Travel has always been a part of my life. My parents did their best to take us on family trips growing up. One of my favorites was the time we took the Amtrack across the country from Los Angeles (my hometown) to Florida and ended at Walt Disney world. (Highly recommend if you have kids.) As I’ve gotten older travel has taken on a bit of a different meaning for me, I’ve taken an extended “eat, pray, love” (one of my fav movies) approach using travel as a means for healing and self-discovery. However, before I can get to talking about any of that, I have to take you back to one of the greatest trips I’ve experienced so far. That one time in 2010 when my parents invited me along for their annual trip this one to Africa. Now, I must admit I was reluctant to take the trip when it was first offered. You have to understand, there’s travel, and then there is traveling with Billie Jean (my mom). Listen, Billie Jean is the master explorer, ok. She will have you running from the time your feet hit the soil until the time you’re back flying the friendly skies back home. Like you are literally on the move from sun up to sun down. My idea of a vacation is a bit different. I’m more of a tropical location, warm weather, soft sand, clear water and a cocktail type of gal. Don’t get me wrong, I like adventure and to see the sights but in moderation. That is not what BJ is about. Not to mention this was a two and a half week trip, I was in my twenties with a boyfriend, great friends, and active social life, being away that long seemed like an eternity. None the less, mama ain’t raise no fool so of course, I took them up on the offer and my goodness I am grateful I did. It was one of thee most incredible experiences of my life. We traveled via Gate 1 travel, a travel group my mother swears by and that I would highly recommend if you’re looking to get the most out of your across the globe trip. They pair you with another group, for us, it was a group of four white women who made for quite the experience as their dynamics rivaled those of the golden girls. Initially, the group at large took a little time to warm up to each other but it didn’t take long before our group, (mom, dad, my aunt and me) was able to make heads and tails of each personality of the women (Judi- the cool one, Gayle- The complainer, Sue and Barbara- wealthy as they all were but pretty down to earth.) They also gave us a tour guide, Matt from Zimbabwe who was with us for majority of the trip. We started in Johannesburg and made our way through Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, and ended in Cape Town. You spend about two or three nights in each place, and there are plenty of things to do while in each. The highlight, of course, is the game drives on the reserves. It’s there that you experience what for me was the most breathtaking view of nature and life uninterrupted by the hustle and bustle of human-created chaos and was the ease in which animals move about their lives. Of course, it is the wild, so survival is the name of the game but even in that, there seems to be a general respect for one another and a lack of care for our curious presence. Here are my highlights:FNB Stadium Johannesburg
Johannesburg: It reminded me a lot of New York regarding its very cosmopolitan feel. It had a gritty, up-tempo, businesslike vibe to it. It was a bit surreal to be on the other side of the world in a place that was supposed to be so foreign and somehow feel right at home. We landed right at a casino that was just like those in Vegas and whatever guard there was about what this experience was going to be like quickly came down. The truth is, this was nothing like what TV said it was, it was my people living life just like us. While there we visited the Pieterson Memorial and Museum and took the Soweto tour where you are guided through the neighborhood life of Soweto. It’s like the heartbeat and most metropolitan township in the country. We also got a chance to visit the former residence of Bishop Desmond Tutu and visit Nelson Mandela’s old home. Finally, we ended up at the Apartheid Museum, which talks about apartheid and breaks down what the segregation looked like and the effects it had on the millions of people. It was the first time I’d come face to face with the realities of what took place. I think I was still a bit too young and self-centered, but considering the current climate in our country and beyond, it now lingers in my mind just how displaced we as a people have been for centuries in our own homes. I’d strongly advise you take this tour above anything else. The people who line the streets, sell goods, play music, share their stories are vibrant, beautiful and inspiring.
Botswana: Remember how in the beginning I was all like, yeah, I don’t too much travel like how Billie Jean travels. Well, she had me in the middle of the bush in a hut, a glamorous one I will say, but a hut nonetheless that we had to take a tiny plane to where there was no cell phone reception or WiFi, just wired windows, me, my aunt (who is a relatively quiet person) and the elements. We were right in the middle of Okavango Delta where little Pumba’s (warthogs) made their way under our hut particularly at night as the sounds of birds, bugs and the Serengeti serenaded us. Y’all, YALL, I was livid when I realized what was happening because of course, she failed to mention this part of the trip. Now I look back and think of how peaceful it was to unplug and be in the mist of Gods masterpiece. It was a beautiful melting pot of nature, animals in their elements and people forced to interact and enjoy the breathtaking sites and invaluable experience. For the first time since pagers made their debut, I was disconnected to the world outside of where I was and forced to be present in a way that allowed me to connect with me on a level I hadn’t known was possible. Perhaps the most fascinating part, being guided by armed men when leaving to and from out huts as to protect us from wildlife. After all, we were plopped right in the middle of their kingdom.
Another highlight while in Botswana is the sunset Chobe safari cruise. It moves through the Chobe National Park and from the water you can watch animals like elephants, giraffe, hippos and other wild animals. There are also tons of birds and incredible sights and sounds set to the backdrop of a sunset that is everything postcards are made of.
Namibia: Let me start by saying this place is beautiful, filled with beautiful people as is the case with most of Africa. However, the main take away from this place is that I will never ride in a canoe ever again. Lol. We’re on our usual mission for the day, in the bush, enjoying the animals, all is well. Next thing I know we approach a swamp with canoes in them. *insert blinking white guy gif* So it’s about three people to a canoe plus a guide who is rowing the boat. Here we are in the middle of the bush in some form of a swampy body of water. I have on no life vest, and our guide is stopping to show us sites as if the hippos aren’t chillin not too far away. Two essential things to know here: 1. Hippos are the biggest killers of humans in Africa. They can hold their breath underwater for long periods of time, tend to go under before they attack, are fast as hell and are currently disappearing as we’re on this ride. 2. I do not know how to swim. And not because, black. But because Billie Jean O’keith could not be bothered. She simply did not have the energy nor the time. She, being able to do almost any form of swim, well on her way to the Olympics before having my brother and me, couldn’t muster up enough to make sure he baby girl would never be faced with a life or death dilemma should she meet deep waters. She taught my brother, my aunts, and uncles, yup, ouchea swimming but here I come some five years later and nope, she was cool on that. She did, however, manage to put me on her back and sometimes stomach when I was small enough, and she was feeling fancy and float me around the pool. To her credit, it is the reason I am not afraid of water to this day. I trusted my mom with my life which leads me back to the story. Here I was again entrusting my life into the judgment of my mother during our journey to the other side of the world, as she thought this was a good idea. And it was. What I didn’t know then is that the conquering of these fears would equip me to look the scariest of happenings life would bring dead on and smile now. Anywho, it was both terrifying and surreal. The ease in which we were able to glide across the water in the midst of creatures both seen and unseen, it was one of those once in a lifetime type moments that after I stopped to take a deep breath, I’m glad I allowed myself to enjoy.
Zimbabwe: If you are up adventure you will love this place. To start, there’s the must-see iconic and beautiful Victoria Falls, which is over a mile wide and 351 feet high, broader and higher than Niagara Falls. If you look hard enough, you can see the natural pool off the cliff of the Zambia side where people who are brave enough can go for a dip.
While visiting I built up the courage to zip line over a 400 ft gorge. It was exhilarating. I won’t front like I wasn’t scared out of my mind as I made my way with my partner in adventure Judy. She was the coolest of the bunch and loved doing these type of things. The photos leading up to the zip shows us with very different expressions. She is all smiling while I..well I am not. They clip you in, and there is no turning back, and before I knew it, my fear turned to awe as we glided across a beautiful landscape with water flowing below us and mountains to each side of us. It felt like we were flying and at that moment, I was free. I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced that level of freedom before, but I pray that everyone would be so blessed.
My other adventure of choice was the walking with lions excursion. Now, when I signed up for this, I anticipated the cute little cuddly cubs that you can hold in your hands. That is in fact not what was there when we showed up. Like…oh hell no. These were lions lions. But again I looked to my mom, and she didn’t bat an eye, cool as a cucumber, and because she would, I believed I could. After they go through the instructions of where not to stand, how not to move, where not to touch, they then have each one of us (about a group of 10) walk one by one side by side with the lions. We held a stick (see below) to “protect” ourselves in case something popped off. It was by far one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. They are these majestic and royal creatures that walk with a confidence I hope always to exude. They were inviting, allowing us to journey beside them, touch their beautiful skin and take pictures with them as they posed knowingly but still maintained their dominance. I knew not to make a false move, or that’ll be all she wrote, and for as long as I respected them, they respected me. (Message!) It wasn’t until the end that guys hidden in the trees emerged with shotguns to let us know that they had us in case shit went sideways. It was at that very moment that I took my first breath in nearly 2 hours.
But perhaps the most incredible experience I had in Zimbabwe came by way of our gentle guide, Matt.
That is where he shared his story and brought an entire group of people from different walks of life to tears. The people of Zimbabwe had been in a fight to change up the status quo and overthrow poor leadership. The country was under a dictatorship of sorts by President Robert Mugabe who remained in power for 30 years which just ended in 2017 but not without a fight. Just a few years before we’d gotten to Africa, Matt was apart of a group of men who were tasked to help with the overthrowing of Mugabe which included protecting the young man they wanted to take his place. As apart of that group of about 8-10 men, he provided around the clock security for the young man whose life was in danger due to the current president’s military attempting to murder him. One day, the group of men was kidnapped by the military and beaten so bad that Matt was not able to walk and sustained multiple injuries. The torture proved too much for every other member of his group and on his last leg, he was tossed out and left to die. Thankfully someone found him in the nick of time. He went on to rehabilitate himself and got back to a place where not only was he fully healed but he could go on to get married, have kids and take up a job as a tour guide which he loves. The pride in which he shared about his people, country, continent. The finesse he used in the making for an enjoyable experience for a group of white women there to see the sites and novelty of it all. All while allowing for a homecoming for a group of black people he referred to as family understanding that we weren’t there to just take in the sites but to be one with those that for years we’d been told hate us for one reason or another. Not to say that that doesn’t exist, but he made it very clear that they were happy to have us there anytime we come and that we were indeed at home. It was interesting to journey along through parts of the trip with older white women as I’m sure you can imagine. As we went to visit villages and schools, and the children sang and danced as apart of their welcome, I couldn’t help but feel conflicted between falling in love with these beautiful, joy-filled children who seemed proud to show us what they knew and not wanting them to be exploited by these white people and admittedly even us. I’d cringe when they’d refer to traditional garb as costumes or turn their noses up at the elders who shared stories of the resources used through nature for healing that allows for them to live longer and fuller than those of us being poisoned slowly by western medicine. It was a schooling while enlightening. For all of the things that make up “first world problems” here we were in the heart of where the saying, “it takes a village to raise a child” was created as a thirty-year-old school principal explained how the community came together to build schools for their children and the children of those whose lives were cut short due to aids and illnesses. They leveraged these visits from tourists like us by striking a deal with Gate 1 to have a portion of the money we’d paid for the trip donated to them for the school. They were one classroom away from having a room for grades k-8. We were immersed in a culture stripped from us, in awe of a people who looked like us and who were just as fascinated with us as we were them. My father was offered a few goats in exchange for my hand in marriage, an offer he clearly refused to except. I made friends that I kept up with for quite a while through Whatsapp, basically, I had a blast.
Cape Town: Finally, we ended in beautiful Cape Town. It reminded me of the west coast, specifically San Diego. The oceanside town was modern, developed, and clearly, there’s plenty of money being spent there. At a local beach, we visited they were filming something which is a regular occurrence there. At the time, Cape Town was an add-on to the trip, so we were there on our own which was fine as it’s a city that’s very easy to get around. On our way into town from the airport, our black driver explained to us how the city was still segregated as the blacks lived further out in a different cape but most worked in the tourist area that we stayed in. They didn’t talk about race much, but it was apparent that it was still a very touchy thing amongst the people there. Another driver spoke to us about how people were broken down in three categories, black, white and colored. Colored folks included mixed race and other minorities. Mandela was still alive at the time we were there, so there was still some racial civility. It was an interesting dynamic.
Sadly, we weren’t able to go to robin’s island due to the water conditions being too rough to go out, that also put an end to our bucket list dreams of swimming with the sharks. Please note that movies like, “49 Meters Down” hadn’t been made yet. Though if given the chance, I think that’s something I would still do. We did, however, visit the popular table mountain and saw the cute little penguin colonies at Boulders Beach. There is a Cape Peninsula Tour which pretty much covers all of the must-see places in the southernmost point of the world. Cape Town is definitely on my list of places that I must go back to, it was their winter at the time so the cold temps and choppy waters didn’t allow me to enjoy the fullness the city had to offer. Be sure to check the seasons before you go, they are not aligned with ours.
All in all, if you ever have a chance to visit Africa, any part really, then I say go! Go and take it all in. The sites, the people, the sounds, the food, oh man the food. Let’s just take a second there, while I am not adventurous in that area; crickets, worms, and other insects were not something I was interested in trying, the freshness of the food was almost unfair when I think about the processed food we have here. We feasted like royalty which is apart of your package when you book through a group like Gate 1. From warthog, which was a little rough but yummy, to the very pretty and very tasty impalas (similar to deer). The food was off the chains! So eat it, eat it all. The music, the culture, the tradition. Everything about that place changed me. We complain about so much here while having so many things at our fingertips and for those in the developing nations, they had far less stuff but were far more content. They were happy in their lives, with what they had. What started as an “I mean it’s Africa so I’ll go” attitude, quickly turned to an “I can’t believe its time to go already” dread. It birthed a desire in me to not only see the world but to experience it in every sense of the word. And so, I set out to do just that.
“Travel is good for the soul. Experiences are necessary for growth.” – Dulce Ruby