Published: July 18th 2010July 18th 2010
End of the Trip
Another GREAT trip in the books. Probably the best ever.
Well first I will apologize for the long delay in getting back to the States and posting my final post. First, I had to let the carpel tunnel from the blackberry wear off; second, I had to TRY to catch up on my work and school lives (which is easier said than done); and lastly... I really wanted to let the trip, the experience, and everything else I had the opportunity to see and do sink in so I could do them justice.
And prepare yourselves here, this in direct contrast to my normal quirky posts with funny stories and crazy anecdotes. This one is all business, and that should tell you something...
This was probably the best trip I have ever taken. I'm not sure any of the multitude of places I saw would be considered my favorite ever - that distinction still belongs to Barcelona - but this trip and the experiences that went with it were beyond my wildest dreams and blew away any expectations I had for the trip. I have been blessed to be able to take three LONG trips and really experience locations and cultures plus a lot of other shorter trips around the world. In fact, I am almost up to 40 countries visited. On my first European backpacking trip, I took a plunge and learned a lot about myself and what I was capable of (it was my first international trip). I also got to experience the fabulous European culture. On my next trip to Eastern Europe, I had some great experiences and yet another set of sights and nights that I will never forget. But Africa was different, in every sense of the world. The culture, the people, the sights, sounds, emotions, and everything that went with this trip were unforgettable. I hate to use a cliche to explain it - but the trip was beyond words. To try to explain what I got to see and experience would never do justice, but Ill do my best.
First, I wanted to thank everyone who followed the blog along the way and I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I did writing it. I thought the best way to explain and more specifically thank the people and nations that I had the pleasure of traveling too was to focus in on a few things. My apologies if they are a little sporadic, I didn't want to forget anything.
If I had the trip to do over again, I wouldn't have done one thing differently except for stay longer. We didn't travel to the World Cup and got to see Africa - we traveled to Africa and got to see the World Cup. I got to see all the sights that anyone could have suggested in South Africa and even snuck in a quick trip to Central Africa to see Victoria Falls. Trust me, I know how lucky I am.
Major props goes to the nation of South Africa for what they went through to get ready for this event. They spent a lot of money, time, and effort and I can tell you that they knocked it out of the park. Regardless of what you heard about South Africa in the past, I can tell you that most of it is dead wrong. The stories and descriptions just aren't true - they are dated. And trust me, I am a realist so I realize that I was there during the World Cup - but I just cant believe everything I heard before I went, and neither should you.
In that vein is a second point I wanted to bring up that was related. The joke going around the country was that crime took a holiday for the World Cup. Even the locals relished how safe and uneventful the tournament was. South Africa did an amazing job of security. In addition, the cops there went above and beyond what they had to do. Its their job to keep us safe, which they did. But they were also unofficial ambassadors. They were everywhere, and they put up with the millions of visitors and their dumb questions and not ONCE did I not see a smile and a helpful officer. These people will never get the rightful thanks they should for basically giving up their lives for a month to help to protect all of us. But they should...
The national pride of South Africa was another thing I noticed. I heard it from coast-to-coast and I would like to think that after visiting, I understand their culture to some extent. These people were by far the nicest people I have ever met. From the millionaires to the third-world poor - these people would have given the shirt off their back to me (even as a visitor) if it was all that they had. These people and their generosity will be one of the enduring things I take from the trip. And that national pride does or did have a few kinks. For maybe the first time ever, or at least since the Nelson Mandela days, the country was more "together" than they ever have been. They were so proud of what they were doing. They were proud for South Africa, and the whole continent and they carried themselves in a way that basically said 'I told you so'. People all over the world doubted that the continent could hold an event like this, without issue, and do it safely. To the skeptics, this country and continent basically said "F off". And frankly, it was great to see.
In addition to the national pride, one more thing in relation to the people that I will take away is the issue of race. I have never been anywhere with a dynamic like SA. I mean, Apartheid was just 15 years ago. And while things are starting to equal out, there is a long way to go. Blacks still often only hold "worker" level jobs like waiters and laborers. They are often looked down upon by whites who in my opinion still feel a sense of entitlement. But things are coming along, and this tournament was yet another step down that road. You could feel the country coming together, and I hope it continues for years after the World Cup is over.
In addition to the national pride and race issues were how the people of Africa treat and what they think of about the United States. Can I just tell you all how nice it is, to leave the US and still be liked? I mean, I consider myself fairly well-traveled, and that is a rarity. They love the US for all the right reasons too. For the opportunity for a better future, for diversity, for the good will they see us offer, and for our role in the World. In a world full of nations and people that look down upon America, it was refreshing to see people that not only like our people and way of life, but appreciate our position in the world, and still dream to one day have a country like that. It was overwhelming and its something I will never forget.
The last thing that I noticed... was the power of sport and what comes with it. I will touch on this more below, but the World Cup was far more than a sports tournament... it has the power to change the world, if even temporarily, and that is refreshing to see.
Now that I hope you have a good appreciation for some of the experiences (listed above and in my other posts), I will get down to a last few things that come with every trip. The first is the answer to the question that I always get asked - "What was your favorite part of the trip?"
Kruger National Park gave me an experience that I will never forget. If you would have told me that by the third day of the trip, I wouldn't even ask the driver to stop to look at giraffes, elephants, or zebras because I had already seen so many, I would have told you that you were crazy. But that's how amazing this place is. The people and the park also made you appreciate nature in a way that I never have before. Besides... I found my future career as an agent in an anti-poaching unit. I mean, that is a good trip. If you go to Africa - go here.
Cape Town was probably second on the list. It was clean, modern, and reminded me a little bit more of Europe than anywhere else in the trip. The Cape of Good Hope and Table Mountain are two of the more beautiful sites I have ever seen in nature. The wine was delicious and I felt safer there than anywhere else in the entire country. For the fact, that I developed something close to food poisoning and spent 24 straight hours in a bathroom and STILL consider this a favorite, should say something about what it brings to the table. If I go back, and I plan to, I will go back to Cape Town.
Durban is one of the surfing capitals of the world and reminded me of a San Diego or Miami. Its beaches were some of the more beautiful that I have ever seen. The food was amazing and the culture was so laid back that it basically screamed for me to visit again. And when I go back to Africa... I plan to.
Those are three of my top things - but none of them even compare to my favorite thing of the trip, and that is the WORLD CUP. First thing is first, you dont need to love soccer to appreciate the tournament and the life experience it brings. But this one was special. It was the African World Cup. It was more than special. These people appreciated each and every second of each and every day. This World Cup brought together races, a nation, and a continent. It showed the African people that they were on par with anyone else in the World. And the rest of us, all the visitors from the rest of the world (of which there were over 1/2 million from all corners of the planet), we were just along for the ride. Everyone was there for one reason, to celebrate the game and the unity it brought. Everyone watched and enjoyed EVERY game. There were no fights, but plenty of passion. Everyone sported their national spirit without fear of retribution and again I will apologize for the cliche - it was almost un-Earthly how the time felt. There were no problems, almost no crime, few disagreements, and as I sat there each and everyday watching each and every game for 3 weeks I realized that I needed to take in every moment. The World Cup, watching and interacting with the rest of the world with one shared thing in common - blew away any sight that I could have seen. The World Cup became way bigger than the game, and while I tried to explain it, unless you felt it... you'll never quite get it. All I can say is if you ever have the opportunity to go... you should - no matter where it is.
Victoria Falls was great (basically an extra large and powerful Niagara Falls), but if I missed it, it would not have ruined the trip. Same with Jo-burg and Pretoria. They were all unique in their own way, but if I did everything else and didn't see them, the trip would have still been a resounding success.
Finally, I also wanted to focus on the fact that no matter how good or bad of a trip I always have... It always makes me re-realize and thank god that I live in our great country. I have posted about it on both of my other trips and Ill continue to make it a priority. We take for granted what we have each and every day, but experiences like this make you appreciate it in a way you never can by sitting at home. I definitely missed a number of things about my life like a routine, ice in my drinks, more than 4 TV stations, Samantha, and countless others. But no matter, the appreciation that I have for living in the US and how lucky we are to be here - which I try to put in focus on a daily basis - can never be enough. Just remember how great this place is... every day. We never know how good we actually have it...
Last, I just wanted to say thank you. To my family for always supporting me in these trips. To Samantha for being so supportive along the way. To Heather for being a great person to travel with yet again. To continent of Africa for your open arms and kindness, I will never forget it. To the nation of South Africa for everything you did to allow us to be there, stay safe, and appreciate that beauty of your country. To the people and their mentalities - this is one thing I will never forget. And to everyone who read the blog, I hope you enjoyed it.
I hope there will be a lot more posts over the next few years. But I can tell you one thing, there will definitely be another post in June 2014 from Brazil - and you can take that to the bank. Till next time, remember... “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”