We left Egypt the day that the terrorists attacked Charlie Hebdo in France. It was “Christmas Day” in this part of the world and we had no idea that the attack had happened until we saw a report on TV at our vacation rental in South Africa. We’d originally planned to stay in Egypt for a full month, but while we were in Tunisia, John and I decided that we were playing the odds and we needed to get out of the Middle East sooner than later. We tossed around a number of different ideas. We had a flight booked to Athens at the end of the month and we hated to forfeit that flight by going to Greece early (the airline wouldn’t give us a refund). So we decided to go to South Africa for 2 ½ weeks, passing through Ethiopia on the way and then returning to Cairo for our flight to Athens. I mean, why not?
South Africa and Ethiopia have been on our must-see list for a long time, but southern Africa is a long way from home. We couldn’t fly direct to anywhere in southern Africa from the United States and so we’ve just kind of skipped it. This was our opportunity to get a taste of Africa below the equator. We chose South Africa because we could avoid malaria areas pretty easily and still have an internet connection too. We opted for a flight that went through Ethiopia rather than Qatar for obvious reasons. Someday, we’ll stop longer in Addis Ababa. I can hardly wait.
Honestly though, when I think of South Africa, I think arpartheid and Nelson Mandela. That’s all I really know about this place. Since we’ve gotten here, I’ve learned that there are some affordable (and not-so-affordable) safari options as well. This was news to me. I’ve learned that South Africans have a great sense of humor…much better than Middle Easterners. And the weather is lovely. It’s summer here and the temperature is around 80 degrees Fahrenheit every day. The flowers are blooming and everyone is wearing shorts and skimpies. We’ve struggled to come up with a solid itinerary in part because our vacation rental is the first truly comfortable and “Western” accommodation that we’ve had since we left Europe. We don’t really want to leave and make ourselves uncomfortable again.
John and I have gone back and forth about the necessity of doing an African safari. We hadn’t planned to be here at all. Is it really necessary for us to go out into the bushveld on yet another Big Adventure? The more Big Adventures we have, the smaller each one seems. Isn’t it enough for us to be in Johannesburg on the southern end of Africa? Couldn’t we just visit a couple of museums and call it “good”?
What’s wrong with us?
After our 18 hour sleep-deprived marathon getting here that began at the Cairo Airport at 10:00 PM and ended the next day at our vacation rental in South Africa around 6:00 PM we spent the first full day we were here considering a short “side-trip” to the incredible Deadvlei deserts in Namibia (in addition to a 3-day safari at Madikwe). Yesterday, John and I tried to decide. Should we or shouldn’t we?
We don’t buy souvenirs when we travel. We travel light and we only buy the necessities. We never eat in restaurants. For the most part, we always cook our own food to stay healthy and avoid traveller’s diarrhea and other, more horrible ailments. We stay in rentals that are a lot cheaper than hotels, but also a lot more comfortable. Rentals are always a risk and we never know what to expect but usually it works out and more often than not we can adapt to the challenges (like cold showers, cockroaches, ants, loud dogs, a lack of towels, etc.). Most of the time, we meet interesting people through our rentals. John and I both continue working when we travel. John puts in 50 to 80 hours a week in addition to our little “weekend excursions”. He has a little lap desk that functions as “his office” when we’re abroad. He’s a warrior about getting his work done before the weekend. He always tries to answer the “should we or shouldn’t we” question with “we should”. But Lydian takes college classes online and she has to stay on task too. She’s more cautious about saying that we can afford to take time for a difficult “side trip”. So I try to book rentals in places that make the rest of our adventures really accessible. Sometimes I’m successful, sometimes I’m not, but that’s part of the adventure. We never go out sight-seeing for more than 2 to 3 days at a time to keep our work on schedule. In terms of the “basics” like eating, drinking, sleeping, and working, we have a system. In terms of controlling our compulsion to see it all when we visit a new destination…not so much.
If we can go somewhere, see something or do something amazing within 72 hours or less, it’s hard for us to say no. We decide about our adventures as a family. Luckily (or maybe not), we’re all a little compulsive about wanting to see and do it all. Usually, we come to an agreement fairly quickly. But this South Africa adventure was a last minute trip. I’ve done almost no research on this place that’s sof far from home and I’m racing to figure it all out as fast as I can.
We have 2 ½ weeks in South Africa and that equals roughly two 2-3 day excursions. But this is a big country. In fact, there are two tiny countries tucked inside of it (Lesotho and Swaziland). And Namibia is right there (or so it seems, relatively speaking). We can’t see it all. We can’t even see a tiny fraction of it all. Instead of feeling like I’ve seen a lot, on every trip we take, I feel more and more like I’ll never be able to see everything I want to see. Every new country makes me more curious, not less. Sometimes, this compulsion has a feverish pitch to it that tugs at my sanity. It tugs at John’s and Lydian’s sanity too. There are no rules. We could see a few things. One thing. Many things. Nothing. It’s up to us.
I suffer somewhat from the fear of Never-Coming-Back. What if I never make it back to South
Africa? What if we never go to Namibia? I suppose it’s better to have a sense of where I’d like to go next than to finish a long trip with this feeling like I never want to travel again because there’s nothing left to see. We left Egypt behind just in time politically, but way too soon in terms of what I would’ve liked to have seen and done there. We have 14 days left in South Africa and the verdict is still out on what we’ll actually do and see while we’re here, but no matter what, I’m sure it will be amazing to us. Amazing enough, at least, for us to keep wanting to go out and explore more of the world, one little experience at a time.