30 hours of flying. Enough said. That's what I tell anyone when they ask me how traveling to South Africa was. However, that's not quite the whole story. While dealing with LAX traffic, 3 different flights, connecting in Heathrow, and missing my flight from Johannesburg to Bloemfontein held more sore necks, exaggerated eye bags, irritable family members, and airline coffee that I would like, I had no idea of the other world waiting for me once I stepped outside of that airport.
First off, I had never been on the continent of Africa before; it almost felt like I had been neglecting such a large part of the globe. I've been fortunate enough to travel to many different countries and it has expanded my worldview in many more ways than I would've thought possible. Born in London and raised in the United States, it's not outrageous to say that I've been surrounded by people who look like me and who act like me. My first time being an ethnic minority was jarring but in a healthy way. It helped me check my privilege a bit.
I visited a game reserve just outside of Bloemfontein for about ten days. While not the infamous Kruger National Park, it was amazing to see a place that protected and cared for their animals. Without the big cats as predators, the owners of the reserve employ controlled hunting of the populations of bontebok, wild boars, and other game. As a vegetarian, I, of course, did not participate in these activities but seeing this money keep their reserve running was eye-opening. While I am not a fan of hunting, in South Africa there is a large hunting culture; however, it matters the target. Endangered species in Africa are too often being hunted for sport and self on the black market. However, hunting does not have to be wholly negative because when it is legal, it keeps tourism going and allows reserves for these animals to continue. Without hunting, these animals would be without the protection of the reserve.
After my time "in the bush" as the locals call it, I spent about four days in Cape Town, which was by far the most thrilling and diverse location I have ever been to. Chapman's Peak Drive on the southwestern coast of the country reminded me of the PCH drive in California from the south up to Big Sur. It was like California coastlines but on steroids. We also went to the Cape of Good Hope, the most southwestern tip of the continent. There's a misconception about this cape- many people think that it is the most southern point, but it is actually where the Indian and Atlantic oceans meet. Looking down, you can even distinguish where the two waters meet each other.
While the scenery was amazing, the most important experience of my life happened about an eight-hour car ride from the southern port of Cape Town. Getting up at 4 a.m. to leave our hotel, we packed as many towels and jackets as possible (July in South Africa is WINTER). After an hour ride on a boat to Shark alley, I descended in my thick wetsuit into a cage to go shark diving. South Africa and Australia are some of the only places where diving with sharks is possible, so I was determined to see one up close because who knew when I would have the opportunity. After two hours of nothing, I began to think that it was all for naught. Out of nowhere, my brother and I saw a 17-foot great white loom out of the water. It passed by dozens of times, each time getting close enough so that I could have reached out and touched it. I felt so close to these animals that are so misunderstood. I had never experienced anything like it.
South Africa has so much to offer that spending just two weeks there was not enough. Traveling there takes a lot of money, planning, and time. Now I guess I have something to work for. I can't wait to save up and go back.