Part 1: I Went to South Africa!!! #RenelInSouthAfrica
Last year I promised myself that I would make at least one big international trip a year. South Africa had been on my wish list since the 2010 World Cup and again when Nelson Mandela died in December 2013. Days later, travel photographer Gary Arndt of Everything-Everywhere.com announced his third annual travel photography tour would take place in South Africa in May. Gary is a G Adventures Wanderer in Residence, and I had been following his blog for a few years. I felt the universe was speaking to me!
I immediately begin to making plans to attend starting with my budget and the gear I would need. (I posted my gear and packing list on my tumblr page). From what I heard from friends and my own research I knew South Africa was a great place to make good on my promise for several reasons.
- Budget wise, once you get there prices are affordable as the USD to rand was at least 1:9 when I went. I even found the airfare reasonable (under $1300 USD).
- South Africa is a multiethnic society with 11 recognized languages: Afrikaans, English, Ndebele, Northern Sotho, Sotho, Swazi, Tswana, Tsonga, Venda, Xhosa, and Zulu. Most South Africans are multilingual often with English being the third or fourth language. I figured with English being prominent in the areas I was visiting the language gap would be minimal.
- Traveling in May meant that the climate would be their winter (May-July). A common misnomer is that Africa is hot all the time. South Africa’s average May temperature has 66°F highs and 48°F lows. That’s similar to the early spring weather in Maryland. And of course the temperatures vary depending on where you are in the country.
- And most importantly I WANTED TO VISIT THE MOTHERLAND! If I go nowhere else in my lifetime I was going to Africa.
The trip’s nine day planned itinerary was listed as follows:
Day 1 – Cape Town: arrive at any time
Day 2 – Cape Town: explore Cape Point with optional excursions; during the evening a local cultural exchange with dinner in a private home
Day 3 – Cape Town: enjoy a free morning before boarding an overnight train to Johannesburg
Day 4 – Johannesburg: visit Soweto township and a bicycle tour
Days 5-7 – Greater Kruger area/Kruger National Park: drive the Panorama Route into Kruger National Park; two full-day game drives in Kruger; on day 6 enjoy a traditional dance experience in Shalati
Day 8 – Greater Kruger/Johannesburg: in the morning visit the Planeterra-supported G Hope Africa preschool before departing for Johannesburg
Day 9 – Johannesburg: depart at any time
As you can see this is a packed itinerary, but there was still so much I didn’t get a chance to see. I wish I had more time in Cape Town prior to the start of the tour, but I had a prior commitment the same weekend I left for South Africa.
Traveling Alone & Expectations
The main question I was asked when I first told my family and friends that I was going was “Who are you going with?” My answer was “Me, myself, and I.” Family expressed concern but I wasn’t fazed. I had done my research on the company and bought travel insurance, which G Adventures required. There are always risks to any travel or adventurous outings. I even joked with my mom that I would try not to be eaten by a lion. You take as much precaution as you can and live life to the fullest.
This was my first time doing a G Adventures tour, but doing an organized group tour made the choice much easier for me. I don’t know that I would’ve done an international trip alone if it wasn’t a set itinerary. I knew the common thread of the group would be photography, and G Adventures prides itself on small group tours around the world with an expert Chief Experience Officer (CEO) with you the entire trip. The group was seven people, including three Americans, one Norwegian, one Dutch, one Canadian, and one South African (our CEO). The only concern I had was having a roommate, which I haven’t had seen my sophomore year in college (a long time ago). Fortunately for me one of the other ladies paid the single room supplement so that meant I also had my own room throughout the tour except for the overnight train at no extra cost to me. All that being said, I’m happy to report we all got along really well and learned some new photo editing techniques from Gary.
OK, OK! This is a photo blog so I know you’re dying to see the photos right?! I’ll be doing a multipart series on my South African travels so be sure to check back to see them.
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Next up… Part 2: Cape Town & Cape Point