Vacationing with Mom

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June 11th 2011
Published: June 23rd 2011
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Traveling solo can’t be called "lonely", because being open minded, friendly and outgoing means meeting tons of people, many of whom who go on to become quality long-term friends. Nevertheless, leaving your family and everyone you know and love at home, usually not being around any one person for more than a few days, means it can be difficult to build the kind of personal relationships that allow for deeply meaningful conversation or fulfilling interaction. Even a “real” hug can be hard to come by. So that is why, after traveling alone across Africa for 15 months and not seeing a single familiar face, my mom flying here for some quality mother-daughter time was the perfect intermission between the first and second chapters of my trip – a vacation from traveling. Not to mention that together we packed in more adventure and "live your dreams" experiences into two weeks than I usually get in two months.

Mom flew in to the Johannesburg airport, and we were all smiles after our first proper hug in many moons. Mariska, my police-station camping friend from Botswana, and her sister Marita prepared us a delicious South African welcome-meal – stews, salad and quality wine from the Cape. Next morning it was out of the grey buildings and busy traffic of Johannesburg, and into the quiet rolling green hills of Nelspruit, the town close to Kruger National Park where my mom had her first Couchsurfing experience. It was a merry time - Hennie and Hessie are a couple who know how to enjoy life. It wasn’t five minutes after arriving before Hennie had taken us to the bottle store to pick out whatever drinks we fancied, and the rest of the afternoon and evening were spent drinking, chatting, braaiing Kudu and boerwors, and shooting some kind of strong home-brewed liquor that left us with a nice “babbelas” the next morning. It was a perfect introduction for Mom into the wonderful world of Couchsurfing.

Bright and early the next morning, babbelas and all, mom and I were off for another first for her – hitchhiking in Africa. When we had discussed the trip, one of the first questions brought up was transport. “Do you want to rent a car, take the bus or public transportation?” I’d asked. I was surprised when she said she wanted to hitchhike, but it was a pleasant surprise – to get a proper taste of the wonderful time I have had crossing Africa, hitchhiking is the only way to do it. So that morning, Hennie and Hessie dropped us off on the road to Mozambique, and the travel-angels came through – our first thumb out and a comfortable SUV stopped and offered a ride direct to Maputo. That first day, with good Couchsurfing and great hitchhiking, was an accurate indication of the direction the rest of our trip would take.

After an evening in Maputo with a giant prawn and grouper dinner, hand picked by us at the local market and grilled nearby, followed by gas-station beers and another round of Couchsurfing in the penthouse of a beachside apartment, we were off again, hitchhiking northbound towards the renowned beaches of the Indian Ocean. It wasn’t long before we were wrapped in African shetenges and sipping beers beachside in Praia de Tofo, our hair wet with the salts of India and bellies full of freshly grilled cashews and the catch of the day. We went horseback riding at sunset along the beach and through tiny coconut-filled villages, with myself heartily enjoying a horse who agreed that beaches are for galloping along. We went on an ‘Ocean Safari’ boat ride where we chased huge whale sharks and manta rays around the bay, trying to jump in and snorkel after them; we saw glimpses but no real luck this time.

Saying goodbye to the huge waves, turquoise waters and Rasta culture of Tofo was difficult, but later that same day we were back on the beach, a few hundred kilometers north, in beautiful Vilanculos. Where Tofo had been perfect for surfers, Vilanculos was perfect for the idle beach lover, with white sand and calm, shallow water than can be floated upon for hours. Standing on the shore and looking out to sea is delight for the eyes, with bars of sky blue, turquoise, sapphire, and deep purple varying for mile upon mile into the horizon, which is dotted with the white-sand and coconut tree islands of the Bazaruto Archipelago. My mom and I took a trip to visit one of these islands, which we sailed to with a few others on a traditional Indian Ocean dhow. We were served coffee on the waves while watching dolphins dance nearby, and upon arrival at the island we suited up with snorkeling gear and dove into the warm water to chase schools of colorful fish as they played in the coral. After a delicious seafood buffet served on the sand, we explored the island, chased more fish, and caught a few rays of the golden sun. It was sad to say bye to those beaches, but we were in hopeful agreement that it was more of a “until we meet again”.

Hitting the road to hitch out of Mozambique and into Zimbabwe was tedious and mostly uneventful, save for a night in a seedy trucker hotel with decent rooms but a sub “mom-standard” toilet. Getting to Zim, we had the luck to hitch a lift with a miner and got invited to spend our first night in a, shall we say, ‘exclusive’ Zimbabwean mine, where we braaiied, drank, and smoked shisha long after sunset. Our second night in Zim was equally special, when we were again invited to stay over with someone we had hitched with. Mbopgep and his wife Martina and two sons exhibited typical top-notch African hospitality, which I was especially happy to share with my mom. The stories I have told about the incredible hospitality of Africans can seem hard to believe for someone raised in the West, so it meant a lot for my mom to experience it first-hand. It was also proof that the racism and travel warnings brought on by old Bob and his extreme government policies do not affect the kind nature of the Zimbabwean people.

The next day a little more hitchhiking had us arriving in the town of Victoria Falls, where we were greeted by plenty of warthogs and the mischevious baboons who roam the streets, plus all the curio vendors that are ever-present in tourist towns. Besides the nyame-nyame river god pendants they will exchange for a toothbrush, their most popular items are the 100 trillion dollar notes complete with expiry dates, which serve as a reminder of the hyperinflation that reached 231 000 000% in 2008, sending Zimbabwe plummeting to the bottom of the world’s economic charts. The country has since abandoned its own currency in favour of the US dollar, and although the Zim bills are now worth less than a square of toilet paper, the odd tourist will take home a few for some American pocket change.

Our time in Vic Falls was packed with exciting events. The first night, mom gave a little TLC to her musical soul, getting into a djembe drumming session with Pardon Kanda, a well known local Rasta. It was a Friday, and the party at our backpackers hostel didn’t stop until the wee hours – the next morning, when we showed up at the bungee jumping site on the Victoria Falls bridge, I learned that the best way to cure a hangover is by diving 111 m into Batoka gorge, and then swinging off a second time just to be safe: “F#@%ing Awesome!!” Saturday evening, with the adrenaline rush subdued, Mom and I watched elephants drink at a watering hole with the bright oranges, pinks and reds of an African sunset frolicking in the background. We were home in time for happy hour and a croc tail stew dinner with some German friends I had met a few months prior while cycling through Botswana. Sunday was just as wonderful, starting off with an early morning horseback safari through the national park, on beautiful polo-quality horses. We rode next to elephants, along the Zambezi and got up close and personal with the African bush, to experience it the way the early explorers did. We took a tour of the spectacular falls – much more impressive on the Zimbabwean side – and were back in time to be scuttled off to the A’Zambezi River Lodge, a lovely four star hotel on the banks of the Zambezi River, where we had been recruited for a photo shoot. Our “job” consisted of sampling the menu of ostrich, coconut curry soup and grilled warthog Panini, followed by sipping colourful cocktails poolside and watching the sun set over the river, listening to stories about the Tonga people who are the traditional habitants of the area. The photographers asking us to occasionally adjust our pose or do a second take of drinking sundowners weren’t too much of a nuisance.

As mom’s return flight date approached, we reluctantly had to end our fun in Victoria Falls and head across the border to Botswana, where we hoped to get our fill of the beautiful animals of Africa. We weren’t disappointed – a five minute’s walk across the border was a herd of 25 elephants stomping around next to the road. We kept our distance, but lingered as we awed at the huge beasts – there is no national park that would have allowed us this close on foot.

Our destination in Botswana was the famous Chobe National Park, often sited as the best animal viewing park in southern Africa. After enjoying authentically fantastic chicken tika masala and butter naan at the local Indian Restaurant, and getting invited to spend the night at the owner’s home, we were off on a sunset game-viewing river cruise. There were tons of hippos and elephants, and we also spotted crocodiles, monitor lizards, warthogs, baboons, antelope, buffalo, colourful little birds plus huge impressive herons, pelicans and fish eagles. The next day we took a game drive and had all the luck of the river, plus giraffes, kudu, herds of impala, and … lions! A couple of cubs ran and rolled in front of our jeep as they played in the bush, oblivious to the multitude of tourists vehicles snapping pictures, and later we pulled up to an entire pride basking in the sun. Majestic is the only way to describe the incredible animals of the African savanna – cheers to the Botswana government who has done an exemplary job of protecting them - poachers get the death penalty.

After our wildlife filled 24 hours, including a quick visit to mambas, adders and cobras in the Kisane Reptile Park, we were on the road again, hitching for the last time en route to Johannesburg – and to mom’s flight home. It was hard to say goodbye; it had been over 15 months since the last time we had parted ways, and we still don’t know when the next reunion will be. But after such an action-packed two weeks, there are lots of great memories to recall. For me it was a vacation from my regular means of traveling, because besides the family time, we were able to do many ‘touristic’ activities that I usually pass up on my travels – not only due to lack of funds, but also because experiences like horseback riding, safaris, and bungee jumping are best done when you have someone to share it with.

My mom and I had an awesome time together, she is the first one to come visit on my travels – I hope more of you decide to take a trip!

Here are a few words of input from Mom!

My 3 weeks in Africa was an adventure. Alyssa and I traveled over 4000 kms. Hitchkiking was surprisingly easy, and the drivers were just as keen on knowing about Canada as we were about them.

Spectacular sunsets: a tangerine orange sun setting over a bright pink sky - colours so intent that any painter would easily be accused of exaggeration.

Interesting landscapes: the rainy season now over, the land was green and fertile, with many baboa trees dominating throughout, and occasional mountain ranges toppled perplexedly by the odd pile of huge boulders.

Beautiful animals: it felt so right seeing them running wild and free.

The people: sincere, loving, yet uncorrupted by money, with a culture of their own (come experience it yourself), many unfortunately living in poverty that should not exist on such a rich continent.

The only thing that I didn't appreciate??? Read on...

I was happy to finally spot washroom facilities, and I eagerly followed the little hall which unfortunately led to an empty room. Only a hole remained in the cemented floor. Alas, the toilet had been removed and I returned disappointed. Alyssa laughed: "No Mom, those are the toilets. Get used to it. T.I.A. (This Is Africa!!!)."
Welcome to VilanculosWelcome to VilanculosWelcome to Vilanculos

white beaches, rainbow seas

Additional photos below
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Indian OceanIndian Ocean
Indian Ocean

dhows dot the horizon

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