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Published: November 25th 2014
We have been home for over twelve months now (I still can’t believe it has been that long), and I have one final blog from our trip to get out. It has been written in my mind all this time and finally I can transfer it here to stop it from changing as time moves. I am sure it has already altered in some ways, but I am not overly concerned as I think the essence of the place stays with you long after you leave.
When I began my travel journey in 2009, my first stop was Johannesburg - South Africa, then Entebbe - Uganda. I was as green as any traveller could be and was excited about the journey before me. The experience that I had in East Africa, particularly Uganda, fundamentally changed who I was and I had spent countless hours in the years since trying to explain to anyone who would listen the connection and adoration I felt for this place. I essentially had fallen in love. And like anything that you love, there is a deep desire to share those things with the people that you love. I wanted Mark to see what
I saw and leave with the same longing to return that I have been carrying with me since I boarded a plane to Ireland five years ago.
When we touched down in Johannesburg, following a long flight from Rome I was nervous; though probably not for the reasons that you might think. My nervousness stemmed from the fact that, while I had fallen in love with Africa, I had actually fallen in love with the exquisiteness of the bottle green hills of Uganda, the wonder of the gorillas of Rwanda, and the beauty of the broad smiles of the people of East Africa. A far cry from my first impressions of Johannesburg, those years ago, a parched city, recovering from the ghosts of its past, nestled in the barren plains of the east of a country I knew little about.
We remained in Johannesburg only one day before heading north to the world famous Kruger National Park. We were hoping to get a glimpse of the big five, the ugly five or any other combination of five that is rare and exciting to see! I was surprised when we arrived at the park just
Heating the skins before being played
after dawn and the landscape was filled with trees and shrubbery and we spent the first hour trying to find something to look at… anything…. We had been forewarned that after the first couple of hours of the day the animals retreat and they would be much more difficult to see. As time ticked on and only few animals were spotted I was beginning to think that the experience wasn’t going to be what I hoped it would be. However, following a short break and a dash to see a few loafing lions, the park animals decided to come to the fore and we spent the rest of the day captivated by all Kruger had to offer.
We spent the evening watching some African dancers at the campsite and, for the first time, I could see the magic of Africa was creeping its way into the night.
The following day, we made our way north through the magnificent north east of South Africa, the plains of Johannesburg a distant memory as the earth rose to produce deep green mountains, stretching far into the distance as beautiful as anywhere I have ever seen. Captivated by
its splendour, my deep contemplation of how, yet again, I had misjudged a country was suddenly interrupted by a quiet whisper from Mark, “we should have stayed longer in this place”. I smiled and agreed. I knew in that moment, he felt it too.
It never ceases to amaze me how quickly landscapes can change and travelling from South Africa to Botswana was an excellent example of this. The gorgeous mountains of South Africa were quickly replaced with the burnt landscape of Botswana. We drove through hundreds of kilometres of lifeless trees, interrupted periodically by the dusty communities of the resilient people that endure such harsh conditions.
Upon arriving at Elephant Sands, one of my favourite places I have ever visited, we were greeted by a bar, a pool, and a number of large elephants bathing in a waterhole just metres from where tourists were watching. You see, Elephant Sands essentially is bar, a pool, a block of showers, and an elephant watering hole, situated in the sandy north of Botswana. Herds of elephants, like tourists, come and go through the day and night, drinking and attempting to escape unforgiving heat. Mark and I
Kruger National Park - South Africa
Getting ready for a day of game drives
quickly erected our tent and settled in at the bar, where we remained until late into the evening, drinking and chatting with our new found tour buddies.
As the sun rose the next morning, I peeked my head outside the tent and was delighted by a beautiful African sunrise and more elephants charging through the countryside towards the fresh water. Further excitement ensued when a group of wild dogs attempted to drink from the waterhole, only to have the territorial elephants let them know, quite clearly, that was not ok!
We visited Victoria Falls in the dry season. It was probably not the time of the year that I would have ideally liked to visit, however it was just the way the trip panned out. There were a few activities that we were able to partake in because about half the falls, commonly known as ‘the smoke that thunders’, had dried up which left a massive chasm in the ground where you could see the colour of the earth that is usually hidden by a blanket of ferocious water. It also meant that there is a small pool of water at the edge of
the falls which is accessible to swim in. When we were flicking through the list of optional activities, I had identified ‘the devil’s pool’ as something I was definitely not interested in doing.
I realised on this trip just how easily I am persuaded. There were sixteen people on our tour and when Simon, our new found French Canadian friend, found out that I was the only one not interested in swimming in the devils pool he asked me so sincerely why not. I am not sure if it was his genuine look of confusion as to how I could not want to swim so close to the edge of the falls, or the convincing way he told me to “do it”, that made me reconsider but somehow, I found myself in the early morning, fully clothed (I left my swimmers with the bulk of our luggage in Johannesburg) standing on the edge of a the falls about to swim to what I was sure was going to be my certain death! I was terrified.
I think it is important to note that I was the only person who had this reaction to this
activity, as it was apparently very safe. Everyone else in the group was excited about swimming through a shallow part of the river to a ledge where you could lean over and look down the face of the falls, just metres away from the violent water, speeding over the edge. Somehow the guide informing us that, sometimes in the wet season, hippos get swept right over the edge where we were swimming was not helpful.
Travelling is all about opening yourself to new experiences, new places, and new people because that is the way you find passions that you never knew you had. Had I not swam the river to the devils edge that day I would have regretted not doing it, and living with the regret of not doing it and consequently not knowing if I would have enjoyed it is far worse than the terrifying experience I had.
Plus, now I have the added bonus of the knowledge that swimming on the edge of a waterfall is something I hope to never do again.
Until next time
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