As most of you already know, I spent the past 11 days traveling around northern South Africa and Southern Namibia. Compared to Cape Town and Stellenbosch, the further north areas are much more isolated—a lot more land and a lot less people. Namibia itself only has a population of about 1.7 million people (and if you were to look on a map, the country is fairly big). I know a lot of people picture Africa to be a bunch of open plains with animals all over the place (and clearly that is not an accurate description of Africa). However, Namibia is a much more “so Africa” stereotyped description of “Africa”—although once again, to categorize Africa as 1 entity is just wrong (I mean, you have South Africa itself which has a 11 different and distinct cultures). In fact, many people in South Africa will say they are their culture, before saying they are South African. For example, a local culture here in Stellenbosch is the Xhosa people (yes, one of the many different clicking languages in Africa). Most people of the Xhosa culture will say they are first Xhosa before saying they are South African. The cultures really are fascinating, and are very traditional (for the most part—obviously, western ideas are changing traditions here and there). For example, many of the different cultures here have unique initiations. Often during the initiations, the individuals will be cut, etc. on their skin in order to show their affiliation. So sometimes, you can tell which culture they are from due to certain scaring on their face. The scaring is not abrasive or anything. I find it to be a beautiful part of a saved tradition.
Anyway, back to my travels:
After taking some time to explain that my license was not expired (in South Africa, they read 10/05/2014 as May 10th, 2014… of course, in America it would be read October 5th, 2014), we successfully rented a rental car this past Friday (the 23rd of May)— a Honda Jazz (which surprisingly held up pretty well on the Namibian roads). We left in the morning for about a 6.5 hour drive to a place called Kamiskroon (a little before the Namibian boarder). This was kind of just a stop-over place, but it was a very nice house owned by a very nice couple in their 70’s). The house was very old, and had antiques all around it. The power ran on gas, so we opted to use candles as lighting.
The following day, we drove through the Namibian boarder! After driving on the dirt roads of Namibia, we made it to our destination: Roadhouse Canyon. We camped here for 2 nights. It got cold at night, but we had a sleeping bag and two blankets each so it was not too bad. During the day it was in the upper 80’s, low 90’s. On Sunday we woke up at about 5:15 to go to the Fish River Canyon for the sunrise. Everyday except for two days, I woke up to watch the sunrise. The sunrise I saw at the Canyon was definitely my favorite of them all. Later in the day, we traveled to Ai Ais natural hot springs—basically a resort in the middle a nowhere that had pools that were created by hot springs. The pool was similar to a giant hot tub. The scenery was beautiful around the pools…a lot of mountains and stretches of land. On the way home from the hot springs we saw a snake on the side of the road. We got out of our car to take pictures of it. It turns out the snake was a Cape Cobra and just so happens is the cause of the most fatalities (by a snake) of humans in Southern Namibia (luckily, the snake was not in a defensive possession or anything).
The following morning, we left for a town called Mariental. Mariental was just a little town in (once again) the middle of nowhere. We stayed in a guesthouse owned by a family. The guesthouse had a TV…so we all decided to watch an episode of Cake Boss and Say Yes to the Dress (since it was the first time we were able to watch TV since we arrived). We were not too sure what to do in Mariental (since it was just a stop-over town) so we ended up at this dam/nature game reserve thing. It was really random but entertaining nonetheless. Afterward, we went out to dinner and just sat around the table for a few hours until we were all tired. We woke up the next morning, went to a coffee shop, and were on the road again. Our next destination: Sossusvlei.
Sossusvlei has the highest sand dunes and is the oldest desert in Africa (and possibly the whole world as well). This destination was easily my favorite part of my Namibia travels. The desert was absolutely beautiful and was like nothing else I have ever seen. The sand was a red color, so it looked really amazing when the sun shined on the dunes. We camped out in Sossusvlei for 2 nights. We woke up on Wednesday (at 5:15 am) in order to begin our day in Sossusvlei National Park (the actual desert is called The Namib Desert). A tour guide drove us in a safari-looking car into the desert (our Honda Jazz, nicknamed by us Jazzy (short for jazzlyne), would not have made it on the desert sand). We drove through the park as our guide explained the animals and the land of the desert. At one point he began digging in the sand in order to pull out a spider (A White Lady Spider…I think that was the name). There were a lot of HUGE bugs in Namibia. I really really really really really hate bugs, so that was the one aspect to Namibia that I did not enjoy too much. We eventually drove to the highest sand dune in the Africa (and possibly the world). Our tour guide offered to hike up it with us, so of course we said we would. I didn’t realize how hard it would be to walk up the dune (it also turned out that out of all of the many years that our tour guide offered to hike up the dune to people, only 3 other groups said “yes”). It took about 1.15 hours to get up the dune. Walking on sand is difficult enough…so walking up a dune in non-sturdy sand was VERY difficult. But, we all eventually made it. The view was 100% worth it…sand dunes that went on for miles. My favorite part of the dunes (and I would argue my favorite thing I have done during my whole time here in South Africa/Namibia) was getting down from the dune. We just ran down the side of the dune…it was very steep and took about 6 minutes total to run down. The sand kind of pushed me forward, so it really felt like I was flying or what I would imagine what walking on the moon would feel like. It was so amazing and SO fun. After we ran down, we walked over to the dead trees…probably one of the most beautiful sites I have seen in Africa (maybe right behind the Lion’s Head hike view with the sunset). Once we returned from the dune excursion, we sat by a pool (once again in the middle of nowhere), and read. Later, we made dinner and smores around a campfire. It was really a perfect day.
The following day we drove back down south to a town called Keetmanshoop. We stayed in a very interesting rest camp. The rooms we stayed in really looked like bomb shelters or maybe an abstract looking planetarium. There were mosquito nets on each bed. Namibia does not have problems with Malaria, instead the mosquito nets kept all the bugs out at night. While I was happy I didn’t have bugs on me, the mosquito nets did force me to acknowledge how many bugs there were since they were all crawling on it. The rest camp had cheetahs so we got to watch the owner feed them dinner (Springbok liver…yum). We were in the cage while they were being fed…it was really pretty neat. We also went to a park called Giant’s playground…basically a lot of giant rock formations, and a park where there were a lot of quiver trees (a really common tree in Namibia). The Bushmen people use the leaves on the quiver tree as arrows to hunt because they are a little poisonous.
On Friday we drove back into South Africa to a town called Upington. We stayed in a little hut on the Orange River. Once again, the scenery was beautiful, and the vibe was very relaxing. On Saturday we went white water rafting on the Orange River. On the way to white water rafting I got to ride on the back of the pickup truck. The rafts were on the back of the truck, so I had to stand and basically hold on for my life as we went about 110 km/hr (pretty fast when you’re standing on the back of a pick up truck). In the evening we drove around in a safari-like car again in search for animals. When we woke up on Sunday we went to Arugabies falls (a national park with a waterfall in it). On our way back into our car from Arugabies, there was a monkey on top of our car. I put my coffee on the roof of the car and the monkey put his head in it (I’m not sure if the monkey drank it or not, so I just continued to drink it…I have not gotten sick yet, so I think I should be good!). Afterwards, the monkey almost jumped into the car, but luckily due to Juliana’s scream, it got scared away. The whole situation was pretty hilarious. From here, we drove back to our first destination in Kamiskroon for the night. We built a fire and just hung out as we talked about all the adventures we have had during the past 11 days and in Africa as a whole.
The next few days are going to be fast as I begin to say bye to my favorite parts of South Africa: restaurants, cities, friends, customs, etc. Today I went into Cape Town for the last time. We went to a famous bakery (named Charly’s Bakery), and then went to a neighborhood called Bo Kaap. Tomorrow I need to run around and get a few more things before I leave. Thursday we have out goodbye dinner/drinks with our resident director, Hestea. We are planning on just pulling an all-nighter so we sleep on the plane, and because it will be the last 24 hours where we will all be together.
I leave South Africa on Friday and have about 24 hours of traveling before I am back home. The thought of leaving is very, very bittersweet. I am extremely excited to return back to the states and see everyone, but still, South Africa has truly been the best experience of my life (well, at least so far). When I was about to leave for South Africa, I was very ready to come. I was excited, I had done my research, and so I was 100% ready to arrive in this beautiful country. My time here consisted of missing people here and there, but I was never homesick. Right now, I feel sad to leave but I also know I am ready to be back home. I am very content with everything right now, and that really is an amazing feeling. I pushed myself out of my comfort zone, got lost a few times, but in the end I could not be more proud of myself. I wouldn’t necessarily say studying abroad “changed me”, it just taught me more about who I am, and I am forever grateful to South Africa for giving me this opportunity. I am proud to call this country my second home. I love you South Africa.
One last time from the incredibly beautiful South Africa,
P.S- don’t get too excited about not having to see me post millions of things about South Africa everyday on FB, you still got one more blog post coming your way