When I began to tell people I was heading to South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe for three months on my first real overseas adventure, a whole range of reactions were thrown at me. “You are a young, solo female, you know what’ll happen to you” was the most common type of reaction, but guess the type of person who would spout this nonsensical melodrama? You got it – those who had never set foot upon the continent of Africa, or in fact, those who had never set foot in countries other than their own. I was constantly prompted to talk to South Africans who ‘had left Africa for a reason,’ or told to consider going somewhere ‘safer.’ I was appalled at the ‘you’ll be raped, robbed and pillaged’ attitude people warned me of. I was offended that people were so disbelieving in my abilities to keep myself safe, but I was also offended by the reactions people threw off as soon as I mentioned Africa. I wasn’t falling for it. In September last year, I boarded a plane to South Africa, to the best decision of my life!
Well, guess what? I survived. Guess what? It defied belief.
Don’t listen to people who put you, or the countries you aspire to see, down. Don’t listen to other people’s fears, broken dreams or reservations. If you want to go to Africa, or anywhere, stop thinking about it and just book that bloody airfare! You might be petrified of travelling into the unknown, afraid of travelling alone, and influenced by the negative comments of others. But just as I did, you will thank yourself for making the effort, when you are sitting on the back of a safari truck, admiring an iconic African sunset.
There are one thousand reasons to visit Southern Africa, but here’s seven reasons why Southern Africa is the greatest place on the planet.
They have baggage trolley escalators:
This is modern engineering at it’s finest – inventions like this make all the difference! I was picked up in Cape Town by a young man who carelessly pushed the baggage trolley onto an escalator. I let out a squeal of shock. He simply turned to me and exclaimed, “You are in South Africa now, honey.”
People are genuinely friendly and respectful:
If I walked or drove down the street smiling and waving to people like I would in Africa, I’d be taken for a lunatic. But in Southern Africa, every person you pass smiles and waves, and you could sit and chat to anyone about anything. In fact, I found you didn’t even need to speak; there was just this aura of friendship and respect from people; you could simply sit in their presence and feel as if you had known each other for years.
People are helpful and caring – they won’t leave you stranded:
I had taken the train to Pretoria one hot day, to visit a few museums. Museum-going can be tough work, and in the heat of the day, I had decided enough was enough. I walked through the streets trying to find a taxi stand, but not a single taxi could be spotted. I was exhausted and parched, so I made a bee-line to the closest supermarket, where I bought a bottle of water and asked the check-out lady if she could call me a cab. She disappeared, and returned with the store manager, to whom I made the same request. He said he would call a taxi for me, and would be back shortly. He returned and herded me through the back of the supermarket so I wouldn’t have to wrestle with the masses on the streets. He gave me his cell phone number and asked me to text him when I arrived back at the train station, and promised if I had not messaged within half an hour, he would come looking for me.
I was amazed that this man, with a job to do, would give up an hour of his day to simply attend to the needs of a lost traveller. Yet, numerous times, similar situations occurred and I came to the realisation people wanted to look after you and ensure you were happy and safe.
You realise a new dimension of happiness:
I can say honestly, I have never been happier in my life, than when I was in Southern Africa. The attitude of every person I met, amazed me. Their sense of appreciation, community, friendship, love, resilience and privilege, challenged and changed my whole outlook on life – I finally understood happiness, but I can’t really describe to you that feeling, instead, I think you should find out for yourself.
In an awful attempt at describing what I thought to a South African who had never left his own country, I said “you may think Westerners are happy, but happiness is just a word for things we can buy. Happiness isn’t really a feeling – it’s stuff. And it is that stuff that goes hand in hand with why we are so unhappy. Yes, we have technology coming out of our ears and big houses, but we fake happiness. We are too consumed by pretending to be happy, that we are often miserable. I found happiness like no other in Africa – I have never been as happy as the weeks I have spent here. You have huge communities and families that respect, love and support you. You stick together, work together. You feel blessed for what you have – it’s your attitude, your love, your pride and this atmosphere. You are blessed, because when you smile, it is genuine and true.”
Your whole outlook on life changes:
Everything you thought about life, the world and the universe, will be dramatically altered. You realise that your family, your true and loyal friends, the animals of this planet, the genuine laughs you share with one another, your attitude towards others, your attitude towards your own life, your goodwill and your impact on this world are what are really important. It’s the small things you’d never do at home, like sitting around a campfire, looking up at the stars and contemplating how incredible this universe is, that makes an impact. And when your outlook on life changes, you begin to notice the small things, like the way the grass sways in the wind, or you become conscious of not stepping on an ant, because his life is important, incredible and he has a job to do, but you also realise your strengths and abilities, and start to feel like you can achieve anything!
You are taken back to your roots:
They say we, as humans, all originated from Africa – that in itself shook me, knowing that I was standing where it potentially all started. Over time, you start to feel like you belong in Africa. You begin to wake before dawn to watch the sun rise in all its glory. You go to bed not long after dark because your body clock works as it should. And after the initial shock of finding out wee-wee stops are indeed bush-pees you start to feel at one with the earth, and at one with yourself. Suddenly, you aren’t all that worried about sleeping on the dirt, with wild animals roaming around. And there is a small part of you that would just love to run through the bush naked, just to feel that freedom.
The beauty of Africa is unlike no other:
Picture the wide open plains, the lions, cheetah, rhino. Imagine a colony of army ants invading a termite mound. Imagine seeing a Leopard in the wild for the very first time. The wind is rustling through the acacias, the birds are singing in the background and a giraffe is eating on the side of the road. Drive twenty minutes down the road and you are amidst lush green plantations and epic canyons. And then there is the desert in all its expansiveness. The rivers and deltas roll through the green, with elephants bathing in the shallows . The dramatic mountains tower over townships. And before long you are standing on a rolling white sandy beach with a deep blue ocean stretching out to the horizon. The beauty of Africa is unparalleled – you have to see it to believe it.
And even as I try to use words to describe how phenomenal Southern Africa is, I simply cannot do justice with words. Africa seriously left me speechless.