travel

Rich Soil: My Journey To South Africa

Traveling the world has always been a dream of mine. As a child, I used to watch my mother travel with her friends regularly. I looked forward to seeing the photos of her travels, the items she would bring back, the clothes she would buy and the smile on her face as she sips tea at the nearby café. I wanted to be just like her when I grew up.

While at work, now to think of it, it is always while I am at work, a deal came about to visit South Africa. Without hesitation I called upon my friends to book. One in particular would not answer her phone (Thalia). After many attempts, my friend Leonor and I made an executive decision to just buy her ticket. When we finally reached her and told her the news, she felt as if she just won the lottery. We snatched these round trip tickets for $543 each via Etihad Airways for 10 days.

Planning for this trip took a lot of creativity. There was a total of 8 of us traveling with tons of ideas and very little time. Thankfully, we are all a very resourceful and cohesive group. We managed to grab a modern Airbnb four level house with a pool and Jacuzzi. We created an itinerary with every single excursion and most of all; everyone was included in the planning process.

A few months later, it was time to say goodbye to NYC. We were so filled with the anticipation of visiting the motherland. Although this was not a straight flight, we were more than happy to spend the night in Abu Dhabi. This was my second time visiting the UAE so I was happier than ever. A few of my friends visited the Mosque, while the rest of us stayed in the resort and partied. Our continuing flight was in the morning.

Once we landed in Johannesburg, we did not waste much time. Our first stop, Pilanesberg Safari National Park. This 2 and a half hour drive from our hotel was tiresome. We slept the whole way there. Once we reached the National Park, we saw the most beautiful creatures. We watched the elephants bathe themselves as we ate. I promise, I think they have gotten used to all the attention because they posed so well in every photo. To see these animals in their natural habitat was surreal, an experience unlike any other. I remember my friends and I saying that we will never see a zoo the same way again.

The following day we decided to explore downtown Johannesburg. We headed to "The Top of Africa" then caught a sightseeing bus which made stops around Jozi's landmarks, ie, The Apartheid Museum, Constitution Hill, Orlando Towers, FIFA stadium, and Mandela's House. We hopped on and off the bus. We felt right at home. The Nelson Mandela house was special. I felt my spirit being lifted and travel back to that time period. Seeing that bullet hole on that wall was devastating. There were moments when I just stood back and tears fell down my eyes.

On our very last day in Johannesburg, we arranged for a hot air balloon ride. This was so much fun! Never in my wildest dream have I felt so much at peace. The feeling of being so far up in the sky, gliding and observing everything below me was exhilarating. At the end of our ride, we were handed mimosas.

CAPETOWN

Since culture is what we seek, we decided to take a short flight to Capetown. There we visited the most iconic landmark in South Africa, Table Mountain.

The Aerial Cableway is the system that is used to transport tourists and visitors to the top of the mountain. It has the most scenic, most beautiful view of all of Capetown. The floor rotates as it provides the perfect 360 degree view. Once at the top, if you ever want to see the most beautiful sunset, this would be the place. The view was breathtaking. It is not uncommon for proposals to take place there. We watched the sun set as lovers kissed and whisper sweet nothings in each other’s ears.

During our tour, we walked through the Shanty town also known as townships. These are homes made out of plywood, metals and cardboard boxes. Considering that I come from one of the poorest countries in the world, Haiti, this experience hit home for me. Walking through this area, I was reminded of my country. The lack of infrastructure, proper sanitation, safe drinking water and electricity. The things we tend to take for granted. This made me appreciate everything that I do have.  

On a lighter note, we got a chance to visit Dalukhanyo Pre-School. There we interacted with the most amazing preschoolers. They greeted us with hugs and high fives. They sang and danced for us. Made us feel so welcomed.  All they wanted was to take pictures and play with us. It was heartwarming.

One of the things that stood out to me the most this entire trip was the ability to visit Nelson Mandela's jail cell in Robben Island. We were so fortunate to be able to get a glimpse of the place where Mr. Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years along with many other political prisoners during the fight to end Apartheid.

While on the ferry to the island, we were reminded of the condition in which they lived. The gates were built by the hands of those political prisoners. They were wiped, humiliated and treated less than animals. However, these brave men remained steadfast and firm in their beliefs.

Ever wonder why some of the best wineries in the world are located in South Africa? Well, we were set to find out. We visited four different wineries and did a taste test of at least five types of wine per location. Needless to say, we were all very tipsy by the time we reached the third winery. Still not sure if I was able to answer that question but the “research” was fun!

I am not typically the adventurous type but when the idea to go shark diving came about, I was all in. On our last day in Capetown, we decided to be one with the Great Whites. We were picked up from our hotel and 3 and half hours later, we made it to the location. It was freezing!!! Once we were provided with the rules on how to stay safe while in the cage, we were on our way. The closer we got to the middle of the ocean, the sicker I got. My head started pounding and my stomach was uneasy. Within minutes, I was sea sick. My friends geared up and entered the cage and sang “wade in the water” the entire time. The first shark passed by and grazed the cage. Another had his/her teeth on the cage. It was scary but oh so cool. Although I was not able to join them in the cage, I am so glad to have experience this time with them.

Tip:

1. Have an itinerary when traveling to South Africa. It makes it easier to accomplish everything within a time period.

2. Exchange you currencies in the US. The rates were amazing and we were able to get so much for our money.

3. Go into town and get your clothes custom made. It’s super cheap to get an entire dress in African fabric within days. Just let the seamstress know when you will need it by and they will accommodate.

4. Everyone is super friendly. Go with an open heart and most importantly….HAVE FUN!

Photographed by Zakiya Lucas-Murray