs and geckos, and I was afraid to even pull the sheets down on the bed because I was sure there were snakes in it. But I got drunk at the hostel bar and got a few hours of sleep before my safari.
The safari was excellent. I booked a group safari because it was more affordable, but it turned out nobody else was scheduled for that day with my chosen tour company, so it was just me in a giant Jeep with a very sweet and incredibly well-informed guide. Of the Big Five, I saw all but a leopard, as they’re notoriously elusive. But elephants, lions, zebras, buffalo, hippos, giraffes, various monkeys, warthogs, rhinos, and more all made an appearance! Kruger National Park was gorgeous and I hope to go back there someday.
On a safari
That night after the safari, my mom did the sweetest thing. Because I’d texted her the day before about all the bugs and geckos at the hostel, she booked me a swanky hotel room nearby. My parents don’t have tons of money, but for a splurge of $100 USD, she was able to get me a really nice, fancy room. I was so grateful! The hotel was surrounded by streams, and signs warned of alligators and hippos coming onto the property. I had a nice dinner at the hotel restaurant ($20 USD for a three-course meal and a bottle of wine), and a hippo emerged in the yard!
I got back to Francois’ family’s house outside Johannesburg the next evening, and the following morning, we got a flight on Mango Airlines to Durban.
Let’s talk for a minute about domestic travel in South Africa. You don’t have to take off your shoes. You can bring liquids of any kind and size. You can fly without your fucking passport if you have a photo of it on your phone. So yeah. This is in stark contrast from the time I flew from Greece to Canada to the US, and had to go through an extra security checkpoint in Canada just because I was flying to the States. Okay.
From Durban, Francois took us to his family friend’s cute little hut near the beach in Hibberdene.
Passed out on the way to Hibberdene
We spent the next four days swimming in the ocean, feeding the ducks and other birds, eating veggie pot pies, and drinking from the time we woke up until we went to bed. I wish I could provide more info than that, but we stayed consistently drunk and in the sun. It was one of the best times in my life.
Bridge to the ocean
My bedroom in the loft of the round hut
On our last day, Francois took us back to Durban, where we went to the combination aquarium/water park, Ushaka Marine World. It was my first time at a water park in years, and on top of that, you could drink! We spent the day shotgunning beers between water slides, and then we toured the aquarium.
We finished off with dinner and drinks on the pier, and the next morning we flew back to Johannesburg. Then it was back to the US for Laura and me.
This time we flew together, and again, I was scared for my parents because no one should ever have their only children on the same flight together. Then again, maybe most people aren’t as terrified of flying as I am. I have to say, it was nice to have a travel companion for the 21-hour flight.
Needless to say I drank a lot, and Laura imbibed quite a bit herself. We had a short layover in Frankfurt, where I accidentally left the book Colin had bought me for Christmas. If anyone has a copy of The Plague, I need to read the last couple depressing chapters.
All in all, my trip to South Africa was amazing. It was all fun, but my time in Hibberdene by the beach was best of all. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
Endless thanks to Francois and his family for their hospitality and welcoming. I hope to visit again someday.
Next up: Amsterdam and Berlin with my work-friend Julia!